Ikoma is awesome: Ab muscles and lantern festivals

Ikoma city is built in and around the sides of a mountainous basin between Osaka and Nara. For centuries, the steep climb in meant most people, except pilgrims coming to Hozanji temple, didn’t bother. A train tunnel cut all the effort out of getting to Ikoma, and its proximity to two of Japan’s main centres built the small temple village into a bed town.

Living near Ikoma station, up the hill towards Hozanji, means a daily hands on knees climbing, let’s stop and take a breath, walk home. A weaving walk, through established, overflowing gardens of the longer term residents of Ikoma, and the past the tall apartment blocks built for the newer ones. The narrow, twisting paths pilgrims walked are now paved, and cars in both directions skid along them at unwise speeds.

A collection of older houses along the road towards Hozanji. On the other side of Ikoma station, houses are newer but lack in individual character.

A collection of older houses along the road towards Hozanji. On the other side of Ikoma station, houses are newer but lack in individual character.

The jungle surrounding a full-on estate that bisects the road and forces pedestrians to cross train tracks to get past.

The jungle surrounding a full-on estate that bisects the road and forces pedestrians to cross train tracks to get past.

Chestnuts fall from the garden of the rich estate for lucky passersby to pilfer.

Chestnuts fall from the garden of the rich estate for lucky passersby to pilfer.

The, slightly unnerving, empty eyed gaze of the dog and cat trains that pull pilgrims up the slope to Hozanji. Cheating really.

The, slightly unnerving, empty eyed gaze of the dog and cat trains that pull pilgrims up the slope to Hozanji. Cheating really.

Every September 23rd, from 5pm until 8pm, there is a lantern festival, that runs along a road rising from the station all the way up to Hozanji. Hand decorated lanterns are placed along the path, over about 3 kilometres, and early birds can participate in a stamp rally, checking in at different stations along the journey and eventually receiving a coffee cup or groundsheet. The real reward though is in appreciating the effort of the different cup artists, and sharing the dusk with other friendly walkers.

Lanterns leading the way from the station. Phone carrying walkers crashed and caused to burn more than one...

Lanterns leading the way from the station. Phone carrying walkers crashed and caused to burn more than one…

Delicately hand-drawn, many candle-holders depicted seasonal flowers.

Delicately hand-drawn, many candle-holders depicted seasonal flowers.

Others... well, had open mouthed skeletons.

Others… well, had open mouthed skeletons.

Owls

Larger lanterns set out on the path closer to the goal.

Larger lanterns set out on the path closer to the goal.

Many of the comments heard along the road followed the theme of: Aren't we there yet? ... We're not even half-way...

Many of the comments heard along the road followed the theme of: Aren’t we there yet? … We’re not even half-way…

Cat

The Japanese says: Autumn on one side, and Autumn Leaves on the other.

The Japanese says: Autumn on one side, and Autumn Leaves on the other.

ikoma (19 of 24)  ikoma (17 of 24)   Candles

A candle seller chooses an appropriate night to try and hawk his wares.

A candle seller chooses an appropriate night to try and hawk his wares.

Ikoma is not as accessible as Hikone was. Bicycles are useless here, well, at least in one direction, in the downwards direction they are suicide. Unlike a castle town, roads are not set out with order and tend to blur the lines between someone’s private garden path and a public thoroughfare. It is a beautiful city though, full of its own history and a mix of Osaka openness and Nara piety.
Once you get up high though, especially in the evening, the view makes it easy to appreciate all the work your stomach muscles did to get you there.

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