Past Tōkei-ji (東慶寺) continuing along the main valley is Jōchi-ji (浄智寺), beside which you’ll find steps which mark the start of the Daibutsu Hiking Course (大仏ハイキングコース). This meandering ridge-path (2.2km) makes an enjoyable approach to Hase’s Great Buddha, but in any case it’s well worth taking a diversion as far as the captivating cave-shrine dedicated to the goddess Zeniarai Benten (銭洗弁天), the “Money-Washing Benten”, an incarnation of the goddess of good fortune, music and water. Follow the somewhat erratic signs for Genjiyama-kōen (源氏山公園) along a trail heading southeast through the park, to a road junction where the main trail turns right. Here, you’ll pick up signs pointing steeply downhill to where a torii and banners mark the shrine entrance. Duck under the tunnel to emerge in a natural amphitheatre filled with a forest of torii wreathed in incense and candle-smoke.

If you’re following the Daibutsu Hiking Course all the way to Hase, then rather than retracing your steps, take the path heading south under a tunnel of tightly packed torii, zigzagging down to the valley bottom. Turn right at a T-junction to find another avenue of vermilion torii leading uphill deep into the cryptomeria forest. At the end lies a simple shrine, Sasuke Inari-jinja (佐助稲荷神社), dating from before the twelfth century and dedicated to the god of harvests. His messenger is the fox; as you head up the steep path behind, to the left of the shrine buildings, climbing over tangled roots, you’ll find fox statues of all shapes and sizes peering out of the surrounding gloom. At the top, turn right and then left at a white signboard to pick up the hiking course for the final 1500m to the Daibutsu.

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