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Ongoyama and Mengoyama

The male and female mountains in Hojo

Ongoyama and Mengoyama are two of the foothills of Mt. Takanawa in Hojo, the northern part of Matsuyama. They’re similarly shaped and close together, with a slight difference in height, so they’ve been likened to a married couple. Jointly they’re known as Fufuyama, or husband and wife mountain. The mountains and the site of the temple below them, Zenno-ji, used to be one of the bases of the Kono clan, the pirates turned coast guards who taxed traffic on the Inland Sea and came to dominate the area. The climb up the two hills is quite easy, while the view from both is spectacular.

If you come by car, you can park at Zenno-ji Temple. Come out of the temple and follow the road up the hill about 200 m until you see a granite marker on the left pointing to a road between houses going steeply up on the right. The concrete road winds up through citrus and bamboo groves. After a couple of turns, a white marker shows a dirt path going off to the right. The path is easy enough to follow, with several markers along the way. However, it’s also easy to lose the path too. If that happens, don’t despair, just keep scrambling up. The hills are ringed with tracks of one sort or another. The first time I went up, I missed the main path altogether but still arrived at the top. The detour took me past an interesting-looking trap for wild boar – a cage with a sprung door, baited with sweet potatoes. However hungry you may be, resist taking a potato.

There’s a lot of wildlife on the hills. You’ll hear the constant rustling and singing of birds. From the top, you can look down on some of these forest birds in flight. It’s best to climb the higher hill first (Ongo), then take the ridge down to the next peak (Mengo). There are panoramic views in all directions from either peak. The play of sunlight and cloud on the surrounding mountains and sea is endlessly fascinating, as sunbeams light up different features of the landscape at random.

On the lower peak, I was surprised to find a gnome-like stone figure sitting in a little stone house, both covered with lichen. This is En no Gyoja, born 634, a Japanese ascetic and mystic, traditionally held to be the founder of Shugendo, a syncretic religion incorporating Taoism, Shinto, esoteric Buddhism and traditional Japanese shamanism. He was a mountain saint, believed to possess many supernatural powers.

Wear sensible shoes, and take something to drink with you, even if it isn’t a hot day. It’s good to combine your climb with a visit to Zeno-ji itself, and also the nearby Takanawa-jinja Shrine, which has a giant figure of the Lord Kono.

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