If you are travelling in Shikoku region, you are mostly likely an advance traveller who loved to see some other local hidden gems in Japan beside Asakusa 浅草 (Tokyo) or Arashiyama 嵐山 (Kyoto). Konpiransan also known Kotohira-gu (金刀比羅宮) is a place you should not missed. It is so important that it is a place that many Japanese want to visit at least once in their lifetime.
Our Entrance to Konpirasan is Not the Normal Route
The funny thing is the GPS has brought us to the back of the mountain to enter Konpirasan which is kind of adventurous and scary as the road is very narrow and full of Japanese ohaka/graveyard. I am sure it is not the usual route for the visitors because we are the only car passing by those dark eerie graveyard and bamboo forest. This is not the first time GPS has play tricks on us. We experience similar cases several times during previous self drive in Japan.
We still could not see Konpirasan after driving for 5-10 mins in the dark forest but we knew it was nearby so we decided to stop and park our rental car near a home restaurant in the middle of the mountain once we see some local housing started to appeared.
After we parked the car, we use our handphone google map to walk us to Konpirasan. We don’t see any visitors along the way, only bamboo forest and lemon trees. But finally found our way.
Normal Entrance to Konpirasan
The normal entrance to Konpirasan (below picture) is through shrine road where visitors would walk up from the small town passing through many shops and restaurants. We then realised we have skipped 1/3 of the climb since our car has brought us to the middle of the mountain. If you are coming up by train, you will be using the normal route and climb from the bottom of the stairs.
There are in total 1368 steps up to the shrine and many visitors were seen holding and walking with a bamboo walking stick. Those walking sticks can be loan from the souvenir shops.
Konpirasan is a mixture between Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple but it was officially declared a shrine in Meiji Period. However you are still able to notice the architecture displayed both Shinto and Buddhist elements.
Five Special Stalls Called “Ame-ya” 飴屋
Not everyone can set up little stall and sell thing inside Konpirasan. There are only 5 stalls at the entrance of Kotohiragu with special permission to sell “Kamiyoame candy” /加美代飴 in the shrine premises. They set their stalls with a huge white umbrella and knelt on their knee on the red table. These people are allowed to sell thing here because their ancestors had made great contribution to the shrine.
Toro 灯籠 – Traditional Stone Lantern
1368 Steps up to Kotohira gu
Golden Propeller stand in the middle of Konpirasan
Shoin 書院 – Study Room
Shoin is the study hall to learn about the sutra.
Asahi-sha is the largest building in Konpirasan complex. The achitecture is stunning and well maintained. It was a Monday morning but the locals crowd aren’t little. I waited for quite a while for the crowd to clear and shoot this picture.
Usually there is the purification fountain near the shrine complex, take one of the ladles and fill it with water and rinse both hands. Then transfer some water into your cupped hand, rinse your mouth and spit the water beside the fountain. Do not drink directly from the ladle.
Kamiuma 神馬 / God Horse
There are 2 horses here regarded as God Horse but they look ordinary except with color white. Too bad the horses refuse to look up so I can’t shoot his face.
View of Sanuki City
At the side corner of the main shrine, you are able to see the whole Sanuki city.
Kaguraden – The Dance Stage
Kagura-den 神楽殿 is traditional dance stage usually found in most shrines but now still used for weddings and Noh plays. If you are lucky you may see Noh plays in this stage. I have seen Noh play once when I was a student in Kumamoto Kyushu. Pretty interesting but totally has no clue about Noh play.
Hongu (Main Shrine ) Complex
Most shrines offer omikuji in Japan.
Omikuji are Japanese fortune telling paper strips. There are good and bad prediction. If you get the good prediction, you can either keep it for good luck or tie it to the tree or wire so that more fortune coming to you. What happen if you have a bad prediction? Find a pine tree is called “matsu”; it has the same sound as “to wait” also “matsu”, the idea is that the bad luck will wait by the matsu tree and not coming to you.
There are many dogs visiting Kotohira gu with their owner and there is reason why this shrine is popular among dogs.
During Edo period, people are expect to go up once in their life time and some people who could not make it to the top due to illness would send their dog to help them make pilgrimage. The owner would hang a wooden tag with their name, some money & offering to the dog’s neck and travelers on their way would also help to lead the dog up to the shrine and hand over what is in the dog neck to the temple.
Dog owners and their babies.
An exhibition hall with pictures of old ships and submarine. Since this shrine is patron of sea ship and sailor.
Ema 絵馬 – Wooden Plagues for Wishes
Ema 絵馬 are small wooden plaques found in Shrines. The ema are left hanging at the shrine hoping for the god to receive them and help the owner grant their wishes.
We spent about 2 hours to view Konpirasan or Kotohira-gu. Then we walked back to get our car and drive down. On the way down, we spotted there are plenty of charged car park. So even if you are self driving, there is no problem to get a car park at the foot of the Konpirasan.
Some interesting shops at the foot of the Konpirasan.
Final thoughts :
The yellow banner mean – “Shiawase-san, Konpira-san” (しあわせさん、こんぴらさん) or “Mountain of Happiness, Konpira Mountain”.
There are 1368 steps up to Kotohira-gu/Konpirasan, the mountain of happiness. During Edo period, everyone is expected to visit at least once during their lifetime. Some who is unfit will send their dog to come up to do the pilgrimage for them so you see there are also many dogs visiting this shrine with their owner nowadays.
The best time to visit should be in Autumn – mid Nov onwards, you also get to see the red maple leaves in the backdrop.