Hiking, Pilgrimage and Cultural Assets
In my last posting (German only) I tried to call your attention to the hand painted movie posters that can be found in Ōme:
Ōme City (青梅市)
– Cineasten aufgepasst!
I also hinted at the fact that there much more to see and to experience. But there should be more than just hints.
One of the, also literally speaking, “high points” of Ōme is its landmark mountain, the Mitake-san (御岳山 / みたけさん) (929 metres). This mountain is something like the natural rival of the Takao-san (高尾山 / たかおさん), as also this mountain can easily be reached from the central districts of Tōkyō. Mount Takao, located south of Mount Mitake may be sure that it cannot be beaten when it comes to sheer numbers of visitors (more than 2 ½ millions a year), on the other hand its altitude (599 metres) is no real competition. And whilst the Takao-san’s places of worship are closely related to Tengu (天狗 / てんぐ) (among others), a Japanese mythical creature that (at its Chinese origin) used to be a “heavenly dog”, but came under shintō influence in Japan and turned into a human figure with a crow’s spout or an extremely long nose, the Mitake-san is ruled by rather rare sculptures and paintings of wolfes.
You could say: While the Takao-san is a sacred mountain of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism – just think of the huge monastery of the Yakuō-in Yūki-ji (薬王院有喜寺やくおういんゆうきじ) – the Mitake-san is governed by Japan’s traditional religion, the Shintō. Shinō is also “crowning” the mountain so to speak, as its summit is home to the rather gorgeous Musashi Mitake shrine (武蔵御岳神社 / むさしみたけじんじゃ). And that’s the one we shall have a closer look at.
The peak of Mitake-san can easily be reached via the “Mitake Mountain Railway” (御岳登山鉄道 / みたけとざんてつどう) (details see below). This “Mitake Tozan Railway” is part of the railway company Keiō Dentetsu (京王電鉄 / けいおうでんてつ). From its base station “Takimoto” (滝本 / たきもと) to its top station at an altitude of 831 metres it covers a altitude difference of 424 metres on a distance of just a little more than one kilometre. It is supposed to be the steepest in all of Japan.
Of course, the mountain is also an eldorado for hikers who would like to climb all the way up. But also the last 100 metres from the top station to the Musashi Mitake shrine have enough to offer to make an excursion to the mountain worthwile, even if you are not a hardcore hiker. And should you feel fit enough for some modest climbing of stairs, you will certainly manage these last hundred metres of altitude.
In the area of the Mitake-san there are also some impressive waterfalls and an interesting stone garden – but since I haven’t visited those, I feel inclined not to get into details here.
Pilgerherbergen – Shukubō
Once you have reached the top station of the Mitake Tozan Railway you will pass quite a number of buildings (all together 37) and pilgrim lodgings alongside a well-paved path. Those pilgrim hostels (shukubō / 宿坊 / しゅくぼう) are one of the attractions of Mount Mitake – they cater not only for pilgrims, but also for the average wayfarer and hiker.
These hostels all feature quite a variety of ranges of standards of comfort. Most (if not all) provide private or public baths and serve that very special “pilgrim’s food” – mostly vegetarian (but also including fish) – with an emphasis on locale products. Health food so to speak. Staying at a shukuō should particularly be considered in conjunction with a pilgrimage. While ceremonies at shintō shrines aim at a purification of the worshippers spirit, the shukubō is there to cleans the “exterior” of the body (i.e. while taking a hot-spring bath) and the “interior” with natural food – not forgetting the immensely delicious local sake.
Shintō shukubō are also a kind of place to “return into ordinary life” after a pilgrimage. They are places of entertainment, conversation and sharing good times together (while Buddhist shukubō are more like “domitories” and places of lecture).
Based on the example given by the shukubō “Nanzansō” (南山壮 / なんざんそう), as the name suggests, it’s on the southern part of the village below the summit of Mitake-san, I would like to give you an impression of what all that means.
Common areas at the shukubō “Nanzansō”
Room “Zakuro” (pomegranate)
Where there are pilgrims’ hostels (and there are more than 20 of them on the Mitake-san), there must be a religious place – and in this particular case it is the Musashi Mitake Jinja, which I have mentioned above. It is not just a rather joyful tradition to combine a night at a shukubō with a pilgrimage to the shrine (or vice-versa), it is also one of the most pleasant ways to be on time for the morning ceremonies on top of the mountain. But, naturally, the one does not depend upon the other.
Musashi Mitake Jinja
You will reach the Musashi Mitake Jinja from the gate Ōtorii (大鳥居 / おおとりい) via a long flight of stairs – all together 300 steps (but don’t think I’ve counted them!) – which you should be able to manage in less than 10 minutes.
But don’t just walk the stairs! Watch them carefully! There are three “oni” (鬼 / おに) – demons – hiding beneath the steps.
Should you find the way up a bit exhausting, be sure that – at least on a clear day – you are going to be rewarded! There is the most spectacular view of the old Musashi region in the east (that’s where you’ll find Tōkyō) and Sagami in the south (with the sweeping coast of the Pacific Ocean). And there is also a shrine, which you’d probably would not have expected on the top of the mountain. And on a very clear day, you can also see the skyscrapers of Tōkyō.
