Kompirasan, formally known as Kotohiragu (金刀比羅宮, Kotohiragū), is the main shrine of multiple Kompira shrines found around Japan that are dedicated to sailors and seafaring. Located on the wooded slope of Mount Zozu in Kotohira, the approach to Kompirasan is an arduous series of 1,368 stone steps.
Over many centuries, Kompirasan had been revered as a mixture between Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple, until it was officially declared a shrine in the beginning of the Meiji Period during government efforts to separate the two religions. Nevertheless, the former symbiosis is still visible in Kompirasan's architecture which displays both Shinto and Buddhist elements.
Despite being among the more challenging shrine approaches in Japan, Kompirasan is a highly popular site visited by pilgrims from across the country. The approach begins amongst a touristy shopping arcade filled with souvenir shops and Sanuki Udon restaurants, from where it is a 785 step climb (about 45 minutes) past a number of auxiliary shrine buildings and museums to the main hall.
Next to the main hall is a viewpoint overlooking Kotohira Town, and the Ema Hall which displays plates and pictures of ships, battleships and even space rockets whose crews sought the protection of the shrine. Interestingly, a real mini submarine is also on display. Most visitors only make it up to the main hall; however, for the adventurous it is an additional 583 steps (an additional 45 minutes) along a paved, forested path to the inner shrine (Okusha).
The start of the long approach to Kompirasan is about a ten minute walk from JR Kotohira and Kotoden Kotohira stations. Alternatively, a shuttle bus service operates hourly between the stations and the shrine's main gate about halfway up to Kompirasan's main hall (700 yen one way). Advance reservations for the shuttle bus are mandatory by phone or online.