02 June 2017

Hiking up Mt Hiei via Kirarazaka

I spent around two weeks in Japan in May 2017 and here is my first story from the trip, although I still have more to write about my visit in September 2016!

It's easy to get exhausted by the crowds of Kyoto and bored with temples, so I decided to hike up Mt Hiei, home of the famous Marathon Monks. When it comes to hills, it's always satisfying reaching the summit and great exercise, so I recommend this as a day's activity.

I also recommend reading this somewhat amusing interview with a monk who has completed the challenge.

To be honest, I'm not sure if this hike includes part of the monk's running circuit, but the terrain as shown in my photos is similar to what you can see in the clip above. So, if you want a little taste of their experience and/or just a solid up hill walk then this is for you regardless.

Although obviously you can get used to anything, it's amazing to think people run not only up, but also down these kinds of trails in straw sandals. I caught a bus back to the city so I didn't do any real downhill. Also, it was easy to tell the paths would just become muddy rivulets in the rain.

I found the range of webpages talking about the hike up Hiei quite confusing and couldn't really come up with a plan. I told them at the generally excellent Kyoto Tourist Information Centre (at Kyoto Station) that I wanted to walk up Hiei and they sent me to Ginkakuji temple to start. When I got there, I asked a shop owner how to get up Hiei and he pointed vaguely up the street.

Off I went and after ten metres a lady politely told me she had overheard my conversation and that I was in the wrong spot. She said you need to go the Kirara-zaka. I googled this and found some helpful information. Here are my instructions - hopefully they help you if you want to do this hike.

From Kyoto Station catch a bus to Shugakuin Rikyu-michi

Walk up the hill through the streets to the Imperial Villa - use google maps to find it - I could see no English signage

At the (non-descript) entrance to the villa, turn right and follow the road

Go past some farmland until you reach a giant culvert/drain - it's not far at all

Start walking up the path next to this drain

Cross the wooden bridge when you come to it, it's only a few minutes walk to this bridge

Here's the link to the wooden bridge in google maps - however you get there is fine obviously - you can ignore my previous instructions!

After crossing the bridge, it's roughly 30 metres until you leave concrete and get on the dirt trail as shown on the picture below (the only black writing)

That map is a bit confusing, if you come to any junctions just go right, there is really only one, maybe two, before you see this sign below

After this sign, it is very well sign-posted and impossible to get lost

Near the top I joined Katagiri, a 74 year old retired Chemistry Professor who spoke near perfect English. We walked together for about half an hour. He said this was his weekly hike. May I be as fit when I'm 74 - I'm fairly sure he slowed his pace for me out of politeness. This is us at the summit together.

Once you come out of the forest, it's a mixture of roads and nice paths to walk on and still 10-20 minutes to the summit. I may not have found the actual summit if not for Katagiri. Also, he showed me the path down through the hills to the nearby Enryaku-ji temple complex rather than walking on the road to get there.

So, I hope these directions help. If you are of average fitness you can complete the climb up in under two hours. Definitely bring a litre or two of water, depending on the weather, and snacks or lunch. Sturdy footwear, trail running shoes if sneakers, but boots wouldn't hurt.

Coming up, I got bitten on the wrist by something, I don't know what. I woke up that night with a numb, throbbing hand. By morning it hand turned red and quite swollen, the redness creeping up my arm. It was just an allergic reaction, but I went to a hospital in Hiroshima the next day - after reading about the wonders of typhus and just to make sure an anti-histamine was all I needed. It was.

Even going to a hospital in Japan was charming. It cost about 5000 yen, less than my local GP. Aiko, a clerk from radiology acted as a translator. She had previously spent many years working in Sydney Airport selling opals, so used the word "basically" quite liberally. It all took about half an hour. The cost covered the anti-histamines, a course of antibiotics and cortisone cream prescribed by the doctor. I think the doctor was just being cautious or generous, I only used the anit-histamines and it was all back to normal in a week.

Anyhow, here is the first temple of the Enryaku-ji complex, although I think it is the most recent addition from memory. There were picnic tables to sit and eat the lunch I had carried up. It tasted really good after my efforts. I love that supermarkets all over Japan sell this kind of stuff made fresh every day quite cheaply.

I was quite content after that and did not really check out the temples much at all. There were some cool rows of large paintings outdoor telling the story of the monasteries, this was my favourite:

The monasteries have a long history. The monks there were warriors and the famous daimyƍ Oda Nobunaga slaughtered them and everyone and everything on the mountain in 1571 as part of his struggle for power.

I wrote this poem walking down from the summit to the temples. Such an amazing sound - visitors can strike the bell.

The bell rings
In the valley,
Cedars in rows

This little flower arrangement was in a museum attached to the temple complex.

I bought my flute with me and had a nice session on the way to the top.

18 May 2017

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