Kotohira Shrine, also informally known as “Konpira-san”, is Kagawa prefecture’s main tourist spot. Even though you will have to climb up long stone stairs to reach the main shrine, the amount of tourists coming to the shrine from all over Japan is neverending.
To find out all about the charm of Konpira-san, we will go even further than the main shrine, to visit the inner shrine, which is also known as a power spot. We will also introduce other trivial information, which will make your trip to Konpira-san even more enjoyable.
What is the “once-in-a-lifetime Konpira-san”?
Kotohira Shrine is located in Kotohira, Kagawa
Konpira-san is located in the Zouzu Mountain in the Kotohira town of Nakatado, Kagawa, Japan. The formal name of the shrine is Kotohira Shrine.
Konpira-san took the world by storm during the Edo period
Visiting Konpira became popular around Japan during the Edo period. Common people were not allowed to travel back then, however, they were allowed to visit shrines and temples. Like Ise temple, Konpira-san also became a popular travel destination to the common people as “the temple you want to visit once in your lifetime”.
By the way, the origin of the nickname "Konpira" comes from the word "Kumbhira" from the Sanskrit language, which was used in India and South Asia. "Kumbhira" is a deified crocodile that became the god of water, and later, the dragon god.
In Buddhism, the god of water is called "Kubira", and it has said to have resided around this area in the ancient times.
The god worshipped at Konpira-san and the benefits
During the Edo period, Konpira-san was known as "Mountain Zouzu Matsuo Temple Koukoin", a temple where they worship Konbira-Daigongen, which was said to be a combination of Shintoism and Buddhism. After the separation of Shintoism and Buddhism, the principal god of the temple became "Oomononushi no kami", which appears in Japanese legends.
Currently, the main enshrined deities are Oomononushi no kami and Emperor Sutoku. Oomononushi no kami is said to be the god that protects seafaring, so many sailors visit this temple. The temple is also said to benefit industries and agriculture, so you can see the names of many famous companies that have donated to the shrine on the stone pillars among the road leading to the shrine.
A boat propeller sculpture donated by a shipbuilding company.
Let’s visit Konpira-san
Long stairs of the main road.
People who live in Kagawa prefecture don't refer to visiting Konpira-san as "going" or "visiting" - they call it "climbing to Konpira-san". Konpira-san is located half-way up a mountain, so you will have to climb up long stone stairs. There are 785 stairs from the main road to the main shrine, and 1,368 stairs to the inner shrine. It takes about 1.5 hours for an adult to get to the main shrine and back, and about 2 hours to go to the inner shrine and back.
You might think you need to be in good shape to visit the shrine, but when you actually go there, you will notice that there are many people from small children to elders climbing up. If you aren't confident, don't push yourself too hard, just climb at your own pace.
You can use a palanquin to go to the main shrine.
As a last resort option, there are also palanquins that will take you to the main shrine. Also, you can use your car to drive up to Shiseido Parlor's cafe "Kamitsubaki", which is on the 500th step. Listen to your body and select the pace and way that fits you the best to climb up.
First, let's rent a cane at the main road
The entrance of the Konpira-san main road.
The climb to Konpira-san starts on the main road. There are many souvenir shops and restaurants that offer snacks on the main road.
"Konpira funefune oiteni hokakete shura shu shu shu!"
This song that you hear as soon as you start walking is an old folk song that was made about the "Konpira boat", which resided in the close-by harbor. It is said to have also been sung in the geisha entertainment. Every person from Kagawa prefecture knows this song, and you too can listen to it on the Kotohira Shrine's website.
Let's rent the cane that will accompany you to the shrine.
You can borrow a wooden cane at a souvenir store on the main road. Some stores will lend you one for free, and some will charge you. Make sure to tell the store staff that you want to borrow one, even if they would be for free. If you borrow one for free, consider purchasing a souvenir from that shop as a sign of gratitude.
However, if you are in good shape, the cane might be in your way, so think before you borrow one.
Step 365 - Front gate
The first thing you will see while looking at the souvenirs is the big front gate. Those who visit the shrine for the first time will think they have climbed quite far, but there is still a long way to go to the main shrine. It might be better to think of this as the starting point.
When you reach the front gate, take a look behind you. You can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the stone stairs and Sanuki plains below you.
The view from the front gate.
There are stores selling sweet half-sake and other drinks, so if you feel tired, you can take a break here. There are no vending machines past this point, so it's best to buy drinks here.
“Gonin Hyakusho” with a special permission
Only Gonin Hyakusho is allowed to sell within the shrine.
After you walk through the front gate, you will see 5 stores selling candies under big white umbrellas. These five stores are called "Gonin Hyakusho", and as five families connected to Kotohira Shrine, they are the only ones allowed to sell anything in the shrine.
Gonin Hyakusho's "Kamiyo-ame"
Gonin Hyakusho has a long history of over 100 years, and the candy they make is hard candy called "Kamiyo-ame". The candy has a fair scent of Japanese citron, and it has been loved by people as a famous product associated with visiting Konpira-san for a long time. You need to break the candy with a golden hammer that comes with it. It's perfect for a souvenir.
