Hiking Into the Unknown: Sort Of

Sometimes it’s fun to look at a map and say “I wonder what going there would be like?”, and then just go and see without trying to find out anything in advance.

I admit that in the internet age it’s difficult to resist the urge to search Google and see what you can learn before going somewhere. In this case, I had searched and couldn’t find any information about hiking trails up Mt. Hiei near the Sakamoto Cable line on the east side of the mountain. We went anyway.

During our first week in Kyoto we hiked up the west side of Mt Hiei and took the funicular back down. I had noticed on Google Maps that there was another funicular on the east side to the Enrakyu-ji temple complex and monastery. An internet search found nothing about hiking trails in that area but my Gaia GPS app that I use for hiking showed two trails up to the monastery, one on either side of the Sakamoto Cable funicular.

Getting to the trailheads was easy: we took the Tozai subway line from Higishiyama east to the Yamashina station, then transferred to the JR Rail Kosei line north to Hieizan-Sakamoto station. A 15-minute walk west brought us to where Gaia showed the northernmost trail began: a broad series of stone steps leading up into the forest. So up we went.


The steps didn’t last long. The ensuing trail varied in character, from a rough jumble of old concrete road slabs, to a deeply eroded path, to a wider gravelly road.

We were sweating the steep sections, thinking we wouldn’t see anyone, when a teenage boy jogged past us uphill. But he was the only person we saw on the trail.

We paused to examine a small sign tied to a young maple tree. Rosemary emailed a photo of it to our friend Aki (my Google Translate app couldn’t decipher it) and he quickly replied that it roughly translated as “Watch Out for Fire” meaning essentially “Don’t start a forest fire”.

Farther along we came to a small shrine, overflowing with piles of coins meant as offerings.

A large stone wall came into view, above which was a long neglected shrine, and consulting the map on Gaia I could see we were getting close to the end of the trail at Enrakyu-ji.

After passing a modern foundation wall covered with brilliant orange moss,  we arrived at the edge of the temple complex. We had gained about 1,700 vertical feet in a mile and a half.

Above us we heard the deep resonant sound of a massive temple bell being struck, so we went to take a look.

Anyone could swing the log and strike the huge bell. The sound was magnificent, with the nearly subsonic aftertones persisting for so long that I never heard them fade out because there was a regular stream of people stepping up to take their turn. My guess is that it would take a few minutes before the bell stopped vibrating after a hard strike.

So of course I took the opportunity to sound the bell, as I had been wanting to do this for weeks now. The log swung easily and the sound was incredible: my whole body seemed to vibrate.

Then it was time for lunch. We went around the back of a smaller shrine that had few visitors, got out our collapsible hiking chairs (weight: 1.2 lbs) and enjoyed this view while we ate.


After we finished lunch it was a short walk to the funicular for the ride down the mountain. But first we paused to admire the view and note the top of the other hiking trail to the south of the cable car line. Maybe next time we will try it!

The Sakamoto Cable is Japan’s longest funicular line at 1.2 miles. At the bottom of the line is a simple model showing how funiculars work; in essence each car is counterbalanced by the other car.

On the walk back to the train station we saw this painter attempting to capture the essence of a large boulder, and discovered an interesting fungus on the base of a cherry tree.

We felt it was a very satisfying hike and well worth the effort!


Next post about our Kyoto trip >>> Blooming Aijisai, Flitting Tombo, and…Pooh Bear

2 thoughts on “Hiking Into the Unknown: Sort Of

  1. Pingback: The Extraordinary Koko-en Garden at Himeji Castle | Electric Travels

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