I came from Taipei, Taiwan, a city size bigger than Kyoto. To me, Kyoto can only be recognised as a town. In the beginning, I was frustrated by how little stuff you can do within this city. There is only one major shopping area, located around Sanjo and Shijo. Public transportation such as the subway is limited down to two lines only. A rather convenient way to get around the city is by bus, but I would not say it is the most efficient one. It is easier to get around the city with bicycles, but cyclists in Kyoto are quite rude, sometimes. However, I fall madly in love with this city after a while, or to be more accurate, after the hike I did with my schoolmates in the comfortable weather of mid-October.
The mountain is located in the east of Kyoto, close to the well-known Buddhist temple, Ginkakuji (銀閣寺). The name of this mountain literally means the kanji (Chinese character) “big, or great”. The kanji is in a way, carved onto the mountain which can be seen even from afar.
Mt. Daimonji is famous because of one of the festivals which are celebrated in the summertime-Gozan Okuribi (五山送り火). It is the climax of the entire Obon festival in Kyoto. On 16th August, people set up the fire which signifies the moment when the spirits of departed family members, who are said to be to visit this world during Obon, are believed to be returning to the spiritual world. Okuribi thus, sent-off fire.
The whole event begins at approximately 20:00, where the first letter will be lit. Follow up with four different kanji (Chinese character) as shown in the picture below.
Each lasts for 30 minutes. I was lucky that from the rooftop of my flat, I can see at least three letters clearly. The event is held annually, even when the weather condition is not good. There was once, on a typhoon day, they still tried to light up the fire, and eventually, they had succeeded.
Most of the locals will choose the Kamogawa Delta (which is close to the Demachiyanagi station, Keihan line) to watch the fire. Families, couples and friends with snacks and drinks, all waiting patiently. From 17:00, the riverside is already crowded and lively.
My first hike up of Mt. Daimonji was in 2015, six months after I had been in Kyoto. Even until today, I could not forget how beautiful the view was from the top.
Basic information for the hiking route:
From Demachiyanagi station, it takes about fifteen minutes by bike to get to the starting point. There will be a place where you can park your bike, and also a vending machine in case you forget to bring a bottle of water with you.
First, you will have to walk up a hill until you see the sign pointing out the direction for you. But do not worry, there is basically just one path so you won’t get lost. A sign written in kanji in red ink will be on your right-hand side, follow that and cross the bridge, that is where your hike officially begins.
What you can expect and enjoy the hike:
It is a rather short hike, only twenty-five to thirty minutes maximum. However, there will be steep climb along the way, so let’s assume this as a moderate effort hiking course. My mates and I normally take two small breaks in between, which to be able to adjust our breath as well to drink some fluid. When you arrived at the top, the scenery will simply blow you away.
I have done both day hike and night hike already. Personally, I will much more prefer the night hike since the night view of the city was just, unbelievable. The best timing to hike up is to start around 16:20, therefore you will be able to catch the sunset. Watching the sky changes from light blue to pink, then orange, finally, dark blue. It is fun to watch the city begin to light up after the sun went down, and more fun to guess which area is which.
For my mates and I, we usually bring a backpack filled with snacks, beers and even wine, along with a Bluetooth speaker. That is how we spend our Friday night. Ride our bicycles to the starting point, hike up to watch the sunset then, when the city is set in a pitch-black background, we take out our wine, play the music and, “Cheers!” Everything is so soothing and peaceful, we could stay there hours, talking and laughing. That is how I had fallen in love with this city, Kyoto.
A few tips for a hassle-free hike:
Yet, there are a few tips to be mentioned. First, besides the drinks, do remember to bring water with you in case of dehydration. Second, drink responsibly since walking is the only way down. Third, bring flashlights or headlights with you if you are planning to do the hike at night. (The mountain gets completely dark, to be honest.) At last, do not hesitate to say hello (konichiwa) to people passing by. It seems to be a tradition or a culture of Japanese society.
The Mt. Daimonji hike is a nice way to escape from the buzzing vibes. The air on the top helps me clear my mind, although it does get a little bit chilly at night so you would want to bring a jacket with you if you feel cold easily. From the top, if the sky is clear, you can even spot Kyoto Tower from afar.
A small hike to Mt. Daimonji, a perfect way to get a glimpse of this magnificent Japan’s old capital and its’ beauty. If you are planning your trip to Kyoto, Japan, and would love a break from people, this hike will be absolutely perfect as your choice.