Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Mt. Yoshino – The Destination for Cherry Blossom in Japan

The gorgeous cherry blossoms on Mt. Yoshino or Yoshinoyama (吉野山) have been one of the most famous destinations in Japan for a long time. The beauty of the mountain had appeared in Japanese poems from the Heian period (794 – 1185)! But you may not be aware that Mt. Yoshino is also a great place for hydrangeas, autumn foliages, and snow scenery hunting!

Mt. Yoshino is a collective term for the mountains in the area. From the altitude differences across the mountain, Mt. Yoshino is largely divided into four areas – Shimo-senbon (下千本), Naka-senbon (中千本), Kami-senbon (上千本), and Oku-senbon (奧千本). That is why both the cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons in Mt. Yoshino last for a long time.

So why are the areas all named xx-senbon (xx千本)? It is from the phrase “Hitome Senbon”, which means you can see a thousand (cherry) trees at a glance.

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Apparently, Mt. Yoshino’s cherry blossom originates from the sacred cherry tree in Kinpusenji Temple (金峯山寺). From the Heian period, pilgrims who visited the temple planted cherry seedlings along the approach.

Day by day, year on year, more than 30,000 cherry trees of 200 different species now cover a large part of the mountain and form the magnificent view that we get to appreciate now!

Furthermore, a part of the mountain belongs to the World Heritage Site – the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range (紀伊山地の霊場と参詣道) for the mountain trails’ historical, natural, and cultural value.

4 Seasons in Mt. Yoshino at a Glance

  • Cherry blossom:
    • Shimo-senbon and Naka-senbon: early to mid-April
    • Kami-senbon: mid-April
    • Oku-senbon: mid to late April

Tip: Refer to Yoshino Town’s official website HERE for the current cherry blossom information in Mt. Yoshino.

  • Hydrangea: mid-June to early July
    • Nanamagari (七曲坂) near Kintetsu Yoshino Station is the most popular spot for hydrangea. That is right. You don’t even need to hike up the mountain (´▽`*)
  • Autumn foliage:
    • Cherry trees’ fall color: mid to late October
    • Maple: early November to early December
  • Snowy season: mid-December to late February
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Nighttime Light-up in Spring

During the cherry blossom season, parts of the mountain are also illuminated at night!

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In 2022, the light-up event took place from the 2nd to the 17th of April from 6 pm to 10 pm in the below period. HERE is a map in Japanese that illustrates the venues.

  • Around Nanamagari (七曲坂) in Shimo-shenbon
  • Around Gorobe Teahouse (ごろべえ茶屋) in Naka-senbon
  • Around the Okusenbon-guchi Bus Stop (奥千本口) in Kami/Oku-senbon

The most recommended area for nighttime cherry blossom admiration is probably the Shimo-senbon area because of the number of different cherry trees and illumination types.

Of course, if you want a full view of Mt. Yoshino’s light-up, it is best if you get to Hanayagura Observatory (花矢倉展望台) in Oku-senbon.

A List of Attractions in Mt. Yoshino

As you can imagine, trekking through the mountain with an area of 330 thousand square meters is exhausting and not necessary for us tourists. So, we have gathered attractions in the mountain below that can form a 3 to 5-hour strolling course starting from Shimo-senbon. Shimo-senbon is where the Kintetsu Yoshino Station is located.

How to Get to and Around Mt. Yoshino

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To get to Mt. Yoshino by public transport, first hop onto a train on Kintetsu Yoshino Line (近鉄 吉野線) and get off at the last stop, Yoshino Station (吉野駅). From there, you can either hike your way up to Shimo-senbon or take the ropeway up.

If you decide to hike through Mt. Yoshino, it is better to allow 4 to 5 hours at Mt. Yoshino. This estimate for a return trip from Shimo-senbon to Oku-senbon includes breaks/lunchtime.

If you are taking ropeway + buses, allow yourself around 3 – 4 hours for a relaxing time at Mt. Yoshino.

