Ever wanted to scale a mountain or hike in a beautiful, mountainous areas while travelling in Japan, but find it a hassle and too costly to prepare all the necessary equipment? Or are you concerned about your lack of physical fitness so that you might not be able to make it all the way to the top? Or are you the type who doesn’t like the cold weather that will greet you as you make your ascent up the mountains? Fret not, because you can visit Bentenyama (弁天山) at Tokushima City in Tokushima Prefecture (Shikoku island), which is the lowest natural mountain in Japan and a breeze for anyone to climb, even those who hardly ever work out!
Tokushima City (徳島市) is the capital city of Tokushima Prefecture (徳島県) located in the north-eastern part of Shikoku (四国). Due to its location, the city has one of the highest number of sunshine hours in the country (6th of all prefectural capital cities), and rain typically falls more during the typhoon season and when the season changes from summer to autumn than during the spring rainy season. In winter, the oceanic climate means that the temperatures rarely go below zero degrees Celsius, so the city is actually the warmest out of the four capital cities in Shikoku. As such, this makes it a more bearable place for people who dislike cold weather. On the other hand, summer can bring temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, especially between July and September, so it is important to stay hydrated if you are visiting during this period.
Tokushima City is especially well-known for its Awa Odori (阿波踊り, Awa Dance), which is performed on a large scale within the city in August. In fact, it holds the title of having the most dancers and spectators for Obon dances performed in public among the top three Obon dances. The other 2 dances are Nishimonai no Bon Odori (西馬音内の盆踊り) from Akita Prefecture and Gujo Odori (郡上踊り) from Gifu Prefecture. There are also a number of mountains within the city, amongst which the most famous is Bizan (眉山), which was where 2007 movie ‘Bizan’ (眉山-びざん-) starring Matsushima Nanako and Osawa Takao was shot. Compared to its more well-known counterpart, not many people may have heard of Bentenyama which is in the same city.
According to the map issued by the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan, Bentenyama is recognised as Japan’s lowest natural mountain, with a height of just 610 centimetres. There are actually two other mountains in Japan which are lower than Bentenyama, the Tenpozan in Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture (4.53m), and the Hiyoriyama in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture (3m), but they are both man-made.
During the Heian era, Bentenyama was surrounded by the sea, so it was regarded as an island rather than a mountain. At that time, the name of the island was Bentenjima. Later, the land reclamation that was done in the area during the Muromachi era in order to create paddy fields was what led to Bentenjima subsequently being recognised as a mountain. It was renamed Bentenyama because of the Itsukushima Shrine that sits atop the Bentenyama. Here, the Benzaiten (弁財天) is worshipped, the goddess of music, eloquence, wealth and water.
In Japan, the mountaineering season usually starts at the end of spring and lasts till the end of summer. It is marked by the yamabiraki (山開き) ceremony to announce the ‘opening of mountains to all’. Likewise at Bentenyama, the mountaineering season starts on June 1st every year and sees an annual average of more than 15,000 climbers. Like at many other mountains in Japan, you can get a certificate or a stamp in your notebook as a memento and proof that you have conquered the mountain after you reach the summit. At Bentenyama, for the small price of 10 yen, the Bentenyama Preservation Association formed by local residents in June 2012 issues a certificate as shown in the picture below, with a serial number and the date of your visit.
After paying a visit to the shrine on the mountain you can visit the preservation association’s office next door, which is housed in the same building as Chinese soba restaurant ‘Chiian’. Besides the usual amulets from the shrine, there are items for sale such as wooden wishing panels called ema (絵馬). For those interested in getting a peek into the future, you can get a divination lot for just 100 yen here.
On Bentenyama’s official website there is a page dedicated to Fukuyama Masaharu who is a very popular actor and singer. In case you are wondering why this is so, Fukuyama played concerts in Tokushima City on 5th and 6th September 2009 and paid a visit to Bizan and Bentenyama the day before. After reaching the summit of Bentenyama, he left a message in the guestbook and even showed pictures of the mountain and its surroundings to his fans during the talk section of his concerts. Apparently, the page on which he wrote is displayed on the notice board with his photo for all visitors to see, so don’t forget to check this out while you are there. You might also want to sign the guestbook and flip through it to see if your favourite celebrities may have been here before!
If you are interested in visiting Bentenyama, there are two ways to get there via public transport. If you are taking a train, get on the JR Mugi Line (JR 牟岐線) from Tokushima Station and get off at M04 Jizobashi Station (地蔵橋駅) before walking for 10 minutes to the foot of the mountain. Alternatively, if you would like to make your way by bus, you can take No.11 from the No.2 boarding bay of Tokushima City Bus Terminal which heads to Jorokuji (丈六寺南) and Tokushima Zoo (とくしま動物園) and get off at the bus stop in front of Katanokami Primary School (方上小学校前) before walking another 4 minutes to the foot of the mountain.
Come to Tokushima and Bentenyama for the nice weather, to see the summer dances, and to experience the joy of mountain climbing without the physical exhaustion!