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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A night on Konpirasan near Kyoto


View from Mt. Konpira

For the second time this year I slept out at a mountain top shrine. This time I was on Mt. Konpira, near Ohara to the north east of Kyoto City. Ohara is easily reached by bus from Kyoto. The trail to the top of the mountain is part of the Kitayama Trail that runs across the mountains north of Kyoto. Its a steep trail, but the views over Ohara and Kyoto from the summit are worth the hike.

Shrine on Mt. Konpira

I reached the top at dusk and watched the lights of Kyoto come on and sparkle through the haze of the pollution.

View from Mt. Konpira

Dawn was damp and misty as I headed down the mountain. Just below the summit is a Kotohira shrine, a Meiji period creation that attempted to supplant the Indian roots of Konpira with a suitably imperial Japanese kami.

Behind the shrine is a small spring that is reputed to have water with healing qualities, so I filled a small bottle with some to take to my wife who was in hospital in Kyoto.

As I sat having a ciggy I heard the tinkling of a bell... a sure sign someone was coming up the mountain. A few minutes later a little old lady came huffing and puffing into the shrine. She had been lighting candles and incense at all the little altars on the trail up the mountain. We chatted for a while mostly about the shrines and their histories, and I mentioned that I was from Shimane but I was visiting Kyoto as my wife was in hospital there.

Shrine on Mt. Konpira

We said goodbye, I to carry on down the trail, she to sweep and tidy around the shrine. A few minutes later I heard her calling me. Uh oh! I thought, I must have left something behind. She caught up to me and pressed a tatty envelope into my hand. "This is for your wife" she said. As she scooted back up the trail I looked in the envelope and found 3,000 yen!!!

I have been the beneficiary of the kindness of strangers many times in my life. Here in Japan it has usually been in the mountains. Away from the towns and cities, I have always found the people kinder and friendlier. I wish more people took the opportunity to get away from the tourist sites to wander the hinterland of Japan.



  1. thank you for your article, I live in Kyoto for almost 2 years now, and this summer vacation I would like to hike up the mountains around it. Can you please give more suggestions on other sites that I can visit? Also, if I want to sleep at a temple, how do I arrange it? I hope you can help me, thank you very much!

  2. Hi Nicolle.
    Kyoto is surrounded by trails. A good place to start would be Nanzenji. From there you can take the Higashiyama trail north over Daimonji to Hiezan.
    From there the Kitayama trail heads west and passes over Konpirasan.
    All the trails are well marked, and well travelled.
    Sorry, Ive never stayed at a temple so I dont know what to suggest.

  3. Hi Ojisanjake
    many thanks for your blog it's great to read about kompira san. I went to check it out because my brother loves climbing, but the small shrine you mentioned - kotohira. Is so special. The energy there is so lovely I feel to my kneew. I would love to know more about it's history as idon't speak much Japanese. Why is there a shrine there/ Do you know if it's becausethe area has significance or is is just a good place to put a shrine? Also when you say it had Indian roots do you mean the Indian influence on Buddhism and that the Meiji Governemnt tried to put more of a Shinto spin on it?
    If you heard of any other shrines in the mountains around kyoto. I would be interested to know about them.

    Kurama is also a good place to visit for exceptional healing vibes although it is less of a wilderness experience.

  4. Hi Jenny

    The Kotohira shrine was built at the site of a sacred spring that is/was primarily Buddhist,
    Another mountaintop shrine near Kyoto I would recommend is Atago Jinja on top of Mt. Atago to the west of Kyoto, north of Arashiyama.

  5. Hello Ojisanjake

    Thank you for your helpful reply. I am glad you managed to read my spelling mistakes. I would just like to recommend the Lonely Planets 'Hiking in Japan' to Nicolle as a good way of starting to walk around Kyoto. It suggests some lovely walks of varying levels and suggests which maps to buy etc. From there you can design your own routes.

    Kind regards


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