Devotees of Nichiren Buddhism, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism founded by Nichiren (1222–1282), have been making the pilgrimage between Mount Minobu and Mount Shichmen for centuries. The height of Nichiren Buddhism was during the Edo period (1603–1868). This blog post describes the first stage of the pilgrimage between Mount Minobu and the ancient village of Akasawa.
A group of Minobu residents and I set out from the foot of Mount Minobu at 9:30 am on a Sunday morning and made the ascent to the top of Mount Minobu in about two and a half hours. Luckily, we timed our ascent for the tail-end of the cherry blossom season.
This lovely little temple is to the right of the Sanmon Gate at Mt. Minobu (the third largest temple gate in all of Japan).
We ascended the 287 steep steps to Kuon-ji Temple to find the cherry blossoms in front of the five-story pagoda in full bloom.
Kuon-ji Temple is normally overrun by tourists during cherry blossom season, but the tail-end of the season was calm.
Our group quickly walked to the back of the main temple and began to ascend the narrow road to the top of Mount Minobu. There were countless ancient graves, and many temples along the way. The first grave caught my attention as we rounded the second bend on the narrow road. The grave was that of an English ship’s captain who joined the Nichiren sect in the late 19th century. I suddenly felt I had arrived at Mt. Minobu about a century too late. You are transported to a different time as you walk among the ancient grave sites surrounded by huge Japanese cypress trees. Walking here reminds you of a time when life moved much more slowly than it does today.
It is traditional for the Japanese to pay respect at the graves of their ancestors. However, as people move on over the centuries, many graves are forgotten. This is a collection of forgotten ancient tomb stones on the pilgrimage route.
Here is one of the beautiful temples that dot the ancient pilgrimage route. There is a huge golden Buddha just behind the glass, and behind the huge Buddha are a thousand little golden Buddhas.
These are prayers for healthy children at the Pomegranate Temple. These prayers are meant to placate the evil spirits who take children away. This temple is a stark reminder of how difficult life must have been in centuries past.
Here are actual pilgrims descending Mount Minobu. As the pilgrims descend, they chant, “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.”
Mount Fuji can be seen from the summit of Mount Minobu.
This stairway leads to the last temple on Mount Minobu before you begin the descent to Akasawa Village. There are huge cypress trees on either side of the staircase.
You must cleanse your hands and mouth before you enter the temple grounds.
Finally, after two and a half hours, we reached the last temple on Mount Minobu, however, we still had a two-hour descent to Akasawa Village. If I was going to continue on to Mount Shichmen the next day, I would definitely spend a night at one of Akasawa’s inns. There is actually one inn, Osakaya, that you can book on Airbnb. The descent to Akawsawa is nowhere near as spectacular as the ascent of Mount Minobu, but once you arrive in Akasawa, you are rewarded with a glorious view.
The entrance to Akasawa Village
The descent into Akasawa Village
This is one of Akasawa’s beautiful pathways.
We arrived to find the trees in full-bloom.
The village, although remote, is trying to cater to the tastes of tourists by hosting the collections of artists in one of its cafés. The artwork below was painted by Yoshihiro Tanamachi.
This depiction of the old harbour at Yokohama is one of the paintings hanging upstairs at Shimizuya Café.
Please check my other blog post:
Mt. Minobu to Mt. Shichimen Pilgrimage (Stage Two)
Take the JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line to JR Shizuoka Station, change to the JR Tokaido Main Line for JR Fuji Station and then board the northbound JR Minobu Line for JR Minobu Station (1.5 hours). You can also access Minobu from JR Shinjuku Station in 3 hours by taking an express train to JR Kofu Station on the JR Chuo Line. Once you arrive in Kofu, you will change to the JR Minobu Line for JR Minobu Station. Take a taxi or a bus from the train station to Minobusan (Kuon-ji Temple). The taxi is about 2,000 yen, but the bus is only about 280 yen. Alternatively, you can access Minobu by bus from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (3.5 hours). Once you have descended Mount Shichimen, you can take a bus to JR Minobu Station from Sumise Bus Stop which is located at the foot of Mount Shichimen in the small village between Akasawa Village and Mount Shichimen. Of course, you can walk all the way back to Mount Minobu if you are a purist.