Oyama, Kanagawa: 2-Star Michelin Mountain with Nature and a History of Worship – 1
Mt. Oyama in Kanagawa Prefecture was given a one-star in Michelin Green Guide 2015 (4th Edition) for overall rating and also two-stars separately for the view from Oyama Afuri Shrine. The shrine and Oyama Temple, which are both located in the mountain, were also given independent focus in the guidebook. And in 2016, “Oyama Mairi,” a traditional rakugo (Japanese traditional oral performance art) program whose story is set in the mountain, was designated as a Japan Heritage by the Agency of Cultural Affairs.
While there are various routes you can choose from when climbing the mountain, here we are introducing to you our recommendation for a one-day trip course; Bus –> Cable Car –> Oyama Afuri Shrine –> Walking Down Onnazaka –> Oyama Temple –> Bus.
In this article, which is the first of a two-part series, we are showing you a walking path to Oyama Afuri Shrine, dropping by some spots of interest on the way and looking into their historical backgrounds.
Oyama Afuri Shrine and Oyama Temple will be featured in the second part of the article.
History of Mt. Oyama
Mt. Oyama has attracted much worship since ancient times. The local residents have especially believed that the mountain responds to rain-making rituals during times of drought with its holy power. It has also been worshipped as a religious training place for mountains ascetics.
In the Edo Period (17 – 19th century), many people visited the mountain for leisure and religious purposes and the mountain gained great popularity as a spot easily accessible in a few days from Edo (present Tokyo).
Still today, many people come to pay a visit to the shrine and the temple or simply to enjoy sightseeing. The mountain is also known as a great place for trekking and hiking as part of Tanzawa Oyama Quasi-National Park.
Monzen-machi (Temple/Shrine Town) with Tradition and History
Getting off the bus and going straight along the way leading to the cable car station, you will soon find the tourist information. English speaking staff is available here.
Originally, the road on the left in the photo was used as the shrine approach. The road was devastated in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, but because its restoration would take too much time, the local residents decided to offer their private properties for the construction of the present approach in the right of the photo and monzen-machi (temple/shrine town). Let’s take the right one and head to the cable car station.
There are as many as 362 steps to go before you get to the station. Boost yourself up and beat them! On the way, you can find souvenir shops with a nice retro feel lining up the shrine approach.
One of the shops on the approach deals with toy tops and you can see the workshop where they are actually making tops through the glass here. Actually, the shrine approach here is named “Koma Sando,” which literally translates as “Top Approach.” The toy top is a traditional specialty craft from this area with its origin dating back to the Edo Period. Japanese tops are spun with a string and “to spin” is “mawasu” in Japanese. “Mawasu” also means “run” as in “running a business successfully.” People liked the positive association of the word and the toy and cherished the toy as lucky item.
The platforms of the stairway here have pattern-designed tiles and the number of the tile increases one by one as you get to each of the upper platforms. There are 27 platforms in total, so the tiles can be good milestones to know how far you have climbed.
“Shukubo” and “Kou”
Besides some regular souvenir shops and restaurants, there are also much older looking restaurants and lodges surrounded by stone pillars.
The lodge surrounded by stone pillars is called “Shukubo,” and is especially designed for the pilgrims visiting the shrine and the temple here. They are run by “sendoshi,” the people dedicated to the activity for propagating the worship of Mt. Oyama.
“Sendoshi” used to work as tour guides. They provided lodging to the pilgrims and showed them the way to the shrine and the temple. Many of the shukubo lodges still have an altar. Traditionally, pilgrims stay at a shukubo lodge overnight before their visit to the shrine/temple, and participate in a purification ritual in the morning before they climb the mountain and visit the shrine/temple.
The stone pillars are called “tamagaki.” The letters inscribed on them are the names of the members belonging to groups called “kou.” Donation of the stone pillars was made as religious offering and the commemoration of their activities.
“Kou” groups were formed by people from the same local community or the same trade. The members of the same kou group pay their membership fees and some of the selected members visit the mountain and bring back the good luck charms and souvenirs to other members. By doing this once or twice a year, many members of the same group are given a chance to visit the mountain and even those who haven’t been given a chance can get lucky charms.
It was more difficult for the majority of common people to make a long trip than it is today. So people formed kou groups to share the joy of travelling and strengthen the ties with each other.
Learning Japanese Culture: Lodging at Furumine Shrine in Tochigi
Cable Car to Afuri Shrine
When the number of the design-patterned tiles on the platform reaches 27, you are almost at the cable car station. The green car in the photo has been recently introduced in 2015.
The new cable car features a large window on the descending side so that passengers can enjoy the view of Mt. Oyama’s great nature. Overhead wires have also been removed for better view. As the cable car descends the steep slope, you can enjoy the trees flowing by and grasp the town scenery down below overlooked through the woods.
Getting off the cable car at the terminal station and climbing the stone stairs leading to the shine, you will see the shrine hall of Oyama Afuri Shrine.
Mt. Oyama has not only the shrine and the temple but also many other historic tourist spots in the surrounding area and along the approach. The best way to fully enjoy the mountain is to walk slowly up the climbing path, paying a visit to the shrine and temple and dropping by some other spots of interest, and get some souvenirs before getting on the way back. Information: Map
In the next article, we will take a closer look at Afuri Shrine and Oyama Temple, which are the great tourist highlights of Mt. Oyama.