During my final weekend in Shikoku, one of the places I visited was Kotohira-gū (金刀比羅宮), a huge Shinto shrine that sits halfway up Mount Zōzu and is said to have been founded during the 1st century.

Kotohira Town

Arriving mid-day at Kotohira Station, one stop away from Zentsū-ji (善通寺 – 75), the sun was beating down hard and the prospect of a long climb up the mountain wasn’t terribly inviting.

Kotohira-gū approach

Kotohira-gū stairs

The shrine stands at the end of a long path, with 785 steps to the main shrine and a total of 1368 steps to the inner shrine. It’s extremely popular and is visited by pilgrims from across Japan.

Kotohira-gū

Kotohira-gū stairs

The approach begins amongst a touristy shopping street lined with souvenir shops and Sanuki Udon restaurants where I stopped for a quick lunch before commencing up the seemingly endless stairs. Under the shade of the trees, the walk was actually very pleasant.

Kotohira-gū Main Hall

Kotohira Town from Kotohira-gū

Next to the main hall is a viewpoint overlooking Kotohira Town (琴平町), and the Ema Hall which displays pictures of ships whose crews sought the protection of the shrine.

Ship Propellor at Kotohira-gū

The principal deity of the shrine is Ō-mono-nushi-no-mikoto, a spirit associated with safe seafaring. A huge golden propeller stands on a plinth as a reminder of this.

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It’s an additional 583 steps along a forested path to the inner shrine (okusha). The path is paved the whole way and not terribly steep so isn’t too arduous.

Kotohira-gū Inner Shrine

View from Kotohira-gū Inner Shrine

Since not many people go the whole way up, the inner shrine was much quieter and a good place to pause for reflection. It felt good surveying all the mountains that I had previously summited.

Kotohira High Lantern (高燈籠)

On the way back to the station, I passed an unusual ancient wooden lighthouse (高燈籠 lit. high lantern) built on top of a tall stone foundation in 1865. It was used as an indicator for ships sailing in the Seto Inland Sea, both as a warning and a direction indicator for those wanting to pray towards the shrine.

If you’re on the Shikoku Pilgrimage and have half-day to spare in Kagawa then it’s worth a visit and makes a nice change from the usual Buddhist temples.

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