Friday, March 17, 2017

The Road to Mt. Oyama: Oyama Pilgrimage大山詣り road, now

Japan has numerous roads of pilgrimage. The most famous one would be to go around Shikoku Island 四国 as Ohenro お遍路 that you might have heard. Though not so demanding for worshippers as Ohenro route, Kanagawa Prefecture has at least 2 Shinto shrines that have an established course to visit. As they are for Shintoism, they inevitably accompany forests. One of them is to Enoshima Island 江の島, and the other is to Oyama Afuri Shrine 大山阿夫利神社. I keep Enoshima for warmer season, and this week I begin to tell you my adventure with Oyama Mairi (大山詣り Oyama Pilgrimage). Since 2015 Michelin Green Guide Japon gives one star for the itinerary so that you may have known the place already. In July 2016, the route was designated as one of the Japanese Cultural Heritages by Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan. For kids grew up in Yokohama, visiting Oyama Mt. is often a menu of school trips, i.e. an educational thing. My elementary school had a program to go there for 5th graders every year, except for our classes … we really don’t know why. (Huh, there must have been some adult reason!) And hence, I’ve never been there. Meanwhile by keeping posting this blog for 2 years, I’ve realized we are using the route to Mt. Oyama in our daily lives no matter. If you live in the inland area of the City of Yokohama, the Oyama Pilgrimage Route pierces through your town inevitably (the reason, below).

First, it would be better to tell you the history of Oyama Pilgrimage. Afuri Shrine at the top of Mt. Oyama (1252m) has been there for millennia, literally. Archeological digging at the peak found artifacts of more than 2000 years ago. Up until the 16th century, the place was a sort of exclusive as an aficionados’ training ground of spirituality. Shintoism and, to some extent, Japanese Buddhism have a tradition of mountain worship and there are priests, called Yamabushi 山伏 or Shugenja 修験者, exercising meditation and the other rituals in Tanzawa Mountains especially around Mt. Oyama. Do you remember Gomayashiki Spring 護摩屋敷の水 when we did a small walk around Yabitsu Pass ヤビツ峠? That was a place where the hermits had wonderful tea secretly deep within mountains, admiring Mt. Oyama from the west. As such, the area attracted rich and powerful who had money and time to visit a remote sacred area, even if they did not visit the summit by themselves. Around Mt. Oyama there are several temples and shrines that had patrons of famous historical figures. Later, I tell you my visit to Hinata Yakushi Temple 日向薬師, Sekiunji Temple 石雲寺 and Oyama Temple 大山寺, which are the religious institutions with this kind of history. I guess people believed that the power of Mt. Oyama provided good foundation to establish a place of worship at the foot.

Very popular Gomayashiki Spring these days.
People from far come to collect once exclusive sweet water.

In the 17th century after the civil war was ended in Japan, ordinary people started to have money and time to think about “weekend” trips and bucket list travels. Secretly fashionable places for rich and powerful, like Mt. Fuji, entered in the must-visit list of common folks. Within the roll was Mt. Oyama that locates near Edo, i.e. Tokyo. The place was suitable for mini-vacation for Tokyonites … er …  Edoners? Perhaps? Conveniently, the mountain was in Kanto Region 関八州 where a million residents of Edo could have a 3 to 4 days schedule without exit-visa from Kanto. (At that time, ordinary Japanese could not travel outside their registered area unless they had valid and expensive visa, called Tegata 手形.) People formed a travel club, called Koh , saved money together, and visited Oyama in turn among members. Meanwhile, the shrine town of Oyama was established by tourist agencies, called Onshi 御師, who promoted the Oyama pilgrimage package nation-wide. Back then, each Koh club carried an absurdly long wooden sword as an offering to the Shrine, mimicking the first samuirai Shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo 源頼朝, who offered his sword to Oyama Temple for his victory. The attire became a symbol of Oyama Pilgrims, and appears in Ukiyoe or Kabuki describing city-life in Edo. The Afuri Shrine has a record of 200 thousand annual visitors in the late 18th century. Wow. There are several routes for Oyama Pilgrims from all over Japan. The most famous itinerary started at Akasaka Gate 赤坂御門 (; there is no gate now, but the remnants of stone wall of the gate in front of the Official Residences of Chairpersons for the National Diet 衆・参院議長公邸) / Sakurada Gate 桜田門 of Edo Castle (i.e., the Imperial Palace) and went through Aoyama 青山 and Shibuya 渋谷 (through that Shibuya Crossing) to cross Tama River 多摩川 at Futakotamagawa 二子玉川 … i.e. the current National Route 246 up to around Odakyu Isehara Station 小田急伊勢原駅, then turned to the right to Mt. Oyama. So, when you live near 246 in Yokohama, you live near Oyama Pilgrimage Road. I didn’t realize it until I started visiting Citizen Forests near home!

A historical house along Oyama Road
in Mizonokuchi Town of Kawasaki.
The premises have been a pharmacy since 1765,
started to serve tourists from Edo to Oyama.