Legend has it, that the shrine was founded as early as in the first century BC under the reign of the Sujin-Tennō (崇神天皇 / すじんてんのう). However, it is far more likely that the shrine’s foundation dates back to the year 735 AD (in the middle of the Tenpyō era / 天平時代 / てんぴょうじだい), when the Shōmu-Tennō (聖武天皇 / しょうむてんのう) ruled the country. After a fire in 1234 the shrine was re-erected and boomed again with the beginning of the Edo era (early 17th century).
During the history of the shrine, it had quite a number of names: Originally it was called Ōmatonotsuno Tenjinsha (大麻止乃豆天神社 / おおまとのつのてんじんしゃ), but in the Meiji era (second half of the 19th century, when there was a strikt segregation between Buddhist temples and Shintō shrines) it was re-named to Mitake Daigongen (御嶽大権現 / みたけだいごんげん) and then to Mitake Jinja (御嶽神社 / みたけじんじゃ), and not before 1952 it received its current name Musashi Mitake Jinja (武蔵御嶽神社 / むさしみたけじんじゃ).
As mentioned above, the Musashi Mitake Jinja distriguishes itself from others not just by its location, but also by the fact that it is guarded by “Oinu-sama” (sacred dogs – d.h. divine Japanese wolfs (ōguchi no magami / 大口真神 / おおぐちのまがみ). You’ll find statues and paintings of wolfs everywhere at the shrine (and you may also have spotted some at the shukubō “Nanzansō). The shrine’s legend speaks highly of the helpful character of the wolfs.
The Musashi Mitake Jinja is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm for prayers and ceremonies.
Musashi Mitake Jinja – Daidai Kagura
And another thing simply cannot go unmentioned: The kagura performances at the Musashi Mitake Jinja! The word “kagura” doesn’t tell you a thing? Well, let’s see what the omniscient Wikepedia hat to say about it:
Kagura (神楽 / かぐら, “god-entertainment”) is a Japanese word referring to a specific type of Shinto theatrical dance—with roots arguably predating those of Noh. Once strictly a ceremonial art derived from kami’gakari (神懸 / かみがかり, “oracular divinaification”), Kagura has evolved in many directions over the span of more than a millennium. Today it is very much a living tradition, with rituals tied to the rhythms of the agricultural calendar, as well as vibrant Kabuki-esque theatre.
Everyone who has seen my posting related to the passionate Iwami-Kagura-Aufführung in Arifuku Onsen will have a chance to witness the more traditional form of kagura here. The performances at the Musashi Mitake Jina are less dramatic, but they show a rather fine example of the shintō ceremonies that are the foundation of kagura. The “Daidai Kagura” (太々神楽 / だいだいかぐら) that is being performed here has been a registered immaterial cultural asset of Tōkyō since the 50s of the last century.
There are regular performances at the kagura hall of the Musashi Mitake Jinja on every 4th Sunday from June to November at 8 pm. Furthermore, there are additional performances on on the 3rd Sunday in June and the “Day of the Sports” in October (around 10th of October – the day is being celebrated in memory of the opening of the summer Olympics in Tōkyō 1964) at 11 am.
Watch the priests of the Musashi Mitake Jinja performing three kagura dances:
Musashi Mitake Jinja – Treasure Museum
The magnificent shrine also features a treasure museum, located in the pagonda-like building right at the entrance to the shrine’s main hall (open on weekends and holidays from 9:30 am to 4 pm; admission fee: 500 Yen). Here you can dive into the military past of the shrine – armour and weaponry of the times of the Kamakura shōguns (1185–1333) and the Tokugawa shōguns (1603-1868). There is even a national treasure to be seen: Armour and sword of Shigetada Hatakeyama (畠山重忠 / はたけやましげただ), the head of the Hatakeyama clan that became victim to an intrique in 1205.
How to get to Ōme:
From downtown Tōkyō the express trains of the JR Chūō line/Ōme line provide the fastest service – less than an hour from Shinjuku to Ōme.
How to get to the Mitake-san:
Of course, you’ll start the same way you’ve travelled from Tōkyō to Ōme. Trains of the JR Ōme line that leave Ōme for Okutama (奥多摩 / おくたま) bring you to the station named Mitake (御嶽 / みたけ) (don’t get confused by the different way of writing) in as little as 18 minutes (from Shinjuku you may expect a total travel time between 1 ½ to 2 hours).
There is a shuttle bus 50 metres left of Mitake station that brings you to the base station “Takimoto” of the “Mitake Tozan Railway in about 10 minutes. Busses leave Mitake station twice an hour between 7:30 am and 6 pm.
Should you feel more like hiking and don’t mind that “extra summit”, go two stations further to Kori (古里 / こり). From here a hiking trail starts that brings you to the top of Mitake-san via the summit of the Ōtsukayama (大塚山 / おおつかやま) (920 metres) – that’ll take you 2 to 2 ½ hours.
Mitake Tozan Railway
(As of day of writing of this posting the railway’s very own website still posted prices as of 2002 – here you’ll the prices that were actually charged in March 2018.)
Adults: 590 Yen (+100 Yen for the chair lift from the top station)
Children: 300 Yen (+100 Yen for the chair lift from the top station)
Adults: 1,110 Yen (+190 Yen for the chair lift from the top station)
Children: 560 Yen (+190 Yen for the chair lift from the top station)
Working days, sundays and holidays from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm two to three times an hours (during the winter months December to February mostly twice an hour).