Step 365-432: Sakuranobaba
Sakuranobaba is a famous spot for cherry blossom viewing.
After you go through the front gate, you will walk on a flat stone road for a while. This place is called "Sakuranobaba", and it's a famous place for viewing cherry blossoms. During the springtime, you can see beautiful cherry blossoms around the road.
After you go through Sakuranobaba and climb up a little more, you will come to a torii called "Sakuranobaba Nishitsumedou Torii".
In front of the torii gate on the right side, you can see a statue of Konpira dog designed by illustrator Teruhiko Yumura.
Yumura chose to use a dog as the motif because during the Edo period, people used to ask someone with more travel experience to visit shrines for them, and sometimes they also used dogs instead of people. A dog with a bag that said "Visiting Konpira" was led on by traveler after traveler, and a dog that completed its mission of visiting Konpira-san was then called "Konpira dog".
On the left side of the torii gate are 2 horses dedicated to the god. Shinme is a horse that the god rides, and usually, they are white horses.
After you walk through the Sakuranobaba Nishitsumedou Torii gate and climb up the stairs, you will see a Shoin on your right side.
How the Shoin looks.
Inside the Shoin is an exhibition of fusuma paintings by Oukyo Maruyama, a famous painter from the Edo period. There are two tigers staring at each other painted on the paintings. However, there were no tigers in Japan during the Edo period, so Oukyo is said to have painted the tigers with cats as the model. Because of that, you will be able to see a painting of cute tigers that look very much like cats.
Adult: 800 yen
High School Students and University Students: 400 yen
Children in Junior High or under: Free
*You are not allowed to take pictures inside.
Step 628: Asahisha
Very impressing looking Asahisha.
After you climb the stone stairs a little bit more, you will see a the beautifully built "Asahisha". You have walked a long way, but there is still a little bit more to go until the main shrine. Take a small break in the passageway at Asahisha, and then start heading towards the main shrine.
Also, the correct order to visit Asahisha is after you visit the main shrine. Don't visit Asahisha yet, instead, go on your way back. Follow the passageway to the north.
■Minus one step
One step on the road.
After climbing for a while, you will see a temizuya, a place where you wash your hands and mouth before entering the shrine. Before that, there is a step down on the road.
From the main road all the way to the main shrine, the only step downwards is this step. There are 786 steps to the main shrine, but since the numbers sound like the Japanese word for "worry (nayamu)", they have said to have made this step so it counts as 785 steps.
Step 652-785: Ozenshidansaka
The last stairs to the main shrine: Ozenshidansaka.
The last stone steps to the main shine are called "Ozenshidansaka". They got the name because the stairs form four steps, and they all contain 10 stone steps.
Step 785: The Main Shrine
Many people have visited the main shrine of Kotohira Shrine since the Edo period.
After you get up the Ozenshidansaka, you can finally see the main shrine. This is Kotohira Shrine, the Konpira-san that the Edo people wanted to visit once in their lifetime. You can feel the history of the shrine from the color of the wood.
The main enshrined deities are Oomononushi no kami and Emperor Sutoku. They have been known as the gods of agriculture, medicine, and seafaring since ancient times.
The view from the main shrine.
The view from the main shrine is breathtaking. The mountain on the left side is Iinoyama, which is also called the Fuji of Sanuki. With good weather, you can see all the way to the Seto bridge, but this day was a bit cloudy so we were not able to see the bridge.
When you reach the main shrine, take a look at the 2 lanterns on your right side. If you look closely, you will notice that only the right lantern is lit. Since the old days, it has been said that your secret stash will grow if you touch this lantern, so many people touch the lantern before they leave.
Two lanterns on the right side of the shrine
The lantern is lit.
■Yellow omamori of happiness
The most famous omamori of Konpira-san is "The yellow omamori of happiness"
The most famous omamori of Konpira-san is "The yellow omamori of happiness (800 yen)", that is made with fabric that is dyed bright yellow. It is said that it protects you from sickness and catastrophes. You can also buy it as a set with a cute "Mini Konpira dog" for 1,500 yen.
After you finish visiting the main shrine, your visit to Konpira-san is over for now. But since we came all the way here, let's go to the inner shrine.
If you want to go back without visiting the inner shrine, you can find descending stone stairs next to the area that sells omamoris.
The road is one way only until the Asahisha, so make sure not to go back the way you came.
Let's go to the inner shrine power spot!
If you keen climbing up from the main shrine, you will find the inner shrine "Okusha / Okuyashiro". The formal name is "Izutama Shrine", but it is known widely as "Okusha", and most people living in Kanagawa call it that. It is located at 1 km, 583 steps from the main shrine.
The enshrined deities of the inner shrine is the 4th Konpira-Daigongen, Izutamahiko no Mikoto, the founder of Kotohira Hongyo. Since Izutamahiko no Mikoto, who was shy and had a mysterious power, is enshrined here, Izutama Shrine (Okusha) is said to be a power spot.
Road to Okusha next to the Main Shrine.
Step 923: Shiromine Shrine
Shiromine Shrine (Kouyoudani)
A beautiful scarlet shrine where Emperor Sutoku is enshrined. There are many maple trees around the shrine, and that is why it is also called "Kouyoudani". You can enjoy maple leaves dyed in beautiful autumn colors during autumn.
