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Adventure to a Buddhist Mountain in Nara-Shakagatake 釈迦ヶ岳

Shakagatake is a popular mountain with total 13 climbing route for all levels from beginners to advanced hikers. Its peak lies 1799 m above sea level. This mountain is considered one of 200 most famous mountains in Japan where in the past many priests came here to lead a religious life. It is said that if you climb up and down three times, your wish will come true. 

 

In 1924, a legendary climber who Japanese call "Oni Masa", which literally means Devil, made hiking way to the peak of Shakagatake while bearing parts of a Buddha Statue on his shoulder. And three rounds are needed to carry all parts of the statue to the peak. He was famed for his super-powerful strength because the base of the statue weighs up to 400 kg. No one can explain how he could do this by himself. Thanks to his hard work, now on top of Shakagatake, there is a beautiful sacred Buddha that plays a role as a mountain guard and watches all hiking lovers climbing here and praying. This statue is the symbol, the spirited soul of Shakagatake.

Shakagatake lies along the border of Totsukawa Village 十津川 and Shimokitayama Village 下北山. The hiking trail in Totsukawa is designed for beginners which takes around 2.5 hours to the top whereas the trail in opposite direction in Shimokitayama Village is thought to be the hardest course with steep and slippery rocks and in bad weather, you need special gears to climb over those rocks. The latter takes 4 hours from the starting point to the top. 

Slippery and steep... watch your footing!

Slippery and steep... watch your footing!

Shakagatake is not a tourism mountain so finding a way to there is a different story with a lot of challenges. We departed at 0 am to go night hiking and intended to enjoy the sunrise at the top. From Osaka, it took normally 3 hours by car to Shimokitayama. After exiting the big road, we entered a small narrow road which leads to the starting point of the hiking course-the historical pilgrims' lodging. 

The day we went to Shakagatake is the day right after the day that super Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan. Therefore, roads are in very bad condition with thousands of falling rocks. We had to stop our car every 10m to clear the road on the way to the lodge, which broke our plan to get there before 4 am for the sunrise. Turning on the headlamp, we groped in the dark and headed straight non-stop with powerful energy until we saw Futatsuiwa Rock which is 8m tall on the side of the roads for the first break. Trying to climbing up this rock, you could see a beautiful landscape view with hundreds of standing vertical rocks and green forests. On the way to here, we came across some lovely deers and squirrels, passed through a violent stream which nearly made me give up because of its strong flow. This hiking trail is not well-marked with noticeable signboards so we got lost many times in the forest. Fortunately, we were able to find some coloured tapes stuck on trees that show the right direction we should follow. There is also a small hut, which is just one-hour hiking to the peak for climbers to stay overnight or avoiding bad weather.

Futatsuiwa rock

Futatsuiwa rock

View from the hut

View from the hut

Views from the hut

Views from the hut

A fellow adventurer, the massive toad

A fellow adventurer, the massive toad

A Japanese Marten

A Japanese Marten

We climbed in the autumn season so we are lucky to enjoy the beauty of autumn leaves that cover the whole hill. After the storm, there is always the sun. The weather is so perfect that we saw rainbow two times and sea cloud flowing overwhelmingly over the mountains. What breathtaking scenery!

Eventually, we reached the top where the Buddha is standing after 4 hours hiking and trekking through grassland which made our pants completely get wet. The Buddha faces towards Totsukawa lake which is hugged by Asahi Dam. In the opposite direction, it is Shichimen mountain-goal of every rock climber since it is considered the most challenge (~400m vertically) climbing rock wall in Japan. Shakagatake is one peak among other peaks in the same mountain range, from where you can see other summits such as Mt. Misen and Mt. Dainichi.

There are a lot of coins and pilgrims' name board at the base of the statue. Please remember not to climb the base because it is easy to crumble. The wind on the top was so strong that nearly blew me away so bring a wind jacket with you in order not to get cold.

Stunning views

Stunning views

Epic sunrise

Epic sunrise

Panorama at the top with the autumn leaves

Panorama at the top with the autumn leaves

 Next, I would like to introduce the easiest hiking course starting at Totsukawa for non-experienced hikers who want to give Shakagatake a try.

Our recommendation is getting there by private car because there is no public transportation that takes you directly to the mountain entrance gate.

By car:

Get off at Minami-Hanna Road at the Katsuragi Interchange. From Route 165 via Prefectural Route 30, enter Prefectural Route 261 and Route 310 to National Route 168 to the mountain entrance gate. Continue driving along Route 168 in Totsukawa to the Tanize suspension bridge. Cross the bridge and follow the narrow road up for about 10 km to the end of the road, at which you will find the mountain gate which is written Omine Okugake Michi in both English and Japanese. Follow the signs that read 登山口 and you will see stairs next to the signboard.

By public transportation from Osaka: 

From JR Osaka Station, get on the train at Line 2 platform, get off at Tennoji Station, and transfer to Kansai Line (Yamatoji Line) to Platform 16. Get on Rapid Gojo Line. 14th, and get off at JR Gojo Station. The time required from Tennoji Station is about 1 hour and 10 minutes. The fare from JR Osaka Station to Gojo Station is 1330 yen.

From Gojo station, take the Nara Kotsu Bus bound for Totsugawa or Shingu Station and get off at Asahibashi. The journey takes about an hour and a half and the fare is 1650 yen. From Asahibashi, you can get to Tao Mountain Trail 太尾山 by taxi or 4 hours on foot.

The Totsukawa line operates only three times on weekdays, two times on weekends and holidays. The Totsukawa line will depart at 8, 12, 16 on weekdays, and 12:00 o'clock on weekends and holidays. 

Once you have improved your mountain climbing technique, you will want to try mountain climbing on different routes of Shakagatake. If you live in Osaka or Nara, it would be a perfect one day hiking. Bring isotonic water and calories candy to support you during your adventure. Also prepare good shoes, trekking poles in case your legs hurt and your phone/camera for stunning photos.

Kansai Local are doing private tours and adventures to places that tourists don't know about. If this sounds awesome, get in touch with us and we will get back to you! 

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