Most people know Chiba Prefecture, southeast of Tokyo, as the home of Narita Airport. However, in this region of Japan, I discovered so much more. My partner and I encountered a great spiritual mountain, the 300-meter-high Mt Nokogiri, and oh, what a hiking day — Exhilerating and Oh So Romantic!
Just 50 miles from the center of Tokyo, on the Boso Peninsula, Nokogiri-yama (yama means mountain) is part of Kanto’s oldest Nihonji Temple, built in 725. Scattered throughout the refreshing, picturesque and relatively easy mountain hike, are an impressive 1,500 Rakans (small statues) called Tikai Arhats. Intricately carved, they appear to be looking right at you. That is, those that have heads. Interestingly, the fact that many are beheaded tells a story of both religion and war.
Heads were slashed off the statues during the late Edo (19th Century) and Meiji Period (Early 20th Century) when the Japanese state split Buddhism from Shintoism in an effort to stave off Western influences and establish itself as an independently powerful empire.
Nokogiri-yama’s two other big draws are the Nihonji Daibutsu, Japan’s largest Buddha and the Hyaku Shaku Kannon, a Bodhisattva relief sculpture of about the same height.
At 100 feet tall, both are twice the size of Kamakura’s Daibutsu and Nara’s Daibutsu in Todai-ji Temple. The Nihonji Buddha was carved by Ono Jingoro Eiri and his 27 apprentices in 1783, and depicts Yakushi Nyorai, the Medicine Buddha (same Buddha as in Yakuoin Temple). The Hyaku Shaku Kannon is the “Goddess of Mercy” and was completed in 1966 over a course of six. It was created in remembrance of soldiers killed during World War II, and stands right beneath the Jigoku Nozoki cliff, which is shaped like the edge of a saw. It is where Mt. Nokogri or “Saw-Toothed Mountain” got its name.
This was the ideal adventure outing for my partner and me. It would be perfect for individuals or couples who want to experience serenity, solitude, and spirituality. Since this is the wedding issue, I should note it could surely be a complement and accompaniment to a hot and happening honeymoon in trendy Tokyo.
How to Get There
From Narita Airport, take the JR Narita Express train for 35 minutes to Chiba Station. Transfer to the Limited Express train for another 1 hour-20 minute ride to Hamakanaya Station. Here you will take the rope-way up 2200 feet to the top of the mountain for a magnificent view. On a clear day, you can even see Mt. Fuji! The weather is mild, even in early winter. My partner and I were there in late November, and we hiked in very light jackets, mostly because the day was damp, not cold, which gave it a marvelously quiet and romantic feeling. After taking the rope-way up, we actually trekked down, which made the climbing excursion quite easy.
Sometimes you can join a hiking group trip: Outdoor Japan, if there is one and you plan in advance. However, if you just want to go on your own, there is an iPhone app and you can arrange a volunteer guide.
For more information on Chiba Prefecture, visit www.chiba-tour.jp