The intense heat of an Osaka summer tends to turn even the hardiest outdoorsman into an air-con addicted recluse. Something had to change. Perhaps an evening climb of Osaka’s easterly neighbor could help relieve the cabin fever.
I set off from Namba station a little before 5pm, arriving at Ishikiri about 20 minutes later. Although I’d climbed Mt. Ikoma several times before, it was my first attempt along the old stone-lined pilgrimage route. The initial 10 minutes involved weaving through a twisted maze of expensive homes on hilly, narrow back streets. I knew I had to go up, but where exactly? Shooting through a narrow passage, I crossed a rickety, rusting corrugated-metal bridge that spit me out at the foot of a temple. Jizo statues lined the scuffed concrete road: a sign I’d finally found the correct approach.
The concrete snaked through the dense forest, passing over tranquil streams. There were no shortages of hidden shrines and long forgotten temples along the deserted route, a testament to Ikoma’s mighty past. Mosquitos inched their way towards my exposed skin, forcing me to push on despite the rapidly flowing sweat dripping from my brow. Arriving at the shut gates of Oku-houji temple, I poured water from the hand-washing basin all over my steaming head and face. Water flowed down my back and into my hiking pants, but the relief from the heat was well worth the drenching my clothes received. The relief was short-lived, however, as the mosquitos and sweat returned with each advancing step.
I soon reached a paved forest road, where the massive metal TV towers came into view. The path crisscrossed this deserted road several times before reaching a rather tranquil lookout, where I saw my first unobstructed views of the mammoth basin of Osaka city glowing in the late afternoon light.
The stone-lined path flattened out a bit before climbing one final set of wooden steps to a clearing. At this clearing, my jaw dropped upon seeing a parking lot full of cars and a queue of day-trippers lining up to ride the chairlift to the top of the mountain. I knew of the monstrosity that awaited me but had not been mentally prepared to actually witness it. Inhaling deeply, I crossed the road and marched up the concrete steps to the summit, keeping a steady eye on the shimmering horizon to my left.
Skyland Ikoma was built on the summit of Mt. Ikoma in 1929, the same year a cable car was carved on the eastern face of the mountain. One of Japan’s oldest amusement parks, Skyland is home to the oldest continuously operational ride (the airplane tower, from 1929) and one of the best panoramic views of any amusement facility in the world. Despite this distinction, the area has definitely seen better days, and if not for the financial assistance of owner Kintetsu railway, it would’ve already met the same haikyo fate as Nara Dreamland in the valley below. On this steamy summer evening, however, the place bustled with energetic kids, sleep-deprived parents, and a rather large collection of household pets, all searching for a brief break from the boiling temperatures of the city.
I settled onto a neighboring bench, ignoring the chaos around me, eyes fixated on the stellar views of my home city six hundred meters beneath my feet. The sun inched its way down to the horizon while the cool breeze slowly dried my sweat-drenched body. I lazily searched for nourishment buried in the bottom on my daypack: a melted chocolate bar and a handful of cashew nuts would have to do.
While most of the crowd dissipated after sundown, I stayed glued to the bench, observing the soft hues of the evening take over. Cloud cover is often much more colorful long after the last rays touch the horizon.
The finicky headlamp finally came on after a 20-minute struggle bringing it back to life. None too confident it would last on the descent, I sprang to my feet and hoped for the best, using my nocturnal instincts to guide me when the lamp wouldn’t. Eventually I made it back down to the temple, where a series of fluorescent lights eased my navigation back into the city. For some strange reason, the temperature and humidity actually rose after sundown and I arrived at the station in more of a sweaty mess than my earlier climb. Perhaps it was an omen for the slowly approaching typhoon….