Tip: During the cherry blossom season, if you want to drive, we highly recommend getting to Mt. Yoshino in the early morning as traffic restrictions usually apply from 9 am to 5 pm.

Kyoto Station to Yoshino Station

  • From Kyoto Station (京都駅), take Kintetsu Kashihara Line (近鉄 橿原線), and get off at Kintetsu Kashihara Jingū-mae Station (橿原神宮前駅)
  • From there, change for Kintetsu Yoshino Line (近鉄 吉野線), and get off at Yoshino Station (吉野駅)

If you are taking the limited express (特急) throughout the whole journey, it will take around an hour and 50 minutes. If you are taking the express train (急行), allowing yourself 2 hours and 30 minutes is better.

The train fare difference between limited express and express trains from Kyoto to Mt. Yoshino is approximately 1,000 yen.

From Osaka-Abenobashi Station to Yoshino Station

From Osaka-Abenobashi Station (大阪阿部野橋駅), there is no transfer required. We wouldn’t recommend taking the limited express train if you are coming from Osaka because it only takes 15 to 20 minutes extra compared to the limited express train. However, you have to pay around 500 yen more if you take the limited express.

Tip: Although you will need to pay a bit extra, consider taking the luxurious sightseeing train – Blue Symphony (青の交響曲) from Osaka-Abenobashi Station to Yoshino Station. For more information, please refer to Kintetsu’s website HERE. As the website is in Japanese only, translate it with Google Chrome’s translation function on the right of the address bar.

Important: If you have a Kansai Thru Pass, it only covers up to Tsubosakayama (壺阪山). You will have to pay for the section from Tsubosakayama Station to Yoshino Station.

From Kintetsu Nara Station to Yoshino Station

Although Mt. Yoshino is in Nara Prefecture, it doesn’t mean the travel time required is less if you come from Kintetsu Nara Station (奈良駅). The total travel time is around 2 hours.

  • From Kintetsu Nara Station (奈良駅), take the train to get to Yamato-Saidaiji Station (大和西大寺駅) first
  • Then change trains to get to Kashihara Jingū-mae Station (橿原神宮前駅)
  • Change trains again to get to Yoshino Station

Ropeway and Bus Services at Mt. Yoshino

Taking the ropeway from the Senbon-guchi Ropeway Station, less than 200 meters from Kintetsu Yoshino Station, is the most relaxing way to get to Shimo-senbon.

  • Other than the cherry blossom season, the cable car has 4 services each hour, going up and down from 9:20 am to 5:20 pm from Friday to Monday
  • From late March to mid-April, the service is running on extended hours

From Yoshinoyama Ropeway Station, you can take the connecting bus to the main attractions in Mt. Yoshino.

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You can also skip the ropeway and get on the bus from Kintetsu’s Yoshinojingū Station (吉野神宮駅), which is just one station before Yoshino Station.

Tip: If you want to save some money and hike in Mt. Yoshino with less effort, take the bus and get off at Oku-senbonguchi (奥千本口) instead and hike your way down.

For the ropeway and the bus services’ timetable, and fare table, please refer to the official website HERE, and change the language to English with Google Chrome’s transaction function on the right of the address bar.

Please refer HERE for Mt. Yoshino’s map. It gives you a good indication of where to find cherry blossom, autumn foliage, and hydrangea. If you read Japanese, HERE is another version of the map that you can also follow.

For those who would like to join a guided tour, you can book one HERE.

Shops and Restaurants at Mt. Yoshino

  • Most of the shops and restaurants are centers in the Naka-senbon area, from the ropeway station to Chikirin-inn
  • If you are after restaurants, most of them are around the Katte Shrine (勝手神社)
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Tip: Mt. Yoshino can be packed with tourists even on weekdays. So we would recommend bringing your own bento box and/or snacks to have a picnic under the cherry trees (^_-)-☆. Location-wise, it is better to head to Kami-senbon or even Oku-senbon for a panorama view of Mt. Yoshino.

