A thorough journey to Kagawa-ken may not be complete without the Konpira experience. When we decided to go to Konpira today to take photos and gather information, we met some foreign visitors there. We met a group from Hong Kong who had organized an informal group that comes to Kagawa a couple of times a year, and a couple of nice guys from America. We asked them both how they found Konpira and while the Hong Kong group found it by accident, the two guys from the States were local teachers and heard from friends.
What that means is that there really are very few people who know about Konpira-san, and how you can get there with ease. There is almost no promotion or information about Konpira, and it seems that people who come here initially do so because they heard from a friend, or just happened to be in the area.
We really hope that what you see here will be a source of inspiration for you to come and have some fun here in Kagawa. There is much to experience! Let’s start our journey to Kotohira, the small town where Konpira-san can be found.
You can catch the Kotoden train in Takamatsu. It is the local train and it is the yellow line. Don’t get on the red or the green train. Those take you to other places, good places, but we are not going in those directions today.
After arriving at the Kotoden-Kotohira station you are very close to the area you need to go to. When you exit the station turn to the right and look ahead. You will see a wide road sloping upwards. If the sky is clear, and it usually is, you will see the mountain ahead.
The train runs parallel to a river, so just cross over it and you are on the way! You may also arrive at the JR Kotohira Station. Both of the train stations are very close to each other so when you exit the front door just turn to the left and follow the road for about 200 meters. You will see where to turn right and cross over the little river.
After you walk a little you will see this big grey shinto gate. Go under it and into the covered shopping arcade ahead. Some of the shops are old-style clothing stores, a few shuttered, but you will see some cool souvenir shops in there too. We stumbled upon a community centre art exhibition and poked our heads in. It was really nice to see that!
NOTE: As you go along in this article, feel free to click on the images with groups of photos. That will open up the viewer on your computer or phone so you can see each picture in greater detail.
There are a lot of things that you can find here that are very reasonable priced. There are straw items, masks, welcome cats, wooden toys, scrolls, sandals, and lots of cool things to rummage through. Don’t be shy to walk in! Every shop owner we met was very friendly and kind.
Once you come to this intersection, where the pavement changes color and you see a parking lot on the right you are at the exact place you need to be. Go straight. There are lots of shops, ice cream places, udon restaurants, and lots of activity just ahead. Let’s go!
Below is one of the sponsors of the festival pictured above. This is an excellent sake shop, and the staff were really fun to visit with. Be nice, and you will get samples! Yes… free sake! We tried a few and they were wonderful. Most highly recommended.
Outside the sake shop you will come across a whole lot of souvenir shops, offering all kinds of curious items. Some things can be found only here at Konpira, so take a little time to look around. As far as prices went, we found everything to be extremely reasonable, and in some, VERY cheap.
Once you have come through the shops on both sides of the road, perhaps even stopping for a quick lunch, your next task is to take on the long staircase ahead. From the bottom to the top, there are over 1,600 steps. It sounds like a lot, but we did it with two little girls (aged 4 and 6). Everyone takes their time and goes at a leisurely pace. We recommend you doing the same.
Konpira is the name of the god of this mountain. Properly identified as Konpira Gongen, Konpira is the god of merchant sailors. When you get to the top you will see why. In the meantime, it is time to start climbing!
Along the way you will see more shops and cafes. There are some unbelievable wood carvings to be seen, and the path is lined with beautiful trees, stone carvings, and lanterns. Also, with the changing of the seasons, each visit is really something new to experience.
When you get about half-way up to the top, you cross through a large shinto gate. Just in front of the gate there is a place to buy sweet hot wine rice. It is thick and has a taste of ginger. Marvellous! You must try it and rest for a few moments. From there you can command a beautiful view of the city and see the many stairs you have conquered along the way.
On the other side of the gate are these ladies sitting at small orange booths. They sell candy. And you can try some. My kids were caught under their spell so we bought some to take home. For a mere 500 yen you can take home a cool souvenir of hard candy, complete with a little hammer inside you use to ceremoniously break it up with.
