My 4-Year-Old Climbed 785 Steps And Taught Me How To Be Gritty

At the main shrine, she was the smallest one there.

Authors daughter climbing stairs Image | Courtesy Of Author

Parents tend to underestimate children’s abilities even after they have started building social connections outside the home. Memories of changing diapers and feeding helpless infants are hard to shake.

As a mother, I thought there were so many things I should teach my daughter, from learning the alphabet to building resilience.

And sometimes that was challenging for me because I’m not a naturally patient person — despite patience being one of the national characteristics that Japanese people are proud of.


Patience is a virtue that I’ve never seen much value in.

I played hooky from time to time ever since kindergarten. I changed jobs when I didn’t like the corporate culture or felt burnt out; I’m the last person you’d ask to teach your children patience.


However, an opportunity to realize the true meaning of grit suddenly arose during my family trip to Kagawa. And I stopped worrying about resilience, too.

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It happened when I visited Kotohira-gū, better known as Konpira-san to locals.

It’s a Shintō shrine located in the mountainous area of Kagawa—the prefecture of Udon Paradise.

Local residents worship at this shrine for a variety of good fortunes, especially to the deity of the ocean. But more than anything else, the long path of steep stone steps makes Konpira-san noteworthy.

It takes 785 steps to visit the main shrine, and 583 more steps to reach the inner shrine. In total, there are 1368 steps to see all the sights.


When my husband parked our car at the foot of Mt. Kotohira, we were carefree tourists. The sky was gloomy.

Climbing all 1368 steps was not in the cards since our daughter was only 4 years old.

Dressed in sandals and a sleeveless top and skirt, climbing the 785 steps to reach the central shrine seemed the best option.

A guide in the parking lot offered us a free wooden stick as a trekking pole, and my daughter liked it. But my husband and I suspected she would start complaining within a few minutes. We bet she wouldn’t last five minutes.

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Against the odds, she swung the wooden stick as if she were a high jumper, and she kept climbing. No grumbling.


Soon, we started sweating and needed to take a short break to gulp from a bottle of water. But still, she didn’t give up.

Looking back on the path we’d walked, we could see the many steps going down the hill. "We’ve come so high! You’re doing great!" We cheered her progress and offered a bribe of ice cream after visiting the main shrine. Banners swinging in the air touting ice cream and shaved ice had to be tempting, but she just nodded and kept on climbing up those steps.

At the 628th step, the Asahi-Yashiro shrine was waiting for visitors. Many tourists think they’ve arrived at the main building, but the first stop is yet to appear.

It is common to visit Asahi-Yashiro after paying homage at the main shrine. We took a break at the bench in front of Asahi-Yashiro to appreciate its grand atmosphere.


A lady who was sitting next to us asked my daughter, "How old are you?" 

She proudly showed her four fingers and announced that she had climbed over 600 steps by herself. The kind woman praised our little girl, and we wished each other luck to make it up to the main shrine.

The final approach to the central shrine was steep. My husband and I offered to carry our girl. But she said she would try to make it up on her own. We were surprised by her gumption.

Although she was now drenched in sweat and out of breath, she walked up the steps slowly but surely. We counted the number of stairs together, and she finished all 785 steps in the end!

It was truly amazing. We high-fived her and hugged her little body. I was also sweating like a stallion, but she was the hero.


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At the main shrine, she was the smallest one there.

The view from the main shrine was breathtakingly beautiful, a wonderful payoff for our hard work. We burned the sight into our minds to remember the day our little girl conquered such big steps all by herself.

Tossing coins in a donation box and drawing an omikuji fortune slip, I watched her head start to nod, the first clue she showed of exhaustion. Our baby was tired and we quickly turned back into her doting parents. All the way down to the parking lot, we carried our little champion in a celebratory parade to the car.


But of course, we couldn’t forget to indulge in the biggest strawberry shaved ice on the shopping street. The taste of a small victory was unforgettable, and my husband and I hoped we all remember this milestone. She was brave. All she needed was encouragement and hydration. She did it all by herself.

I used to assume parents need to teach children how to be gritty. But I was wrong. They have grit already, and what they need are support and resources, hopefully without too much pressure.

Now I’m not worried about whether I’m good enough to teach the importance of patience. Even skipping classes and changing jobs seem a healthy part of reaching bigger goals and dreams.

Also, I have decided to believe my girl is courageous and gritty enough since the power of language is unignorable. One day, she might get tired of listening to her parents chanting "You climbed 785 steps by yourself," but until then, she’ll consider herself gritty.


There is nothing more empowering than to have someone who believes in you, and that’s the parents’ job. 

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Yuko Tamura is a writer, cultural translator, and editor-in-chief of Japonica based in Tokyo. Her articles have been featured in The Japan Times, Unseen Japan, The Good Men Project, BBC Radio, and more.