A completely off the beaten path spot for hydrangea – Katsuragi Kannon.
I’ve mentioned Katsuragi Kannon on a couple of posts on the blog in the past. But I’ve been waiting to have the right photos (which I often do) before giving it its own post! Finally, today, I got some okay photos. Not exactly what I had hoped, but they will suffice until next year. When hopefully I will finally see the scene I have been chasing the last few years; dozens of hydrangea embracing the quaint mountaintop kannon-do¹ and bell tower of Katsuragi Kannon in Moroyama Town in the Iruma District of Saitama Prefecture.
¹A kannon-do is a hall dedicated to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy and possibly the most popular deity in Japan!
According to the records at Katsuragi Kannon-do, the area is called Katsuragi, because Gyoki thought it resembled Mt Katsuragi of Yamato (current day Nara). Gyoki, was a very famous high priest of the Nara period. He is widely recognized as both Japan’s first civil engineer and the father of mapping in Japan. The Katsuragi Kannon-do was erected on the mountain shortly after the area was named Katsuragi, sometime between 704 and 749 A.D. It is a small but very picturesque Kannon-do. It just has a nioman gate, the kannon-do hall, a bell tower, two swings, monkey bars, seasonal flowers, a viewing platform and it is an entry point to a hiking trail in the Katsuragi Forest.
Katsuragi Kannon is a relatively well known kannon-do within Saitama Prefecture and one of Moroyama’s key sightseeing spots. However, due to its location, at around 301 meters above sea level near the top of Katsuragi mountain, it is very much off the tourist trail. People like me (who prefer the quieter off the beaten path rarely-on-Instagram yet super scenic locations) visit during hydrangea season! However, the area is probably most visited by intrepid hikers as well as nightscape and sunrise photographers.
There is a viewing platform at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the temple. The viewing platform affords incredible views of Saitama and parts of Tokyo. You can even see Tokyo Skytree on a clear day. In December and early January, supposedly you can see Tokyo Skytree every morning. Thus, it is a popular spot for “hatsuhinode” – watching the first sunrise of the New Year. But the viewing deck is actually best known for its night view.
Best times to visit
The road to the kannon and the viewing point is a very windy, narrow, steep mountain road. Moreover, there is only parking for three cars by the Kannon-do. So for New Years in particular, if you don’t hike up to the top of the mountain you’ll be stuck with nowhere to park. As the nearest large car park is at Takinoiri Rose Garden, it is quite a hike. But those who do the pilgrimage every year, say its worth it! The rose garden (which is beside Yuzu campsite) is closed out of rose season, but the parking is open.
Rose season is a good time to visit the Kannon-do too, as the yuzu, which Moroyama is famed for, are also in bloom. From the rose garden parking you take the yuzu walkway to get to the narrow steep country road that leads to the top of the mountain, thus the kannon-do and lookout point. That road is colored with hydrangea (see next paragraph) at the end of June and early July. Moreover, during summer its about two degrees cooler up there than the plains of Saitama and there’s often a bit of a breeze.
The plan was to go to Katsuragi next week as the hydrangea there bloom best in early July. However, with the news that rainy season is officially over – far too early for my liking – I prioritized getting there today before they dry up and shrivel. Thankfully there were quite a few in bloom today and they were still in good condition. Moreover, there were also dozens of beautiful hydrangea, at around 60% bloom, on the drive up the windy road that leads to the Kannon. And more again along the Yuzu Walkway.
But unless it rains in the next 3 days or they are watered (unlikely) they will dry up pretty quick. Moreover, the ones that hadn’t started to bloom probably won’t flower well without a drop of rain. When the conditions are right though, this little temple on top of a mountain flourishes in pinks, blue and purples in early July. The bell tower is also framed with bursts of color from the rain loving flowers.
Katsuragi Kannon / 桂木観音
There are public toilets and a vending machine beside the viewing platform.
Address: 814 Takinoiri, Moroyama, Iruma District, Saitama 350-0456
Phone: 049-295-2112, extension 211, 212 or 213
Hours: 24 hours
Cost: an offering of as little or as much as you like
Maps: Plus code ~ W7XG+Q4 Moroyama, Saitama. On Google Maps.
There is a narrow steep mountain road that goes right up to the stairway to the Kannon. However, there is only parking for three cars. If the car park is full, there is actually nowhere else to park. You couldn’t even park on the side of the road really, unless you have a “Kei” car (mini car). The nearest public parking is by Takinoiri Rose Garden. The Kannon is about a 30 minute drive from both Tsurugashima and Sakado Nishi Smart Interchanges on the Kanetsu Expressway. Please note that you need to have an IC card to use the Sakado Nishi Smart Interchange. The Tsurugashima Interchange on the Ken-o expressway is also about a 30 minute drive from the Kannon.
There isn’t any public transport in the area. You would need to hike from either Moro or Higashi Moro Station. Both are more than an hour away on foot. Moro Station is on the Hachioji line. Higashi moro Station is on the Tobu Ogose line.
More information on the seasonal rose garden and the Yuzu Walkway: