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Hiking in Tohoku: Mt Akita-Komagatake (1637m), Akita Prefecture, October 2020

***FREE DIGITAL MAP AVAILABLE***

For my second hike using the JR East Welcome Rail Pass 2020, I decided to venture further North. My first trip took me to the border of Akita prefecture; this time I would be completely inside. As before, I had to leave with the very first shinkansen to get to Tazawako station, 450 kilometers from Tokyo, in time for the bus to the 8th station. The weather was supposed to be sunny and warm for late October. As before, I got a detailed route description from Wes Lang’s hiking in Japan website. I only had one concern: according to online reports, there was a thin layer of snow on the summit. Just in case, I decided to bring some light crampons; I wouldn’t want to have to turn back on my first real hike in Akita!

Hiking in the Towada-Hachimantai National Park 十和田八幡平国立公園

Download a map of the Mt Akita-Komagatake hike

This map was developed for Japanwilds with the Hokkaido Cartographer

Find more Japan hiking maps on Avenza

While getting ready near the start of the trail at Hachigome (八合目 1300m), I was able to admire the snow-covered peaks of this still active volcano. The snow didn’t extend down to the parking lot 300 meters below, and didn’t seem very thick. Autumn blues skies extending in every direction made me feel optimistic about today’s hike. As long as the snow wasn’t too deep, I wouldn’t have too worry.

Looking down at Nyuto Onsen

I set off at 9h30 up a gently sloping path circling the base of the first peak. The mountains of Akita, coloured red brown at the end of the autumn season, spread out to the west. As I progressed, the view gradually extended southwards. Soon, I was able to see Tazawa lake, and even Mt Chokai in the far distance. It felt great to be hiking on such a beautiful day inside the Towada-Hachimantai National Park.

Lake Tazawa, Japan’s deepest lake

It took me 45 minutes to reach the first snow on the saddle between the two highest peaks. I made my way along a wooden walkway, next to a frozen lake, till I reached the Hachigome hut (八合目小屋). There, I turned left for the final climb, up a wooden staircase. Less than 30 minutes after reaching the saddle, I was at the top of Mt Oname (男女岳 the name combines the characters for man and women), the highest point of Mt Akita-Komagatake (秋田駒ヶ岳), the highest peak of Akita prefecture and a 200-famous mountain of Japan.

The wooden walkway near the top of Mt Akita-Koma

After taking in the fantastic 360 degree views from the summit, including Mt Iwate to the North, I went back down the same way I had come up. At the hut, I took the path on the opposite side of the lake, and after a few minutes, I reached the turn-off on the left for my next peak. A few minutes of tough climbing along a snowy slope brought me to the ridge, where I turned right. It was nearly 11h30 and, despite the snow, it was starting to get quite warm.

The semi-frozen volcanic crater lake with Mt Iwate in the background

Fortunately the snow was soft in the late morning sun, and no crampons were needed for the narrow rocky path along the top ridge. I reached the small snow-covered shrine at the top of Mt Odake (女岳 using only the character for woman here) around 11h30 with a great view of Tazawa lake. There was almost no wind, and it felt quite pleasant in the autumn sun, so I took short break for lunch.

The path between Mt Odake and Mt Yoko

Since I had completed the first part of the hike on schedule, I decided to take the longer route, following the crater ridge counter-clockwise. This section was narrower and rockier, and few hikers had chosen to take this route. Fortunately, the thin layer of snow wasn’t an issue, and the views looking back to Mt Oname were spectacular. So far, this was a very enjoyable hike, even with the thin layer of snow.

Mt Oname, the highest-point of Mt Akita-koma

After passing several small peaks, I finally reached Mt Yoko (横岳) at 12h30, where I had a good view of the central plain of Iwate prefecture to the east. It was starting to get quite warm, and I felt that I had been wrong to worry about the snow. I had the rest of my lunch and set off in good spirits.

Mini-crater on the southern side of the volcano

It only took me a few minutes to reach the next peak, the flat rounded top of Yakemori (焼森), from where I had a breath-taking view of Mt Akita-Komagatake. I’m surprised it isn’t part of the hundred famous mountains of Japan. I spent some time enjoying the panoramic views. There was path going directly back to Hachigome, but I decided to continue straight, and take the longer route back since it was still early.

