From a quiet path of faith to the resort atmosphere of Lake Hodaka Enjoy the well-developed “Maya-style” climbing culture

Low-mountain traveler/Penster for Yamatabi

Sei Ouchi

■ Mt. Maya’s climbing culture is diverse, interesting, and free

Mt. Maya is well known for its wonderful night views of Kobe. Among these, the view from Kikuseidai at the top of the mountain is first-class, and the sight of lights spreading across every corner of the landscape as night begins to fall is very romantic. As you might expect from one of Japan’s three great night views, it has a beauty that is difficult to fully capture in words. However, the quality of the view is no less superb during the daytime. It is an incredible scene unique to this mountain, stretching from the Kongo and Ikoma mountains that float above the opposite side of Osaka Bay to the Izumi mountain range.

While Mt. Maya provides these wonderful vistas both during the day and the night, they are of course not the only enjoyment to be found here. There are many trails connecting the town and the temples on the mountain, each of which allow you to experience a different aspect of it. The marks of Buddhist culture are strong here; sacred rocks and giant trees make their presence felt, and belief in the mountain has been strong since long ago. There are many people who enjoy mountain meals or regularly take a “daily climb,” so the mountain is always buzzing. It’s also interesting to see things named “Hodaka” or “Yari” despite being in Kobe. Lake Hodaka, meanwhile, which looks over them from the top of the mountain, has a pleasant shore like a highland resort. The countless gullies, and the streams that run through them instill a sense of excitement. Meanwhile, the “mirage Tokugawa Road”, unmissable for history lovers, adds an extra touch to the sense of historical adventure. To finish off this mountain walk, walk down the mountain to the Suido-suji Shopping Arcade, wash the sweat off at Nada Onsen, and get a drink in one of the local bars – that’s the rule.

On Mt. Maya, where human cultural activities and natural activities intersect perfectly, it is not just about enjoying oneself in the mountains for the purpose of mountain climbing. Rather, it is regarded as a means that allows hikers a variety of objectives. This is an advanced civic culture of enjoying nature – a “Mayan culture,” so to speak. It is a high level of cultural maturity that allows this this enjoyment of climbing.

■ Raisho-ji Temple: overlooking the hill city of Kobe

As I climbed the steps of Raisho-ji temple, not far from Shin-Kobe Station, it was a relief to finally be surrounded by trees that blocked the sun. Considering that it had been raining lately, I wanted to be thankful for the brief, miraculous moment of clear weather, but I felt as though I would be knocked out by the strong sunlight before starting the climb. Sweating on the sloping road of a residential area, I wiped my forehead and neck and looked back to see the sight of Kobe as it always is. Just beyond the clusters of buildings is the sea. It is just the view you might expect from a hill city like Kobe.

Even here, which is supposed to be part of the city area, there are substantial differences in elevation. That’s right – this great city, representing the Kansai region, has an extremely steep slope, being built on unusual terrain compared to the main cities found on the plains in other regions. That means that the city is narrow north-to-south, yet wide east-to-west. To the south is the Seto Inland Sea, while to the North is the Rokko mountain range. On the narrow strip of land that stretches east-west between them is the core area of Kobe City, which boasts the 7th largest population in Japan. Accordingly, despite it being a big city, the sea, the town and the mountains are fairly close together.

■ Walking the old road of faith: the Old Maya Road

When you reach the top of the steps to the temple Raisho-ji, you are welcomed by a stone statue of Fudo Myo-o just to your right. The mountain path which starts from here is called “Motomaya-michi” (“the Old Maya Road”), and is an approach that has endured from ancient times to the present day. The monotonous road continues, combining trees and steep steps. While it offers little in the way of views, it is perfect for a quiet mountain walk. Given that it is a road leading up to a mountaintop temple, it is best to tackle it in a calm mood. Perhaps it is a reaction to leaving the hustle and bustle of the big city, but it is fun to chat with passing hikers sometimes.

The mountain range as a whole, including Mt. Maya, is known as the Rokko Mountains. It is a large mass of mountains of which Mt. Rokko, where a young Ryotaro Shiba confessed that he had once got lost, forms the main part. I read that story in the July 1961 issue of the magazine “Kobekko.” Because he had a narrow escape by emerging in Takarazuka City to the east, he must have been walking in the opposite direction to Mt. Maya, which runs along the west side. It was with that in my memory that I got to know the Rokko-Maya area.

After passing through the Gakkorin junction, it joins the Aotani road at the Gyoja-do ruins. Before long, it opens out at the top of the mountain, arriving at the Mt. Maya Historical Park. Nowadays it is lovely as a resting place for hikers, but in the old days, it was where the old Tenjo-ji Temple flourished. There are several mountain paths on Mt. Maya, and out of these it is the Old Maya Road that was the main approach to this historic temple.

Beyond the historical park, you finally reach the summit of Mt. Maya. The quiet summit, surrounded by forests, is still a sacred area visited by ascetic practitioners. There is a sacred rock known as Tengu-iwa and an old shrine here, and you can still sense the remnants of faith. However, in contrast to this quiet summit, Kikuseidai, the viewpoint just below the summit, is very busy. Many of the night view photographs of Kobe are taken from here, and the funicular and cable car mean that there are many tourists. Under the large, sturdy gazebo the people wrapped up in climbing wear stand out, but recently I hear that many people come up casually on the cable car to enjoy a mountain meal.

