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Yuzawa Hyakuban-Kannon Hiking Course

With so much nature around, Yuzawa has no shortage of great hiking courses. Few have as interesting a backstory as the Hyakuban-Kannon Hiking course that leaves from beside Takahan Hotel. It heads up the ridge to Yuzawa Kogen, and then winds across the mountains to descend Mount Akiba on the other side of Echigo-Yuzawa Station.

It is the early 1930s and the Joetsu Line that is going to open a more direct rail route from Takasaki to Niigata has been opening in sections over the past decade. The huge engineering feat of the Shimizu Tunnel that burrows under the Tanigawa range is set to open linking Kanto to the Niigata side of the mountains. For the small town of Yuzawa which is set to be the first stop in Niigata there is the promise of an increased number of visitors due to much easier access.

The town decides to set up a hiking course through the mountains for visitors, and for inspiration they turn to the 100 Kannon Pilgrimage. The actual pilgrimage involves visiting 100 temples in different parts of the country, with a final trip to Zenkoji Temple in Nagano to finish. The Yuzawa hiking course will have a stone statue representing each temple so pilgrims can complete a shorter version of the trek to receive their blessing. One local family is paid what would amount to around seven million yen in today's money to carry the stones to their various positions up the mountain. Seeing these stones today it is hard to appreciate what a mammoth task this would have been almost one hundred years ago. In 1934 the Hyakuban Kannon Hiking Course in Yuzawa is finished, and it is hoped that the course and its sacred stones will bring the town good fortune. Everyone involves heads to Takahan Ryokan for a party to celebrate.

Around this time a writer called Yasunari Kawabata is a frequent visitor to Minakami where he enjoys climbing the local mountains, including one called Omine-san. One day he is told there is another mountain called Omine-san up in Yuzawa which is now linked to Minakami by rail. On his next trip he decides to visit Yuzawa and climb its Omine-san, which has a hiking path up it dotted with Kannon statues. He stays at Takahan and asks for the company of a geisha that evening, but unfortunately all the geisha from the town are involved with a large party celebrating the opening of the recently completed Hyakuban-Kannon hiking course. If he doesn't mind, there is a trainee geisha available whose skills might not be complete but would be pleasant company for the evening nonetheless. The solution is acceptable and a young trainee called Matsue who will become a full geisha when she turns eighteen meets the author, captivating him and becoming the inspiration for the geisha in the novel that will become the famous "Yukiguni".

The hiking course is still maintained by the town and offers some fantastic views down over Yuzawa. You can visit the room where Kawabata stayed on his several trips to Yuzawa within Takahan Hotel, which also has a small museum about his work.


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