Essays to mark. Deadlines to meet. All of that is irrelevant when the itch appears. A 20-minute train ride is all it takes.
Alighting at Ikoma station, I followed the road paralleling the cable car tracks as it snaked up towards Hozanji temple. Despite the wonderful Sunday weather, traffic was surprisingly light, thanks in part to the sub zero temperatures. After a 40-minute stroll, I passed through the gigantic stone gate marking the entrance to the massive temple complex.
Hozanji was just as I’d remembered it: full of pious worshipers lighting incense and clasping hands. My first visit nearly a decade earlier brought me into contact with a group of monks chanting at the base of the massive cliff face which towers over the entire area. It’s definitely one of the better temples in Kansai, and gives Koyasan a run for its money.
Slipping through the forest of jizo statues, I eyed a shortcut to the stone path leading to the summit of Mt. Ikoma. The fallen leaves blanketed the area, while the sounds of silence offered welcome companionship. Up the stone path I tramped, not running into a single soul until just below the gates of the gargantuan mountaintop amusement park. This too, lay completely still, the rides boarded up for the winter.
Sitting on the summit, I surveyed Osaka city lying 600 vertical meters below. A light wind threatened to drop the windchill to frostbitten lows. Shuffling through the pack, I slipped on the gloves while nibbling on a leftover burrito. Feral cats strolled freely around the asphalt pathways as I sat alone in comforted silence. The rays of sunlight filtered softly through the thickening cloud, reminding me that the snow squalls of winter lie just around the corner.
Content, I slipped back down into the tree line, along the path to Ishikiri I’d explored during my summer sunset outing. Again, no other hikers showed themselves. Arriving at another mountainside temple, I paused in an area ablaze with autumn color, dropping to my knees on the soft blanket of foliage. How could places this beautiful so close to a major metropolitan area lie unnoticed?
As the sun sank behind the horizon, I mustered up the energy to stroll back down to the station. Reality was once again upon me in the form of several hours of work. The brief respite was well worth the procrastination, though. Ikoma is quickly becoming my favorite local peak, overshadowed by its loftier neighbors Mt. Rokko and Mt. Kongo. Sometimes height just doesn’t matter.