Mt. Ishizuchi is the tallest mountain in western Japan and is located on the island of Shikoku. It's one of Japan's 7 holy mountains and the shrine at the top is accessible only by foot. The climb takes 6 hours (round-trip) at a moderate pace with a 45 minute break at the top. The most interesting features of the mountain, however, are the chains. There are 3 chains that "short-cut" the hiking path, as well as a bonus "Trial Chain" (which we climbed last time, discovering that it leads to a lonely peak, beautiful view, and another chain down). They range in length from 38-74 meters long. You don't have to be an experienced climber to do them, but you do need some faith in yourself. You can do it! This was definitely one of the best experiences we've had in Japan.
Brian on the 3rd set of chains, halfway through. I'm standing on a small ledge with one hand on the chains.
Here's a map I edited for English speakers (full size here):
The final chain leads directly to the small shrine on top of the mountain. You can then proceed to Tengu-dake, or Goblin-nose Point, the very distinctive tip of the mountain. Sadly when we went it was so foggy we could barely see in front of us so the tip was completely shrouded in clouds.
There's also a small restaurant there with cup noodles, water, snacks, trinkets, curry rice, toilets and a heater. The staff live up there! I wanted to ask how often they go down, but my Japanese isn't that good. I'm happy to report that they were open for service even on a Monday in off-season. You can sleep here for roughly $90 a night (per person), but it makes more sense to climb the mountain in 6 hours and go camp nearby at Furei No Sato which has big baths. Mmm....
The best part of the trip (other than the chains) was the people. The man who ran the parking lot chatted us up and gave us a banana (so sweet and random). Only one other couple was climbing that day and we talked with them several times on the trail and at the top, and they gave us candy!
Oh Japan, we're going to miss you so much.