It’s been a good couple of weeks lately. You’d never know it by the way I keep posting leftover Tokyo photos but we’re finally pretty settled into daily life here in Sendai. The layout of the city is a bit less of a mystery, we’ve made some local friends (both foreigners and Japanese) and we continue to be impressed with how liveable the city is and how nice (and patient) her people are.
Every once in a while though, you want to get out of the routine, so last weekend that’s exactly what we did. After some brief searching for good local hiking spots, we decided to do a stretch out in the country between the sparsely populated train stop at OmoshiroYama Kogen and the town of Yamadera (‘mountain temple’), home to it’s namesake, the temple of Risshaku-ji (立石寺).When searching for information in English, we came across this blog entry titled “Descent into Omoshiroyama-Kogen – The Definitive Guide” as well as it’s companion post with tons of photos, both of which helped us immensely in making sure we were ready, because at times I’d definitely classify it as an intermediate-level trail. We didn’t have to cross any water, as that blog showed, but I have a feeling we got lucky. The trail follows a valley stream and I’m sure that in even moderate rains the runoff could get dodgy quick. Heeding advice about bringing a change of footwear, at the very least, would be extremely prudent.
Helpful as it is though, that blog post is about 2 years old at this point so I thought it might be nice to offer this post as an updated supplement for anyone else searching for info on this hike.
We met Mary’s co-workers, Amanda and Chris at JR Kita-Sendai Station early in the morning to catch the 7:14am train. We knew the hike was long and we likely wouldn’t be going that fast so we wanted to have plenty of time.
The train ride was about 45 minutes and was pleasant scenery the whole way. Miyagi Prefecture really is beautiful (as well as Yamagata Prefecture, which our destination is in), though to be honest, I’ve yet to come across Japanese countryside I haven’t liked.
As expected, OmoshiroYama Station is small and unmanned. There wasn’t even an exit gate to put our tickets into. As the other guide mentions, there aren’t vending machines at the station but just up a flight of stairs there’s a small group of buildings including public restrooms, a few Inns and, yes, even some vending machines for those of you that suck at planning. This hike isn’t a total killer but it’s definitely long enough that you’re probably going to want something to drink, especially if it’s summer.
After crossing a bridge over the tracks, we doubled back and started the descent into the valley. We’d barely been there 5 minutes and were already seeing our first waterfall (of which we would see many that day).
After quickly reaching the bottom, you come across two things you’ll also see a lot of on this hike: metal-scaffold stairs and metal-framed bridges. Not exactly rustic, but they get the job done… even if I never really trusted the look of those stairs.
I realized quickly that I’m really not great at nature photography because none of these photos really convey the sense of how beautiful it really is down in this valley. The paths are pretty narrow and frequently cut into the surrounding rock, keeping you close to the water but still just high enough from it so that you’ve always got a nicely-framed vantage point with it vanishing into the distance.
Oh and did I mention there’s lots of bridges? There are. This particular variety with the steel frames were solid as hell and felt totally safe.
This bridge didn’t have proper railings though so we really had to embrace our inner Knievel. You can really see the terror on Amanda’s face.
A neat thing about following any stream or river is how it’ll go from active to still and back again frequently, this was no exception. It was dead quiet around Whale Rock, which also really let you appreciate how crystal-clear the water is.
Parts of the trail are certainly less maintained than others, which is part of the charm and enjoyment of a good hike but good to know about. There were narrow sections of the trail that used to have chain railings where large portions had fallen into the stream when the posts came loose from erosion.
This section was one of the most blocked we came across and as you can see, it really wasn’t all that bad.
Aside from the first group of metal-framed bridges we came across, the majority of the rest were wood-framed suspension bridges like this one. The cables all seemed sturdy enough but the planks in the floor were sometimes slightly rotten and felt a little dodgy. We went one at a time and held on to the cables as we crossed, just in case.
At times, the narrow path is simply carved into the rock. This can make it a little dodgy at times since the rocks are often covered in leaves, moss and are we from rain runoff. Fortunately, this section had a handy rope to hang on to.
Eagle-eyed Chris noticed a hornet nest near the top of this rock. Japanese hornets are freakin’ huge so we slipped past this area quickly so as not to incite a turf-war that we certainly would have lost.
We didn’t realize it at the time but we were nearing the end of the valley trail at this point. Soon after we climbed another set of scaffolding-stairs, went through a tunnel underneath the train tracks and found ourselves on Endor.
There was a short climb up the last part of trail before we found ourselves on this narrow country road, which would guide us the remainder of the way to Yamadera, another 4.5km away. At this point we were about 1/3 of the way through our journey.
Check out the crazy concrete latticework laid out on this hillside to help manage erosion.
Even though in terms of distance the majority of our hike was still ahead of us, we were moving so much more quickly on the paved road that in terms of time, we were really about halfway to our destination.
This was allegedly a water treatment plant but there’s nothing you can say to convince me this isn’t some kind of zombie research lab.
Also, look at the cattails!
Eventually we came across a house in the country. Then another. Before long it was a neighborhood. We must be getting close.
And then, passing under this bridge, we finally find ourselves…
…in the charming town of Yamadera, our final destination… kind of.
As I mentioned, Yamadera is home to Risshaku-Ji Temple, which you can see in the hills above town. Now after all this, we couldn’t very well not go up there, could we?
Yup, that thing up there… we go to it. Nao!
The first set of stairs from the street lead to the lower area of the temple grounds. This area is free, though to climb to the top it’s a modest ¥300 entrance fee. I’m telling you now, it is totally worth it.
These stickers you see are called senjya fuda and bear the family names of the pilgrims that placed them there to prove they visited this or that shrine. As you may expect, it’s also considered that bit of good luck will follow you as long as your sticker is there. While I didn’t get a photo, I also saw a few instances of people leaving their business cards in lieu of a proper sticker.
Apparently this practice is starting to become frowned upon though in the interests of preserving these historical sites.
At this point in the day, my camera battery was on it’s last legs so I decided to wait until we neared the top since I didn’t want to miss out on photos of epic views.
Suffice it to say that there are 1015 steps from the lower area to the top, so be prepared to sweat and for goodness sake, bring a damn waterbottle! The climb is long but it’s beautiful every step of the way, with smaller shrines and rock carvings along the way. There’s always something to look at. And there’s certainly no shame in taking breaks along the way, plenty of people were stopping to catch their breath.As you can see, we made it to the top. I don’t know what kind of commentary I can possibly offer to compete with this view. I’ll just say that after getting up at the crack of dawn, hiking for 9km and then climbing up 1000 stairs to the top of a mountain, I had zero regrets. In fact we may even do this again later in the fall to catch the same views but surrounded with firey fall foliage. Ha, ending on alliteration, I love it.
I had to look up what these stakes with the wheels on them are. Turns out they’re called Jizo Guruma and the idea is you pray at one while turning the wheel upward for a wish for the present life or turning it downward for a wish for the afterlife.
To conclude on our experiences about the hike, I would say that on the whole, it’s a pretty forgiving journey with only a few spots where you need to be careful of your footing. If it’s at all rainy or even the wet season, I’d recommend bringing a change of socks and shoes just in case you have to wade through some runoff or just want to go in the water for the heck of it. I was in my Teva sandals for the whole thing and was perfectly fine aside from my feet smelling like a wet hobo afterwards.