Date Visited: April 26,2019
For pilgrims of the Shikoku Pilgrimage, Kotohira Shrine, or “Konpirasan” as it is locally known, is among the 88 places of worship along the route, with a challenging 1,368 stone steps to climb. For the casual visitor, particularly one who had just arrived on a night bus and walked the length of Ritsurin Garden, its curious shops prove more interesting.
When in Kotohira, Get the Ice Cream
Truth be told, I came to Konpirasan for one thing. This oiri ice cream.
It may look like another one of those desserts specifically made to look good on Instagram, but this is one good treat any sweet tooth wouldn’t want to miss.Oiri is Japanese candy, traditionally given as a wedding gift. It has a crunch to it but quickly melts in your mouth with just about a hint of sweetness. Several shops serve this soft-serve ice cream in the area, and you can pick the flavor of ice cream you like. (Pro-tip: get the soy sauce flavor. You can thank me later.)
Several other sweets shops are in the area, and they attract a young crowd. I would recommend going on an empty stomach so that you can try as many local treats as you can.
Kotohira Shrine Shops in Photos
Further Up the Steps
I had originally planned to get myself ice cream and make my way to my hotel, but I found more spots of interest as I went along, so I continued to make my way up.
There are many shops that have climbing sticks for rent, so if you miss your chance to get one before the steps begin, you can find other places to get it. In fact, that’s exactly what happened to me. At first I thought I probably wouldn’t need one, but then I kept seeing them everywhere so I gave in to the pressure. Until now, I can’t really say if they’re necessary. I’m sure they made the climb easier one way or another, but it might have just been FOMO that made me rent one. In any case, it’s only a hundred yen. Wouldn’t really burn a hole in your pocket.
Alternatively, you can rent a palanquin to carry you, with one-way and round-trip options.
Palanquin (Kago) Prices:
Ascent: ¥ 5,300
I happened to pass by as a customer was getting in the palanquin, whom I overheard introducing himself in excellent Japanese as a French man working in Tokyo. He had a large build and he looked rather cramped in the palanquin, and despite my slow exploring pace, I overtook them more than a couple of times. I felt somewhat sorry for all three of them.
There’s a story (a legend?) that goes that there was a person who couldn’t make it up the steps, so their pet dog went up to the shrine and paid respects on their behalf. This is the reason why there’s a (somewhat cartoonish) statue of a dog somewhere along the steps of Kotohira.
Other interesting sites pop up on the way up, including white horses that are kept in the shrine as horses of the gods (kami uma). It is said that only gods can ride them.
Taking photos of the horses is allowed, but please make sure not to use any flash photography as it would frighten them. Touching them is prohibited.
I found them rather fascinating, so I stayed here quite a bit, just admiring the horses from a distance. I believe I went up a bit more afterward before throwing in the towel.
Kotohira Shrine in Photos
Kotohira Streets in Photos
Just as the shrine itself was interesting, I found the surrounding area to be captivating. There’s a certain mystique about it that I couldn’t help but snap pictures here and there. I guess some places just give off that feeling—like a story waiting to take shape in words. I’d love to be able to write that story I formed in my head one day, but in the meantime, I’ll let these photos do the talking.