Mount 'Ontake Kodo' Pilgrimage Trails in Kiso Valley
Part of the wider Kiso Ontake region, Mount Ontake is one of Japan’s most sacred mountains. Having attracted adherents of the ‘Ontake Shinko’ faith for centuries, the pilgrimage trails ascending the mountain are also frequented by hikers and nature enthusiasts who head there each summer and autumn to hike Japan’s second tallest volcano. On this page you will find the following information:
Please note, Mount Ontake is an active volcano and your personal safety should be your first priority. The Japan Meteorological Agency provides real-time advice and warnings for the entire country. Prior to visiting Ontake, we recommend checking the following website.
THE PILGRIMAGE TRAILS OF ‘ONTAKE KODO’
Japan’s native religion of Shintoism places a strong emphasis on nature worship, in which features such as mountain, waterfalls, rivers and other natural features are seen as places of devotion – and often, the domain of the gods. This tradition can be experienced throughout Japan however few places hold the spiritual significance of Mount Ontake, Japan’s second tallest volcano and point of worship for adherents of the ‘Ontake Shinko’ sect.
Emerging as early as the Heian Period (794-1185), Ontake Shinto combines Shinto practices such as mountain worship, Buddhism and folk beliefs. Adherents called ‘doshisha’ would climb to the summit of Ontake, and in that process create the trails today known as the ‘Ontake Kodo’. Multiple shrines act as focal points of worship along the trails including the Ontake Satomiya Shrine and Omata Sansha Shrines at the trailheads and main Ontake Shrine at the summit, sitting 3,067 metres above sea level.
Additional shrines make-up the overall vast complex which accounts for the entire mountain, with more than 20,000 ‘reijinhi’ stones estimated to be located along the Ontake trails in dedication to local deities, spirits and the deceased. The ubiquitous presence of the stones underscores the spiritual importance of the landscape and the belief of Ontake Shinko practitioners that their souls will also come to reside there upon their deaths.
Multiple trails ascend the mountain with the route from the Ontake Satomiya Shrine being particularly popular. The steep route takes around 6 hours to return to the shrine and takes hikers past Shintaki Falls and Kiyotaki Falls in the third stage of trail. Points of devotion in their own right, the abundant falls have been used for centuries as points of purification for adherents before reaching the summit, in what is considered an act of ‘waterfall meditation’ or ‘takigyo’.
Though mostly under the cover of forest, the trails up Ontake are steep and require a decent level of fitness. Visitors looking to ascend the mountain also have the less strenuous option of using the Mount Ontake Ropeway to the upper station (at 2,180 metres) and descending along alternative trails. Guided tours along both routes are available from July to November – see below for details – with those months being the best time of year to hike the trails for yourself.
GUIDED TOURS ALONG THE TRAILS
Visitors heading to the Ontake Kodo might wish to consider arranging a guide for the day. Local guides can be arranged via the Kiso-Fukushima Tourist Information Office with these two tours available from July until November:
Mount Ontake Kodo Worship Tour
This immersive one-day tour takes you along the pilgrimage trail ascending from Ontake Satomiya Shrine to Shintaki Falls and Kiyotaki Falls. In doing so, your guide will introduce you to the principles undermining Ontake Shinko while offering the unique chance to experience ‘takigyo’ (waterfall meditation) for yourself. The hike takes around 6 hours and given the nature of the trails, which are steep and unsealed, is only suited to visitors of good fitness. This tour also operates to and from Kiso-Fukushima Station. For full details, see our ‘Mount Ontake Kodo Nature Worship Tour’ page.
Mount Ontake Ropeway & Forest Hiking Tour
Starting at Kiso-Fukushima Station, a local guide will accompany you to 2180 metres above sea level using the Mount Ontake Ropeway before leading you along forest trails back down the mountain. Taking around 4 to 4.5 hours, the walk is suitable to anyone of reasonable fitness and promises to carry you deep into the heart of Japan and the traditional practice of nature worship. For full details, see our ‘Mount Ontake Ropeway & Forest Hiking Tour’ page.
WHERE ARE THE ‘ONTAKE KODO’ TRAILS?
The Onake Kodo trails ascend Mount Ontake from multiple trailheads. The mountain itself straddles Nagano and Gifu Prefectures, around 285km / 5-hours to the west of Tokyo and around 300km / 5.5-hours to the north-east of Kyoto. Visitors heading to the trails using public transport can do most easily using the Limited Express Shinano service running from Nagano to Nagoya. All limited express services stop at Kiso-Fukushima Station, from where local buses will run you to the trailheads. Mount Ontake is part of the wider Kiso Ontake region, an area that includes the beautiful Kiso Valley and its famous Nakasendo Trail.
HOW TO GET TO THE ONTAKE & KISO VALLEY
Most visitors heading to Ontake, Kiso Valley and Nakasendo will do so using the train network. Running from Nagoya to Nagano, the Limited Express Shinano stops at Nakatsugawa Station and Kiso-Fukushima Station, making the area easy to access along one of Japan’s most scenic railway lines. For more information including detailed directions, see our ‘How To Get To The Kiso Valley & Nakasendo’ page.
All year round / best: July to November
Accessible all times of day
Kiso-Fukushima Station is a stop on all Limited Express Shinano services running between Nagano, Matsumoto and Nagoya. To reach Kiso-Fukushima takes 80-minutes from Nagano Station, 35-minutes from Matsumoto Station and 85-minutes from Nagoya Station. Local buses run from Kiso-Fukushima Station to the shrines / trailheads