Ritsurin Garden and Konpira Shrine

Today I toured some interesting locations near Takamatsu City in Kagawa Prefecture on the smallest of the four main Japanese islands, Shikoku.  I was completely on my own today and had to figure out how to get to each of the places that I wanted to get to.  My itinerary told me to travel by street car, but I when I got to the station, I realized that I had no idea what a street car was.  I wandered around for about a half hour trying to not look like I was a desperately lost tourist, until I meandered deep enough within the local station to find the ”streetcar” station, which is really just a local train.  My first destination was Ritsurin Gardens.  These gardens were built in the early 17th century by the daimyo of Sanuki.  The gardens are massive and have a lot of scenery to take in from the surrounding area.  In total, there are 16 mountains which surround the gardens.  This made the gardens a frequently visited favorite of other local daimyo in the 17th and 18th century.  In addition, several well-known Japanese painters chose to depict scenes from this garden in their work.

After I had walked through the gardens for about and hour, I was on my way out of the gate when an old Japanese man flagged me down and told me in broken English that he was a volunteer guide for the gardens.  He seemed very happy to have a chance to speak English, so not wanting to disappoint him, I agreed to go on another tour of the gardens with him.  Although he took me to the same places again, he explained to me how the gardeners had created the bizarrely shaped pine trees that grew everywhere throughout the garden.  In the US and most western countries, when we plant a pine tree, we water it and let it grow.  In this way, the pine trees grow tall and slender.  For the purpose of traditional Japanese gardens, the gardeners continually trim the pine tree so that it only grows in the directions that they desire it to.  Because of this, the trunks are very wide, but the pine tree remains very short.  In addition the branches twist back all over the place in very strange patterns that make the tree almost look spooky.  This process I found to be very interesting.  Finally at the end of the tour, he showed me a shop in the gardens where I could buy bread to feed the koy.  There were thousands and when they saw someone standing near the edge of a pond, they swarmed expecting to be fed.

After a two hour tour of the gardens, I got back on the street car and made the long journey to the end of the line to travel to Konpira Shrine.  When I got off at the last station, it had begun to rain.  It is currently Japan’s rainy season and as I make my way across Western Japan, the humidity continues to increase.  This creates the worst possible weather combinations ever.  Rainy and extremely humid.  I also forgot my umbrella in my hotel so the hike to Konpira was not that pleasant.  However, Konpira is a very well known shrine across Japan as it could possibly be the oldest Shinto shrine still standing today.  As there is no written record of when it was built, this cannot be proven.  But according to legend, Konpira was built some time in the first century A.D.  Konpira is situated near the top of Mt. Zozu up almost 800 steps.  The first 400 of these steps are lined with souvenir shops with posters, ornate wooden statues, and sake.  There is a famous sake museum near the pathway up the mountain as the water flowing down the mountain is said to make some of the best sake in Japan.  I heard this in Kyoto too, so I believe that everyone says this about their own local products.  (For example, I’m pretty sure now that every city I’ve been in has said that they have the best udon in Japan.)  The pathway up to Konpira is entwined through pathways covered with trees and line with large stone monuments donated from private citizens and companies.  It made the journey nice in spite of the rain.

When I approached the final set of stairs I was very grateful.  But ahead of me was a very cool view.  The rain clouds had descended low enough to shroud the main shrine in a thick layer of fog.  The last set of steps looked to go straight into the fog right after the final torii gate.  I could just see the shrine poking through the clouds.  It was almost surreal.

The main shrine was like any other shrine I had been to, but I decided to pray here as it could be the oldest ever built.  The inner shrine was another half hour walk deeper into the wilderness of the mountain.  Normally, I would have gone, but in the rain I just wanted to go back to my hotel and get in the shower.

I ran back down the steps — it was much easier going down — back to the train station and made the long ride back.  When I made it back to my hotel I was very glad to escape the rain and I fell asleep for a little nap instantly.

Tomorrow I leave Takamatsu on to Matsuyama, the last stop before Miyajima and the Itsukushima Shrine, maybe the most breathtaking view in Japan.  See you soon!

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One thought on “Ritsurin Garden and Konpira Shrine

  1. Glad you had fun in Takamatsu and Kompira.

    May I correct a few errors if you don’t mind.

    First, Takamatsu and Kagawa are not in Western Honshu, they’re not on Honshu at all. They’re on Shikoku.

    Then, I don’t know who told you about streetcars in Takamatsu, but they clearly didn’t know what they were talking about. What you is a train called the Kotoden. (google “streetcar” if you want to know what they look like).

    Glad the volunteer guide caught you, because one hour is definitely not enough to visit Ritsurin. Either you went too fast or missed a lot.

    Now, onto Kompira.
    It may or may not be the oldest shrine in Japan, but it doesn’t mean that the buildings date from back then. They don’t (the oldest wooden building in Japan and in the world is Horyu-ji pagoda in Nara). Just like pretty much any shrine and temple in Japan, they’re regularly rebuilt for all sorts of reason (renovation of course, but also some more symbolic ones). Kompirasan in its current form dates from the late Edo, early Meiji periods (19th century) and most of its buildings date from that time ( a few are older, a few are newer).

    It’s not Kompira that’s on top of 800 steps, it’s the main shrine. Kompira is every thing, from the first step to the last one and everything in between.
    Also, you didn’t get to the top, the top is after 1368 steps, there are a few more smaller shrines (and an interesting climb) after the main shrine.

    Now, onto Udon, if you’ve heard in other cities that they have the best Udon, they were clearly lying. It is a known fact that Udon is the (pretty much official) specialty of Kagawa, to the point that some people want to rebaptize Kagawa Prefecture into Udon Prefecture (fools!)

    I hope my comment didn’t sound to patronizing, I understand you’re traveling right now in parts of Japan you’re now familiar with and don’t necessarily have time to do much research about the places you visit, so I thought I could help here. 🙂

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