Nanzenji – An unexpected hike

I wanted to explore the grounds of Nanzenji more before I headed home, so I walked up the Suirokaku without realising a surprise was waiting for me.


It was a barely visible path covered by the fallen autumn colours. The path then led up to a little mountain trail. My curiosity overwhelmed my uncertainty and I trudged up ahead. Modest stone steps welcomed me further into the depths of the mountain and all unrelated noise started to filter out. All I could hear was the trickling stream to my right, the rustling leaves that announced the passing breeze, and my own curious footsteps beneath me.


Not long after, I become aware of a rustling sound that was too rhythmical to be the sound of the passing wind. As I climbed closer towards the source of this mysterious yet familiar rustle, I realised it was the sound of someone sweeping leaves. The steps flattened out to a small resting area and my suspicions were confirmed. A grandma was passionately clearing the path. She was extremely lively and surprised when I greeted her, taking the opportunity to share about her passion for the trail up ahead that I didn’t know existed.

She told me a story about her friendship with a married couple because of this trail. The husband was from Australia, and his wife was from Japan. The Australian was in love with this mountain so he would always travel back to Kyoto just to climb it. Unfortunately, due to the recent typhoon, many trees fell and ended up blocking the trail. It was there that the man helped move aside these trees for the grandma to pass. Several days later, the grandma would walk through the trail again only to see more trees shifted away. To show her gratitude, she wrote a small ‘ありがとう‘ (thank you), on the trunk. Few more days passed and when she went on the trail again, she found a little surprise waiting for her. Next to her ‘ありがとう’ she saw a reply, ‘どういたしまして‘ (you’re welcome). Just like that, this trail became their little message exchange centre.

It was a lovely story, and I felt compelled to see this trail for myself. I thanked the grandma and headed out for a completely unplanned hike.

The hike turned out to be extremely… intense. I was out of breath and covered in sweat after 20 minutes. There were fallen trees you had to crawl under, slopes you to climb up with hands, and a lot of broken trails. I had a new-found respect for the grandma that climbed this ‘trail’ like a daily routine. She was 80.

There were small 'signs' throughout the trail when the road started to disappear. It was very reassuring, and I felt encouraged to keep going every time I found one red card.

I guess her passion was what urged me to continue despite my exhaustion. After one hour however, I realized I should probably tackle this mountain again when I was better prepared. I felt a bit ridiculous challenging this hike in casual wear, a large camera swinging off my neck, and worst of all, no water.

The grandma was still there when I climbed down the trail. I tried to hide my embarrassment due to my lack of stamina, but she applauded my efforts with a big smile and more stories. I later learnt from the grandma that the trail lead to Daimonji, and the trail finished at Ginkakuji. It was meant to be a two hour hike.

Although I was nowhere near the top, nor did I find the obaa-chan’s message exchange, this unexpected hike was by far the highlight of my day. As I left Nanzenji, I could feel the stream of tourists filing in, followed by the congestion of tour buses. It was as though I went through a time slip when I went up the mountain, where the quiet, empty morning Nanzenji suddenly transformed to a busy, crowded site.


I quietly slipped away from the crowd on my bike. I left without looking back because I knew I was going to be back very soon to tackle the hike once more.

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