Konpira Shrine and Zentsuji
Konpira Shrine (Kotohira-gu) 金刀比羅宮
We park in a Times parking lot. It has a maximum charge of 500 yen plus easy access to Konpira Shrine precincts by cutting through the sake brewery ‘Kinryu Museum’ area. The official name of this shrine is Kotohira-gu but it is generally known as Konpira.
The street leading up to the shrine steps is lined with udon restaurants and tourist shops. Some of these are selling seriously expensive, tourist tat. Wood carvings are favourite, from frogs to Bodhisattva and all stations in between. There is, we note a sedan chair station and, on the way down we see a couple being carried up. I don’t think they went very far; certainly not to the top.
And then the serious steps begin, all 1368 of them. The steps are spaced by frequent flat bits, where you can catch your breath, and there are things to stop and look at, so you can disguise the fact you are resting, but it is a tiring climb.
One of these flat bits provides benches where you can sit and admire the view of Asahisha, a splendid, wooden building with intricate designs in the roofing beams.
At the top, or the top for most people, (after 785 steps), there is the main temple building Hongu. This is linked to another building by a long, impressive, wooden corridor. And then there is the Emado, a kind of open hall covered with all manner of ship and marine engineering pictures. It also contains a solar powered boat. The reason is that this shrine offers, at a price, protection for mariners.
Lower down there were a couple of live horses and a large bronze elephant, so there is, really, something for everyone.
That includes idiots, like us, who press on past the main upper shrine to reach the furthermost shrine, deeper and higher in the woods. This adds another 600 metres (583 steps) and is a more direct climb.
Tengu heads at the top
There is nothing much at the top. Okusha (Izutama shrine) is a small shrine, a view of the plain below and a couple of small, stone tengu heads attached high on the rock face. These are easy to miss.
On the way down, passing the massive trees in this lesser part of the shrine, we note they are not adorned with Shimenawa (ceremonial ropes).
Back at the bottom, cold udon for lunch, which is surprisingly good. My cynical self not expecting quality in tourist trap. This restaurant ‘Konpira Udon’ we chose basically at random but the menu played a part. We were unaware that the restaurant was famous and equally surprised to discover that the udon we had ordered was served cold. Happy chance, as it was very good. Recommended.
From Konpira shrine we move on to Zentsu-ji. This is a wide-spread temple, with a long history, though of mostly modern construction. As the birth place of Kukai, it is a Henro trail temple (number 75), so there are various pilgrims, on foot or from bus tours, around. The hundreds of statues, lined three or four deep all along the surrounding walls, were, for me, the most striking feature. These were unusual, first in being modern and secondly in being individuals. Each figure appeared unique in body shape, facial features, temperament and expression. Oddly interesting. Probably look better in a hundred years or so.
The grave where Kukai buried his dog is not to be missed, according to the tourist information, but somehow we did.
Kotohiki, Fureai Park Mino and Takinomiya michi no eki.
Time to find our parking space for the night. Our first choice was Kotohiki michi no eki. This was a mistake. The place is hard to find in dark because it consists, solely, of a car park in a housing area and a sign instructing you to use the public toilet in a public park some 300 metres away. If you are thinking of shachuhaku, don’t give a thought to this non-existent place.
The second choice was Fureai Park Mino. This has a large onsen, but the 24-hour toilet was very primitive and alive with mosquitoes. This place we abandoned as well and drove back to Takinomiya michi no eki on R.32. This place is also pretty bad, parking on the side of the road and primitive toilet but it will have to do.
So far, we are less than satisfied with the standard of Kagawa-ken michi no eki. They are not nearly up to the quality one finds in almost all other areas of Japan. Believe me, I know, I have been there.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.