Category Archives: Cultural Notes

書写山 / Mount Shosha

Well, it’s been two weeks since I actually climbed Mount Shosha (Shosha-zan), thanks to how far behind I’ve gotten in this blog. However, it was such a great experience, the memory is still pretty crisp in my mind. Prepare yourself for a post full of pictures!

Two weeks ago, Aki, our buddy Yuka, Yuka’s friend Taki and I made plans to climb Mount Shosha on the weekend, and I looked forward to it the entire week! That week we had an Action! homework assignment to ask 5 strangers for their sightseeing recommendations in Himeji, and every single person I talked to mentioned Mount Shosha. They said there was a beautiful temple on top, and from the vista points you could see all of Himeji. It got me pretty overwhelmingly excited. So, on Sunday morning I prepared my camera, and we met in the bus terminal to head for the mountain.

Although in my mind I thought the bus ride would take us to some remote, far away place, the bus only took 30 minutes from the bus terminal (which is right next to Himeji-eki, the train station) to bring us to the foot of the mountain. There, we were met with two options: climb the mountain on foot (approx. 1 hour) or take a 3 minute ropeway ride up to the top. And of course we decided to climb it!

Getting to the beginning of the mountain trail was actually kind of confusing. There were directions leading us through some neighborhoods to get there, but the signage was a little odd. For example:

(For those of you that can’t read the Japanese characters – they want you to turn right but they printed the arrow pointing left… So they just turned the sign upside down…)

When we got to the beginning of the trail, we headed straight up!

… And I mean literally straight up! The path was pretty steep! Thankfully there were wooden stairs installed or easy-to-climb rocks throughout most of the trail, but it was no leisurely walk. It was a hot day, but we wanted to get up there fast to see all of the good stuff on top of the mountain. I was glad I wore hiking boots and a fast-dry shirt!

Something we were all particularly amused by was that they provided these bamboo walking sticks at regular intervals along the mountain.

The photo right above is something really funny we found along the way – the sign says “The Smallest Pond in Japan.” This thing was like a foot and a half across. Hee hee!

Something that caught my attention as we were climbing is how few fellow climbers we met. We only passed maybe 5 people heading down the mountain along the way, and we never saw a single other person or group heading up around the same time as us. I guess most people decide to just take the 3 minute ropeway rather than sweating the way up.

Whenever we passed a fellow climber, we always greeted each other with a “Konnichiwa” (good day), which I asked my buddy about, because it struck me as a bit weird. In Japan you never really say any greetings to strangers. In the U.S., it’s not uncommon to hear a “hi” or “hello” if you meet eyes with someone on the street on in an elevator, because if you don’t say anything it can come across a little rude or weird. In Japan it’s the opposite. If you go around saying hello to people you don’t know, you seem super weird. But according to my buddy, mountain climbing is the exception. So we greeted everyone we passed with a cheerful hello.

By the time we got to the top, we were pretty exhausted, but the vista was pretty awesome! There was also a cool breeze – something we had been wishing for for an hour!

After entering the the main area, we were greeted by… ANOTHER TRAIL. Turns out it required a bit more walking to get to the temple. Ah well, we were drenched anyways. Along the way we were greeted by at least 10 of these beautiful little statues and shrines, which lead the way. There was also a few more vista points.

We found this green little guy in the middle of the road, and, since he would probably get squished, Aki decided to help him out. We named him 書写山の書写さん (“Mr. Shosha of Mt. Shosha” … A little Japanese word play).

The area on the top of the mountain is actually pretty expansive and has a lot of beautiful buildings, shrines, and of course the famous temple (圓教寺, Engyo temple). It was also pretty busy – clearly most people decide to take the Ropeway after all! First we headed up to the temple.

The temple was very beautiful, and very high off the ground! The floorboards, being pretty old, had little gaps in between them, and so when I looked down my stomach dropped a bit. There was a lot of interesting stuff inside the temple, but unfortunately I am not the most learned in Buddhism (or Shintoism, in terms of Shrines). I think temples are very beautiful, but since I don’t understand the purpose of all the objects it’s hard for me to appreciate them on a deeper level. It makes me want to make sure I study these things more before the next time I come to Japan, so I can participate, or at least appreciate it more.

After the temple, we walked through most of the other parts of the mountaintop area. It was a lot to get through! But it was all very beautiful. Mount Shosha is where parts of the film The Last Samurai was filmed, so I think most of the tourism comes from that. There seemed to be lots of people posing in front of certain buildings, which I’m assuming were in famous scenes, but since I haven’t seen the movie I’m not sure.

By the end of the day, we were all totally exhausted. After grabbing some frozen treats, we decided to take the ropeway down the mountain. This is NOT out of laziness, but because we wanted to see what the ropeway option was like! It turned out to be pretty cool. Since it was a hot day, the cablecar had all of it’s windows open, and upon boarding, Aki and I headed straight to the front of the car so we could stick our heads (and my camera!) out the window for the ride down.

After the three minute ride to the bottom, we arrived just in time to board the bus and head back to the bus terminal in the city. It was a long, but super fun day! I’m really glad we decided to make the trip. I would absolutely recommend anyone visiting Himeji to head over to Mount Shosha. If you aren’t one for mountain climbing, the ropeway is always an option, and the top of the mountain is truly amazing.

The week following my Mt. Shosha experience went by really quickly. We had our midterm examination on Wednesday, which was completely spoken, no writing at all. I tend to get super stressed about any type of oral or live-performance based tests, so I spend all Monday and Tuesday preparing. I was really happy when it was over, because we had the fourth of July off (Americans, we are!) and then headed off to Kyoto that Friday. Can’t wait to show all of you the absolutely awesome time I had in Kyoto, soon!