Mt. Ryōzen dominates the skyline to the east of Hikone. Located in the northernmost part of the Suzuka Mountains, it has an altitude of 1,094 m and it extends across Taga and Maibara in Ōmi. The eastern flank of the mountain is in Gifu Prefecture. To the north is Mt. Ibuki. Mt. Ryōzen is known for the number and wide variety flowers that grow there, and many climbers visit it during the flowering season.
The formal name of the mountain is Ryōzenzan, but it’s often referred to as Ryōzenyama, or just Ryōzen.
Ryōzen was a monk of the Hossō sect in the early Heian period, who belonged to the Okinaga clan, a powerful local clan based in today’s Maibara. He was the only monk in Japan at that time who has mastered the three works of the Buddhist scriptures from Asia. There’s a temple dedicated to him, the Ryōzen Sanzō-do at the side of Samegai Trout Hatchery.
Before the Meiji era, the mountain was called Reizan, and there’s a theory that the name of the mountain is derived from the mountain where the ancestors’ spirits are enshrined.
Around the starting point of the Kuregahata Route, there was a settlement of about 50 houses during World War II, but in 1957 it was abandoned. Today you can see empty and dilapidated houses and a temple on the steep mountain slope. Saxifrage grows here.
The monk En no Gyōja used Mt. Kyōzuka, a subsidiary peak on the northern side of Mt. Ryōzen, as a place for mountaintop training, and there were seven temples at the foot of the mountain, of which Matsuodera is one.
From 672 to 704 Ryōzen-ji Temple was built twice on the summit, and an implausible legend has it that the water used for polishing rice there accumulated in Otoraike Pond on the north side of the summit. The water flowed from this down the Urushigatake Falls. No trace of the temple has been found.
The mountain is formed of limestone, and the gently sloping top is karst. Mt. Ryōzen makes one corner of the Ōmi Karst. There are many depressions at the top of the mountain, and Otoragaike Pond is a pond that formed in a small sinkhole. At the southwestern foot of the mountain is a limestone cave called the Kawachi Wind Cave. The summit, which is located in the northeastern part of Taga, overlooks the Ōmi Basin and Lake Biwa.
At Otoragaike near the summit is the tiny Ryōzen Shrine with its picturesque torii. In winter, snow clouds are carried by seasonal winds from the Wakasa Bay area on the Sea of Japan, and the top of the mountain often has snow cover exceeding one metre.
The mountain has been spared large developments, so it’s in a very natural condition. On the upper parts of the mountain maples, bamboo grass, and pampas grass grow. In the middle of the mountain there’s a broadleaf forest of beech that used to be used for charcoal burning. The lower parts are covered in cedar plantations. Around the trails there are many flowers that blossom from the spring to early summer.
On the ridgeline where limestone is scattered at the summit of Mt. Ryōzen seen from the Ōmi Observation Platform on the southwest ridge, there are colonies of yellow pheasant’s eye and pink mountain peony.
The common toad, deer, squirrel, great spotted woodpecker, golden eagle, and many other fauna live on the mountain. On the mountain trails you can see clouded Apollo, swallowtail, and cabbage white butterflies feeding on flowers. At Otoragaike just below the summit you can see autumn darter and golden-ringed dragonflies.
The mountain presents a steep climb, and considerable care is required negotiating the bumpy limestone outcrops. The trails are easy to find and well maintained, although after rain they become muddy and slippery. Poles are a must.
In summertime and when there’s high humidity, it’s necessary to gather information in advance and take measures against land leeches.
Tall trees don’t grow on the mountain top, so there are superb 360-degree views.
The Kuregahata route is the shortest and is often used. It starts at the trailhead in the abandoned village of Kuregahata. It passes the Kanaya mountain hut, Asefuki Pass at the second station, the Ōmi Observation Deck at the fifth station, Monkey Rock, Otoragaike and Ryōzen Shrine, and Mt. Kyōzuka, before reaching the mountain top. There’s a rest area at the trailhead.
This route passes along the southwestern ridge from the abandoned village of Imahata to Sōkin-ji Temple, up to the Sasa Pass, the Ōmi Observation Deck, and via Nanreisan to the mountain top. There are many pheasant’s eye flowers on this route. The Ōmi Observation Deck offers a good view of Lake Biwa.