Kinpusenji Temple (金峯山寺)

Just a few-minute walk away from the Yoshinoyama Ropeway Station, you will pass through Kinpusenji Kuromon Gate (金峯山寺黒門), the main gate to Mt. Yoshino.

© (一社)吉野ビジターズビューロー
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Tip: Before you cross the Kuromon Gate, make a short detour to Shōkenkōtaigō Onodate-ato (昭憲皇太后御野立跡) towards the Mt. Yoshino Tourist Car Park. The observatory deck is where Empress Shōken (Emperor Meiji’s wife) admired the cherry blossom scenery of Mt. Yoshino!

Mt. Yoshino’s symbol has to be Kinpusenji’s main worship hall – Zaō-dō (蔵王堂). The building, with a height of 34 meters is the biggest wooden architecture, second to the Tōdaiji Temple (東大寺) in the region. We are sure you will be overwhelmed by the dignified and profound feeling that the National Treasure brings to the visitors when you see it up close!

Zaō-dō is the worship hall that enshrines the 7-meter tall Kongō Zaō Gongen (金剛蔵王権現) statue. To meet Kongō Zaō Gongen, you have to plan your visit carefully as it isn’t normally exhibited to the public.

In 2022, you can see the Kongō Zaō Gongen statue if you come to Kinpusenji Temple in November from 8:30 am to 4 pm. The entry fee to Zaō-dō is doubled during this time.

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What is Shugendō (修験道) and Kongō Zaō Gongen (金剛蔵王権現)

Shugendō (修験道) originated in Japan is derived from animistic beliefs and embraces Shintoism, Taoism, and Buddhism. It aims to cultivate spiritual power through ascetics in holy mountains. Kongō Zaō Gongen (金剛蔵王権現) is the highest object of worship in Shugendō.

Around 1,300 years ago, when En no Gyōja (役行者) founded the Kinpusenji Temple, the grand head temple of Kimpusen Shugendō Main Sect, is said to have carved an image of Kongō Zaō Gongen on a cherry tree. En no Gyōja is a semi-legendary holy man who was respected for his practice of mountain asceticism during the second half of the 7th century. Since then, Shugendō practitioners admiring En no Gyōja made their way to Mt. Yoshino and planted cherry trees along the way that formed part of the Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range (紀伊山地の霊場と参詣道) that is now a World Heritage since 2004. Together with the route, the Zaō-dō and Nio Gate (仁王門) are also registered.

For more information on the buildings in Kinpusenji, please refer to their website HERE.

Kinpusenji Temple’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Zaō-dō (蔵王堂) and Nōten Daijin Ryūō-in Temple (脳天大神龍王院) are open from 8:30 am to 4 pm
  • To enter Zaō-dō (蔵王堂)
    • Adults: 800 yen
    • High school students: 600 yen
    • Elementary school students: 400 yen
  • From Yoshinoyama Ropeway Station, it is less than a 10-minute walk

Manshodō (萬松堂)

Before visiting Kinpusenji Temple, you would have walked past a dozen shops. If you couldn’t decide which shop to spend some money in, then Manshodō near Kinpusenji’s Nio Gate is a fine choice.

The shop, with more than 100 years of history, has its Kusamochi (草餅) presented to Emperor Shōwa! Kusamochi is a rice‐flour dumpling mixed with mugwort. It is the green confectionary on the upper right in the second photo of the Instagram post.

Yoshimizu Shrine (吉水神社)

Yoshimizu Shrine, overlooking Naka-senbon and Kami-senbon is another wonderful place that was registered as a World Heritage in 2004. The shrine was originally called Yoshimizu-in (吉水院) and was part of Kinpusenji Temple. Due to a decree from the Meiji government to separate Shintoism from Buddhism, Yoshimizu Yoshimizu-in became Yoshimizu Shrine, enshrining Emperor Godaigo (後醍醐天皇) and Kusunoki Masashige (楠木 正成) who was Emperor Godaigo’s trusted supporter.

The shrine was the venue of copious historical events. It was the Imperial Palace of Emperor Godaigo in the early 14th century. When Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉) became the leader of the country, he and approximately 5,000 people spent around 5 days here admiring Mt. Yoshino’s cherry blossom. You can now see the Important Cultural Properties donated by Hideyoshi in the temple’s Shoin (書院).

Also, it was where Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源 義経), a great military commander from the late Heian and early Kamakura periods was hidden during his escape from his brother’s army. As proof of this, a pillar on the shrine’s precinct has two nails smashed into it. It is said that Benkei (弁慶), Minamoto no Yoshitsune’s object, demonstrated his strength to protect his lord from the pursuit by smashing the nails into the stone with his thumb! Seeing the scene, the enemy escaped out of fear. The stone pillar is now known as Benkei no Chikara Kugi (弁慶の力釘).

When Hideyoshi saw the stone later on during his five-day stay, he said, “only if I had that kind of power” while he was touching the nails (´▽`*).

The Interesting Ritual Performed at Yoshimizu Shrine’s Hokketsumon (北闕門)

At the back of the Shoin, there is a gate called Hokketsumon. It is a praying and purifying site for pilgrims. Before they set foot onto Mt. Ōmine (大峰山), they performed a ritual here to let the guardian gods of the mountain know of their journey and pray for a safe trip.

It is said that Emperor Godaigo was here facing Kyoto and stroked the sky nine times in the morning and at night. In 1347, before Kusunoki Masashige departed for a battle, he also performed the ritual known as Kujishinhō (九字真法) for protection.

If you choose to visit the Shoin, how about performing the same ritual in front of Hokketsumon? You will definitely feel like one of the characters in the anime – Naruto, when you are doing the hand seals that the ritual involves!

For the steps in the ritual, please refer to Yoshimizu Shrine’s website HERE. It is in Japanese, so just follow the photos.

  • In step 4, you need to say Rin (臨), Byō (兵), Tō 闘, Sha (者), Kai (皆), Jin (陣), Retsu (烈), Zai (在), and then Zen (前) while you stroke through the air with your hand. The first stroke is horizontal and then vertical, and you alternate until you say “Zen”
    • Lastly, remember to strike from upper right to lower left per the photo and say “Ei!”. Nothing will come out like what happens in the anime, but take it as the main part of the ritual is now completed and you have got the blessing from the gods
    • “R” in Japanese is pronounced as “L”
  • In step 2, you need to take three deep breaths while maintaining the hand sign. In step 5, while maintaining the same hand sign, you need to say “Seeman, Dooman (セーマン、ドーマン)” three times

Yoshimizu Shrine’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Yoshimizu Shrine’s Shoin is open from 9 am to 5 pm
    • The last admission is at 4:30 pm
  • To enter the Shoin, the below fee will apply
    • 600 yen for university students and above
    • 400 yen for high school students
    • 300 yen for elementary school students
  • From Yoshinoyama Ropeway Station, it is a 10 to 15-minute walk

Chikurin-in (竹林院)

© (一社)吉野ビジターズビューロー

Chikurin-in is a temple with a gorgeous garden and simple but elegant Japanese-style rooms for guests to stay overnight.

The temple, founded by Prince Shōtoku (聖徳太子), has been accepting visitors to Mt. Yoshino since a long time ago. Many leaders in Japan such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Japanese emperors, had enjoyed their hospitality in the past.

Prince Shōtoku is a prince in the Asuka period (538 – 710).

The garden, Gunpoen (群芳園), which is worth a visit throughout the year, is the work of the Japanese tea master – Sen no Rikyū (千利休). It was later renovated by the master of Japanese poems – Hosokawa Yūsai (細川幽斎). Combining the talents of two renowned masters, Gunpoen is a strolling garden characterized by the use of the natural scenery around it.

From here, you can also overlook Kinpusanji Temple’s Zaō-dō (蔵王堂).

© Chikurin-in
© Chikurin-in

Tips:
☛ For those who would love to spend a night at Chikurin-in, you can book one of their guestrooms that come with a private bath if you don’t want to share your relaxing bath time with others.
☛ Remember to let the temple know your special dietary requirements when you book your stay.

For more information about the accommodation facility and to book, please refer to their website HERE.

Important: If you are planning to stay at Chikurin-in during the cherry blossom season, make your booking as early as possible. The reservation is usually open from October the year before.

Chikurin-in’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Chikurin-in is open from 9 am to 5 pm
  • To access the Gunpoen Garden, it will cost
    • 400 yen for adults
    • 300 yen for high school students
    • 200 yen for elementary school students
    • Free if you are staying overnight at Chikurin-in
    • You will get a discount if you dine at Chikurin-in
  • From Yoshinoyama Ropeway Station, it is a 20 to 25-minute walk

Nyoirinji Temple (如意輪寺)

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Nyoirinji in the Naka-senbon area was founded as a Shingon Sec (真言宗) temple in the early 10th century.

After Emperor Godaigo set up his palace in Yoshino, Nyoirinji also became an imperial temple of the Southern Court (南朝) in 1336.

The temple is known for the Japanese poem carved on a wooden door by Kusunoki Masatsura (楠木正行), expressing his determination to fight and die in the war that he was departing for.

As a side note, Kusunoki Masatsura is Kusunoki Masashige’s son.

Behind the Nyoirinji Temple’s main worship hall – Hondō (本堂), you will also encounter the Mausoleum of Emperor Godaigo. Different from other mausoleums of emperors in the same period of time that are all facing south, Emperor Godaigo’s grave was built facing the direction of Kyoto. It shows his desire to defeat the Northern Court based in Kyoto (but also means his mausoleum will be hot in summer and cold in winter (´▽`*)).

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Cherry Blossom and Other Flowers at Nyoirinji Temple

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From the ropeway station, the road leading to Nyoirinji has many slopes. But, the cherry blossom scenery of the Naka-senbon area that you will see from the temple, and even from the approach is simply divine!

During the cherry blossom season, enjoy a cup of matcha green tea and traditional sweets with the stunning cherry blossom view in front of you at Nyoirinji Temple!

Furthermore, the Chrysanthemum Festival (菊まつり) is held from the beginning to mid-November each year!

Nyoirinji Temple’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • Nyoirinji Temple is open from 9 am to 4 pm.
  • During the cherry blossom season, it is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm
  • The admission fee is
    • 500 yen for adults
    • 200 yen for high school students
    • 100 for elementary school students
  • It is around a 40-minute walk from Yoshinoyama Ropeway Station

Yoshinomikumari Shrine (吉野水分神社)

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Trekking further up to the Kami-senbon area, the first shrine you will encounter is the Yoshinomikumari Shrine.

Although the exact established year of the shrine remains unknown, it should have existed since 806, as it was the year when it was relocated to where it is now from Mt. Aonegamine (青根ヶ峰).

Initially, the shrine was built to enshrine the god of water. The Mikumari (水分) of the main god’s name – Amenomikumari (天之水分), means water distribution in Japanese. The god is worshiped for moisturized land and abundant soil. However, his name subsequently came to be called “Mikomori” then “Komori”, and eventually, the god became known as “Komori Myōjin (子守明神)”. Komori in Japanese means babysitting. With this name, the gods in Yoshinomikumari are now worshiped as the guardian deity of infants and young children.

If you are unsure how the god who originally looked after water can grant pilgrims’ wishes about babies, doubt no more!

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who couldn’t produce any offspring for years despite having many wives, had a son after he prayed at this shrine! The buildings in the shrine that we see today were reconstructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s son, Toyotomi Hideyori (豊臣 秀頼) in 1605, as an appreciation gesture for giving his father a son.

This is why the style of the architecture here is of the Azuchi–Momoyama period (安土桃山時代).

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In addition to the beautiful buildings, the wooden statue of Tamayori Hime no Mikoto (玉依姫命) has been designated as National Important Cultural Properties. Although it isn’t exhibited to the public, it is said that she is the most beautiful god in Japan’s Shintoism!

