Every year, townspeople and tourists alike make a pilgrimage up Kyoto city’s tallest peak.
The highest mountain in Kyoto city, Mount Atago, offers a challenging-but-accessible climb, fantastic views and divine protection from fire.
Unlike Mount Hiei, located on the other side of the city, there is no cable car or ropeway up the slopes of Atago. The only way to reach the 924-meter summit is on foot.
From the sleepy village of Kiyotaki in the north-west of Kyoto city, the roughly 4-kilometer-long trail winds its way steeply up the mountainside. The route is well-signposted and easy to follow, although it can be tiring. Be prepared to climb a lot of stairs as you ascend.
When you reach the black wooden gate and pass through its open doors, you know you’re nearly there. Just before the highest point, you’ll find a wide open area dotted with benches where you can take a well-earned rest, have a picnic and enjoy the view out over Kyoto.
At the very top sits Atago Shrine, which is free to enter and is said to offer protection against fire-related disasters. Parents are often keen to bring young children to the shrine because visiting before the age of three is supposed to grant lifelong protection from fire.
Every year on the night of July 31 through to the morning of Aug. 1, hikers old and young head up Mount Atago in a pilgrimage called Sennichi Mairi, or the 1,000-day pilgrimage. It is believed that after making the trip, you will be granted “1,000 days’ worth of protection against fire-related disasters.”
While the pilgrimage takes place, the mountain is host to Sennichi Tsuyasai, a festival at Atago Shrine. Lanterns are lit all along the route to guide hikers to the summit in the darkness. Huge numbers of people make the nighttime pilgrimage up the mountain to purchase talismans and receive divine protection from fire. It means climbing on this date will be crowded, but can be an enjoyable and sociable experience!
Know before you go
It’s approximately a 3-5 hour round trip to the summit and back depending on your level of fitness. There are a couple of vending machines at the top, but it’s advisable to bring enough food and water with you for the entire hike. The mountain is open all year round, but snow and ice can make climbing in the winter difficult unless you have the proper equipment.