Futatabisan—The boundary separating the sea and the sky The charms of the port town Kobe, lying on the “mountains”
Low-mountain traveler/Penster for Yamatabi
Only a five-minutes of walking away from the Shin-Kobe Station, the “land of mystery” is a thrilling experience!
Stepping off at the Shin-Kobe Station, travelers cannot help but let the flowing scent coming from the mountains envelop their bodies. No matter if they are businessmen or daring adventurers, no visitors can escape from the good impression coming from this mountain-neighboring megapolis as they step before the entrance to the port town.
As they surround the platform of the Sanyo Shinkansen Line, the mountains appear so close as if they are trying to imprint the brimming green color of the forests onto the irises of their admirers. Despite standing next to the city, “Mount Rokko”—a massive massif—carries with it a deep, yet steep form, making it a symbolic existence of Kobe. Even though the city is one of the few port towns in Japan, all of Kobe’s charm and charisma lies on the “mountains,” its symbol. In truth, the distance between the mountain ranges and the sea in this town is surprisingly close, making Kobe the most suitable city for Sea to Summit.
It’s safe to say that the trail to the “land of mystery,” whose very start begins from the station, is the most suitable trail for learning about the hidden charms, or, to be more exact, the essence of Kobe. Despite being a megapolis, the port town, with its long-established history, will fill the very soul of the travelers coming here with the Phytoncide from the green plants and the minus ions from the waters enveloping the town. During this “mysterious” course, travelers will walk from the Shin-Kobe station to the Futatabi Park in the first half before walking again from Futatabi Park to the Motomachi Station in the latter half. The course offers travelers with culture- and history-rich highlights, making it one of the most recommended trails for visitors looking to enjoy this port town to the fullest even if they are not experienced hikers.
A refreshing trail, following the falls and water streams
Walking for five minutes, travelers can hear the soothing sound of the falling water coming from the “Nunobiki no Taki.” This name is the general name of the clustered falls stationing here. Within them, the “Odaki,” with a vertical drop of 43 meters, is a sight any travelers cannot afford to miss. The white walls created from the granites stationing around the falls served as the perfect background for the pure white falling water drops, which created a fabric-like stream of water to behold, hence the name “Nunobiki.” This waterfall offers such an extraordinary beauty that helps to bring its name into the melody and literature since ancient time. Shrines dedicated to worshipping the Acala and Ryujin are established around the waterfall’s vicinity, vividly depict the belief of the local people living in Kobe, who has always been holding water in high regard.
Although this waterfall is usually where travelers turn around to return to the station, it’s also the starting point for those who are looking to enjoy a hike through the mountains. The road leading to deeper parts of the mountain are well-prepared with guideposts established at every branch of the route, allowing hikers to travel without the fear of losing their ways. Leading to the course’s deepest part—the “Futatabi Park”—the trail has a lot to offer hikers who are looking to enjoy a leisure walk.
An antique architecture makes its way into the eyes of the hikers as they slowly walk along the trail. Surrounded by a fortress of regulated-laid stones, the “Nunobiki Dam” is the first concrete gravity dam in Japan, which has been recognized as a Heritage of Industrial Modernization. Brimming with the water flown from the Ikutagawa, the water reservoir at this dam offers the wild bird here a silent water surface where they can joyously swirl around. Undisturbed by the winds, the surface of this reservoir acts as a mirror, reflecting the sky, the floating clouds, and the brimming green trees around the lake, offering admirers with a lovely beauty. Despite stationing only 30 minutes away from the Shinkansen tracks, the relaxing environment here will definitely surprise and please any travelers looking for a silent experience.
As the reservoir here overflows with water, the illusory “Gohonmatsu Waterfalls,” normally hidden from sight, will appear. Well-hidden during successive clear days, these strands of white water streams only emerge after heavy rain. It’s such a lucky experience as I was able to come here just as the rainy season is reaching its peak. The scorching heat of the summer makes the trip here even more refreshing with an unexpected amount of flowing water.
Surprisingly, many came here for trail running, enjoying their time with families, BBQ parties, picnicking along the riverside, and many other activities. Such a sight is the most obvious proofs to the wide array of ways of enjoying the mountain. Speaking of which, Kobe is famous for its regional culture “Mainichi Tozan,” in which the people here hikes on the closest mountains, which they have grown up with, every day as a habit.