Looking North towards the Towada-Hachimantai National Park

Suddenly I was walking in deep snow (see video). It had snowed a lot more on this side, probably because it was facing Northwards. It was soft, so I could run down through it. However, I soon had another problem. This part of the trail was overgrown with bamboo grass! I had to fray a passage through it and at times the bamboo was higher than my head. I started to wonder whether I had made a mistake taking the longer way.

Mt Akita-Koma in the afternoon

Eventually the path leveled and then started to climb again. The snow had disappeared but the path was muddy and slippery. At 1h30 I reached the top of Mt Sasamori (笹森山 meaning bamboo forest, a well-deserved name!). I was pretty exhausted after fighting through the bamboo, and then having to keep my balance on the treacherous trail. After a short break, I continued on my loop hike, now heading downhill and westwards.

Mt Akita-Koma in the autumn

After a short up and down, I was standing on top of Mt Yumori (湯森山) at 2pm, the last of today’s peaks. After gazing at the mountains of Akita one last time, I set off on the final descent towards the parking lot at Hachigome. It followed a staircase in bad need of maintenance. At 2h30 I was finally back at my starting point. On the way back, I stopped by at the Arupa Komakusa hot spring which had perhaps one of the best views I’ve ever had from an outdoor bath.

After-hike soak with a spectacular view

Hiking on the highest peak of Akita Prefecture

Akita-Komagatake throughout the year (drone footage) by Go North Japan

Mt Tokko (1266m), Ueda City, Nagano Prefecture, Sunday, April 10, 2022

My last hike to the Ueda area was less than 6 months ago, but I wanted to enjoy the views of Nagano again during the last clear days of early spring. I would climb a mountain south of Bessho Onsen, a famous hot spring resort, easily accessible from Tokyo by Shinkansen and local train; from the station, I could catch a local bus to the start of the trail. My guidebook recommended a five-hour loop hike combining two of the three trails on the mountain. On top of blue skies all day, the weather was supposed to be unseasonably warm, meaning that I could dress lightly. I was looking forward to getting views of the snow-covered North Alps, as well as enjoying a relaxing hot spring bath at the end.

View north from Daruma-iwa

Mt Tokko during plum blossom season

I didn’t see a single cloud in the sky on the 70-minute shinkansen ride to Ueda, where I switched to the Bessho line. Half an hour later, I got off at the charming Bessho Onsen station (別所温泉), the last stop on the line. Fresh off the platform, I was greeted by two ladies dressed in kimonos, who kindly directed me to the bus stop behind the station, marked by a bright red sign. A ten-minute ride on a light blue bus brought me to Chuuzenji Temple (中禅寺) at the foot of today’s mountain, and a ten-minute walk up a paved road led me to a gated fence and the entrance of today’s hike.

Some sun filtering through the cedar trees on the way up

View east of Azuma-yama and Asama-yama

I spent a few minutes studying a beautiful and detailed hand-drawn map of the path to the top, displayed in front of the fence, before passing through it and heading into shady cool cedar forest. Although it was only 10h30, I was already feeling quite warm. I followed to a small stream and soon reached Fudo waterfall (不動滝). I left the stream behind, and after passing through a patch of camphor trees still bare of needles, made my way up a steep switchback path, some sections lined with rope to assist the unsteady hiker.

Mt Asama without its characteristic plume of smoke

The Japanese North Alps still in their winter coat

At 11h30, I had my first views of through the leafless trees; it felt odd to be in short sleeves surrounded by a winter landscape. A few minutes later, I reached a the top of the ridge where I turned left. Pine trees were growing here and there and the air was filled with birdsong. After a short scramble, I arrived at Daruma Rock (だるま岩), an oval shaped rock, protruding from the mountain side like a pimple. Hidden behind was a rocky platform with a wide view of the valley. In the distance, I could see the white peaks of the North Alps, Togakushi highland, Mt Azuma, and Mt Asama, for once without its distinctive plume of smoke.

Mt Komayumi with the North Alps in the background

A solitary pine tree at the summit with Mt Tateshina on the far right

After enjoying the wide views, the best of the day, I set off again. I soon arrived at a junction, where I turned left, and after one last climb, reached the top of Mt Tokko (独鈷山 とっこさん tokko-san) just after noon. To the north, I had similar views as before; to the south, I could now see Mt Tateshina and the Utsukushi-ga-hara plateau. Even though I was over 1000 meters high, it still felt too hot to sit in the sun. Fortunately, a lone pine tree provided some shade, so I sat down for lunch. At 1pm, I made my way back to the junction, and followed the Miyazawa trail (宮沢コース) for a few meters, before taking the right branch for the Sawayamaike trail (沢山池コース).

