Can we make it to this mountain temple and back before our sword boy does the same in the game?

Even when it had just been released, it was a pretty safe bet that Touken Ranbu, the free-to-play game with a cast made up of handsome anime-style men who are also anthropomorphized historical samurai swords, was going to be a hit. Six years later, the franchise remains incredibly popular, and our Japanese-language reporter Udonko still plays it regularly.

One of Touken Ranbu’s gameplay mechanics is that you can choose to send sword boys you’ve acquired out on “expeditions” to famous battlefields and historical sites. Sending a character on an expedition removes them from the pool of characters you can use for the game’s main missions and battles for a certain amount of real-world time, but when they return, they’ll bring useful items they obtained during their time away back with them.

▼ The expedition selection screen

This got Udonko thinking. One of the available expeditions is to send a character to Kyoto’s Enryakuji Temple, which is a real-life place on Mt. Hiei. The game’s listed expedition time is six hours, but could a real person make the round-trip journey in that amount of time?

Udonko intended to find out, and that’s why she ended up standing at the start of the Mt. Hiei Mountain Trail, on the eastern outskirts of Kyoto City, ready to make the hike up into the mountains where Enryakuji is located.

Specifically, Udonko would be walking along the Kirarazaka Course, the start of which is about a 25-minute walk from Shugakuin train station on the Eizan Main Line.

▼ The map data for Udonko’s route

There’s actually a cable car that’ll take you a good ways up the mountain, but since that wasn’t an option for the Touken Ranbu boys in the samurai era, Udonko would also make the ascent entirely on foot. She synchronized the start of her character’s expedition with her first step on the trail, and her journey was underway.

Almost immediately, the path narrowed, with branches of the surrounding greenery brushing her arms and legs as she walked by. There were even times when she had to duck under tree trunks that stretched across the trail, which also started gaining elevation rapidly, sometimes feeling more like a staircase than a slope.

▼ Deer tracks

The first section, though, is by far the most strenuous, so if you don’t lose heart and press through, you’ve got the hardest part of the hike done right away. And if you do start to feel tired out, there are multiple clearings to take a break in, often with views of the city and valleys below.

You’ll also periodically come across trail markers with bilingual guidance, since the Kirarazaka Course is part of a network of multiple trails.

▼ Since Udonko was headed to Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei, she took the middle of the three paths at this fork.

Along the way, Udonko encountered various types of vegetation, from dense forest to this section of windswept bamboo.

Enryakuji is actually a complex of multiple structures spread among three different spots on Mt. Hiei. Udonko figured her Touken Ranbu sword boy would probably be headed to the main hall, which is located in the east section, so she made that her destination too.

▼ No, that’s not the temple. It’s the cable car station.

▼ A Hieizan (Mt. Hiei) photo spot

Winding her way past the ropeway station, Udonko came upon an unusual stretch of topography.

Once upon a time, this was actually a ski slope, which was covered by a mix of naturally fallen and man-made snow in the winter. It’s no longer in operation, but you can still see the curves of the mountain that skiers travelled over.

After climbing to the top of the former ski slope, it wasn’t much longer before Udonko was at the temple!

The main hall is currently undergoing extensive, multi-year maintenance, and its exterior is covered by scaffolding. The interior is still accessible, though, and a number of other buildings are uncovered.

And if you’re in need of refreshment, the temple dormitory’s cafe is open to visitors too, and boasts a really nice panoramic view of neighboring Shiga Prefecture’s Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake.

At the main hall, Udonko picked up a goshuin, a stamped paper collected by pilgrims at temples in Japan to commemorate their visit.

After looking around a bit more, Udonko retraced her steps back down the trail, once again skipping the cable car.

When she got to the bottom, she fired up Touken Ranbu to see if she’d been able to complete the journey in less time than her sword boy…

…and was startled to see that she’d made the round-trip in under two and a half hours, way less than the six hours it was going to take her character to complete his expedition to Enryakuji!

Honestly, she almost felt a twinge of irritation at her character’s leisurely pace, until she remembered that the sword boy was also procuring various items along the way. Then again, she was bringing back a goshuin, but she also remembered that she only visited one of the sections of the temple, so maybe her Touken Ranbu guy was making the rounds to all three?

In any case, it turns out that yes, this particular Touken Ranbu expedition is definitely doable in real life, and you don’t necessarily need six hours to do it. It’s a unique was to see a part of the city that most visitors never do, plus a nice way to get away from the crowds of tourists if the city center is feeling too crowded for you.

Just don’t expect your sword boys to be quite ready for their next adventure by the time you’re done with yours.

Related: Enryakuji website
Photos ©SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]