More and more ways to enjoy climbing mountains in Japan have blossomed while gradually becoming more refined. As there are many who wants to enjoy a long walk, there are many who see joys in following the ravines and routes beside mountain streams. As there are many who look for a knowledgeable adventure by digging into the history and culture which have been sleeping on the mountains, there are also many others who just want to enjoy having a meal with their friends and acquaintances. And don’t forget to mention the mountaineers who aim to reach their mountain huts and the mountaineers who aim to learn about their dearest mountains inside out…. Speaking of mountain climbing, even though Japan is well-known for its image of “aiming for the highest peaks of the highest mountains,” the ways the people in Kobe are enjoying the mountain is culturally intriguing. Why not give yourself this opportunity to explore the “neighboring land of mystery behind the station” as a way to continue your adventure in this port town?
Outdoor tools and experiences are also very useful during the time of emergency, especially in Japan, which is also well-known as a country of natural disasters. As a way to prepare for these disasters, there are also many who have been learning the essence of outdoor activities during weekends in Kobe, the land where the Han-shin Awaji Earthquake disaster once occurred. As someone who grew up in Tohoku, a land famous for earthquakes, I find the experiences earned during the mountain climbing trips and camping trips vital during the time of disaster. I hope you too can earn these critical experiences during your time here.
Relaxing at the Futatabi Park, enjoying a delicious cup of coffee by the lakeside on the mountain
Travelers will find themselves standing at the bustling Ichigahara where many are playing by the marshes after descending to Kawahara from the Sakurachaya. From children playing on shallow waters to hikers pleasantly enjoying their mountainous meals, travelers may find themselves lost in between the people who’ve been enjoying the lakeside in their own ways. Proceeding on the trail leading further into the forests after having crossed the bridge hanging over the river and you’ll encounter the branched route leading to “Jagatani.” It’s believed that this is where Wake no Kiyomaro, well-known for his appearance in the “Usa Hachimangu Shintaku Jiken”—an intriguing event in the history of Japan—encountered the dragon sleeping in between the ravines who saved his life after he’s assassinated by the assassin sent by Dokyo. As travelers make their way through the luxuriant jungle of Jagatani, which gives off a vibe of a living dragon, the sight of the sky being shrunken into an expanding lake appear to welcome hikers to the “Futatabi Park,” a famous national designated park.
The bright sunlight here suddenly seems so nostalgic after hours of walking through the ravines and forests. Sitting at the center of the Futatabi Park is the ever-expanding “Shiogahara Ike” whose ridges warmly envelop the walking paths. No hikers can resist the good feelings that the winds embrace them with as they walk on these paths. A log house with a welcoming atmosphere is established on the opposite shore. Walking on the promenade, passing a few groups of hikers, I was deeply impressed as the light coming from the small hut, which is supposed to be empty, surprised us all. It seemed that no one has been using this hut in recent years.
Bringing this story to the log house, I was told that the person who’s working at flower design company’s atelier on the second floor “started living there since Spring.” Although it’s not too widely-known, I’m sure this wonderful location is an eye-catching one for many. On the first floor of the log house is a small café which only opens on Saturday and Sunday. There are also many benches lying around the vicinity of the lake, making them perfect for taking a breather after a long walk. Sipping a cool cup of ice coffee while chipping away at the scone which I’ve ordered earlier, it took me a while before I could notice the flow of time again as the wonderful atmosphere at this park had hidden it away.
A woman stroke up a conversation with me as she was sipping a cup of ice coffee while sitting next to where I was. She started telling me some episodes of her memories, that this park was where she used to play with boats ever since she was young, and was also where she had memorable dates. Even though one cannot play with boats or go on fishing at the park at the moment, no one can afford to pass over such a wonderful space lying next to the center of a megapolis. Visitors looking to come to the park can do so via driving or using buses which are available on the weekends.
The park is only 4 kilometers away from the Shin-Kobe station. This is an appropriate distance as it only takes about one hour and a half, walking slowly. Visitors can set their goals to walk to this park, and after a good set of workouts, they can return to the towns of Kobe using public transports. Such, I believe, is a wonderful way to spend the weekends.
Even the Kobo-Daishi is a repeater! Visiting the history-filled Futatabisan and Tairyuji
Let us continue our journey to the Tairyuji by walking along the Futatabi-Sando from Futatabi Park. This temple is the very temple which was found as Wake no Kiyomaro develop the mountain. Rescued and deeply moved by the dragon living at the Jagatani, Kiyomaro found the “Tairyuji” to honor the bodhisattva Cintamanicakra. At first, this whole mountain range was named Manisan. However, it seems that after the Kobo-Daishi Kukai visited it for the second time, the mountain was renamed as “Futatabisan” (meaning ‘once again mountain’ in Japanese).
