Japan 2015: Kotohira

It may be the end of April, and the cherry blossom has been and gone in most parts of Japan, but I’m still thinking about last autumn! On 10th December I continued my journey in Shikoku and travelled to Kotohira (琴平), where I would spend one night. Kotohira is a small town in Kagawa Prefecture (香川県), known mostly for Kompirasan (こんぴらさん), Shikoku’s most popular shrine, and also udon noodles. There are some other sights in the area, including an old kabuki theatre, but with limited time (I was still working) and a grey day in front of me, I focussed on the shrine and the noodles.

Kotohira is a sleepy little town and on a miserable day I have to say I didn’t think it had a lot going for it. It was ever so quiet, but I’m sure on a bright spring day or in the peak of autumn it would have been more lively.

Kotohira

Kotohira

Kotohira

After finding my accommodation and doing a little bit of work (inspecting hotels is the worky bit of my work!), my mission for the rest of the afternoon was to visit Kompirasan. Kompirasan, formally known as Kotohiragu (金刀比羅宮), is the main shrine of multiple Kompira shrines found around Japan that are dedicated to sailors and seafaring. The shrine is located on Mount Zozu (象頭山), and there are 1,368 steps to the top. A lot of people, including myself, only make it up the first 785 steps to the main hall of the shrine, choosing to skip the last 583 steps to the inner shrine. I would have done the lot, but by the time I got to the main hall it was raining and I’d had enough for one day.

The walk up was fine really, with lots of souvenir shops on the way to distract me from the steps. I took it really slowly! Imagine living in this town and having to go up and down the steps every day – you’d be so fit!

Kompirasan approach

For those who really can’t manage the steps it is possible to hire a palanquin, but I didn’t think anyone would fancy carrying me up to the top!

Kompirasan approach

The view looking back down made me feel quite giddy, but it was pretty cool!

Kompirasan approach

The approach to the main hall of the shrine could have been prettier, but there were still some autumn colours around to brighten things up.

Kompirasan

Kompirasan

Kompirasan

Kompirasan

Kompirasan

Kompirasan

Kompirasan’s main hall is impressive, and it was worth the climb. The view from the top is pretty awesome too, even with mist and fading daylight.

Kompirasan

Kompirasan

Kompirasan

View from Kompirasan

Kompirasan

Next to the main hall is an ’ema’ hall. ‘Ema’ (絵馬) are the small wooden plaques which people write their wishes and prayers on at shrines, and they are usually quite nicely decorated. This ema hall was particularly interesting as it also contained displays of ship-related images and objects.

Kompirasan - Ema Hall

Kompirasan - Ema Hall

Kompirasan - Ema Hall

Kompirasan - Ema Hall

Kompirasan - Ema Hall

By the time I got back down the steps into the town, everything was closed and there wasn’t a single person on the street. Although this is typical of a lot of small towns in Japan, I had thought this one might stay alive a little later into the day but before 4pm it was a ghost town. So, I headed back to my hotel and made the most of having a lovely room to relax in!

Sakura-no-Sho

Sakura-no-Sho – all this for little old me!

Sakura-no-Sho

A bath with a view (of nearby temple, Matsuo-ji)

Dinner was delicious, and beautiful!

Dinner at the Sakura-no-Sho

And that was just the first course!

My mission the following morning was to learn to make udon noodles at the Nakano Udon School (ナカノヤ琴平).

Kotohira

The class was a lot of fun, although it would have been even better in a group or with friends. Unfortunately, being off season and ever so quiet, I was on my own. At least that meant I got full attention of the teacher, and I was able to practice my Japanese a bit!

I was taught how to properly knead the noodle dough, roll it and cut it into thick udon noodles.

Udon making at Nakano Udon School, Kotohira

Udon making at Nakano Udon School, Kotohira

Udon making at Nakano Udon School, Kotohira

Udon making at Nakano Udon School, Kotohira

But the most important lesson seemed, quite bizarrely, to be a lesson in dance. Apparently it’s essential that you dance on the noodle dough before you cut it, and only a soundtrack of bouncy Japanese pop will do! (Although the teacher said she also likes One Direction…)

Udon making at Nakano Udon School, Kotohira

Dance gaijin, dance!!

At least I got to eat the udon after all that dancing! The restaurant it was served in was really cool, and had all these retro posters on the walls. It was a complete step back in time, but then Kotohira is pretty much stuck in a time warp anyway! (Now there’s a dance I could have done on the noodles…)

Udon making at Nakano Udon School, Kotohira

Udon making at Nakano Udon School, Kotohira

Udon making at Nakano Udon School, Kotohira

Udon making at Nakano Udon School, Kotohira

Udon making at Nakano Udon School, Kotohira

Udon making at Nakano Udon School, Kotohira

Udon making at Nakano Udon School, Kotohira

Kotohira may be a sleepy little town, but I quite enjoyed my noodle dancing. Kompirasan is worth a visit if you’re in the area, although I’ve been to more impressive shrines. Still, Kotohira wasn’t bad, although I think one night was plenty. On to the next destination, further west in Shikoku…

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