The Most Dangerous Mountain Trail in Mie: Isesanjo Ibutaji Temple

The Most Dangerous Mountain Trail in Mie: Isesanjo Ibutaji Temple

I’m surprised how few people know about this place.

Ever since my visit, I’ve mentioned this place to countless people in Mie and the Kansai region, and nobody has ever heard about the Isesanjo Ibutaji Temple.

Not a single person.

I’ve also been doing some online research and have yet to find a single blog post or image that accurately conveys a similar experience to what I had when climbing up to the sacred temple. This was one of the most memorable places during my trip to Mie and it truly feels like a hidden gem concealed away within the mountains of Matsusaka.

On that note, I’d like to introduce one of the most dangerous and sacred places in Mie, the Isesanjo Ibutaji Temple.

Let’s get into it.

Getting to the Temple

For the second day of my visit to Mie, I took a trip to the mountain regions of Matsusaka, where the Isesanjo Ibutaji Temple lies. After roughly a 30 minute drive from the main part of Matsusaka, you’ll arrive at the parking lot which is located right in front of the main gates to the temple.

Past the gate and a 10 minute walk along the riverside, we arrived at a crossroad.
To our right is a bridge that leads to the main temple area and the reception desk.
To our left is a set of stairs which leads to the ancient trail, connecting the 10 temple spread across the mountains, filled with steep rocky hills and dangerously narrow paths.

For now we went right.

Once you cross the bridge to the temple grounds, there’s an ancient bell at the front and a couple of buildings, one of which is the reception.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the monk who was a super kind person and very easy to talk to. He gave us a quick tour of the temple and proceeded to debrief us for the journey that lies ahead.

About the Trail

Before entering the mountain, you have to pay the admission fee of 500 yen and sign a disclaimer saying that the temple isn’t responsible for anyone’s injuries or even the tragic event of death.

This is when reality started to sink in.

After signing the papers, we received a summary of the path.

The path loops around the mountain, connecting the 10 main temple, and finishes off with a long set of stairs about 60 meter away from the starting point. The whole hike takes roughly 2-3 hours and there are multiple incredible viewpoints along the path.

As mentioned before, the trail can get quite dangerous. In some parts you’ll be climbing rocks, sometimes using chains and sometimes barehanded. Other parts have narrow, sometimes unstable footing, with a steep vertical drop.

Because there are many potential accidents that could happen, the temple monitors the weather and prohibits admission if there’s any signs of rain or high winds.

After hearing all this, I was nervous but also thrilled. This type of mountain trail has always been on my bucket list but I haven’t had the opportunity until today.

The Origins of the Temple

Before embarking on this trail, I think it’s important to first discuss the significance of it.
The temple dates all the way back to 701 C.E. and was created by En no Ozunu, who is also the founder of the Shugendo religion (similar to the modern day Shintoism, with mixed religious practices from Buddhism and Taoism).

While looking for a secluded place to practice asceticism (practice self discipline and avoiding any form of indulgence), En no Ozunu decided on this location after discovering the unusual cave-like rock formations high in the mountains.

Since its establishment, the grounds were visited by all kinds of people throughout the times, from pilgrims to lords and governors. Initially, Shugendo was only allowed to be practiced by men but during the Meiji period, the ban on women was lifted within the religion, so women could also visit the sacred grounds of the Isesanjo Ibutaji Temple.

Entering the Path

Finally, it was time to start our journey.
We walked up to the temple at the entrance, prayed for our safe return, and off we went.

The hike started off normal, walking through natural dirt and stone trails.

This didn’t last very long. Less than 5 minutes into the hike, the trail gradually became steeper and mixed in with the mountain’s slope. Before we knew it, we were using our hands to keep balance and almost crawling our way up.

After about 10 minutes of this ever developing hike, the dirt path came to an end and we were met with a flat rock wall.

This is where the real hike begins.

Luckily, there were chains bolted onto the stone wall.

The chains were a good size to grab and were firmly bolted so it didn’t feel as dangerous as I had expected.

The difficult part was the footing. There are some indents on the wall for our feet, but the surface was very smooth and there was a bit of rainwater left from this morning so I had to be very conscious of every step and it’s placement.

After climbing about 8-10 meters, there was a split in the chains. The chain that splits off to the left leads to a standable trail where you hike zigzagging up the surface. This is the “easy” route.

The hard route splits off to the right where there’s another set of chains bolted on an even steeper part of the rock. Our guide said that the harder route was more fun so she went right.
And I naturally followed.

The slope was indeed steeper but it didn’t feel much more difficult than the first part. However, it was harder to use my feet so this path required much more upper body strength than the previous set of chains.

Once we reached the end of the chain, the slope was moderate enough and I crawled to the top of the rock.

At the top is a small statue of who I assume to be En no Ozunu and behind him is an incredible view of the area. We took a visit during summer so you can see many different shades of green in the distance. I’d imagine that coming in the spring or fall, you’ll have a really incredible view of sakura flowers and autumn leaves.

The view was nice but the journey is yet to be over.

Continuing on the path, we descended towards a narrow path on the mountain rock with an old railing for safety. Although it was really narrow, the railing felt much sturdier than it looked.

At the other side of this path, we arrive at the first temple.

I couldn’t believe it.

The temple was located in a naturally concave rock on the top of a mountain that formed more than 1300 years ago. No matter what your religious status is, it truly feels amazing to be at a place like this.

Tourist attractions covered by this article