Day hike from Tokyo: The other giant Buddha

Tokyo is all fun and dandy, but have you ever wondered what is there on the other side of the pond? The pond being the Tokyo bay. Well, the other side of the bay is Chiba prefecture, home turf to farmers and fish. Luckily for us, in order to get to Chiba from Shibuya, you don’t need to go around the bay shore. Instead, one can simply cross the Aqua-line, a hybrid bridge that connects Kawasaki in Kanagawa to Kisarazu in Chiba.

View towards Tokyo and the wind tower from Umi hotaru

The bridge leaps over the bay, half underwater, half above water. With a striking total length of 23.7 km, it includes a 9.6 km underwater tunnel, one of the longest in the world. Did you know that Japan has a shopping mall even at the middle of the bay, despite the fact that no island exists there? At the point where the bridge starts to submerge, stands Umi hotaru (lit. firefly of the sea), the final form of a shopping mall. On clear days, you can seeobserve from the deck at the top floor all the landmarks of Tokyo, including Tokyo tower and the Sky tree, the islands of Izu and Mt. Fuji towards Shizuoka, as well as the industrial zone of Chiba. Directly in front, seemingly floating on water, stands a white structure, the wind tower (風の塔). This is none other than the ventilation exhaust system for the tunnel below.

After reaching Chiba and moving south, suddenly you come across a strange view; a vertically sliced block of rock is hanging above you at the expressway. That’s a sign. It’s Jigoku Nozoki, a sharp, steep rock looking down straight to the world (or hell? as the name suggests). Eventually, a wild rope-way appears, so that you can skip the trek and head straight to today’s attraction; Mt. Nokogiri. Alternatively, you can hike the path that takes you to the top, where more paths await. Be warned, though, your knees are going to suffer from the never-ending steps!

Thousands of offerings

Mt. Nokogiri (鋸山, 329m) is a short but important mountain on the inner shore of Boso peninsula. It gets its name from the side view of the ridge, which looks like a traditional saw, a nokogiri. The importance of this location manifests in front of the 30m tall Buddha statue on its summit. This Buddha, part of Nihonji temple, is the tallest stone statue in Japan, double in size to the one in Kamakura. It was built in 1783, an upgrade to the site, which has been a religious centre since some 1300 years before, after a monastery was founded in 725CE. Next to the Buddha, there is a pile of thousands of tiny white figurines with red clothing. These are similar to jizo statues and serve the purpose of wish-making.

Moving around the temple grounds involves walking up and down old stone paths. At several points there are semi-caved walls, with a rough texture. These caves serve as displays of some 1500 rakkan statues. The statues represent enlightened spirits or arhat, Buddha’s disciples. All statues have different facial expressions, position and features. Most of them are in a miserable state, as they have been exposed to the forces of natures for thousands of years. However, lots have actually been beheaded during the period of Haibutsu Kishake, a time in history when strong anti-buddhism movements appeared.

View of Tokyo Bay from the observatory at the Great Buddha

After exploring the rest of the cultural attractions of the mountain, I recommend heading further south, towards the sea resort town of Tateyama. On the way, you can stop to enjoy the view at Katsuyama port (勝山港), a small village directly in front of Ukishima, one of the two natural islands inside Tokyo bay (the other one is Sarushima, in Yokosuka). If you turn around and look towards the mountain, you can see a traditional Japanese touret building peeping out. That’s another observatory, Daikokuyama.

The port of Katsuyama and a view towards Daikokuyama observation deck
The island of Ukishima, an uninhabited natural island in Tokyo bay

On the way back, make sure to grab some limited edition, speciality baumkuchen cakes of Umi hotaru. I got a honey-flavoured cake, which looked so tasty, that I couldn’t even wait to take a proper picture. Temptation got the better of me. I know Baumkuchen is originally German, but trust me when I say that the Japanese have mastered the technique.

Baumkuchen from Umi hotaru

This was a summary of a fun trip to Chiba. Try to pick a sunny day to enjoy a clear view. You can see the locations I mentioned in the map below. Have you ever been to Mt. Nokogiri? How did you like it?

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