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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
There’s also an observation point with more fantastic views. Himeji Castle could even be seen!
I passed through Niomon, the main gate to Engyoji which was reconstructed in 1665…
The forest scenery continued as I made my way through the temple complex.
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.
The path to my goal continued up behind Maniden…
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.
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.
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:
My visit to Mount Shosha was a fantastic adventure, and one that I would repeat in an instant! It’s a really special place.