Hiking and love in Japan – Mount Shinzan, Akita

Photography 101 is done!

My skills have improved dramatically over the last month thanks to the course prompts and lots of practice.

The inventors of digital memory also get my gratitude, allowing for hundreds of mistakes and experiments at no cost. This course has helped me see that even the photos I thought were worthless have value as memories and indicators of improvement.

My goals included learning to use the manual setting on a digital SLR, taking in-focus macro photos, and composing wider scenes. These were achieved at least from the level of knowing how to get started and, yes, more practice must follow.


The last theme was triumph. The challenge included changing contrast to increase impact.

This theme was one of the more difficult ones. Many events in my life have been triumphant but it was challenging to choose one and find something I could photograph.

The Backstory

Shortly after Hitoshi and I met, we went on a spontaneous hike.

shrine roof, Akita, Japan

a back building of the main shrine, before the hike really started
Mount Shinzan, Oga, Akita

Hitoshi was visiting me in Akita prefecture. We borrowed a friend’s car and drove from Akita City to Oga where the final stop was Mount Shinzan.

I had been to Mount Shinzan in the winter for the Namahage Festival. It was my first festival in Japan and left quite the impression! I wanted Hitoshi to see the place and to visit in the spring.

Shinzan Shrine, Oga, Akita, Japan

shrine in the woods

What we thought would be a fun ramble behind a gorgeous, rural shrine turned into a full on scramble up mud slick slopes complete with ropes tied to trees by the caretakers of the mountain.

I was carrying a small purse. Both of us were in our city sneakers. We had no water, food or supplies.

root-filled trail, Japan

The start of the trail; and this was the tame part!

What we had, in abundance, was love for each other and enthusiasm for our ridiculous circumstances.

Reaching the top was anticlimactic as we strained on our toes to see over foliage at a view that we assumed was spectacular.

After poking around in the small clearing for a few minutes, there was nothing else to do but to go back down. Our shoes were ruined and we were covered in mud and sweat, but we had each other and that was enough.

To the present

Omamori or charms are important features of shrines and temples in Japan. People buy them for different reasons but all have to do with bringing luck or preventing bad fortune.

We visited Mount Shinzan and its shrine a couple of years after our initial visit and picked up the charms in the following photos.

The charms are significant because they symbolize our triumph that day, tackling the mountain unprepared except for our happy hearts.

In fact, we loved this mountain and our hike so much that we wanted to get married there. This wasn’t practical though and we got married elsewhere but this spot will always hold tremendous value for us.

good luck charms from Japan

omamori or protection charms
Mount Shinzan, Oga, Akita

Usually charms are returned to the shrine where you bought them within a year. Old charms are burned and replaced with new ones to carry you over for another year of protection.

If you can’t get back to the shrine where you bought omamori, then you can take them to a different one.

We have not yet parted with the omamori from our special shrine.

We will give up them up only when we can go back to the shrine to do so in person.

namahage (monsters) on omamori

Shinzan omamori with namahage (monsters) that are a special part of the shrine

Have you done something spontaneous that turned out well (or not)?

9 thoughts on “Hiking and love in Japan – Mount Shinzan, Akita

  1. Love the picturesーespecially of the two of you! You look adorable together! 😀
    I really enjoy going to random places and exploring paths (they do seem to lead to tiny shrines more often than not!) and used to do it a lot when I lived in Miyazaki. Got to get better about doing that again.

    I know the charm “rule”, but I vehemently ignore it, haha! I love visiting shrines wherever I go, and there’s no chance of me returning to them to the original… and I really don’t want to return them to a different one, because I’d like to replace it with another from the same place. So… I’ve built up quite the collection. I know they’re not souvenirs, but….but… it’s so mottainai! T-T I love the designs and the colors and and and… XD

    Looking forward to hear about the story of the shrine where you did get married! -^^-

    • Thanks! I love that pic of the two of us too – it radiates the moment. 🙂
      Yes! Exploring random paths is a favourite pastime, even in Tokyo! Turning down an alley in Ikebukuro, we came across a neat little shrine with a ninja-like cat, a daycare bursting with genkiness beside a music school and quiet.
      Ha ha ha! You must have an insanely extensive collection if you buy them at the same rate as I do. 😀 We’ve returned so many over the years and my only regret was not photographing them first.
      Thank you! I’ve got the story in my head for a three-part piece but have yet to get it on “paper”. 🙂

      • A trip to Bako National park (Borneo) during the wet season, with a rough sea, a boat that nearly cracked, big waves. A boat that couldn’t land at the pontoon, so we had to jump in the water, ending wet the whole day…. buying this ticket was impulsive, and that day felt horrible at that time, but when I think about it now, it makes me laugh 😀 I should have look on internet beforehand :D:D

  2. A great story of triumph and a lovely photo of the two of you also. I didn’t know that about Japanese charms – I am sure you will find a way to return them to the original shrine.

    • Thank you! I realized after that I could add a few more details. Hitoshi suggested adding a map to show how rural and far from Tokyo (700+km), as a reference, it is. And yes… me too. 🙂 Hokkaido has been on my wish list for years and Akita is half-way there. 😀

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