Japan 2015: Mount Shosha

On Friday 18th December I set off on a mission. My plan was to visit Mount Shosha (書写山), the site of the temple Engyoji (円教寺) which was partially used in the filming of the Last Samurai. (I know, I know, most of it was filmed in New Zealand, some people really don’t like this movie especially as Tom Cruise is in it… blah blah blah. I like this movie a lot, OK? Right.)

The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe

The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe

Normally, Mount Shosha is a fairly simple day trip from Himeji (姫路). You take a bus for 30 minutes, and then a ropeway up the mountain. Of course, somehow I managed to choose the one week a year when the ropeway is closed for maintenance for my visit to Mount Shosha, but I didn’t let this put me off! I saw on the Himeji Tourist Information Facebook page that the ropeway was closed but it was still possible to hike up the mountain. Posted on the Facebook page were some helpful hand-drawn maps showing the route, so with the maps saved on my phone I stopped by the tourist information centre in Himeji Station first thing that morning just to make sure I knew what I was doing. They were incredibly helpful, gave me a copy of the map and the relevant bus timetables, and saw me off on my way.

How to hike up Mount Shosha

How to hike up Mount Shosha when the ropeway isn’t running

As I got off the bus in the middle of nowhere I have to admit I was a bit nervous about my impending adventure. Hiking alone along the well-organised Kumano Kodo was one thing, but climbing up Mount Shosha when people usually just took the ropeway was something else! The sight of boxes of hiking sticks at the start of the path made me feel a little better, although I did wonder if I would be alone up on the mountain.

The way...

The way… (or so I hoped!)

Along the way there were some signs, but only in Japanese. I found the most helpful signs the numbered markers as these at least gave me some idea that I was going in the right direction.

Mount Shosha

The third marker

Mount Shosha

The eleventh marker

The climb was really tough, and the path was very uneven. In places I was basically climbing, using my hands to get up and over the rocks. Goodness knows what I must have looked like to the one or two other hikers who passed me (sweaty, crazy gaijin alert!). It was all worth it for the spectacular view across Himeji, though.

Mount Shosha

Wow!

After what seemed like forever, but was really only about 40 minutes, I saw signs for the ropeway station and I knew I had nearly made it to the entrance of Engyoji.

Mount Shosha Ropeway - out of action for one week a year (this week!)

Sleeping ropeway car

Mount Shosha

Getting an idea what the view from the ropeway would have looked like

At the entrance I paid my ¥500 and headed further up the mountain. Engyoji’s buildings are spread over the forested mountaintop, and from the entrance it is about a 10 minute walk to the Niomon gate and then another 10-15 minutes to Maniden, the main building. Along the way are lots of interesting Buddhist statues…

Mount Shosha

Just chillin’ in the forest…

Mount Shosha

Aw, give us a hug!

Mount Shosha

Happy feet!

Mount Shosha

Many hands make light work

Mount Shosha

Another resting Buddha

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Two-faced

There’s also an observation point with more fantastic views. Himeji Castle could even be seen!

HImeji Castle from Mount Shosha

Look! It’s Himeji Castle!

Mount Shosha

Wowee!

 

I passed through Niomon, the main gate to Engyoji which was reconstructed in 1665…

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Niomon

The forest scenery continued as I made my way through the temple complex.

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Continue through the forest

Before long I reached Maniden, the main building. This building was originally constructed in 970 but sadly burned down in 1921. The construction of the present building was completed in 1932.

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Maniden

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Amazing architecture

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

How many pieces of wood, I wonder…

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Maniden

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Inside Maniden

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Intricate lamp

The path to my goal continued up behind Maniden…

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

The way continues…

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Buddha in the forest

Finally, after another 5 minutes or so, I reached the three massive wooden temple halls which are used in the Last Samurai. I had them all to myself, and I just stood and marvelled. The building on the left is Jogyodo, a training hall dedicated to Amitabha. Jogyodo was reconstructed in 1965. In the centre is Jikido, constructed in 1174 but left unfinished until it was reconstructed in 1963. On the right is Daikodo, the great auditorium originally constructed in 986 and reconstructed in 1956. All three buildings are on the ‘Important Cultural Property‘ list.

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

The three wooden halls: Jogyodo, Jikido and Daikodo

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Jogyodo

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Daikodo

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Jogyodo

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Jogyodo

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Jogyodo

 

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Crouching gaijin, peeping Buddha

I’ve been to a LOT of temples, but Engyoji temple complex is without a doubt one of the most impressive I’ve seen, and it was absolutely worth the climb! On the way back down I took a slightly different route at the start and came across these amazing Jizo statues.

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Hundreds of Jizo

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Jizo holding stuff

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Blue Jizo

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Pink Jizo

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Colourful Jizo

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Slinky Jizo

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Thomas Jizo

Mount Shosha - Engyoji Temple

Golden Jizo

The walk back down the mountain was difficult in places, but didn’t seem as hard as the way up (I knew where I was going at least!). I was also rewarded with some more stunning views:

Mount Shosha

Just look at that!

My visit to Mount Shosha was a fantastic adventure, and one that I would repeat in an instant! It’s a really special place.

12 thoughts on “Japan 2015: Mount Shosha

  1. I’d go back to Mt. Shosha in an instant too if I could. There are plenty of bigger, grander, and more famous temples elsewhere but this one remains one of my all-time favourites. … Also, I’m from New Zealand and I still like The Last Samurai. 🙂

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  2. Thank you for sharing this place , realy singular place with this colorfull lovely Jizos!
    So , its an othe place to go on my plan already quiet full …
    Kannon statues also very nice anthe movie i missed will be on my to see list!
    Bravo.

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  3. Your good fortune to visit with the cable car out of use and hence so few others present. Maybe that way, you were able to enjoy the genuine experience of the traditional monks, with the ascent both temporal and metaphysical. I’d recommend the same for Hieizan – path of the marathon monks – NE of Kyoto.

    I love the film too, and recognise each location from the mount, even if they were only there for three days. Once, there was a thousand monks based there; the remaining few appeared as extras in the film. Pity that the tea house at the top was marked, “Tom’s Place” when I was there the first time. The star was Watanabe Ken rather than TC.

    Did you see/visit the Tomb of the Hondas just opposite the halls at the top? It’s often not open but well worth it for its historical significance when it is.

    Interesting to me that, when I showed a photo of the statue with so many hands to a high school girl from Kyoto billeted with us, she said, “Scary.”

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    • Yes, I think I was very lucky that the cable car was closed – it made for a very different and unique experience!

      No, I didn’t see the Tomb of the Hondas – or I didn’t notice it anyway.

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