This trip is now full; it booked up less than a week after registration opened. Let me know if you’d like to be on the waiting list in case of cancellations, and please consider joining our upcoming trips to Tanzawa (Sat-Sunday, Nov. 28-28) and Gotemba (Sat. Feb. 6). Details to follow.
What’s more fun than tattooed men frolicking in a waterfall? Our next “Discover Another Kanagawa” excursion! This time we’re planning a day trip to fascinating Mt. Oyama. The date is Saturday October 31 and you’re invited to join us. Highlights include a ride on the latest in cable cars, a 2-star Michelin view over the Kanto plain, and special access to see how a 1,100-year-old temple gets restored.
Mt. Oyama is a beautiful, pyramid-shaped peak located pretty much in the center of Kanagawa Prefecture. It may have been a schlep to get there 150 years ago when Tokyo was Edo, but it’s easy now via the Odakyu Line from Shinjuku.
Mt. Oyama has long been an object of worship, but during the Edo period, when common people first gained the means and freedom to travel, Oyama became a popular pilgrimage site. It would attract as many 20,000 pilgrims in the space of a few weeks during the summer — that’s a tenth of Edo’s entire population. People would organize by neighborhood or occupation into groups and travel together on foot.
See the figure in the middle holding a board? That’s actually a famous Kabuki actor and the object he’s holding is a kidachi 木太刀, or large wooden sword. Pilgrims would carry these swords all the way from Edo as an offering at Oyama’s Afuri Shrine. They were often elaborately carved, several meters long and HEAVY! Can you imagine what a spectacle it would have been to see a band of men identically dressed in matching pilgrim’s clothes, probably drunk and carrying a giant sword on their shoulders? Yes, for while the Oyama pilgrimage was ostensibly a spiritual journey, the pilgrims had a lot of fun and drink along the way: the mountain was a center of Noh theater and comic rakugo performance. Oyama was Edo’s Disneyland!
Our group, which is limited to 20 people, will meet at Isehara station on the Odakyu Odawara Line at 8:10 am. (Train information below.) We’ll ride on Oyama’s brand-new cable cars to the Oyama Afuri Shrine, where we’ll take in the fabulous view over the Kanto plain and ocean. (The Michelin Guide justifiably gives this view two stars, because on a clear day you can see Enoshima and all the way to the Boso Peninsula.) The young priest of the shrine, 27th generation in a hereditary line, will be our guide us, telling us about the surprising and often colorful history of the Oyama pilgrimage. Be sure to bring a water bottle so you can fill up with the shrine’s auspicious fresh spring water.
After, we’ll head back down the mountain to visit with one of the last craftsmen still making Oyama’s famous wooden “koma” (spinning tops), Suzuki Yuji. He’ll show us how he makes the tops and demonstrate his skilled hand at spinning them, too.
Oyama is also famous for tofu, so well have a fancy tofu lunch served at an old inn that once served only groups of pilgrims. The owner will tell about the inn’s history, and perform for us the Shinto ceremony that protected generations of pilgrims when they left the inn for their climb up the mountain.
Afterward, we’ll go to Oyama’s unusual Noh theater, which is built over water, for a special back-stage and on-stage tour. We’ll get a brief demonstration and have a chance to try on a real Noh mask, too. It’s interesting to experience how little the actors can actually see when they are wearing a mask.
Finally, we’ll head up another side of the mountain to Hinata Yakushi, said to have been founded by the Buddhist priest Gyoki in 716. One of Japan’s three great Yakushi temples and an Important Cultural Property, the wooden main building is currently undergoing a 7-year renovation.
We have been granted special access into the actual construction site, where we will learn about the restoration process and traditional building techniques.
We will also have a chance to see, up-close and in good light, the temple’s 25 Buddhist images, including the main images of Yakushi Nyorai and its guardians Nikko and Gakko. If you have even the slightest interest in Buddhist imagery, this is a chance not to be missed.
This fully guided tour in English is organized in cooperation with Kanagawa Prefecture and Isehara City, and with a grant from the national government that makes it possible to offer it half the actual cost. The fee of 8,000 yen per person includes lunch, all transportation within Oyama, a donation to the shrine, the Noh demonstration and the admission fee to see the Buddhist images. Please pay your own train fare to and from Isehara station.
(Train information: From Shinjuku station, there is an express train on the Odakyu Odawara line departing at 7:11 am, arriving Isehara at 8:10 am. (59 mins, 590 yen). This train can also be boarded at Yoyogi Uehara at 7:16 (54 mins, 540 yen). From Yokohama, there is an express on the Sotetsu Line dep. 7:21 bound for Ebina station; arrive at Ebina at 7:54 and change to the Odakyu Odawara line, dep. 8:00 arriving Isehara at 8:10. (49 mins, 530 yen). The group will return to Isehara station at the end of the tour, at approximately 5:20 pm.)
A word on the level of strenuousness: Oyama is very popular for casual mountain climbing, but we won’t be actually hiking. However, there are a lot of steps involved, getting up and down to the cable station. And we’ll be climbing construction stairs at the temple restoration site. Please wear comfortable, closed shoes and loose clothing.
The group is limited to 20 people and should fill up quickly. If you’re interested please sign up as soon as possible. I have to apologize because the online reservation system is not as user-friendly for foreigners as it should be. You’ve got two options: Tabee Japan, which is all in English, sort of, but is finicky. Start by clicking on the circle on Oct. 31. Alternately, if you can read enough Japanese to sign up for things online, you can try Kanagawa Chikatabi. The text about the tour is in English but the instructions are in Japanese. When you enter your name, do it all in capital letters, which I’ve heard works better. If you have any trouble, please let me know through the contact page on this blog and I’ll get you signed up.
One final note: We’re also planning an overnight trekking trip in Tanzawa in November (fall colors! probably the weekend of Nov. 28-29) and a tour of sake breweries around Gotanda in February.