Devotees of Nichiren Buddhism, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism founded by Nichiren (1222–1282), have been making the pilgrimage between Mount Minobu and Mount Shichmen for centuries. The height of Nichiren Buddhism was during the Edo period (1603–1868). This blog post describes the first stage of the pilgrimage between Mount Minobu and the ancient village of Akasawa.
A group of Minobu residents and I set out from the foot of Mount Minobu at 9:30 am on a Sunday morning and made the ascent to the top of Mount Minobu in about two and a half hours. Luckily, we timed our ascent for the tail end of the cherry blossom season.
We ascended the 287 steep steps to Kuon-ji Temple to find the cherry blossoms in front of the five-story pagoda in full bloom.
Our group quickly walked to the back of the main temple and began to ascend the narrow road to the top of Mount Minobu. There were countless ancient graves, and many temples along the way. The first grave caught my attention as we rounded the second bend on the narrow road. The grave is that of a British Captain, John M. James (1839-1908), of the Jardine Matheson Company, who joined the Nichiren sect in the late 19th century. Captain James was instrumental in the establishment of the Japanese navy during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). I suddenly felt I had arrived at Mt. Minobu about a century too late. You are transported to a different time as you walk among the ancient grave sites surrounded by huge Japanese cypress trees. Walking here reminds you of a time when life moved much more slowly than it does today.
Finally, after two and a half hours, we reached the last temple on Mount Minobu, however, we still had a two-hour descent to Akasawa Village. If I was going to continue on to Mount Shichmen the next day, I would definitely spend a night at one of Akasawa’s inns. There is actually one inn, Osakaya, that you can book on Airbnb. The descent to Akawsawa is nowhere near as spectacular as the ascent of Mount Minobu, but once you arrive in Akasawa, you are rewarded with a glorious view.
The village, although remote, is trying to cater to the tastes of tourists by hosting the collections of artists in one of its cafés. The artwork below was painted by Yoshihiro Tanamachi.
Take the JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line to JR Shizuoka Station, change to the Limited Express Fujikawa bound for JR Minobu Station (departures at 8:17, 9:41, 11:41, 13:39, 15:40, 17:40, 19:40). You can also access Minobu from JR Shinjuku Station in 3 hours by taking an express train to JR Kofu Station on the JR Chuo Line. Once you arrive in Kofu, you will change to the JR Minobu Line for JR Minobu Station. Take a taxi or a bus from the train station to Minobusan (Kuon-ji Temple). The taxi is about ¥2,000, but the bus is only about ¥290. Alternatively, you can access Minobu by bus from Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal (3.5 hours). Once you have descended Mount Shichimen, you can take a bus to JR Minobu Station from Sumise Bus Stop which is located at the foot of Mount Shichimen in the small village between Akasawa Village and Mount Shichimen. Of course, you can walk all the way back to Mount Minobu if you are a purist. You will find the Sumise Timetable below.