Located on the slopes of Mount Zozu in the Nakatado district of Kagawa prefecture, sits the Shinto shrine of Kotohira, also known as Konpira-san. This shrine is dedicated to sailors who have lost their lives at sea and is notable for its 1,368 stone steps that visitors are required to climb in order to reach the shrine.
Konpira-san is accessible by the Kotoden-Kotohira Line that runs from Takamatsu. In fact the line was originally built for tourists to easily access the shrine, thus named Kotohira. It takes roughly one hour from one end of the train to the other. The beginning steps leading up to the shrine starts in the middle of shops in the town of Kotohira, just a 5 minute walk away from the Kotohira station. I was greeted by locals, waving and wishing me luck as I began my ascend.
Among the shops that caught my eye included Sanuki Udon restaurants, ice-cream parlors, and even a café offering desert! A small shop offering fish therapy for 500 Yen was also available. A great way to relax your feet after the climb I suppose. As it would take roughly an hour to reach the top, I suggest that you hold on to your appetite, and eat once you’ve descended.
The first 45 minutes of the climb are full of stores selling various types of souvenirs. Samurai swords, pilgrim hats with hiking sticks, traditional crafted money boxes as well as statues. A museum displaying masks as well as adorable trinkets and toys are also available. At the 351st step, is Kotohirahonkyō sōhonbu (金刀比羅本教総本部) the shrine headquarters.
A small beautiful dragon statue can be seen at the purification fountain near the temple’s entrance.
Finally, at the 356th step, the main entrance can be seen!
Unfortunately, the main shrine is still 1,003 steps away! Small drink stalls are set up around the main gate, just in case you need to catch your breath, or want to take a little break. From this point onwards, the road is paved with stone tablets engraved with people’s names. These are the people that have donated to the shrine throughout the years.
At the 431st step, another torii gate stands with a few museums nearby, including a coin museum, and the Yuichi Takahashi Museum. A small stable housing two horses can also be seen on the left side of the gate. These horses are known as “God’s Horse” and are usually taken out during events in the shrine.
At the 595th step, I arrived at another square, with yet another shrine named Haraedosha (祓戸社). This unfortunately is also not the main shrine! Just further up a few more flight of steps, and you will reach the beautiful Asahi-sha. To the right of Asahi-sha is another torii gate, leading up to the remaining 740 stone steps.
Finally at the 785th step, visitors will arrive at the Hon-gu, which is the main shrine! A breathtaking view of Kotohira city can be seen from the observation deck, and a museum called Ema Hall which displays pictures of ships and plates of sailors that defended the shrine throughout the years is also located nearby. Here, restaurants, and souvenir shops sell the yellow “mamori” which represents happiness. Shinto priests also sell plaques for visitors to write their prayers and hang around the shrine. From here onwards, various other shrines can also be accessed, and if you have the strength to climb the last remaining steps, the innermost shrine Okusha will be awaiting you.
I managed to climb to the top in roughly one and a half hours, but there are also busses and taxis to help visitors if they get too tired. After a long day of climbing, I decided to finish the day with the bowl of udon I promised myself earlier, and it was indeed the finest udon that Japan could ever offer. So if you are ever in Shikoku, do drop by Konpirasan! But don’t forget to give yourself a warm up before you do, because it really is a long climb.
Official website (in Japanese) : http://www.konpira.or.jp/