Climbing 800 Steps

One of the many temples and shrines we visited was the Tachikikannon in Ishiyama, Shiga prefecture. Ishiyama and Otsu are only a 15-minute train ride east from Kyoto next to the Seta River, which is the outlet from Lake Biwa (Biwako 琵琶湖 ).

Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, is more than 230 km (143 miles) around, and at its southern tip it empties into the Seta River at the town of Otsu. The river flows through Shiga, Kyoto, and Osaka prefectures. It actually has three different names depending on the section of river: Seta River, Yodo River, and Uji River.

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That’s mom up ahead in the light blue rain jacket

About 10 or so minutes’ drive south of Ishiyama, you will find the entry to the beginning of the many stairs that lead up to Tachikikannon. These steps give the temple its nickname, “the 800-step temple.”

The day we visited was grey and drizzly, which in retrospect was probably fortuitous. Had the weather featured the warm and humid conditions we experienced most of the trip, we would have been soaked by the time we reached the top, but with perspiration rather than precipitation.

Although it was a healthy climb, my nearly 83-year-old mother, full of vim and vigor, set an ambitious pace which put members of our party, some of whom were only a third her age, to shame. Fortunately there were many landings where one could take a moment to catch one’s breath, observe the lush greenery, statues, and river valley sinking below us.
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Along the path we saw statues, including Ojizo-Sama (お地蔵様). You will see these statues throughout Japan and may recognize them from the red bibs or sometimes bonnets they wear. There are many beliefs and traditions relating to Ojizo-Sama (known as Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit). In Japan, Ojizo-Sama offer safe passage to travelers, protect firefighters, but most important, they protect and help infants and children who have passed away.
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Once we reached the top of the 800 steps, we explored several structures atop the mountain. We cleansed our hands at the traditional hand-washing station guarded by a dragon. We were served hot tea that is still made with water heated by wood fire. We prayed and rang the great bell, which can be heard miles away. We met with the kind wife of the priest, who came out to greet our friend and tour guide who had worked at the temple in years past.

Otsu, Biwako, and Ishiyama are a very short train ride from Kyoto and worth at least a day trip if you come to the area. Tachikikannon is a lovely place to visit, provided you have the stamina to make the climb.

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