Kotohira (琴平) is a one-horse town known solely as the site of Kompira-san, a large shrine complex.
Kotohira is on the JR Dosan Line. From Takamatsu, rapid trains depart hourly between 10:00 and 20:00, reaching Kotohira in 49 minutes (¥830). Buses also run from Takamatsu Airport [dead link] (50 minutes, ¥1500). The private Kotoden Kotohira Line (琴電琴平線) departs from Takamatsu-Chikko station on the hour and half-past (one hour, ¥610).
From Okayama, Kotohira can be reached in one hour by taking the hourly Nanpu limited express (¥3160), or occasional local trains (105 minutes). Another option is the Marine Liner rapid train, which leaves at approx. 44 minutes past the hour, to Sakaide and then a change for the local to Kotohira (80-90 minutes, ¥1300).
The shrine entrance is an easily walked few hundred meters south from the train stations. True to its name, the shrine is built on a hill and it's a fairly steep climb all the way to the top.
For a taste of medieval luxury, porters can carry you up the hill in a palanquin for even steeper prices (¥6000 and up).
The sights below are listed in order as you ascend the steps.
- Great Gate (大門 Daimon). The Great Gate, halfway up the hill, marks your entry into the shrine complex.
- Treasure Hall (宝物館) (On the right after the Great Gate.). ¥500.
- Asahi Shrine (旭社 Asahi sha). This shrine, which dates back to 1837, is the largest, oldest, and most impressive of Kompira's many shrine halls, in ornately decorated unpainted wood.
- Main Shrine (本宮 Hon-gū). The centerpiece of the temple complex, with a large square in front and many buildings packed in a cluster.
- Izutama Shrine (厳魂神社 Izutama-jinja) (583 steps up from the Main Shrine.). Far fewer visitors make it all the way up here, and you'll be rewarded with nice views over the city. Also known as the Inner Shrine.
- Kinryo Sake Museum (金陵の郷), 623 Kotohira-cho, ☏ +81 877-73-4133. M-F 09:00-16:00, Sa 09:00-18:00. This museum describes the various stages in sake production. The exhibits are mostly in Japanese, but there are leaflets in other languages at the entrance to explain the process. Admission ¥310. At the end, generous shots of sake are available for ¥100.
- Marine Science Museum (海の科学館), 953 Kotohira-cho, ☏ +81 877-73-3748. 09:00-16:30 everyday all year. Highlights include a restored vessel from the Edo period along with all sorts of radio-controlled boats, bridges, and musings about man's relationship with the sea. Adults ¥450, children ¥350.
- Museum of History (歴史民俗資料館), 758-1 Kotohira-cho, ☏ +81 877-73-5586. 09:00-17:00. A good match with a visit to Kanamaru-za (see below), this museum showcases local folkcraft, including plenty of kabuki costumes and props. ¥200.
- 1 Konpira Grand Theatre (金毘羅大芝居 (金丸座) - Konpira Ōshibai (Kanamaru-za)), 241 Otsu, Kotohira-cho, ☏ +81 877-73-3846. Tours W-M 09:00-17:00, performances by schedule. Built in 1835, this kabuki playhouse is the oldest remaining in Japan. It was designated an Important Cultural National Property in 1970. You can get a surprising amount of access to almost the entire theater, including the elevated walkway, trapdoor, revolving stage, and actors' changing rooms. English pamphlets are available. ¥500 adults, ¥300 students.
- Konpira Onsen (こんぴら温泉郷 琴参閣), 685-11 Kotohira-cho, ☏ +81 877-75-1000. 11:30-16:00. Stop in if you need a soak after the walk up to Kompira-san — or, if you're really sore, switch your accommodations to one of the several hotels that comprise this hot spring "village". Adults ¥1200, children ¥630.
From the moment you step off the train, you'll be bombarded by shrieking yellow advertisements for magical Konpira amulets at ¥800 a pop, available throughout the shrine.
Kagawa prefecture is famed for its Sanuki udon wheat noodles, and you'll find no shortage of shops hawking them on the road and stairway to the shrine. Kotohira's very own style is less than innovatively composed by pouring soy and bonito flakes on top of your noodles.
- [dead link] Kasuga Sushi (春日鮨), 457-3 Enai, ☏ +81 877-73-3591. F-W 11:30-14:00, 17:00-23:00. Nice sushi restaurant. Conger eels are a specialty. Set lunch ¥1050, set dinners ¥1995.
- Naniwa Cake Shop (浪花堂餅店), 586-4 Kotohira-cho, ☏ +81 877-75-5199. 08:30 until they're sold out. Established in 1866 and run by five generations of the same family, Naniwa bakes fresh sweets daily. Bean cakes and rice cakes are specialties, but there are several varieties to try. ¥600 for five pieces.
Konpira Beer is the local microbrew.
Most people choose to day-trip from Takamatsu or Okayama, but there are plenty of options in town. If you don't have any other arrangements (and you're not on a tight budget), head for the cluster of hotels around the Konpira Onsen.
- Kotobuki Ryokan (ことぶき), 245-5 Shinmachi, Kotohira-cho, ☏ +81 877-73-3872. A traditional inn with excellent service, a premium kaiseki dinner (¥2500), and natural hot springs drawn from the Konpira Onsen. Rooms from ¥5000 single, ¥8500 double.
- Kotohira Kadan (こんぴら温泉 琴平花壇), 1241-5 Kotohira-cho, ☏ +81 877-75-3232. Established in 1627, this inn was re-opened in 2008 and features a mix of Japanese-style rooms and Western-style suites, views over the river, public and private hot springs, and meals ranging from gourmet seafood to the obligatory Sanuki udon. Rooms from ¥17,800 for two people, meals included.
- Sunwell Kotohira (ホテルサンウェルコトヒラ), 162-1 Kotohira-cho, ☏ +81 877-75-3730. Decent business hotel with apartment-style rooms. Bike rentals, Internet access available. Rooms from ¥3500-4000 single, ¥6000-6500 double.