If you’re looking for adventure and a memorable experience in Japan, look no further than Mt. Ishizuchi (石鎚山). Standing at 1,982m, it is the tallest mountain in Shikoku. Known as ‘the Stone Hammer’ because of its distinctive sharp peak, it is a recreational playground offering various hiking trails, temples, shrines, accommodation and skiing during winter.
Above all, it offers stunning scenery year round, and is unique for its tranquility and religious history. There is no better way to appreciate Japan’s natural beauty, a signature attraction of Shikoku.
The hike to the peak of Mt. Ishizuchi is not for the faint-hearted, but there are two different options depending on your level. Both paths meet close to the top for the final climb.
The Tsuchigoya Hut (土小屋) trail is the easier option, taking around two and a half hours to the summit, starting at a higher point and therefore, offering a more meandering course. The start point for this trail can be reached by road from Matsuyama.
The Omotesando (表参道) route is the more difficult of the two, taking approximately three and a half hours to the summit at a much steeper gradient which includes many stairs. The starting point is at the top of a ropeway (link in Japanese); you can purchase a ticket at the ropeway base. Access to this route is reached by road from Saijo.
The latter is the trail my fiancé and our Japanese friend chose to take.
History of the mountain
The acknowledgement of mountains as sacred and the worship of mountain gods is a Japanese religious expression of respect and of our connection to powerful aspects of nature.
This is apparent throughout Japan especially in the countryside, where there are many shrines nestled at the base of any hill, and one will often glimpse the curved roof of a temple peeking through the trees.
Historically, holy men resided here in Ishizuchi, and it remains as a location for religious training to this day. The hike is especially unique in that the paths are steeped in religious history, of which you are constantly reminded as you encounter torii gates in remote settings along the way.
The Omotesando route commences at the large Joju Shrine (成就社), and at the peak lies the Ishizuchi Shrine (石鎚神社, link in Japanese), making it more of a pilgrimage than a mere hike. It is an ideal example of their religious tradition of revering mountains as sacred and spiritual places.
The trail on the Omotesando route covers a variety of terrain including many wooden stairs, metal platforms and shale paths. It winds through the beautiful native forest, occasionally coming out upon a rocky outcrop where, if the weather allows, you can catch a glimpse of the view.
The most unusual aspect of the trail near the top is that you can either take the walking track or you have the option of pulling yourself up a near vertical rocky wall with huge metal chains.
This slightly dangerous yet adventurous endeavor is exhilarating and a welcome respite from the stairs. Not recommended for those afraid of heights! There are three different occasions where you can choose between the trail or chains; the chains can get surprisingly busy especially on the weekend sometimes, so it is the quicker alternative to walk.
The steepness of the trail is very challenging even for the fit, though the atmosphere of the mountain makes it well worth the effort. The unique flora and fauna combined with the captivating vistas make you forget the pain, no matter how much your legs may hurt!
At the top you will find many hikers taking a rest around the shrine and enjoying the view. If you can manage to carry lunch up the mountain, there is no better spot to have a picnic. Don’t forget to take a photo with the wooden sign as a souvenir.
Mt. Ishizuchi Information
The easiest option for both routes is to drive to the carpark at the base of the trail or ropeway (link in Japanese).
Public transport from Saijo for the Omotesando/Joju trail: Catch a bus from Iyo-Saijo Station to the Ishizuchiyama stop near the base of the ropeway.
Public transport from Matsuyama for the Tsuchigoya Hut trail: Only available during hiking season on weekends and public holidays. Catch a bus at JR Matsuyama Station to the Tsuchigoya Hut trail.
Hiking season is from July 1st to November 1st.