Day Trip to Mt. Oyama for non-hikers

Mt. Oyama is part of the Tanzawa mountain range in Kanagawa Prefecture and is a very popular hiking area. However, it is also a wonderful day trip for non-hikers. A cable car connects a nostalgic souvenir shop-lined approach to Oyama Afuri Jinja, a shrine founded over 2,000 years ago, and Oyamadera, a temple dating back to the year 755 – both of which are surrounded by an ancient forest. Visitors can enjoy spectacular views, dine on local specialties, and even soak in a hot springs bath.

The journey starts at Isehara Station. Exit the ticket gates and turn right in the direction of the north exit. Bus #10 to the Oyama Cable Car leaves from bus stand #4. The ride takes approximately 30 minutes – get off at the final stop. As you get on the bus, touch your IC card to the machine near the door or take a ticket from it. When you get off, touch your IC card to the machine at the front of the bus or pay the amount shown on the electronic chart beside the number on your ticket. As of January 2022, the ride cost 315 yen.

Please note that many hikers take this bus, especially in the morning, and the line can be quite long. Buses leave approximately every 30 minutes. If you really want to sit down for the ride, get there 15-20 minutes before the bus is planning to leave. If you have a group of four people, a taxi is faster and will cost each member of your group about 700 yen.

After disembarking the bus at its destination, stop by the information center to pick up an English pamphlet and then start walking up the Koma-sando, or ‘spinning top avenue’. This long approach leads to the Oyama Cable Car Station. It consisting of 27 landings and 362 stone steps and is lined with souvenir shops, inns, and restaurants. Each landing is labeled with tiles showing Oyama-Koma (Oyama spinning tops), so you can count your way to the top.

If you are not planning to do any hiking, take your time walking along the sando. I recommend stopping along the way to enjoy a snack. For example, Tsukamoto Miyage, offers a tasty soy milk almond tofu dessert and coffee set for 680 yen. They also serve delicious tofu treats, like the one below topped with yuzu-miso. Or, in winter, have a hot cup of amazake – a sweet, tasty drink made from fermented rice.

The cable car costs 640 yen, one way. If you would like to enjoy a minimal amount of hiking (if you walk slowly, tennis shoes are sufficient), consider walking back down the Onna-zaka. It takes about 15 minutes to walk from Oyama Afuri Jinja to Oyamadera. And another 15 minutes from Oyamadera back to the start of the cable car. However, it is also possible to purchase a round-trip ticket and get off and on along the route in order to visit Oyamadera. *The cable car runs every 20 minutes from 9am to 4:30pm.

I recommend traveling one way on the cable car up to the shimosha (lower shrine) of Oyama Afuri Jinja. The shrine’s name comes from the word, ‘amefuri’, which literally means rainfall. It was so named as rain clouds like to gather above it. Since rain can be a blessing or a curse, the deities enshrined here are associated with rain, thunder, and mountains.

Take in the view and explore the grounds thoroughly. Many visitors miss the chance to taste the shrine’s sacred water that comes from a spring hidden under the main hall. Drinking some of it is said to be promote longevity and good fortune. Take a look at the spring and wander through the basement cave behind it.

At the bottom of Afuri Jinja’s stone staircase is a rest area. If you didn’t enjoy a snack earlier, the stalls here offer a number of tasty local treats. Next, start walking the trail of the Onna-zaka, or ‘female slope’ – which leads to the temple, Oyamadera.

*Note: Don’t take the Otoko-zaka, which is very steep and does not pass by the temple.

Oyamadera is a fascinating and odd temple. Oyama Afuri Jinja was once part of its complex, but they were separated during the Meiji Era when the government reinstated Shinto as the state religion. The main hall of Oyamadera is home to an impressive Fudo Myo-o statue and there are many other statues within the grounds – including these that line the main staircase in their red bibs.

The priests here are very active and are especially fond of chanting Buddhist sutras. However, I find it shocking that it is also the most cluttered temple of any I’ve ever visited in Japan (and that is really saying something as there are a lot of cluttered temples out there). I found it interesting that even the temple’s bell ropes, which are usually made of braided cloth material, are made of braided plastic instead!

After visiting Oyamadera, continue down Onna-zaka until you are back at the Oyama Cable Car Station and the Koma-sando. On your walk back down the steps, consider buying a handmade spinning top. During the Edo Era, a spinning Koma was considered a symbol of money circulating, making this toy a popular souvenir among the merchant class. It is also said that if your Koma spins well, fortune will come your way. Or, if you are interested in purchasing food souvenirs, the most popular are Oyamana-zuke, pickles made from a type of leaf mustard grown here since the Edo Era, and Kyara-buki, wild Japanese butterbur that has been preserved by boiling it in soy sauce.

Now it is time to enjoy a delicious meal of creative tofu dishes. Oyama tofu has been a delicacy here for many years. Almost all of the inns and restaurants in this area serve it in one form or another, but I recommend taking the time to enjoy a leisurely tofu kaiseki lunch. On my most recent visit, I had the 2,700 yen lunch at Tougakubou, a family-run inn that sits along the Tofu-sando, the main street below Koma-sando. It is also possible to take an onsen bath here for 1,000 yen. However, the soak is free if you order lunch!

There is a tofu shop directly across the street from Tougakubou where you can buy tasty items to take home for dinner. Continue walking down the main street and make a left over the next small bridge. Along this narrow street is a small waterfall, Atago-taki, and an extension of the Afuri Jinja.

Rejoin the main street and end your walk at the cafe/shop, Shimizu-ya. It sits to the left of this gate. In summer, they serve some huge, and interestingly flavored, kakigori (shaved ice desserts). In winter, have some amazake, coffee, tea, or a beer! Take the bus back to Isehara Station from here.

*To dive ‘deeper’ into the history and culture of Mt. Oyama, consider staying overnight in one of the area’s shukubo – inns that are considered pilgrims’ lodging.

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