This is just an informational post with descriptive photos of the Omotesando hiking route from the Ishizuchi Cable Car (1400 metres) and Joju Shrine to the peak of Mount Ishizuchi (1982 metres), the tallest mountain in Western Japan, in Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku. I have a separate post on:
The Ishizuchi Omotesando Route
For information and photos for train connections, bus times (note, only 4 buses run daily), and lodgings please check my transportation and lodgings post.
Preparation & Etiquette
Please check my general information post on preparation.
A friendly reminder that we are visitors on the mountain and we should take all the rubbish that we have (wrappers, etc.) back down.
Toilets, also, are not flush. You should follow instructions and throw used tissue into the bins provided so they can be taken down the mountain. If they are thrown into the toilet, they will just stay untreated, which is unhygienic.
Ishizuchi Omotesando hiking route
The English and Japanese trail guides suggest about 3 hours going up and 3 hours going down. Below is my time.
This recording is from the cable car station, through the town with the Joju shrine, and up to Mount Ishizuchi’s peak. It doesn’t include the last leg to Tengudake.
Note that many Japanese maps are not to scale. They’re general ideas, but the distances they measure are often pretty accurate. Many signs are also only in Japanese, but I think the toilets have English instructions. Try to keep a translation app on your phone if you need help.
From the ropeway, just follow the route uphill to Jōju Shrine at about 1400m. It’s about a 20-minute walk through a wide, winding path with plenty of shade. This part of the route will have a good number of benches because many local tourists only go to the shrine. On the actual hiking route, benches are usually only at specific rest points.
The 1km approach to the village will end at a cluster of buildings which make up mostly the ryokans for people who stay overnight and the shrine is just behind. The trail begins at the an open wooden gate labelled with the characters “登山口” (tōzanguchi), which means trailhead.
From the trailhead at 1400 metres, it’s a descent until about 1300 metres through a natural and relatively shady path. The path can get muddy after the rains as the water doesn’t drain from the troughs that well.
The good news is it doesn’t have a killer amount of mosquitos, but if you don’t have bug spray, be prepared for a swarm of flies circling your head with the most irritating buzzing.
The torii gate that you encounter is the saddle point of Hacchozaka. From there, it’s a non-stop climb.
Note that many of the stares are oddly spaced as they’re built into the mountains. Also be careful of the planks, which have huge gaps where your feet can get caught if you’re not careful with your step. Finally, take your time with steps as the planks can also be slippery.
The endless stairs can be a bit of a drag. Just look out for a crest with a small trail to the right. That is the set of testing chains, which I do recommend for people who have not climbed or bouldered before.
For people who don’t want to climb, just take the left route and you will arrive at the same rest house.
For me, this would be a suitable rest house to overnight if you have a sleeping bag and plenty of bug spray and mosquito incense. I don’t think there is a toilet, but there might be running water as there used to be a shop here. I would say bring extra water if you plan to overnight, as the trail doesn’t cross any streams.
From that point, I began to notice the bugs. I don’t know why they started hovering around me after I left the shaded area, but anyway they did and it was a pain. They weren’t mosquitos, but the buzzing was about the same.
I didn’t dwell in the clearing as long as I’d have liked as a result. This spot offers a perfect view of the Ishizuchi wall. The mountain right in front of you is what you’ll be scaling. The thought gave me a boost because it looked cool and in the end, I figured that all mountains with designated recreational trails can’t be that killer.
The distance covered by the time you hit this spot is about 1/4 way in from the right of the elevation map. The spot is marked with characters. So you are more or less in your final stretch.
Continuing from the clearing, you will encounter your first set of chains. The chains are called kusari (鎖) in Japanese. The lengths are 33 metres, 65 metres and 68 metres.
The first set of chains is relatively straight forward. If you’re still unsure, but want to try one, this is the one to try. The other two are both longer and more difficult.
A few tips for climbing the chains:
- Safe is better than sorry — no matter how confident you are, use a steady grip until you get the hang of these chains.
- Find a steady foothold first before moving up to avoid slipping as you step
- Use your legs for power rather than your arms because those are bigger muscles
- Suck in your stomach — activating your core helps you balance and eases weight on your arms
- Use the chain links as a foothold if necessary (but I’d suggest keeping the other foot on a rock to stay steady)
After the first flight of chains, you will reach a lookout and last resting point. The lookout has a signpost pointing in different directions. Remember Joju (成就) as the direction you need to return to later. The tsuchigoya is another mountain hut for overnight staying, but it is 4km away.
