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Hiking the Oeyama Portion of the Oni Trail: Discover Nature and History

2022.03.08

The Tango Peninsula in the north of Kyoto Prefecture is blessed with abundant nature that is still relatively unexplored by tourists. With the development of a hiking trail in recent years, the attractions of this area can now be experienced more easily than ever. The Oni Trail follows ancient lore and oni (demon/ogre) legends across a 100km-long trail with a variety of routes that stretches across northern Kyoto Prefecture all the way to the Sea of Japan. It traverses ancient pilgrimage routes, forest trails, village streets, castle towns, and a UNSECO Global Geopark. A highlight of the trail is the Oeyama portion on the southern part of the route. Here we introduce a sample overnight hiking course through the mountains of Oeyama that’s perfect for beginners.

About Oeyama

Oeyama refers collectively to the seven peaks in a mountain range that extends across the municipalities of Fukuchiyama, Yosano, Miyazu and Maizuru. The tallest is the 832m-high Senjogatake. Part of a quasi-national park that encompasses the entire Tango region, the mountain range has a rich ecosystem with flora and fauna of both northern and southern Japan, and is inhabited by a wide variety of insects and birds. One of Oeyama’s main drawcards is an ethereal sea of clouds that engulfs the mountains in the early morning during autumn and winter. Historically, the area is notable for a vital transportation route that was established through the mountains over 1300 hundred years ago, and some of the original cobblestone path survives to this day. Oeyama is also associated with traditional Japanese mountain worship and the oni of Japanese folklore.

Mt. Oe

Mt. Oe

The Oeyama mountain range is known throughout Japan for its monster-slaying legends, and it is also a vast and rich natural environment. There is something fun to do in each season, including hiking w …

Day 1: Hiking in the Oeyama foothills

Route: Kyoto Tango Railway Oeyamaguchi Station > Motoise-Naiku Shrine > Amanoiwato Shrine > Futasegawa Mountain Stream > Japan Oni Cultural Museum > Oeyama Green Lodge
Total walking distance: Approximately 5km, 2.5 hours

 

・Motoise Naiku Shrine

Day 1 consists of a two-and-a-half-hour hike at the foot of Oeyama visiting some historical shrines and a stunning gorge along the way. The first stop is Motoise Naiku Shrine, a 10-minute walk from Oeyamaguchinaiku Station on the Kyoto Tango Railway.

Motoise Naiku Shrine is said to date back to the mythological age over 2000 years ago. The name Motoise literally means “former Ise,” and comes from the shrine’s association with the famous Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture. According to legend, Motoise Naiku Shrine is one of a number of places where Amaterasu (Sun Goddess, the central deity of Shintoism) stopped while roaming the land before eventually settling at Ise Shrine where she remains today.

We pass through a thick cedar grove—some of the giant cedars have stood here for over 1000 years—and climb 220 stone steps up to the shrine. It’s pleasantly atmospheric here in the dappled sunlight that shines through the trees. As we take in the untouched nature around us, it’s not difficult to see why people since time immemorial have deemed this a special place worthy of worship.

  

・Amanoiwato Shrine

Our encounter with primitive nature worship continues along the mountain path beyond Motoise Naiku. We come to a stone gate facing the sacred Himurogatake, a striking conical and almost pyramid-like mountain in the distance. Himurogatake is said to be where the Sun Goddess descended to earth, and as such it is considered too sacred for humans to set foot on—instead you worship from afar here at the gate. According to our guide, the sun sets directly above the mountain peak on the summer solstice, so there’s a profound sense of connection with the Sun Goddess.

Next we arrive at Amanoiwato Shrine, also a “Motoise” (there are in fact three Motoise shrines in Oeyama). There’s a distinctly mystical aura to this spot. The shrine sits on a steep rocky slope, which you can climb using the chain provided to worship close up. The shrine “grounds” are nature itself—the foothill of the mountain, the emerald-green gorge, the giant and unusual rock formations and the lush forest. Towering rocks at the water’s edge are said to be where deities descended to earth and are the stage of a famous legend.
You can visit the trio of Motoise shrines on a tour led by a local English-speaking guide (5,000 yen per person, book through Umi no Kyoto DMO Tour Center at tour@uminokyoto.jp).

Motoise Naiku, Amanoiwato Shrine

Motoise Naiku, Amanoiwato Shrine

This ancient shrine is one of the locations at which Amaterasu, the Shinto Goddess of the Sun, was enshrined before moving to Ise-jingu Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. In fact, this shrine predates Is …

  

・Futasegawa Gorge

We leave Amanoiwato Shrine and head north towards the scenic Futasegawa Mountain Stream Gorge. We take a path along the side of the gorge and soak in the energy of the lush forest—the ultimate in forest bathing! It’s incredibly relaxing walking along here in the gentle light that filters through the trees. We’re soothed by the babble of the river, and the beautiful vivid, soft moss.

You can go down into the gorge from the path. There are some giant rocks and interesting formations here that make for a dynamic sight.

  

The most impressive view of the Futasegawa is from Shindoji Bridge, an enormous suspension bridge that spans the gorge. You can experience exhilarating vistas of the rushing river below and the imposing mountains on either side, with an added thrill of the swinging bridge! According to our guide, the scenery is especially stunning in autumn when the mountains are awash with red and yellow foliage.

  

・Walking in the Footsteps of Oni Folklore

After crossing the bridge, we arrive at a mossy stone path. There’s a distinctly different feel from the gorge as we’re surrounded by trees once again. Our guide explains that this path was built about 400 years ago in the early part of the Edo Period (1603-1867). Oeyama is traditionally believed to be inhabited by oni, and this road in particular is associated with a number of legends about oni—one of the rocks along here is even reputed to be an oni footprint.