Following the Sawayamaike Trail

Looking out on the southern side of Mt Tokko

This trail was surprisingly hard to follow; I frequently had to stop to look for strips of pink ribbons indicating the way. Occasionally, I passed white signposts stuck to trees, reassuring me that the narrow ridge I was following was indeed a hiking path. I had no views and saw no one as I followed the undulating ridge westwards. At 2pm, I turned right, down a narrow valley through which flowed a small stream. The path was still faint and in rather bad condition, forcing me to step carefully and continue to hunt for signs of the route.

Walking along the valley near the end of the hike

View of Joshinetsu-kogen from Shitakuike

I reached a deserted road at the end of the trail less than an hour later, which I then followed to the right. I was soon walking through the Nagano countryside in early spring mode, plum trees in full bloom. To my right, I had a side view of Mt Tokko, and I could appreciate the ridge I had followed after lunch. I stopped by Shitakuike pond (舌喰池) to admire the view of the mountains of Joshinetsu highland. Since it was only a couple of kilometers back to the station, I decided to walk, and was rewarded with seeing Japanese pheasants hunting for food next to the road (see video). I was back at the station with enough time for a hot bath at the modern Aisome no Yu (あいそめの湯) before my 4h30 train back to Ueda, where I caught the high-speed train for Tokyo.

See the sights and hear the sounds of Mt Tokko

Akigawa Hills Trail (highest point 270m) & Takiyama Park, Hachioji City, Tokyo Prefecture, Friday, April 8, 2022

Cherry blossom season ended had ended early in Tokyo this year. I decided to search for the last blossoms in the western part of the city. I would start by walking along the hills south of the Akigawa river, from Akigawa station to Musashi-Masuko station on the Itsukichi line. Then, I would make my way to a nearby prefectural park, famous for its cherry blossom trees. At the end, I would catch a bus for Hachioji station. The weather forecast was good with temperatures ideal for an afternoon stroll. I was looking forward to doing some hiking inside the city and seeing the last sakura of the season.

First part of the Akigawa Hills Trail

It was a beautiful spring day as I stepped off the train at Akigawa station. It was a little after noon, so I stopped by nearby Kiryu-an for an excellent soba noodle lunch. After, I stopped at the nearby Chiyotsuru museum (千代鶴資料館), a famous brand by Nakamura, a local sake brewery (中村酒造). I could see some sake making equipment and also taste some freshly brewed sake.

Sign marking the start of the trail

Reaching the ridge top (left) cherry blossom trees (right)

At 2pm, I reached the trail entrance of the Akigawa Hills Route (秋川丘陵コース), next to the Ken-O expressway. I found myself immersed in nature as soon as I started walking along the trail; I was astounded by the sudden change in scenery. In no time, I reached the top of the ridge, where I turned left. The trail went up and down gently; occasionally I had views of the city to the right; looking up, I could spot cherry blossom trees here and there.

A bamboo forest tunnel

Some open spaces near the end of the trail

At 2h30, the trail went down the other side of the ridge and followed a small river valley for a short while. Eventually, I was walking again on the ridge; the trees had been cleared along some sections, offering good views north and south. Soon the path descended and after reaching a road, turned north alongside a golf course. At 3h30, I arrived at Yamada ridge, taking me accross the Akigawa river, after which it as a short walk back to Masuko station.

A view of western Tokyo from Takiyama park

Late afternoon stroll along the Takiyama trail

Since it was getting late, I took a taxi to the entrance of Takiyama Park (滝山公園). There were few people at this late hour. I found the cherry blossom trees, still in full bloom, as well as a good view of western Tokyo, where the Tamagawa and Akigawa merge. I walked southeast along the Takiyama trail and reached a road and a bus stop at 6pm, just before nightfall. After getting off at Hachioji station, I took the Chuo line limited express for the short ride back to Shinjuku station.

