Did you know that the vast majority of Nara prefectures geography is mountainous? In fact, the Nara Basin, where the Great Buddha of Todai Temple and Nara Park can be found, makes up only about 15% of the land, but is home to almost all of the prefecture’s population. This abundance of mountains makes Nara a great location to visit for those interested in outdoor activities, with the southern mountains in particular (making up about 60% of the prefecture) being especially famous for fascinating natural and historical wonders.
A section of the Omine-Okugake Pilgrimage Path near Mt. Misen.
Among the impressive mountains of southern Nara is Mt. Hakkyo (1914.9m), the highest point in all of the Kansai Region (which includes Nara, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo Prefectures). Hakkyo is a holy location within the Shugendo faith and is part of the ancient Omine-Okugake Pilgrimage Trail. It’s name comes from a legend that the founder of Shugendo, a fellow by the name of En no Gyoja, buried eight Buddhist scriptures on this mountain. Though very beautiful, with incredible views of the surrounding scenery (it is said that on clear days, even distant Mt. Fuji can be seen from the peak), the mountain is relatively difficult to access because of its remote location.
On the way to Mt. Hakkyo.
The peak of Mt. Hakkyo is most easily accessible from nearby Mt. Misen, which is also considered a famous peak of southern Nara, and only lower in elevation to Mt. Hakkyo by less than 50 meters. It is also the location of a vary unusual luxury of these mountains: a manned lodge that has electricity, access to water, and warm meals. Many folks who hike Mt. Hakkyo choose to stay the night in this lodge (named “Misengoya”), which is a nice option for an easier round-trip journey, stargazing, and watching the sunset and sunrise, just to name a few of the benefits.
Manned lodge facility near the peak of Mt. Misen. You can spend the night here during the warmer months if you make reservations first (they have a phone line).
Photo looking down from near the trailhead at the eastern end of Gyojakaeri Tunnel (行者環トンネル).
Statue of Shoborigen-daishi (832-909 CE), a highly influential Shugendo priest who helped develop this area for use in the ascetic training that is a key aspect of the faith. It is not unusual to to see Shugendo practitioners, garbed in their traditional clothing, walking along the trail on Mt. Misen and Mt. Hakkyo during the warmer months.
Approaching the Misengoya lodge on Mt. Misen.
Peak of Mt. Misen and the Misen Shrine.
From the peak of Mt. Misen you can see the peak of nearby Mt. Hakkyo to the southeast.
It takes another 20-30 minutes to make the trek to Mt. Hakkyo from the peak of Mt. Misen. This was perhaps my favorite section of the hike due the stunningly beautiful vistas and surrounding scenery of open alpine forest.
Peak of Mt. Hakkyogatake, the highest point in the Kansai region. It was not exactly a great day for an expansive view when this photo was taken, but the swirling clouds created a beautiful atmosphere.
A shakujo staff is planted in the earth on the peak of Mt. Hakkyogatake. A Shakujo is a common Buddhist tool used by practitioners of Shugendo who regularly do ascetic training in these mountains.
This region sees an especially large amount of rainfall, so unless you can adjust your plans along with the weather easily, come prepared for all possibilities. Also it is highly recommended to check road conditions before trying to do this hike, as access can be cut off for long stretches of time for repairs and maintanence needs.
For more info about Mt. Hakkyo and Mt. Misen, please feel free to contact us at Kansai Treasure Travel.