A few days ago I had vague plans to go to Himeji. I was going to meet my husband at Himeji Castle in mid-afternoon, so I had the whole first half of the day to kill time by myself. It was cherry blossom season, and I was not excited about being around lots of people at Himeji Castle.
I was in the mood for a hike and a temple.
A quick internet search that morning revealed Mt. Shosha and Engyoji. Both places I had never heard of before. I made sure that it was an easy hike for half a day and got on a train toward Himeji. Let me tell you about this short mountain hike and tranquil forest temple complex.
Getting to Mt. Shosha in Himeji
Mt. Shosha (Shoshazan in Japanese) is on the edge of Himeji city in Hyogo prefecture. Himeji is most famous for Himeji Castle, and it is also a great starting point to reach Mt. Shosha.
To get to Mt. Shosha, take the number 8 bus from the number 10 bus bay at Himeji Station. Buses are at the north exit of JR Himeji Station–JR Himeji Station and Shinkansen station are included in the JR Pass. The bus ride is about 30 minutes and costs Y270. The bus station is the last stop and drops you off at Shoshazan Ropeway (書写山ロープウェイ). Buses leave every 20 minutes.
When you arrive at the last bus stop, you will be at the entrance to the ropeway. I didn’t take the ropeway because I wanted to hike instead. I’m sure the ropeway is fine though.
Hiking Mt. Shosha
I came for the hike not the ropeway. There was a walking map posted at the bottom with approximate times. From the trail head to the ropeway gate at the top said around 35 minutes. I took that as a personal challenge to do the hike in 30 minutes or less.
From the ropeway and bus stop, walk a few minutes toward the trail head. There are signs in English to make sure you are going in the right direction. When you reach the trail head, feel free to grab a bamboo hiking stick.
I grabbed a stick and started my hike at 12:45. The hike is quite steep in places and rocky. The natural kind of rocks, not the rocks that have been strategically placed to make steps. My recommendation is to wear shoes with a thick bottom. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the rocks jagged, but they are pocky in spots. Thin shoes may hurt the bottom of your feet after a while.
The difficulty of the hike will depend on your fitness level and hiking skill. There are few flat areas, and you might need to use your hands at times to climb over some steep rocks. But the trail is natural and not paved, which I enjoyed. There are a few lookout areas to see Himeji city below.
I reached the top ropeway area at 1:15, so it took me about 30 minutes. I put my bamboo stick back in the container and rested a few minutes. Next was time to explore Engyoji Temple.
Exploring Engyoji Temple
I’ll admit, I didn’t know about Engyoji Temple until the day I did this hike. Apparently it is featured in the movie, The Last Samurai, but I can’t remember if I’ve seen that movie…
Engyoji is a Buddhist temple complex at the top of Mt. Shosha. It is large and takes at least one hour to walk around the whole thing. The hiking is not over either, as there are many up-hills and down-hills between buildings. This is part of the Mt. Shosha and Engyoji experience.
All the buildings in Engyoji are surrounded by dense forests with tall trees. The air is cool and refreshing, and I could almost feel my spirit being cleansed. The first big building is the Maniden, which is build on pillars on the edge of a hill. When I first came up the hill and I saw it I was breath-taken by the size of it.
The other main area is the Jogyodo, Jikido, and Daikodo. These are three huge wooden buildings arranged in a semi-circle. Like the Maniden, these buildings are impressive and you can sense their importance. There was a group of people quietly writing peacefully in the corner.
Besides these two main areas, there are lots of main roads leading to other, smaller wooden buildings. The area is large, and I don’t think you should rush. I spent almost two hours exploring the forest and the temples (including about 20 minutes that I got lost and went down the wrong road).
Complete Mt. Shosha and Engyoji Experience
When you finish exploring the top of Mt. Shosha and Engyoji, you can come down the mountain by the ropeway or hiking. I hiked again. Like before, I grabbed a bamboo walking stick and climbed back down the steep, rocky mountain face. Back at the bus station, I bought a warm drink from the vending machine and waited for the bus back to Himeji Station.
One thing that I enjoyed about my Mt. Shosha and Engyoji experience was the peacefulness of everything. There were no crowds of people and no noise from the city. The few people that were there were respectfully enjoying the buildings and the forest. Even with hiking up a steep mountain, it was a very relaxing experience.