Article updated on May 11, 2020
Text & photos: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
A mountain so sacred that for centuries only men were allowed to summit it… Ishizuchi san, the highest mountain of Shikoku and Western Japan remains a very important place of worship and one of the major centres of Shugendō, a sect in-between Shintoism and Buddhism. Many pilgrims climb this mountain that still is forbidden for women every July 1, the first day of the climbing season. Whether you are an avid hiker, curious to see what a place so sacred looks like, there to take in the stunning views, or just up for a challenge, hiking up the sacred Mount Ishizuchi will leave you breathless – literally.
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What you need to know before hiking up Mount Ishizuchi
Mount Ishizuchi is one of the 7 sacred mountains of Japan, and can be hiked up year-round if you have the proper equipment to conquer snow and ice. Otherwise, aim between late April and early November. If you want to follow the footsteps of the pilgrims, you should hike it from the bottom to the top (start early as you will cover more than 1,500 metres of positive elevation that day). The first part of the trail through the forest is not extremely well marked so make sure you have a GPS-track with you (you can download ours from the travel tips to your smartphone – or grab a hiking map at the cable car station). You can skip these first 850 metres of positive elevation by hopping in the is a cable car.
What to expect on Mount Ishizuchi
Should you hike the first part, you will come across the mid-slope shrine, devoted to seafarers of the Seto Inland Sea. After about 4 kilometres and 850 metres of positive elevation on a narrow path through a cedar forest, the trail becomes wider and merges with the one coming from the cable car at 1,300 metres.
Pushing a bit more on your legs, a beautiful shrine reveals itself with a magnificent view on the 1,982-metre-high summit of the sacred Ishizuchi-san. It is from this very place inside the shrine that the mountain has been worshiped for thousands of years.
The climb from the sacred shrine to the top
Easy at first, the trail soon becomes very steep and continues with wooden stairs which never seem to end. You will gain elevation quickly and the views around become more spectacular with every step you take.
Two options are then available, one with chains going straight up along the mountain face, and the regular hiking path. If you feel adventurous, practice your skills on the first set of chains that is about 30-metre long. A couple of other chains will take you up another 200 metres of positive elevation in longer shots. It is always possible to avoid the chains and hike around instead on wooden staircases.
Once off the chains, the real summit of Ishizuchi-san is not quite there yet. There is a last 500-metre scramble over steep rocks with lethal ravines on both sides. That part can be tricky and slippery if the weather changes, and it does so rapidly especially during the summer months.
Descending the Mount Ishizuchi
Once you have soaked up the beautiful surroundings from Shikoku’s highest peak (and Western Japan’s), it is time to make your way down the same way that you came up – we would recommend the stairs on the way down though. Once down at the parking spot cooling down your feet in the cold river while reflecting on your adventure is a great way to conclude your adventure.
- We used Hiking in Japan by the Lonely Planet to select the hike, but its details do not seem to be that accurate. If you plan on hiking it, we strongly recommend you to check out the excellent and very detailed blog written by Wes Lang.
- Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!
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