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Myōjin-ga-take (明神ヶ岳) is a wonderful one-day hike in the Hakone region west of Tokyo that covers a distance of roughly 10 kilometres and offers stunning vistas, a venerable temple surrounded by old cedar forests and a friendly onsen resort to regenerate from your hike.

Maciamo and I had been planning this hike for a quite a while, and on 3 November (Culture Day) we climbed aboard a train that would take us to Odawara.

How to get to Myōjin-ga-take:

From JR Shinagawa Station take any JR Tōkaido line to Odawara (e.g. Rapid Acty, 1 hour 2 min, 1,340 JPY); from Shinjuku take Odakyū Express (1 hour 35 min, 900 JPY). In Odawara, transfer to Daiyūzan Line (大雄山線) to go to Daiyūzan Station, the terminal station (21 min, 280 JPY). At Daiyūzan, board the bus from Sekimoto (関本) to the terminal station Dōryōson (道了尊, 10 min, 260 JPY). If you take Odakyū Line you can also get off in Shin-Matsuda (新松田) and take the bus to Sekimoto (15 min, 330 JPY) and there change to the bus to Dōryōson.

Yes, it is quite a journey from central Tokyo but definitely worth your time. The bus terminal mentioned above is just at the entrance to Daiyūzan Saijōji (大雄山最乗寺). There are several souvenir shops that sell local produce and snacks and allow you to stock up on provisions. The trail that leads to Myōjin-ga-take starts behind the temple, not far from a giant pair of red geta (traditional clogs) made of cast-iron.

The temple is surrounded by a sea of cedar and pine trees which are some 500 years old. It was founded in 1394 by Zen master Emyō Ryōan (了庵慧明, 1337-1411) and is an important temple of the Sōtō sect of Zen Buddhism. Legend has it that one day a giant eagle snatched Emyō's robe and took with it to the Ashigara area where he dropped it onto a large cedar tree. The priest followed the eagle and meditated under the tree when suddenly a gust of wind blew his robe right back onto his left shoulder. Interpreting this as an divine intervention, Emyō Ryōan set up a temple right on the location of the cedar tree.

Another figure related to the earliest history of Daiyūzan Saijōji is Dōryō Daisatta (道了大薩埵), one of Emyō Ryōan's disciples. He was said to have been of supernatural power and is regarded as a protector of the temple. He reincarnated in both the 11-faced cannon (十一面観音) and a tengu (天狗), a mythological creature in Japanese folklore. Thanks to this mythical priest, Daiyūzan Saijōji is also known as Dōryōson (道了尊).

The geta are waiting for Dōryōson’s return to the temple. They also mark the beginning of the trail up Myōjin-ga-take. The climb passes an old delapisated hut, the Myōjin-ga-take Miharashi-goya (明神岳見晴小屋) at 698 metres, and a spring called Shinmeisui (神明水) where you can refill your water bottles. Once you reach the ridgeline the path meanders through an open area lined with susuki (すすき, South American pampas grass). The hike to the top of the mountain should not take longer than 60 minutes.

Maciamo and I, however, opted for another trail behind the temple that ended up in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps “opted” does not describe the situation truthfully; we actually believed we were on the right path. Eventually, we had to scale a steep and slippery slope in the forest before reaching an unmarked path that followed the ridge and eventually led us to the top of Myōjin-ga-take. Despite the drizzle and the relatively low autumn temperatures, we were still climbing in T-shirts.

The 360-degree view from the top (1,169 metres) is spectacular and offers sights of Sagami Bay and Odawara in the east, the Ashigara Plain and the steaming volcano vents of Owakudani (大湧谷) just across the valley in Hakone; Mount Fuji in the west, and the Tanzawa Mountains in the north. Unfortunately, Fuji-san was shrouded in clouds on that November day. Lots of other hikers were enjoying their lunch despite the chilly temperatures.

From Myōjin-ga-take you can either continue to Kintoki-san (金時山, two hours) or climb down to Miyagino. Myōjō-ga-take (明星ヶ岳) further down the ridgeline track at 924 metres is the location of the Daimon-ji Festival held annually on 16 August when bunches of bamboo are set on fire in the shape of the Chinese character 大 (big). The festival dates back to 1921 and is probably inspired by the fire festival held in Kyōto to send the spirits back during the Obon festival.

Further down the track, you will soon reach the small onsen resort of Miyagino (宮城橋). The bus stop at Miyagino-bashi is at the bottom of the road, just across the bridge over the Hayakawa (早川).


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Myōjin-ga-take 明神ヶ岳

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