A few weekends ago we decided to take a little day trip to Chiba to check out Mt. Nokogiri and Nihon-ji Tenbodai Temple grounds. With the Holidays fast approaching and the chaos that comes with them, I’ve been just sitting on the hundreds of pictures we took and writing a sentence or two between trips to the mall, hanging decorations and lines at the post office.
Anyway, our day trip started off with a short walk to Yokosuka-chuo train station to hitch a ride to Kurihama port where we took a 45 minute ride on the Tokyowan Ferry that runs pretty much hourly. Right around ¥2500 got us round trip walk on tickets over to Boso Peninsula, Chiba. Well worth it. It was a overcast and somewhat foggy morning but the views were still pretty and a nice way to spend part of the journey.
A 15 minute walk got us to the Nokogiriyama rope way. ¥500 gets you a oneway ticket in a little car suspended from a series of cables to the top of the mountain and ¥930 will get you a round trip up and down. Since we planned to not just take in the lookouts at the top of the ropeway of Mt. Nokogiri and head down but, to continue on and hike around the temple grounds, we forked over a whooping ¥1000 for two one way tickets and joined the queue for the suspended journey. It’s the easiest way to get up and I would imagine beautiful in full on fall with the leaves turning or in the throughs of spring when it’s at it’s lushest green. Be warned, they FILL the cable car and you’ll find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder. Still for the low price and the quick trip up you still get a great view and an easy ride.
Once you reach the top you are treated to a beautiful view of Tokyo Bay and the Chiba Valley. You’ll also get your ankles batted at by the resident cat colony that lords over the vending machine area staking claim to the picnic tables whether you like it or not. Take your chances with offering them innocent pet. You have a about a 50/50 chance of being met with purrs or slaps and hissing. So basically they are normal jerk face cats. I pet every last dirty one and had no regrets.
But wait, there’s MORE! That’s right, more look out points with amazing sights. If you’re feeling like glute workout and want to get to the true peak, you can climb a flight of stone stairs on the “hike to hell” for a spectacular view of the bay and valley. If it’s a clear day, you’ll get to see Mt Fuji looming over the bay. On a really clear day you might even catch a glimpse of the Tokyo Skytree. Unfortunately for us, it was a bit hazy the day we visited but, the vistas were not disappointing. It’s here that you’ll get a chance to take in Jigoku Nozoki or “View of Hell” which is probably the most famous view on the Mountain. You can clamor up a steep rock wall to find your self walking down a stone stair case to a small cliff that juts out over the valley. It’s railed off but, if you have issues with heights the rail won’t matter to you. It offers stunning views and pretty sweet photo opportunities especially if you have a willing partner to remain over by the summit of the stairs to get a sweet pic of you out on the cliff. This area of the peak offers a complete 360 degree view. If you’re disappointed with it at this point, just go home, you obviously can don’t get nature and views.
Heres were you can decided to head back down on the ropeway or wind your way through the grounds of the Nihonji Temple. The ¥600 per person to get in is well worth it. You can easily spend at least a few hours or more exploring the grounds. While it’s an easy hike, it’s still a work out. To see everything, be prepared to walk up and down and up and down several series of cut stone stairs and slopes. Like hundred of stairs. It’s well worth it for all that you get to see.
Since we were at the top thanks to the rope way we worked our way down. The mountain got its unique saw-tooth shape from years of quarrying which begins to show as you enter the trail. It has been a Buddhist site for over 1300 years so it should be no surprise that the first sight you come upon as you start your descent is 30-meter tall Buddhist Hyaku-Shaku Kannon of the Goddess of Mercy. Carved in 1966 into a stone cliff, it is dedicated to those who died in WWII. The Kannon is also worshiped as a protector of transportation due to its protected location surrounded by rocks.
As you wind your way around the paths, up and down slopes and stairs you find hundreds of groupings of small stone carved rakan or disciples known as the 1500 arhat. These are mortals who have attained enlightenment, and each has a unique facial expression and demeanor. They are perched along the cliffs in nooks and on ledges of the winding paths of the mountain slope. The 1500 statues vary in size and shape, with many beheaded, the unfortunate result of the anti-Buddhist Haibutsu Kishaku movement that came after the Meiji Restoration. During this time many Buddhist sites were attacked and damaged.
The statues here were not spared in the violence, but their bodies remain, some with repaired heads and some without adding to the uniqueness of each though The scars still visible but time and nature softening the edges and coving dome with a down moss bandage. The trails leading to the individual groupings often lead to dead ends so, don’t be surprised when you need to back track to the main trail. Keep an eye out for the “mind your head” signs on the low tunnel like passageways as you go.
I was obsessed with the 1500 arhat. We took over hundred pictures of them and could have easily taken a few hundred more.
As you start to approach the bottom of the mountain you come upon the Ishidaibutsu, the largest cliff-carved Buddha in Japan. To say it’s imposing is a bit of an understatement. Carve din 1783, 1000 years after the temple was founded. As the healing Buddha, he holds a container of medicine in his hand and is is said that “if you bathe in the radiance of the emerald contained in it, your illness will be healed”.
To the right of the Ishidaibutsu is a small picnic area that was perfect for a short rest as well a peak at a spectacular view from the tables.
Once we were done taking in the majesty of the great Ishidaibutsu, we headed down the final section of the trail to the temple its self. The oldest place of worship in the Kanto region, Nihonji Temple is a Soto Buddhist temple built over 1300 years ago in 725 CE. CE as in AD. Wrap your brains around that history folks. The temple was originally a monastery and was home to well-known figures such as Roben, the founder of Todai-ji in Nara and Kukai, the founder of Shingon. Having changed from the Hosso Sect to Tendai and now Soto Zen, the temple has been abandoned and revived multiple times throughout the ages. With the anti-Buddhist movement leading to attacks and damage as well as fires after an earthquake in 1939, the temple has undergone restoration for most of its existence.
The walk continues to wind down the rest of the mountain, down stairs, over stone bridges, through the dense wooded forrest, leading you past the back parking lot and depositing you on the opposite side of the mountain you started on.
From here you have 3 choices: Hike your ass back up the way you just came, over and around the mountain. At this point I’m willing to bet you’ve had your fill of stairs and slopes. This leaves you with the other 2 options. You can take a 10 minute walk to the left and catch a bus that will take about 15 minutes to hustle you to the ferry. Or you can follow GPS and go right and walk around the base of the mountain back to the ferry. We chose the latter of those last two. BE WARNED! There are several tunnels that do not have operational sidewalks nor were the berms ample. We found ourselves timing our jogs through the tunnels between traffic flows occasionally flattening ourselves, laughing, along the sooty wall as a truck or kei car sped by unaware of our perilous presence. A few of the tunnels had walkways outside along the cliffs to the bay but, most were closed for apparent repairs. We braved on such sidewalk and found it led to a dead end which then forced us to hop in the window/barrier halfway through the tunnel and jog the rest of the way battling traffic anyway. Basically, I’d recommend taking the bus around the mountain or sucking it up and back tracking through the temple grounds back the way you came. Regardless, the 45 minute ferry ride back across the bay was a welcome rest before walking back to the train station then ultimately walking back home. 10 out of 10 would recommend. 10 out of 10 would go back during a different season for a different view of the scenery.