See a cherry blossom storm or “sakura-fubuki”

Mt Shiraki (616m), Mt Tsukiore (404m) & Fukuroda Falls, Daigo Town, Ibaraki Prefecture, Friday, March 25, 2022

I was looking for a low-altitude destination after recent snow in the Kanto area, as well as a suitable weekday hiking option. I settled on Ibaraki, since I could combine 3 hikes from my guidebook that allowed me to walk from a 100-famous village to a 100-famous waterfall. I had planned a hike around the waterfall 3 years ago, but had to postpone it after injuring my hand. More recently, I had planned another hike above the famous village, but could only reach the trail entrance via a weekday-only bus. Finally, after looking at a map of the area, I realised they were connected by a long ridge trail, normally too long for a daytrip, but possible thanks to the bus. Although it would my longest hike so far this year, it included relatively little climbing and ended at a train station, giving me some flexibility for the return. The forecast announced blue skies all day, although the temperature would be cool for the season. I was looking forward to seeing the views of the Daigo region on the last winter hike of the year and hoped that I could reach the train station before dark.

Looking back at the hike before reaching Mt Tsukiore

Looking north from the Number 2 viewpoint

I rode the surprisingly full Hitachi limited express to Mito, where I transferred to the comfortably empty Suigun line. I got off at Hitachi-Daigo a little after 10h30, about 130km northeast of Tokyo, and felt like I had stepped into a different world: although I was still in Kanto, this was rural Japan, with just a few low buildings and local shops surrounding the station. A few minutes later, I boarded a local bus, first taking me behind the falls where I would end my hike, and then down a valley parallel to the ridge I would follow back. I was the only passenger and got off after just 20 minutes in the middle of nowhere. I followed a side road and soon arrived at the turn-off for Mochikata village (持方集落), a 100-famous village of Japan (日本の里百選 “nihon-no-sato-hyakusen“).

East view from near the top of the road for Mochikata village

Level ridge trail (left) vs steep descending trail (right)

As I walked up a gradually rising road, I spotted snow near the ridgetop; it made me worry that I might encounter wet slippery snow on the trail. I was soon distracted by wide views to the east; somewhere among those low mountains was Mt Tatsuware. At noon, I reached a pass and the trail entrance. After a short climb, the path became level and followed a narrow ridge, thankfully bare of snow. Although the surrounding trees were also bare of leaves, I couldn’t get a glimpse of the birds of prey whose calls I could hear while they circled the valley. I felt far from civilization, all alone on the trail and the view blocked in all directions by the branches. After another short climb, I reached the narrow summit of Mt Shiraki (白木山(しらきさん shiraki-san, meaning white tree). It was already 12h30, so I sat down for an early lunch. I was deprived of a view, but was entertained by a myriad of butterflies fluttering around under the sun. After barely 15 minutes, I resumed my hike.

Bridge leading to the start of the hidden valley

Most of the trail was in the sun and easy to walk

I now headed down a steep rocky path, and although it was lined with ropes for safety, I was amazed by the contrast with the previous section. At 1pm, I emerged onto a road and continued up a path on the other side. I was following an up and down ridge, twisting left and right through cedar trees; before I knew it, I couldn’t tell in which direction I was headed, till I got a reassuring glimpse of the Kuji river valley straight ahead through a break in the trees. Shortly after, I reached the junction with the trail for Mt Nantai and started down a zigzag path, and there, I suddenly came across snow. I proceeded with caution till the trail leveled and the snow vanished. I was now walking on a narrow path hugging the slope: it was the best section of the hike, along a hidden valley cut off from the outside world. A little after 2pm, I started to climb up out of the valley and 30 minutes later, I reached the first viewpoint of the day, officially called the Number 2 viewpoint (第二展望台 だいにてんぼうだい daini-tenboudai).

Late afternoon view from below the summit of Mt Tsukiore

Entrance to Tsukiore Kannon Temple (left) staircase leading to the falls (right)

Against the afternoon sun, the view was mostly outlines and shapes, but still impressive, because of the low hilly nature of the region. I set off again and at 3pm reached a second viewpoint, called the Number 1 viewpoint (第一展望台 だいいちてんぼうだい daiichi-tenboudai), as I was doing them in reverse; it was also the summit of Mt Nabekorogashi 422m (鍋転山 なべころがしやま nabekorogashi-yama, meaning rolling pot). I was somehow behind schedule so I had to pick up the pace. After a short up and down, I reached another viewpoint, on top of some rocks, and turning around, I could observe the ridge I had been following for most of the afternoon. At 3h30, I reached the easy to miss summit of Mt Tsukiore (月居山 つきおれさん tsukiore-san, meaning being on the moon), surrounded by trees again. Without delay, I made my way down another steep path, ending at Tsukiore Pass and the Tsukiore Kanon temple. After ringing the bell, I had to climb a long, steep staircase, the only reward being another long staircase down the other side.

