Visit Kotohira-Gu-Shrine and Make the dream of ordinary people in Edo Period（1603-1868）come true!
“Once in a lifetime” – people in Edo period dreamed of visiting Kotohira-Gu Shrine once in their life time…
Kotohira-Gu Shrine in Kagawa Prefecture
But why is it so worth visiting this shrine?
This shrine attracts 4 million visitors a year. The shrine is the head shrine of “Kotohira” or “Konpira” shrines in Japan and has been worshiped since ancient times as “the God of the Sea”
Plus, in Edo Period, ordinary people were not allowed to travel freely. The only places they were allowed to travel to were temples and shrines.
In Edo period, there wasn’t as much entertainment as we have today.
But in Kotohira, there was a lot of traditional onsen hotels, the oldest Kabuki theatre in Japan, a lottery store, bunch of restaurants, gift shops, sweets shops and tea houses.
They were all packed in Kotohira town where Kotohira-Gu Shrine is located.
I guess that’s one of the other underlying reasons why people in Edo Period dreamed of visiting Kotohira-Gu shrine once in their life time.
Konpira Grand Theatre
There was no internet, no TV, nor even pictures, and you were not allowed to travel anywhere but Temples and shrines. There were not as many fancy restaurants or fast food chains as now….
Can you imagine how exciting it would have been to visit Kotohira-Gu Shrine for the ordinary Japanese people back in Edo Period（1603-1868） ?
In a nutshell, Kotohira-gu-shrine was like a Disneyland with a sacred shrine for the people in Edo Period.
The culture has been passed down to the present time and people still love to do Kotohira-Gu Shrine Pilgrimage a.k.a Konpira-san Mairi（こんぴらさん参り）in Japanese.
There are a whopping 785 stone steps to the main shrine and 1368 steps to the inner shrine.
It’s a very hard one-hour hike up to the main shrine – another hour to the inner shrine. But at the same time, it was well worth the visit for the people in Edo Period because there was so many amusements.
Let’s see what attracted Japanese people in Edo Period and even people now!
The start – very first step of all 1368
Get prepared! Your journey of 785 steep stone steps begin here…
If you don’t wanna walk up the steps, you can hire this palanquin basket to be carried on the basket at the beginning of the step to Oh-Mon gate which is at 365th step.
Price: Uphill ride 5300 Yen, Downhill ride 3200 Yen, Round ride 6800 Yen.
Mannequin of Edo People on Pilgrimage
Sanuki Udon Restaurant along the path
There are lots of Sanuki Udon Restaurants along the approach to the shrine. It’s said the first Sanuki Udon restaurant in Japan was opened in this town too.
A local crafts shop
You get to see some local crafts shops in and around Kotohira Town.
The Steps go on and on…
At 100 – 150th steps, you start to think how far up you’ve come, but there is a long way to go. But, there are a lot of beautiful things to see on the way.
Getting closer to the entrance – Oo-Mon Gate
When you arrive at Oo-Mon Gate, you’ve done 365 steps. Oo-Mon Gate is the official entrance to the Kotohira-Gu Shrine
The stunning view of the city and steep steps
From Oo-mon Gate, you can look at the stunning view of Kotohira city. And if the sky is clear, you can see the great Seto Bridge connecting mainland and Shikoku island too.
Gonin Hyakusho – Five Candy Vendors
Once you are through Oo-Mon Gate, you will see 5 candy vendors with white parasols(one is closed in the picture though).
Within the shrine, which is a sacred area, so you are usually not allowed to do business. However, only these 5 candy vendors are allowed to sell fan-shaped gold colored candy in the shrine.
One of the vendors told me that the 5 vendors have been selling candies for over 300 years.
They have a permission to sell their candies because it’s said their ancestors participated in religious events and contributed to the god in the shrine.
These families of the five vendors have been helping religious events even now.
Kamiyo Ame Candy and a little Hammer
When you buy these candies, it always comes with this small hammer.
Break the candy into small pieces to make easy-to-eat size.
One of the vendors also told me that “Break” in Japanese is Waru（割る）, it has two meanings: Break and Share. So you can break the candy and share the luck.
A package of these hard candies starts from only 500 yen and it comes with a little hammer.
Sakura-no-baba path is a flat street towards the upper shrines. In spring time, the street is flanked by loads of beautiful cherry blossoms.
Bronze Torii Gate at 431st step
So far, you’ve come over halfway up. There is a horse stall and a toilet on this level.
Omote-Shoin – The office
Omote-Shoin used to be reception rooms to welcome guests, and there are famous sliding door paintings by Maruyama Okyo （円山応挙）in the rooms.
Lion’s room by Maruyama Okyo
There are also other rooms with his sliding door paintings, they are magnificent.If you had a time, it’s definitely worth seeing the pictures.
Entry: 800 yen for adults, 400 yen for 18 and below.
A lot of people view this shrine as the main shrine because it’s magnificent. However, it’s not the main shrine; this is Asahi shrine that was built in 1837 at 628th step.
There are over 157 steps left up to the main shrine. There is a cloister on the opposite side of Asahi Shrine, so you can take a break here too.
Sakaki-Mon Gate is the last gate to the main shrine. It’s at 642nd step.
The last batch of steps to the main shrine
At this point, you’re nearly there. All you need is a last push to your fatigued legs and back, there are only 133 stone steps to the main shrine.
You can already see the shrine up on the hill. you will achieve your pilgrimage in just a bit!
Hongu – Main Shrine
Hongu – Main Shrine from another angle
When I went there in November, there were so many pilgrims due to the festival held by a famous sake brewery called Kinryo for their first drip of the sake of the year.
The panoramic view from the main shrine.
When the weather is good, you can see Sanuki Fuji, Mount Iino and even the Seto Inland Sea and the Great Seto Bridge.
As explained at the beginning, it’s not the end of the pilgrimage.
If you want hike further up to the inner shrine, it’s one more hour to the higher level of Zozu-Mountain where Kotohira-Gu Shrine is located.
I will introduce the way to the inner shrine – Okusha（奥社）in another article.
Opening hours: 6am – 6pm between April and September. 6am- 5pm between October and March.
Entrance Fee: Free
Address: 〒766-8501 香川県仲多度郡琴平町（その他）８９２−１