Certainly, this will be the second time today for me, who felt the resonance of the word “futatabisan,” to step on the mountain. Even though it’s commendable to try conquering mountains after mountains, it’s also a wonderful idea to revisit the mountains, the greeneries or routes of which you like.
After passing the magnificent Sanmon welcoming all travelers, the path split into two, with the main path leading to the temple, while the path on the left side leading to the Gonzo Inari Daimyoujin, standing behind the red torii. Whichever path you choose will lead you back to the Tairyuji as the paths will converge again on the mountain’s top. Allured by the raindrops sleeping on the green leaves of the plants here, I chose to walk the path with the torii.
The large trees seem to open up to the area before the main shrine, helping to brighten up the spot. It’s so clear that once the sun comes out, it will undoubtedly shine brightly on everything lying before the deities and Buddha. It was a delightful experience to take it easy and bath under the sunlight here. I thanked the deities for their protections for the safe trip until now before taking in a deep breath. Taking a look around, I noticed the Daishi-do (the Great Priest’s Hall) lying on top of the mountain which the main shrine has been facing against. It also seemed that I could reach the peak of Futatabisan by keeping on proceeding on the path.
Many stone Buddhist images are laid along the path to the inner shrine, creating an increasingly dignified atmosphere as one step deeper and deeper into the path into the god precincts. After walking for 15 minutes, I found myself standing in front of an Iwakura dedicated to the Tengu in the middle of the path. A Kameishi (Tortoise Stone) hand-carved by Kukai also lies here, waiting for the next hiker to find it.
Lying on this crag is Futatabisan’s peak. I couldn’t help but imagine what breathtaking scene could be seen from the place Kukai once visited. After climbing over a somewhat steep slope, I couldn’t help but take a deep breath looking at the stunning scenery of Kobe’s town together with the port.
I wonder if it was because it was Sannomiya which is lying on the bottom of the mountain that the building clusters appeared so close to the eyes. Neighboring just next to the sea, it seemed as if I could catch the port into my hands. Further ahead is the mountain ranges which flow along the south of Osaka. The ridges running between the Yamato Katsuragi mountain, the Kongo mountain, and the Izumi Katsuragi mountain seemed as if they are floating in between the clouds. Turning to the west, Awaji Island also appeared as if it’s floating in between the soft waves of the sea.
The name Futatabisan came from Kukai’s two times visit to the Tairyuji, one before and another after the Kentoshi (Japanese missions to Tang China). It seemed the Great Priest first visit the Tairyuji to wish for safe journeys across the seas and also to express his wish to encounter the teaching that he had been looking for in Tang, then the pioneering land in esoteric Buddhism. After two short years, Kukai returned to Japan and visited the Tairyuji for the second time to express his gratitude for the deities’ protections. It was Kukai’s two visits to the temple which became the origin of the name “Futatabisan.” It’s said that the Kameishi is also dug on his second visit to the temple.
Knowing such background, no travelers can afford to pass over the “Daishido” as they descend the mountain. This returning course begins from the Suwayama, crossing over the Venus Bridge, going through the Kitanocho before reaching its goal at the Motomachi Station. According to YAMAP, the route is 5 kilometers long, which is about 2 hours when walking slowly and only consists of descending slopes.
On the front approach of the Tairyuji is the stela depicting the birthplace of the “Mainichi Tozan” culture which has deeply rooted throughout Mount Rokko. Many diners and tearooms are established along the Daishido, making them a perfect place for taking a round trip.
The twilight at Kobe looking from the Venus Bridge
The sun goes down as travelers descend from the mountain, offering them the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the sunset in Kobe. The “Venus Bridge”—a helix bridge whose form resembles the character ‘8’—is where travelers can enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Although the bridge is well-known as a spot for enjoying the night sceneries, be it day or night, the bridge is always crowded with people who want to admire the awe-inspiring sceneries in Kobe. The name of the bridge came from the event during which, a French observation team settled at the Suwayama Park nearby to observe Venus, hence the name “Venus Bridge.”
There is still some time left before the night completely cover Kobe with its pleasant veil. Looking at YAMAP’s log, it’s said that the distance from the Shin-Kobe station until this point, passing through the Futatabi Park, is about 10 kilometers. Standing on the bridge, I could feel a good sensation of fatigue streaming along my body which went under the scorching heat of the sun. To be frank, what I wish for at the moment isn’t the beautiful night scenery but a mug of beer. There are many good diners established along the Motomachi at the foot of the mountain. As the image of a cool mug of beer invaded my mind, I decided to descend back to the town. It seemed to me on this day that compared to the breathtaking sceneries, the local beers at Kobe is much more alluring.
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