Above the fork is the last resting facility, which has vending machines and a clean toilet. Note that ¥100 charge for the toilet is for the upkeep of the park grounds and the facilities. I would highly suggest contributing. In addition, this toilet is a manual flush and the toilet paper should be discarded into the bin.
Just a flight or two up from the rest station is another fork. The left route is towards the chains (鎖). The right one is the walking route.
Unfortunately, I was a bit too anxious to take a photo with my camera because I was worried I would drop the cap, so I had to make due with my phone. This second set of chains is twice as long as the first one and has an open view, which probably will give the effect of being higher up.
In addition, this climb heaving yourself up in some parts. Parts of the chain will have additional triangle footholds. Give them a try, but a warning that they swing. The swinging can be unnerving, so I suggest keeping at least one foot on the rockface to help. Also, if you have a backpack, your centre of gravity will be behind you.
This set of chains does have spots to sit and rest if you need to. Lastly, after I got to the top of this set, I didn’t exactly end up on the trail again. I came across another pile of rocks that had I think one link of chain or rope and went up that one too. Don’t be fooled by the short distance or slightly flatter smooth rock because this type of surface is easy to slip on.
The above is the sign to the last set of chains. Ishizuchi’s third set of kusari is the steepest. The crevices are smaller and there are fewer pieces of rock sticking out to use. Whatever shoes you’re using, drive them into crevices to get a better foothold so that you can step up rather than rely only on your arms to drag you up. The third set of chains doesn’t have much space to sit or rest, so take plenty of time to mentally prepare!
If you haven’t already experienced it by the second set of chains, the rock will be slippery because it will be wet. The clouds are driven up the mountainside and precipitate on the rocks even on a clear day.
I’m used to climbing and bouldering, but I’ll be the first to my legs turned to jelly and my fingers clenched. I also began to sweat as I clung on to the gigantic chains, but in retrospect, I think this is also because of the weight in my backpack.
I didn’t climb back down any of the chains. Climbing down, in my opinion, is far more difficult.
The final set of chains carries you face to face with Mount Ishizuchi shrine, which is quite an accomplished feeling since most other trekkers walk up from behind the summit.
The summit has a lodge, which I wrote about in my other post. The open area is also great for taking your lunch and the group of guys I overtook made fresh coffee over a portable stove as well!
But this summit is not the peak. The real peak is the razor-shaped Tengudake. Dake or take (岳) means peak and tengu are the mountain spirits that look like a cross between a dog and a lion.
To get over there, climb over and down the cluster of rocks (where you will see another chain link). You can leave your backpack at the viewpoint, as Japan is quite safe and many other climbers also do.
The trick is after you get to the bottom of that chain link, look to your left (if you are facing the rock). The path towards Tengudake might be slightly covered by the bushes, but the dirt route is entirely free of weeds and well maintained. I suggest following that route.
The walk requires a bit of climbing over some rocks, but within 15 minutes you should reach Tengudake. The outlook is quite narrow, so it can only fit a few people sitting or standing at a time. I suggest you stay sitting to be safe while you enjoy your snack and the beautiful 360-degree view.
I spent an extra hour or so in this area around the peak and I would suggest factoring that in to your total walk time. This is definitely the place to have a picnic. Your coat might also come in handy as your body cools down as well.
At this point, if you are not planning to overnight either on the peak or at the trailhead, then you should watch your time to return. If you’d like a traditional souvenir, you can pay for a stamp at the stamp office.
The last bus leaving Mount Ishizuchi is around 5:20pm. If you took the first and cable car up (to start hiking at around 9:30am), then you should have plenty of time for the return walk. If you took the later bus and started closer to 11:00 or 12:00 noon, then you should definitely watch your time. My non-stop return walk was 1:30, so about 2 hours to the cable car station.
Again, please be careful when you go down the mountain as the path is steep and there are many gaps between the planks.
If you arrive at the Joju Shrine and know you cannot make the 3:15pm bus, then you may as well stop and reward yourself with a meal. You have about two hours to rest and check out the shrine.
I had about 20 minutes to spare at the Joju Shrine, I went to look around. I was told there were a bunch of hammers (as a symbol of the mountain), but didn’t notice them.
The way to pay your respects is to wash your hands, one after another, with the ladels provided at the fountain. Replace the ladel as you found it. Next, proceed to the shrine. Toss a coin (a 5-yen with a circle is best for luck), go back out to ring the bell with the rope, clap your hands twice, bow, and make a prayer. When you are done, clap your hands twice again and bow.
Finally, go back down to the cable car station and have a stretch if you have a few spare minutes!
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