  

Further along the road, we reach Japan Oni Cultural Museum, our final destination for Day 1. The museum has various exhibits of oni-related artifacts from Japan and around the world, as well as exploring how humans have engaged with these mythical creatures. What’s fascinating about Japanese oni is that they are not always scary but can be endearing devils too. You’ll see some statues near the museum showing oni in a more comical light.

Japan Oni Cultural Museum

Japan Oni Cultural Museum

The Japan Oni Cultural Museum is appropriately located at the foot of the Oeyama mountain range, home to the most notorious “oni” (demon or ogre) in Japan, Shuten Doji. The museum explains local folkl …

  

・Oeyama Green Lodge

  

We spend the night at Oeyama Green Lodge, which is located next to Japan Oni Cultural Museum. This place has long been a popular lodging for hikers, not least because of the large bath that is just the thing for washing away the fatigue of a day on the trails. After a delicious and satisfying home-cooked dinner, we rest and replenish our energy in preparation for tomorrow.

Green Lodge

This is a training accommodation facility that is located at the entrance of Shuten-Doji no Sato. Surrounded by mountains, this nature-filled location can be used by both families and groups alike.

Day 2: A Sea of Cloud and a Historical Road

Route:Oeyama Green Lodge > Onitake Inari Shrine > Oeyama Green Lodge > Miyazu Kaido Road > Fuko Pass > The old Fuko Trail
Total distance: 10 km by car and 8 km walking
Total time: approximately 4 hours

  

・Sea of Clouds at Onitake Inari Shrine

The second day starts with the highlight of our trip. In the dark before dawn, we jump in the car and head to Onitake Inari Shrine at the eighth station of Oeyama, a popular vantage point for the famous sea of clouds.

A “sea of clouds” is indeed an apt description for the layers of clouds and thick fog that unfold mystically below like an ocean. This phenomenon only occurs under certain meteorological conditions, and with fog forming easily at the foot of Oeyama (due to the rich waters of the Yura River and its tributaries) and a significant difference between day and night temperatures, the conditions here are just right.

The best time to catch the sea of clouds is early morning in autumn or early winter. The view is truly breathtaking—mountain ridges peek through the clouds like islands dotted in the ocean against a canvas of orange and pink skies, and it only becomes more mystical as the sun rises and shines through the clouds.

  

・Miyazu Kaido: Treading a 400-year-old path

At 8am we’re back at the lodge for breakfast before departing for the second day’s hiking. Because the altitude here is lower than at Onitake Inari Shrine, the lodge is still surrounded by the sea of clouds. We set off through the fog.

Our itinerary for Day 2 will take us along two historical roads in the Oeyama Mountain Range. The first is Miyazu Kaido, a road built through Oeyama in the early 17th century to connect the town of Miyazu on Kyoto’s northern coast to the highway going to the capital of Edo (present-day Tokyo).
The mossy cobblestones on the path are the very ones that were laid 400 years ago. If you need to catch your breath, there are some enormous thousand-year-old cedars and a waterfall along the way that make nice rest spots. Keep an eye out for the sites of a former Edo-period checkpoint and fort that serve as reminders of the route’s importance in days gone by.

There are also some stunning views along the way, and thanks to the higher altitude here, we catch another glimpse of the sea of clouds. Nature continues to weave its magic even though it has been more than three hours since sunrise!

   

・The Fuko Pass and ocean views

Next, we traverse the Fuko Pass. The mountainside here was excavated for a now-defunct ski ground, so there are magnificent panoramic views to be had of the surrounding mountain range. We also catch a glimpse of the Sea of Japan through the trees as we begin on the road down.

The most spectacular view on the route is from an outlook point called Chayaganaru, which lies at the intersection of The Old Fuko trail (see below) and a trekking route that traverses nearby mountains. You can see Miyazu township, the ocean, and the famous Amanohashidate sandbar from here.

Our guide explains that Chayaganaru was the site of a tea house in the road’s heyday. Imagine the travelers from afar who must have rested here before heading on to Miyazu, and folk setting out from Miyazu, bidding a silent farewell to home and family as they took a last glimpse at the town in the distance.

  

・The Old Fuko Trail: Stepping back 1000 years

  

Lunch today is a punnily-named Onigiri bento lunchbox from Oeyama Green Lodge. The face of an “oni” decorates the old-fashioned bamboo sheath box, which is packed with “onigiri” (rice balls) and other colorful items. There’s nothing quite like enjoying a delicious meal in the great outdoors!
Our stomachs full, we set off for the last leg of our trek down the mountain by way of the Old Fuko Trail.

This road has been used to traverse Oeyama for over a thousand years since around the time the capital was established in Kyoto and is mentioned in some old tales. It’s interesting to note that the stone paving here is of a simpler, more rustic style than the Edo Period path that we encountered earlier. Soft sunlight, a babbling brook and chirping birds make for a very peaceful walk along this section.

The trail’s name comes from a large temple called Fuko Temple that once existed near here to venerate the Oeyama mountains. Despite the remote location, it was apparently an enormous complex with close to sixty halls.

Our final destination is Karakawa Station on the Kyoto Tango Railway. Here we board the train and head for home, gently swayed by the little carriage as it weaves its way back and forth through the mountains.

The two-day hike was an amazing opportunity to experience nature, history, and a lesser-known side of Kyoto, all within a relatively short distance that makes the itinerary ideal for beginners. At the time of writing, maps and signposts on the trails are still in the process of being upgraded to include multiple languages, so for the time being a guided tour is probably the safest option if you’re not confident in your Japanese ability. Since there are any number of potential routes for hiking around Oeyama, a guide can also help put together a plan to fit your individual needs. Visit the website below for details.
https://www.kyototourism.org/en/adventuretours/

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