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.
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.
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.