Mt. Taishaku (帝釈山)
Surrounded by serene broadleaf forests, Mt. Taishaku is a secluded peak in western Kobe city with wonderful views of Awaji Island and the Inland Sea. Even on weekends, you’ll find the lack of people a nice change from the hoards of hikers on neighboring Mt. Rokko.
The hike: If you need to use the toilet, then go in the large brown building next to the bus stop, since there are no other toilets on the entire hike. From the bus stop, walk away from the main road and into the small village past the cigarette and udon shop. After 50 meters, you’ll see a large thatched farmhouse on your left. Next to the farmhouse there’s a house with a giant tanuki statue outside. The 600-year old house is an Important Cultural Property and well worth the 300 yen admission price. After checking out the house, take the road that runs perpendicular to the house until you reach the river. Turn right and then left, crossing the concrete bridge over the river. Turn right when you reach the other side and you’ll see a large concrete building with large letters in katakana that read サイクリングターミナル on the roof. The trail starts just to the left of this building and is easy to miss since the signpost is small. Walk to the front of the metal gate that marks the entrance to the building and take the road on your left. You’ll see the trail near the rear of the building with a small sign that reads 丹生山登山口. The path dives into the woods and skirts past a small pond before winding up towards the ridge. The route is easy to follow and not too difficult, with views opening up the higher you get. After 20 minutes you’ll reach a false ridge and the trail will flatten out a bit before starting a longer, steeper climb. Your next landmark will be a small graveyard on the left side of the trail, marked with old stone graves and a couple of jizo statues. After another 10 minutes of climbing you’ll reach the ridge line and a junction for the main trail to Mt Tanjo (丹生山). Turn left when you hit this junction and you’ll reach the shrine in about 5 minutes. The shrine is built on top of the ruins of an old castle, and you can still see the castle walls as you make your way to the top. Before you cross under the shrine gate (torii) look to your right and you’ll see a trail that heads into the forest. This is the trail that you want to take, so retrace your steps after checking out the adjacent shrine. The views are pretty nice just to the left of the highest shrine building and there’s a giant maple tree one level below that is absolutely stunning in the autumn. The giant tree has a sister located next to the shrine gate and both trees are a must-see when the leaves change color. Once you’re back at the shrine torii, take the path that runs perpendicular to the gate that is marked as シビレ山・帝釈山. The route follows a concrete forest road to a saddle and then climbs up the other side of the ridge. Head towards the right, being careful not to take the path that heads straight ahead. There’s a small, handwritten brown sign that reads 帝釈山縦走路. There’s a bit of a gentle up-and-down for the next several minutes until the path takes a sudden dip and a sharp left. Be careful not to miss this turnoff, since it’s not well-marked. Your momentum will likely carry you forward on the wrong path if you’re not careful. When you hit the dip, bank hard towards the left, following the sign that reads 太陽と緑の道. Once past this tricky point, it’s a straightforward, gradual climb up to the summit of Mt. Taishaku, where you’ll have views out to the south towards Awaji Island and the Inland Sea. Unfortunately, the tree cover means you won’t be able to see Mt. Rokko or Kobe city unless it’s the dead of winter and the leaves are gone. The summit is marked by several small stone shrines and makes a pleasant place to kick back and enjoy your lunch. After a modest break, continue on the trail away from the direction you came. The path drops rather steeply and then banks hard to the left. There’s a trail straight ahead marked with blue tape, but ignore this and continue descending for about 5 minutes until the path flattens out and you reach a large junction. The path continues towards your left, but you’ll find a poorly marked trail on your right that looks a bit like an old road. It is marked by a small white metal sign with red Chinese characters that read 歩. Next to this sign you’ll see a tree with a red smiley face painted on it, topped off by yellow tape. This is your landmark, so turn here and descend into the forest. The route follows a dry creek bed that is covered with dried leaves and is incredibly rocky and steep. If there’s any place where you’re likely to turn an ankle it’s here, so descend with caution. After 20 minutes or so you’ll see a cave on your right in a flat area. There’s an unmarked trail that leads off to your right at this point. This area used to be a coal mine, and if you climb this unmarked trail for a few minutes, you’ll see one of the old mine shafts. The mine is big enough to enter, but you’ll need a flashlight and you should watch out for wild boar, who probably live in the old caves (I advise against entering the mine shaft without proper spelunking experience). After checking out the cave, retrace your steps and continue descending down the valley. You’ll soon reach a small river. Cross the river and follow the overgrown path on the other side. In another 5 minutes you’ll reach an unmarked forest road. Instead of taking this road to the left and down towards the river, head straight ahead and follow the road as it climbs gently up to a mountain pass and then flat for about 15 minutes until connecting with another road. When you hit this next road, turn left and go past a couple of abandoned vehicles on the left side of the road. You’ll soon reach yet another junction, so turn left here and follow the handwritten sign that says 丹生会館. It should take another 20 minutes of descending on a route dotted with old stone markers to reach the village below. You know you’re getting close when you enter a bamboo thicket. Once you hit the road, turn right and follow it straight past some persimmon trees and rice fields until reaching the main road. You’ll see the bus stop on your left, and you can take the bus back to Minotani station. All in all it should take about 4 hours or so to complete the loop, depending on how many breaks you take.
When to go: Autumn is by far the best season to do this hike, as the mountain comes alive with brilliant hues of yellow. The shrine on the peak is home to two giant mountain maple trees whose leaves change from green to yellow to red. It has to be seen to be believed. Summer is hot and sticky, with heaps of mosquitos.
Access: From Umeda station in Osaka, take an express train on the Hankyu line bound for Shinkaichi (新開地) and get off at Shinkaichi. From there, change to the Kobe Dentetsu Line and take a train bound for either Sanda (三田) or Arima Onsen (有馬温泉) and get off at Minotani (箕谷) station. You might find it faster to take an express train to Suzurandai first and then change to the local, since Minotani is only 3 stops further on. There’s also a direct bus from Sannomiya to Minotani, so take your pick of public transport. From Minotani station, go out the ticket gates, and walk downhill for a couple of minutes to the bus roundabout. From there, take bus #111 bound for Tsukihara (衝原) and get off at the last stop. There’s one bus an hour, so try to line up the train and bus schedule so you don’t have to sit around waiting long. Click here for the bus schedule.
Level of difficulty: 3.5 out of 5 (elevation change ~400 meters)
Distance: 7km (3.5 to 4.5 hours)