Shikoku is famous for it's "88 Temples" pilgrimage route that leads over 1,000 kilometres around around the southern Japanese island. Even today and for non-religious Japanese, it's often a rite of passage - something like the Japanese Camino de Santiago, even though few can really take the 1-2 months off to complete the entire curcuit. 

Instead, many Japanese visit some of the most famous temples and shrines (the lines between buddhist temple and shinto shrine are often blurred), and the one that commands the most breathtaking views is Kotohira-san, a trip of a little over an hours by train from Takamatsu. This makes it a doable day trip if you are just visiting the northern part of Shikoku for a short time, like I did.

mountain view from half way up
Every website and guide booked warned of the many steps that lead up to the shrine.  The first few hundred steps of the 1,368 steps to the main shrine seemed the hardest for me - mainly because the steps were lined with souvenir and udon shops and the whole thing felt more like a cheese tourist attraction. After about step 500, though, this gave way to amazing Japanese countryside. There are many smaller shrines and places where you can step on your way up, and before I knew it, I had reached the main shrine. Ironically, it's decicated to the god of travellers and the sea - don't ask me why they built it up on a mountain then!

To be honest, even though it was a fairly hot day, the cooler climate in the mountains meant I still had lots of energy to go another 500 steps up to the highest shrine in the mountain, where I was rewarded with a view of Kagawa prefeture and the ocean. After the entire climb, it was also the first place where I was completely alone - a rare occasion in Japan.

If you don't feel like climbing up all the way, you can also hire some strong Japanese guys to carry you up in your own palaquin - although I've only seen them carry frail grandmothers uphill when I visited.

well-deserved bowl of noodles
The way back was very enjoyable, and to my surprise, the restaurants and cafes at the foot of the mountain were very good and reasonably priced. I stopped for a plain bowl of kake udon (udon noodles in a clear stock with ginger and spring onion) at a small cafe that had benches built into shallow fountains to rest your tired feet. 

During the entire day, I was probably the only non-Japanese I saw, but don't let that scare you off - it's very easy to find the path to the shrine from the train station and you can't get lost. Kompira-san was definitely my highlight of this year's Japan trip!


the main shrine

seafarer paraphernalia

view down onto the touristy lane

anchors in the mountain? Of course!

hidden away shrine at the very peak

view from the peak


 


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