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Posts Tagged ‘Mt. Ikoma’

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.

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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….

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