Awarded a 1 Star by the
Michelin Green Guide
A 45 minute hike up to the top of ropeway through the lush mountain forest at the back of the town.
This walking and hiking course will take you from the station and to the top of the ropeway, located at the back of Kinosaki Onsen. The entire course takes approximately 45 minutes one way. The trail up the mountain can be steep. For those that want to explore the trail but are unsure of being able to make it up the mountain, you could also simply take the gondola up the ropeway and take the walk down the mountain instead of up it.
Your Hike Begins Here
But, before you start you are gonna want to get a couple supplies.
Although Japan is famous for having vending machines virtually everywhere, you won’t find any on the hike until you reach the top. So you will want to grab a drink or two and maybe a light snack at one of the shops in town before you head up the mountain. I would definitely grab 2-3 sports drinks if you plan on making the hike in the summer.
The entrance to Mt. Daishi mountain trail is to the right hand or north east of the ropeway station. You will pass through the main gate of the temple, Onsenji, that also resides on the mountain. If you have a moment I encourage you to stop by the shrine to the left, just after the main gate, to offer a quick prayer for safe travels. Just a little bit of Japanese hiking etiquette. This temple is called Yakushido, a temple built to the healing Buddha who also guards and protects the hot spring waters and its visitors. It is also a natural treasure.
The first half of the hike you will spend climbing up stone steps splattered with moss of various greens. Off to the side of the second stair case you will find stone guardians and benches hiding among the moss covered roots. The dense canopy provides some shade that cools down the walk a little in the summer and come autumn, it makes for a beautiful fall hike. We made the hike both in the spring and in the fall. The photos above are from my hike up in the spring, but we only had time to go up to Onsenji at the midway station of the ropeway. Later on in fall I was able to make it up all the way.
After climbing 3 sets of stairs you will come to the mid point of the ropeway and the main building of Onsenji , the guardian temple of Kinosaki Onsen. This also makes a great point to stop, take a break, enjoy the view, and learn a little more about Kinosaki’s history. At the top, if you take the path all the way to the left you will see a bell-tower where you can ring the bell, but go easy on it the area is a place of prayer after-all. Keep walking out past the bell tower along the path and you will come to an opening with benches, a great place to sit and rest while looking out onto the town. There is also a small art museum that has a collection of cultural heritage items and relics from Kinosaki Onsen.
Onsenji main building. For 300 yen you can enter the temple and main hall, during normal opening hours there will be staff there to show you around. Although guidances are done in Japanese they do have a print out in English with the more important points of the temple, artifacts and Japanese National Cultural Treasures.
After checking out the view and visiting Onsenji, to get back onto the hiking path to the top, climb the stone steps up to the two-storied pagoda. You will find the steps across from the bell-tower. The momiji or Japanese maple trees were especially beautiful in the fall but are also a stunning green in the spring and summer as well.
Go around on the left side of the pagoda and towards the back you will see a sign post and a nature trail heading up into the mountains. This is the start of the rest of the path you will take all the way to the top.
The path can be extremely uneven, steep and also slippery if it has just rained. Take you time going up, not only for safety’s sake but also to enjoy the lush forests with towering trees. I found the natural “steps” created by the surrounding tree roots and stones especially interesting.
You will soon come across a quiet cemetery, try not to walk through the rows of head stones, instead take the path that runs along the side. Isn’t it neat how the path just kid of meanders through the leaning trees and up and over the hill into the distance?
If you time it just right, a gondola on the ropeway will float right on by on your way up that little path. At the clearing near the tower you get another great view of the town. The passengers on the gondola got a kick out of waving hi as they passed up and over our heads, so did we.
After the ropeway clearing, the path will dip down to a small bridge that crosses a little babbling brook. Again, watch your footing as the moss and fallen leaves can make it slippery. At the top of the hill on the other side of the bridge we came across the first of several stone statues. These are “Ojizo” and “stone buddha”. They are located along the entire path and act as markers. They are also part of the 88 Stone Buddha Passage located in Kinosaki Onsen, a smaller version of the Shikoku Pilgrimage to the 88 holy places and temples in Shikoku. Travelers can stop and pray for safe travels, good health or similar. You may also see small coins left at the statues as tribute. The stone statues at the top will also be dressed with little hats and bibs. The ojizo are guardians of children, especially children who have died before their parents, the hats and bibs are put onto the statues in hopes it would protect the child in the other world.
After climbing further up the mountain trail, it got pretty steep and rugged there for a while, we came across another clearing that looked like a small tunnel or burrow from afar. The maple leaves were a great accent too. Once again, this is also another opening that will give you a little higher view point of the town.
After that last clearing the path started to snack and wind up the hill, we ran into a couple that were coming down the path from the top of the ropeway. They kindly informed us that it would be another 20 minutes to the top. At this point we decided to make another pit stop to catch our breathe and prepare for more thigh-burning climbing. But turned out that it was only another 5, maybe 10 minutes, if you go at a leisurely pace.
And we did it, and managed to get to the top in one piece in good time. All in all it took about 40-45 minutes to get from the bottom to the top, not including a 30 minute stop at the midway point to check out Onsenji. The picture on the left is the sign post at the top of the path and the one on the right is another route guide pointing out 3 directions. About 0.1 km to the left is the summit of Oshisan (that’s the mountain we climbed) and the top of the ropeway. To the right about another 4.5 km is the summit of Mt. Kuruhi, this is where you will go for a great view over the entire valley and even better yet, “unkai” or sea of clouds. A very mystic scene that can only be seen under specific conditions during the fall and spring that creates a blanket of clouds at sunrise, and at the top of Mt. Kuruhi you can stand above all this.
Finish Up Your Hike
After a hard climb, you deserve to treat yourself to an award of some kind, right? What better reward than a long, hot soak in one of the 7 onsen bathhouses? I would highly suggest trying out Mandara-yu, as it has the closest tie with your hike. After all you did pass by and probably stop by Onsenji, the guardian temple of Kinosaki’s hot springs and a result of the discovery of Mandara-yu.