This is a summary report of hiking Mount Ishizuchi (石鎚山, 1982m), the “Stone Hammer” mountain in Ehime Prefecture, Japan. My two main reasons for doing this are to give people a sense of what it is like to hike in Japan, some cultural things to note, and specifically for Mount Ishizuchi, what the 3 sets of climbing chains are like.
Officially, the mountain is open between July 1 and October and I hiked it in mid July, 2017.
This is my overview post of Mount Ishizuchi, which includes tips on preparation. I have separate posts for the following:
A bit of history
Mount Ishizuchi is also one of Japan’s 7 Holy Mountains (Japanese Wiki), along with Mount Fuji, Mount Tate, Hakusan, Mount Omine, Mount Shakka, Daisen. But what makes this obscure set of 7 different from the better-known 3 Holy Mountains (Sanreizan 三霊山) of Mount Fuji, Mount Tate, and Mount Haku? The set of seven that Mount Ishizuchi belongs to can also be called the Seven Holy Peaks (nanareiho 七霊峰) in mountain worship, sangakushinkou (山岳信仰). Wikipedia describes mountain worship as part of nature worship in Japan (自然崇拝). This could be simplified under the umbrella of Shinto (神道), Japan’s worship of nature and natural forces. Shinto and Buddhism together feed the syncretic religion of Shugendo (修験道), which is often known for its austere and remote training (i.e. on top of mountains).
Mount Ishizuchi today is actually made of three peaks: Mount Ishizuchi (the end of the main hiking trail), Mount Tengu (天狗岳, the true peak), and Misen (弥山).
Ishizuchi was known as a Shugendo site since the Nara Period. It is also associated with Kukai (空海), disciple of the Chinese monk Huiguo, and founder of Japan’s Shingon Buddhism. Kukai is said to have done escoteric training at Ishizuchi Shrine (石鎚神社), Maegami Temple (前神寺), Gokuraku Temple (極楽寺) and Yokomine Temple (横峰寺). During the Heian Period, the Gongo Zaogongen (金剛蔵王権現) deity, a unique Shugendo blend of a Buddhist war-like bodhisattva and mountain god, was enshrined at the site. It is also said that Toyotomi Hideyori made a donation to Ishizuchi as well because of the shrine’s significance since the Imperial period.
In 1871, during the Meiji Shinto-Buddhist separation period, Ishizuchi became designated as a Shinto shrine while Maegami Temple and Yokomine Temples ended up being designated as Shingon Buddhist temples.
Ishizuchi Shrine actually consists of several parts. The shrine atop Mount Ishizuchi is said to have been founded over a thousand years ago by a shaman called En-no-Gyoja. Another is a 20-minute walk from the Ishizuchi ropeway (the Joju Shrine). One location is just outside Ishizuchiyama Station on the JR Yosan Line. Buddhist artworks and scritures by successive emperors are still kept in one of the locations.
How I got there
- Train from Imabari Station: 6:50 > 7:11am arrival
- Bus: 7:47 > 8:41 arrival
- Ropeway: 9:00
- Ropeway: 15:00 (10 min ride + 5 min walk)
- Bus: 15:17 > 16:11 arrival
- Train for Matsuyama: 16:19 train
I have a more detailed post on logistical information here.
Preparation & Etiquette
Mount Ishizuchi is a good day-hike, but it will be a challenge for people who are not used to climbing altitudes. The route has many flights of stairs, many of which are uneven.
- Food: snacks and at least 1 full meal.
- 1L of water minimum because there are no vending machines until you get to the top.
- Bring a backpack.
- Mosquito / bug spray or incense because the incessant buzzing most irritating thing along the route
- An extra layer (or two in the Fall) as temperatures are lower at the peak, wind chill can be a factor, and the weather can always change.
- A rain jacket or umbrella.
- Comfortable hiking shoes or runners (something with grip and that you can walk for 6 hours in and would support weak ankles).
- Pick up a free walking stick from the Joju Shrine just before the trailhead. Also makes a great natural souvenir.
- Spare battery to charge your phone / pocket Wi-Fi
The day of:
- Know your transit times
- Keep your garbage and take it down the mountain
- Follow instructions in the washroom because the waste gets flushed right onto the mountain.
- Say ‘konichiwa’ as a friendly ‘hello’ greeting to other hikers
- Say ‘sumimasen‘ as a polite ‘excuse me’ if you want to overtake someone
My Route Overview:
Generally, the recommendation is 3 hours for going up and 3 hours for coming down. I would say that is quite accurate, although doable within 1.5 hours both ways without stopping if you are fit and used to trekking.
You can check my route information post for photos of how various checkpoints look (especially the chains).
You can check out this post information on how to get to and from Mt. Ishizuchi and accommodation.