While the cherry blossom is wondrous, Yoshinomikumari Shrine’s biggest festival – Otaue Festival (お田植祭), is held from 1 pm on the 3rd of April each year. So plan your holiday well and kill two birds with one stone when visiting the shrine!

Yoshinomikumari Shrine’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • The shrine is open from 8 am to 4 pm with extended hours to 5 pm in April
  • It is around a 60-minute walk from Yoshinoyama Ropeway Station

Takagiyama Observatory (高城山展望台)

Takagiyama Observatory, at an altitude of around 700 meters used to have a castle sitting on a slope back in the 8th century.

Although anything related to the castle is nowhere to be found, it is one of the most famous places on Mt. Yoshino for cherry blossoms and the fall foliage.

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In autumn, the mountain trail leading to the observatory is the spot you can’t miss out on for the sensational autumn color.

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Takagiyama Observatory is around a 10-minute hike from Yoshinomikumari.

Hanayagura Observatory (花矢倉展望台)

There is an observatory you have got to stop by near the Yoshinomikumari Shrine.

It is called Hanayagura Observatory, and it will give you a magnificent view of Mt. Yoshino from Kami-senbon, all the way to the symbol of the mountain, Kinpusenji’s main worship hall – Zaō-dō (蔵王堂), and even the mountain ranges behind!

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Tip: The cherry blossom around Hanayagura Observatory usually peaks in mid-April each year.

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The observatory has obvious road signs, so you shouldn’t miss them.

The observatory is basically a square consisting of a few observatory areas, a Japanese cafe, and parking lots.

The car park is usually free except for the cherry blossom season. In 2021, the cost has gone up to 2,000 yen from the 1,500 yen in previous years.

The dessert menu of the cafe should all be vegan, but savory dishes like the popular Shiitake mushroom rice bowl (しいたけ飯) may contain fish extract in its sauce.

You can utilize the phrases in our Essential Japanese Travel Phrases for Vegetarians and Vegans article to confirm with the staff on the day.

Important: Please note the wooden platform with a fence on its sides and low tables is for cafe customers only. If you arrive outside the cafe’s business hours, tables won’t be placed there, but please don’t step onto the platform with shoes on.

Kinpu Shrine (金峯神社)

Kinpu Shrine is a small shrine, that is part of the Shugendō (修験道) in the Oku-senbon area. Situated at an altitude of around 765 meters, it is the highest accessible attraction on Mt. Yoshino.

About a 3-minute walk down the slope on the left of Kinpu Shrine’s worship hall, there is a small wooden pavilion where Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源 義経) used to hide inside when he escaped from his brother. It is therefore called Yoshitsune no Kakure-tō (義経の隠れ塔).

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If you would like to see the interior of Yoshitsune no Kakure-tō (義経の隠れ塔), a fee of 300 yen applies, and you will have to make a booking in advance by calling +81-90-3261-9968.

How to Get to Kinpu Shrine

  • Kinpu Shrine is around a 90 to 120-minute walk from Yoshinoyama Ropeway Station
  • From the bus stop – Oku-senbonguchi (奥千本口), it is around a 10-minute walk

Saigyō-an Hut (西行庵)

Saigyō-an Hut is a perfect place for autumn foliage hunting. It is a 10-minute walk away from Kinpu Shrine. Near the hut, you will get a wide view of Mt. Yoshino with abundant nature below you!

The hut was the temporary residence of a monk, Saigyō Hōshi (西行法師) when he was training on Mt. Yoshino. Inside the hut, you will see his statue sitting peacefully in front of an altar.

Discover other Stunning Attractions in Yoshino District 

Many people who have been to Japan a couple of times might know Mt. Yoshino, but they might not be aware that Yoshino District is filled with various awesome attractions.

It is one of the best destinations in the Kansai region for outdoor adventurers!

For more information, please refer to our article on Yoshino District (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Click the photo to find out how to board this unique human-powered ropeway!

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