Stone steps continue.
After you walk past Shiromine Shrine, you will start to see more of the mountain, and you will start to feel like you are actually climbing a mountain. Take in the refreshing air of the mountains and listen to the small birds singing as you walk forward.
Step 1368: Izutamahiko Shrine (Okusha)
Izutamahiko Shrine (Okusha)
You will see the scarlet shrine, or the inner shrine, past the last stone step. You have finally made it.
Even though it is a long way to the shrine, there were many visitors at the shrine. You feel a sense of unity with them, even if they are all strangers. As you take a seat on the bench, you can find yourself naturally saying "well done", and "it's quite hot today" to the people around you.
If the weather is good, enjoy the view from the shrine. Only people who made it all the way up to Okusha get to enjoy the scenery with the town of Kotohira all below you.
Sculptures of tengu and crow tengu
On the left side of the front shrine is a cliff, and on top of the cliff you can see sculptures of a tengu and a crow tengu, so make sure not to miss them. It is said that before Izutamahiko died, he said "I will die and look over this mountain forever", and then turned into a tengu and disappeared.
Since you came all the way to Okusha, we recommend that you buy an omamori at the shrine. You can only get the "Tengu Omamori (800 yen)" with tengu on it at Okusha. The omamori with the power of Izutamahiko is said to protect you from all catastrophes. You can choose red or white for the thread on the tengu omamori.
Tengu Omamori with red thread.
Don't forget Asahisha on your way back
Make sure not to forget visiting Asahisha on your way back, since we couldn't visit on our way up. The building is about 18 meters tall and it was built in 1837. Many people visiting Konpira-san for the first time mistake this as the main shrine.
Beautiful decorations of Asahisha.
It is said that at the end of the Edo period, Jirocho Kiyomizu's follower "Mori no Ishimatsu" visited Konpira-san on behalf of his leader, but mistook Asahisha as the main shrine, and accidentally dedicated a sword to Asahisha instead of the main shrine.
Relax and eat on the main road
Oyasumidokoro at the main road.
This time we mainly introduced the route to Konpira-san, but another way to enjoy Konpira-san is by visiting the souvenir stores on the main road and tasting the local cuisine. If you have time, take a walk around the main road.
"Funebune senbei (24 pieces for 700 yen)"
This is "Funebune senbei" made by Kinokuniya Main Store, a Japanese sweets maker that started in the 15th year of the Meiji period. Their wasanbon and senbei made of Kagawa's eggs are known for their gentle sweetness and simple flavors.
They are all made by hand one by one
If your timing is good, you might get to taste a freshly baked senbei made by a craftsman who has been making them for 50 years, one by one. The crunchy texture and delicious scent of a freshly baked senbei are something indescribable.
We also recommend "Ishimatsu Manju (8 pieces for 800 yen)", which contain moist and smooth koshian wrapped in castella dough. They are also perfect as a souvenir.
”Yomeiri Oiri Soft Ice Cream (350 yen)” looks good on camera for sure.
The colorful, Oiri, on this soft ice cream is definitely photogenic. “Oiri” is a type of roasted mochi balls. They taste very light, and they melt as soon as you put them in your mouth. In Kagawa prefecture, mainly in the west area called “Seisan”, they are gifted to the guests at weddings. Since they look so cute, they are also starting to become popular as souvenirs.
There are a few stores selling soft ice cream with oiri, but we recommend “Oyasumidokoro”, which is located right next to Tsuruya Ryokan. In this store, you can select the soft ice cream from flavors such as wasanbon, soy and rare sugar milk. If you choose oiri as a topping, we recommend wasanbon ice cream, since it matches perfectly with the oiri’s sweetness.
Kagawa’s wasanbon, also known as “Sanuki Wasanbon” are known for their deep sweetness, which reminds you of brown sugar. There are many different shaped wasanbon sold as souvenirs, so we recommend that you try them. They go very well with both tea and coffee.
Parking at Kotohira Shrine
Parking lot near the main road.
There are many parking lots on the way from the station to the main road. Most of the parking lots have no time limits, and they cost 500 to 800 yen for one time. Some souvenir stores have systems where if you buy a decided amount of souvenirs, you will get your parking for free.
The road near the entrance of the main road in front of Tsuruya Ryokan is a narrow one-way road, so be careful when driving. Many tourists visit the area during the end of the year and obon holidays, so we recommend that you use public transport.
There is a reason why people want to go to Konpira-san again
When you borrow a cane from the souvenir shop, they wish you a safe trip. When you descend from Okusha, people still climbing ask you if there is still a long way to go. At the sweet half sake store where we stopped by on the way back, they told us to take a break there. You can feel the warmth of people when you visit Konpira-san.
Fun eating and shopping at the main road, beautiful forest around the inner shrine, the warmth of people. The reason you want to go there again and again, might be because besides the shrine itself, there is also so much more to enjoy. People have been visiting Konpira-san since the Edo period, and Konpira-san has been changing with time, entertaining us. We recommend that you visit when you go to Kagawa prefecture.