Let’s keep moving ahead, shall we?
The path is an experience of simply being in the moment of each step. It is not a race, there is no time limit. There is much to see along the way. There are a couple museums as well, so you can take a proper break and enjoy the current exhibit they have available. Being in the moment of each step, pausing at each flat section gives one a moment to pause and think. What do you see? How do you feel (besides just tired, that is! haha!)?
Now you have come to the top, full of new breath, and full of joy. You will see a lot of smiling people around you. They have journeyed here like you. The pathway is not so severe, and there are people you bump into along the way. People with kids, people with a date, people just on their own. Lots of people said “hello” to us along the way, and encouraged us as we were going up and they were coming down. “You are almost there!” we heard so many times. That was a very pleasant thing indeed.
The top of the mountain has a GIANT propeller. There are also several shrines here as well. You will have also passed a few mini shrines along the way. Each one has a different focus, and god, to guide prayer. One is for protection from fire, another for instilling bravery, another for success in business. You can stop and pray at any of them along the way. But how do you do it? What is the proper way to participate?
When you find a basin, like this one at Konpira, take a moment to wash your hands. Pick up the long-handled wooden spoon. Poor water over your left hand first, then your right hand. If the water looks clear you can place a drop or two on your mouth as well. Do not spit water out, just touch the water to your lips. That is just fine. Let the remainder of the water in the scoop run down the length of the handle, and then put it back. It is now ready for the next visitor.
Now you are ready to approach the gods.
When you go to pray, simply walk up to the front of the shrine. There is a wooden box with slats on it. You will see people dropping a coin in there and then pray. Take a coin from your pocket. A five-yen coin is particularly one for good luck, but any coin is really okay. Drop the coin in. If there is a hanging bell you can shake it so the gods know you are there. Bow twice. Clap your hands together two times. Close your eyes. Keep your hands together in front of you. Ask for what you need. Ask for what you hope for. Open your eyes. Bow once more. Time to move on with your life.
Did you feel better? I am sure you do. Let’s move on and check our fortunes!
Many people with get a “lot” or “fortune”, written on paper and selected by you at random from a box nearby the shrine. The cost is usually 100 yen. You check your fortune to see what kind of luck, if any, is coming your way. These are all in Japanese, so having someone who can give you a quick reading of what may be on your horizon is helpful. If the fortune is one not quite to your liking, and one you would like to return to the gods, tie it to a nearby tree, or in the photo above, there is a place specifically for that.
Afterwards, you can also write your wish on the back of a wooden slate, and have it hung at the shrine as well. The priests will be by in due course to attend to the wishes left behind.
Konpira has many beautiful corners and buildings. Walk around and enjoy the sites. This is not a place for total silent reverent awe. People talk, and laugh, and kids run around. It is lively and alive. Enjoy your time here. People may also schedule to receive special blessings from the priests for success in business, success in education, or safety for children.
Our wonderful visit to meet Konpira comes to an end. The journey down the mountain awaits. Make sure your legs are stable again, and enjoy the cool wind as you make the descent.
When you get do the bottom of the steps again you feel refreshed, and a little less encumbered by whatever was pressing on your mind. Each step up the mountain, while a test of will and determination, was also a small release of the things which inhibit you in life. This really is the magic of Konpira. It never ceases to amaze me how I feel before and after each time I go. I am so glad that you could come along on this part of our journey.
So, after the kids are done with their shopping it is time for tea. A moment of calm reflection, laughter, and dessert. What could be better than coming to Konpira, breathing in the air at the top of the mountain, and then coming back to a time to visit and share bowls of tea?
Thank you so much for coming along with us on our day trip to Konpira. It was a lot of fun, and a wonderful experience. From start to finish everything went beautifully, and elegantly.
Won’t you come and join us on a journey to the top, meet with the gods, and share a special and unique time together?