Though, the present day Route 246 is the road straightened for the 21st century traffic of any kind (from pedestrians to military equipment … no for nothing the US Camp Zama and the CNIC are along the way). If we want to find genuine Oyama Route along 246, we have to dig in sideways … where sometimes the name Oyama Road remains. When you get off the Den’entoshi Line at Futakotamagawa Station 東急田園都市線二子玉川駅, cross Tama River 多摩川 along 246, and dive straight, instead of turning right with the wide 246, you enter the road whose name is Oyama Road 大山街道 leading us to (Musashi-)Mizonokuchi Station 武蔵溝ノ口/溝の口駅. On this street, the City of Kawasaki has a small museum, called Oyama-Kaido Furusato-kan 大山街道ふるさと館, dedicated to the history of the area along the Oyama Pilgrimage Route. The beauty of this tiny place is, it has lots of English explanation about Oyama Pilgrimage and its role for the development of their community. If you come near to the area and have some curiosity about Oyama pilgrimage, please just drop in (admission free) 😉

The present-day Oyama Pilgrimage Road
near Mizonokuchi
Oyama-Kaido Furusato-kan 大山街道ふるさと館 is here.

From there the route goes roughly along 246 to the west, until around Nagatsuda Station 長津田駅 where it’s directed a bit south to Niiharu 新治 and Miho 三保 Citizen Forests. A piece of ancient pilgrimage road remains along the southeast outer road of Miho Forest which had an old signpost of “Oyama Road 大山道” at O-1 point in the map. I simply guess before the Oyama Route was like there. According to the suggested Oyama Pilgrimage Route by Kanagawa Prefecture, from Miho Forest, the road crosses the present day Route 16 off Yokohama Zoorasia, skirts the north of Oiwake 追分 Citizen Forest and Hodogaya Country Club, and goes under Tomei Express Way to Kan’nonji Temple 観音寺 of Yamato City 大和市. The Temple is at the beginning of Shimotsuruma Town 下鶴間宿 for the Pilgrimage Road, where Edoners often changed their wore-off sandals to a new pair in order to pay respect to the god of Mt. Oyama. Around here, the antique route is disrupted by the CNIC, but reaches to Kokubunji Temple 相模国分寺 that was the center of Kokubu Town 国分宿, now the Ebina City 海老名市. The path then proceeds to the west to cross Sagami River 相模川 at the north of Ebina IC of Tomei Express Way, reaches to Atsugi Shrine 厚木神社, diagonally crosses the downtown of Atsugi City 厚木市, and joins 246 after passing the Atsugidaini Elementary School 厚木第二小学校 and the flyover of Odakyu Odawara Line 小田急小田原線. We can now simply follow 246 more or less near to the municipal office of Isehara City 伊勢原市役所 which is about 500m north from the Odakyu Isehara Station 小田急伊勢原駅. We are approaching to the shrine town of Oyama …

Niiharu Citizen Forest 新治市民の森 seen from the Miho-Nenjuzaka Park 三保念珠坂公園.
I guess the pilgrimage road went along the houses over there.
O-1 point of Miho Citizen Forest.
On the left of “WC” direction, could you see
a dated rectangular stone that says Koshinto
庚申塔 in Chinese character?
The left surface of the signpost says
“To the left, Oyama Pilgrimage Road.”
Before Oyama Pilgrimage Road could have been like this
… around P-4 point in Miho Citizen Forest.
Another Koshinto 庚申塚 near Zoorasia to Route 16.
There are 5 monuments in this shack.
As a Koshin monument is built every 60 years
in the year of Koshin, i.e. Wood Moneky,
from the oldest monument to the newest one
we can count at least 240 years of community activity.
It would be a signal the road was popular among lots of ordinary folks.
Looking Mt. Oyama from Ebina Station,
near Lalaport Ebina Shopping Mall.
The highest one in this photo!
Next week, I’ll post my visit to the 3 temples in the hills of Mt. Oyama that had once rich-and-powerful patrons. The City of Isehara is brushing them up to be tourism destinations once again … Touristic or not, they are quiet religious institutions within the silent mountain, which could explain why they have attracted visitors for almost millennia. Spirituality within the deep forest, don’t you think it sounds attractive for your 21st century weekend?

When you are interested in cultural heritages, like Oyama Pilgrimage Road, in Kanagawa Prefecture, you can check the phone numbers listed in the homepage of Kanagawa Prefectural Government at

About the registration of Oyama Pilgrimage for a Japanese Cultural Heritage by the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan, the site at Isehara City may be helpful. The access is at

Oh, by the way, there are lots of travelogues in search for Oyama Pilgrimage Road in Japanese internet. As you may have noticed, the 90% of the way is now deep within the ocean of Tokyo Megalopolis buildings, i.e., a bit separated from the forests, and hence their post is more of city walk. In other words, you can start your own Oyama Pilgrimage from your nearby alleyway of Tokyo this evening. The one I found cute is a family walk from Akasaka to Shibuya (access, here). Good luck for you, too!

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