American Hiker Follows the Pilgrimage Trails of Mt. Oyama

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Date & Time: Tuesday, April 2, 2024, 8:45 a.m.- 3:45 p.m.
Spot and destination: Mt. Oyama, the Shimosha (the Lower Shrine) of Oyama Afuri Shrine
Route: Met at Isehara Station of Odakyu Line, got on a bus to Oyama Bus Station; walked to Afuri Shrine Office (elevation: 247 m.), Atago Waterfall, Roben Waterfall; walked on along Tofu Path, Koma Path, Onna-zaka Trail, and stopped at Oyama-dera Temple. After lunch at the Shimosha, walked up to Niju-taki Waterfall, Miharashidai Lookout Point (elevation: 770 m.), walked back to the Shimosha, took a tea break at Café Sekison, and descended Onna-zaka Trail.
Participant: Val, an American from Hawaii
Guide: Hiroshi, KSGG
Language: English

At the lookout point of the Shimosha (the Lower Shrine)

Val came to Japan just in time for the cherry blossom season. She was staying at her son’s house in Tachikawa, Tokyo. Val was an outdoor type, and one day, she decided to go on a day hike to Mt. Oyama. She requested KSGG to find her a guide.

Mt. Oyama is a 1252-meter-high independent peak, located in the easternmost part of the Tanzawa mountain range. It has also been a subject of worship since ancient times[1].

On a beautiful morning in early April, Val and her KSGG guide got off the bus at the bus stop “Oyama-eki”, and they started walking. The two walked along roads with lines of cherry trees almost in full bloom and yellow canola flowers here and there. Several red bridges over the River Suzukawa made the scenery look typical of the Japanese countryside.

On their way, Val and the guide stopped by Afuri Shrine’s office to look at a beautifully decorated mikoshi (a portable shrine used at festivals). Then, they saw two small waterfalls, Atago Fall and Roben Fall, which have been known as purifying spots[2] for centuries. After the guide explained the history of the Oyama pilgrimage, which was the most prosperous in the Edo period (17th to 19th centuries), they took historic pilgrim paths called Tofu Path and Koma Path[3]. Each path was a series of uphill steps lined with small inns, souvenir shops, Japanese-style cafes, and long-established tofu restaurants.

The two passed the cable car station and took the Onna-zaka (literally, women’s trail). The guide recognized again the route was still quite challenging, but Val, a good walker who walked six to eight km every day, continued briskly without slowing down.

They visited Oyama-dera Temple, which was located by the trail. On the top of the stone steps leading to the temple, Val enjoyed a fine view of Sagami Bay and Enoshima Island in the distance. She also learned that the temple site would be fully covered with red maple leaves in the autumn. She then bought a souvenir certificate called goshuin[4].

The two continued walking and finally reached the day’s destination: Shimosha (the Lower Shrine)[5]. First, the guide invited Val to join him in a photo at the famous lookout point with Michelin two stars. Behind them was a grand view of Sagami Bay. At the Shimosha office, Val tried her luck with a pink omikuji, (a fortune-telling slip). She was very happy when the guild told her that it said daikichi, or the best luck.

The guide told the story of Shishi-yama, a monumental pile of rocks with statues of several komainu[6] on top. He also explained the special mineral water from the spring on the shrine site, which visitors can drink or bring home.
At a traditional-style café called Sakuraya, Val had ramen for lunch while the guide ordered ramen and dumplings. After lunch, the two went up the trail to Niju-taki Waterfall and Miharashidai Lookout Point. The guide told her that the shape of Mt. Oyama was like Diamond Head, and Val responded that she would be his guide in return if he came to Hawaii.

The two returned to Shimosha and had a break at Sekison, a chic café on the shrine site. They went down all the same way— Onna-zaka Trail, Koma Path and Tofu Path to the bus stop. When they said goodbye, Val gave the guide a small present from Hawaii as a token of her gratitude.


1.^ Japanese in ancient times believed high, conspicuous mountains were yorishiro, or spiritual objects where deities were drawn to. The whole mountain of Mt. Oyama has been considered to be divine. Oyama Afuri Shrine has been the center of worship, and attracted pilgrims, especially since the 17th to 19th century when common people were not allowed to travel freely and pilgrimage was one of the exceptional occasions for common citizens to enjoy travelling. Present-day visitors to Mt. Oyama, however, are likely to consider themselves as hikers or sightseers rather than pilgrims, though most of them pay respect to the sanctity of the precinct.
2.^ In old times pilgrims stood in the falling water to purify themselves before stepping into the sanctuary.
3.^ Tofu or soybean curd is an important ingredient for vegetarian cooking at temples and shrines. Along Tofu Path are several long-established tofu restaurants. Koma means tops. Tops have been a local specialty of the Oyama area which visitors like to buy as good-luck souvenirs. The stone steps of Koma Path are paved with tiles designed with tops. Koma Path is comparatively new, constructed after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923.
4.^ Goshuin is a certificate of the visit to Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines. It is a usually a seal in red ink with beautiful calligraphy handwritten by the monk. Many temple visitors have a special notebook called goshuincho designed only for collecting goshuin. They have the seal stamped on a page of their own goshuincho. If you don’t have your own goshuincho, you can buy a sheet on which goshuin is stamped.
5.^ Oyama Afuri Shrine consists of two shrines, one is Shimosha (the Lower Shrine) in the middle of the trail of Mt. Oyama, and the other, Honsha (the Main Shrine), close to the summit.
6.^ A komainu looks like a lion but is an imaginary animal. Statues of komainu are usually set in pairs at the entrance of Shinto shrines as guardians of the precincts.