The 1,368 Step Pilgrimage Climb of Konpira-san

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Located in Shikoku’s Kagawa Prefecture, Konpira­san, formally known as Kotohira Shrine, is renowned for its challenging 1,368 step climb that tests pilgrims’ endurance and determination.

The massive Konpira­san complex has a fascinating history that can be observed from its fusion of Buddhist and Shinto architectural elements. The Shrine was initially dedicated to Konpira Daigongen, a Shinto­Buddhist syncretic divinity assimilated with the Indian deity, Kumbhira, who is symbolic of the Ganges River and regarded as the protector of sailors and fishermen in Japan. From 1868 onwards, the Shrine was associated with Omononushi­no­Mikoto, and also dedicated to Emperor Sutoku.

Despite the arduous 1,368 step ascent, Konpira­san, sitting majestically on Mount Zozu, is visited by many locals and tourists. Easily accessed from Takamatsu, Konpira­san is the main attraction in the quaint town of Kotohira. Most visitors embark on their pilgrimage after a short walk from the conveniently situated JR Kotohira or Kotoden Kotohira station.  

The hike starts from a bustling shopping arcade filled with souvenir shops and food stores. Under large white parasols, there are five traditional sweet vendors (Gonin Byakusho) who are supposedly descendants of families permitted to trade within the sacred grounds of the Shrine.

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Konpira­san is a Shrine of faith and culture and there are many important cultural properties located along the route to distract climbers from their fatigue. Visitors can admire the grand wooden structure of Asahi­no­Yashiro Shrine (Shrine of the Rising Sun), which is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu. Many beautiful paintings and sculptures are displayed in the Omote­shoin (formal drawing room), Oku­shoin (inner drawing room) and Houmotsu­kan (treasure house).

The progress of the trek can be tracked by numbers shown prominently on the steps leading to the top.

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Visitors like to make offerings and purchase amulets that are believed to bring good health and happiness.
 

 Konpira Inu – special dogs who climbed the steps for their owners

Konpira Inu – special dogs who climbed the steps for their owners

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Found in the Shrine’s vicinity, the images or sculptures of dogs commemorate the special dogs, affectionately called Konpira Inu, which were substitute pilgrims for their owners who could not visit the Shrine personally.

Before embarking on the last 583 steps to the Inner Shrine, climbers should take a break and enjoy panoramic views of the Sanuki plains, Mount Iino (also known as “Sanuki Fuji”), and even the Seto Inland Sea on a clear day.

 Enjoy panoramic views after climbing 785 steps to the Main Shrine

Enjoy panoramic views after climbing 785 steps to the Main Shrine

The way to the Inner Shrine

 Most people end their climb here because they do not want to climb all the way to Inner Shrine or they mistakenly believe they have reached the top.

Most people end their climb here because they do not want to climb all the way to Inner Shrine or they mistakenly believe they have reached the top.

Meditative journey

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The last part of the pilgrimage becomes more meditative as climbers can immerse themselves in the serenity of nature without the crowds. The atmospheric trail is paved with stone tablets engraved with names to honor people who have donated to the Shrine throughout the years.

 Stone tablets along the atmospheric trail

Stone tablets along the atmospheric trail

The summit – Konpira-­san’s Inner Shrine

After conquering 1,386 steps, persevering climbers revel in front of the Inner Shrine and soak in the tranquility of the spiritual spot.

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The famous Sanuki’s udon

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After descending, hungry climbers can reward themselves with a bowl of sanuki udon, Kagawa’s famed noodles.

Konpira Grand Theatre (Kanamaru­za)

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Climbers who still have energy are encouraged to visit the Konpira Grand Theatre, also known as Kanamaru­za, near the bottom of the trail. Constructed in 1835, the oldest surviving kabuki theatre in Japan has preserved the traditional tatami seating and manually­ operated rotating stage.

Konpira hot springs

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Finally, the Konpira hot springs is a perfect place to end the day. Climbing the 1,368 steps to Konpira­san is both a spiritual and cultural experience that should not be missed during a trip to Shikoku.


Konpira Shrine

Address: 892­1 Kotohira­cho, Nakatado­gun, Kagawa Prefecture, 766­8501

Hours: Hongu (main shrine): 6:00 ­ 17:00 (November to February); 6:00 ­ 17:30 (March to April and September to October); 6:00 ­ 18:00 (May to August);  Inner shrine: 8:00 ­ 17:00 

Official website: http://www.konpira.or.jp/

Kotosankaku  Day Spa

Address: 685­11 Kotohira­cho, Nakatado­gun, Kagawa Prefecture, 766­0001 

Closed: Every Thursday Hours: 11:00 ­ 16:00 (last entry is 15:00) Admission (adults): 900 yen (includes towel rental) 

Official website (Japanese): http://www.kotosankaku.jp/hotspa/dayspa/ 

English website: http://travel.rakuten.com/hotel/info/14833/

Konpira Grand Theatre (Kanamaru­za)

Address: 1241 Kotohira­cho, Nakatado­gun, Kagawa Prefecture, 766­0001 Official website (Japanese only): http://www.konpirakabuki.jp/index.html


This article was published in ANA Experience Japan website 2016-2018.