When I think about people coming straight up the mountain without climbing, and using the time they save to spend lunch on the top of the mountain, I think: Yes, this is a way of spending time and having fun unique to Mt. Maya, where town and nature lie in close proximity.

■ Like a temple in the sky, reflected in the name Tenjo-ji.

After you put the Mt. Maya summit and Kikuseidai behind you, it is Tenjo-ji that you head towards. A Shingon Buddhist temple with the official name of “Butsumo Mayasan Tori Tenjo-ji” its history stretches back to the year 646, when it was opened by the Indian high priest Hodo Sennin. Later, this area came to be known as “Mt. Maya” after a statue of Queen Maya dedicated by the monk Kukai. Queen Maya, incidentally, is the mother of the Buddha, and for this reason she is often called the guardian of women.

646 was the year following the Taika Reforms, but after this long history, the temple was destroyed by fire in 1976, then rebuilt in a different location known as Maya Bessan. In short, this area is “Old Maya.” It has a history as an official temple of Emperor Kotoku, Emperor Kazan, and Emperor Ogimachi. Now, unlike a mountain temple hidden in the deep mountains, it is a bright open temple underneath the sun and skies. When you stand here, you know that there is nothing you can hide from the gods and the Buddha, and this realization makes you honest. The grounds of this sky temple, looking out over the town at the foot of the mountain, contain many flowers. A pleasant breeze also passes through. It is the kind of temple where the air truly feels soft, putting you in a gentle mood.

■ Lake Hodaka, the mountaintop oasis

From Tenjo-ji Temple, the atmosphere changes completely once again. Descend “agony hill,” one section of the Rokko mountains traverse route, and waiting for you there is the hiker’s oasis of Lake Hodaka, where tourists rarely venture. Although it is a small man-made lake, one wells up with happiness and surprise to discover such a quiet and beautiful waterside at the top of a mountain. It is said that it was given this name because the appearance of the surface of the water merged with the trees lining the shore resembles Taisho Pond in the Kamikochi valley. Certainly, when you see the “Scheer Yari” peak reflected in the surface of the lake, it recreates the sight of the Hotaka Mountain Range.

A promenade, tables and benches have been set up on the lakeside, and here and there you can see the sight of people putting down a ground sheet to enjoy their “mountain meal.” Although small, it was impressive to see several streams flowing. Seeing people gather in a place where water collects like that, I thought it was a good place to rest, and ate a late lunch while gazing absentmindedly at the view. Now that I mention it, the whole Rokko area has many streams and waterfronts. The Rokko Mountains are formed of granite, and the water filtered through them has long been acclaimed for its flavor. At the foot of the mountain is Nada, with its delicious sake, and there are probably people who recognize it immediately when you talk about Rokko’s wonderful tasting water. It is of course a mountain area with abundant water, but is also famous for its hot springs, represented by Arima Onsen.

Accordingly, I made my way back guided by water, following the mountain streams. The trail following the Somatani River is known as Cascade Valley, and as its name suggests, it is a gully with a continuous series of small waterfalls. In these same Rokko Mountains, there is a valley road called “Twenty Cross,” named for the fact that it crosses water 20 times. This Cascade Valley, too, has many points where you cross over the stream. In the end, I did about a “ten cross,” and became excited about the slightly athletic atmosphere.

Cascade valley, where you walk surrounded by sound of the streams, waterfalls and the wind blowing down the gully, was built long ago as a road for feudal lords’ “alternate attendance” at Edo. Also known as the “mirage Tokugawa Road” due to the fact that it was never used, this is a history trail for obsessives. It will be irresistible for those who like that sort of thing. Incidentally, to give one more anecdote, the starting point of this Tokugawa road is near Ishiyagawa Station. If you are interested, drop by there and look for the inscription marking it.

Feeling an affinity with water, I carried on down Cascade Valley. Beyond the Nagamine landslide barrier, it turns into a residential area. I followed the stream, which merges with the Rokko river and changes name to the Toga River, further south. This was in order to stop by Nada Onsen in the east of the Suido-suji Shopping Arcade. Although it is much like a local public bath, the soft carbonated spring water is very good, and it is the perfect place to stop and wash away all the fatigue and sweat from walking this far. To finish up the day after your bath, it has to be an ice-cold beer. There are many good bars to be found in the Suido-suji Shopping Arcade. Having a drink with a map in one hand, I reflected on the profundity of this wonderful Maya climbing culture. Starting at the mountain trails spread out like a net, I thought about changing the route next time, or going there for a mountain meal.

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Low-mountain traveler/Penster for Yamatabi

Sei Ouchi

A traveler who traverse the low mountains at various regions to pursue the local history and stories, all while searching for the local joys by working together with nature and the people. Together with the charms he found, Sei Ouchi also expresses the joys in “mountain trips which intrigue the intellectual curiosity” in various different media including writings, photos, and short stories.

Sei Ouchi also appears as a regular in NHK Radio’s Shinyabin Program: “Tabi no Tatsujin~Hikui Yama wo Mezase!” His recent books include ‘Teizan Travel,’ ‘Totte Okitai! Teizan Travel’ published by Futami Shobo Publishing, and ‘Teizan Techou’ published by TATSUMI PUBLISHING. Sei Ouchi is also the director of the NPO Japan Trekking Association.

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