Mt Namase-fuji, an impressive mountain I have yet to climb

Fukuroda falls, a 100 famous waterfall of Japan

Through the trees, I had a glimpse of the magnificent shape of Mt Namasefuji, with Fukuroda onsen nestled at its base; I look forward to climbing it in the future. Further down, I had one last view of the low hilly area on the east side. At 4pm, I finally reached the base of the Fukuroda falls (袋田の滝 ふくろだのたき), a 100-famous waterfall of Japan (日本の滝百選 “nihon-no-taki-hyakusen). I was lucky to catch it while bathed in the last rays of sunlight. After standing in awe of its raw power for a few moments, I pulled myself away for the last stretch of today’s long traverse. Although it was along the road, here and there I could see the plum trees, still in full bloom. I reached the charming station of Fukuroda a little after 4h30, well before sunset and in time for the local train back to Mito, where I switched to the limited express for the one hour ride back to Ueno.

Feel the awesome power of the Fukuroda Falls

Kinone Pass (171m) and Reisui Peak, Minamiboso City, Chiba Prefecture, Sunday, March 20, 2022

I definitely wanted to make one more trip to Chiba this year before the warmer weather arrived. Leafing through my guidebook, I selected a loop hike on the Tokyo bay side of the Boso peninsula. Although it was on the short side, access was straightforward as I could ride the Sasanami limited express there and back. The weather forecast was supposed to be sunny in the morning and cloudy in the afternoon. I was looking forward to getting some good sea views and wondered whether I would get a view of the Mt Fuji on the other side of the bay.

The yellow, red, blue of the beach house roofs

I had my first glimpses of Tokyo Bay from my train seat, ninety minutes after boarding the limited express in Akihabara; it was amazing to think that one of the biggest cities of the world was located on the opposite side. I got off at Iwai station just before 10am, and headed south on a busy road before turning left onto a quiet lane through the countryside. Next, I turned right onto a path parallel to the railway tracks, squeezed between the bay and the hillside. Half an hour later, I reached the entrance of Takasaki park (高崎公園) and continued straight on the slowly rising path.

View of Iwai bay from Takasaki Park

Navigating some course obstacles on the way

I was soon high enough to get a view of the colorful beach house rooftops. I turned left onto a curving log staircase, and at 11am, reached a viewpoint at the top of the park. I could see the dark blue waters of Tokyo and Sagami bays, with the outline of the Miura peninsula beyond; directly below, was Iwai bay, its light blue waters contrasting with the green forested ridge on the north side. As much as I strained my eyes, I could not spot Mt Fuji, normally visible to the northwest according to an illustrative sign board. After a short break, I headed back to the park entrance.

Panoramic view from Reisui peak

Yellow flower fields on the way to the Mt Harada highway

I turned right onto a road leading away from the blue sea and into the hills. I eventually reached the entrance of the hiking path on the left. It was a peaceful trail, through beautiful nature; occasionally I had to duck under a fallen tree, a reminder of the powerful typhoons from 2019. A little after 11h30, I reached Kinone Pass (木ノ根峠 きのねとうげ kinone-touge), its name meaning “tree root”. Despite being a pass, it’s one of the hundred low mountains of Boso; looking back, I had a view of Iwai bay framed by the vegetation. According to my guidebook, I could get a better view a little further east along the ridge.

Exiting the tunnel into a forested valley

These trees were probably knocked down by the 2019 typhoons

The trail was faint, but thanks to pink ribbons attached to branches, I emerged from the trees onto Reisui Peak (冷水ピーク), just before noon, and was rewarded with a panoramic view to the north: as before, I could see the two bays, Miura peninsula and Iwai beach; in the distance, I could now make out the skyscrapers of Yokohama, but Mt Fuji was still hidden; straight ahead, the ragged top of nearby Mt Nokogiri was visible. I sat on a lonely bench to enjoy an early lunch with a view. After, I went down the same way, and followed a road to a tunnel, the start of the “Harada-yama Sawayaka Gaidou” (原田山さわやか街道), built on top of an old highway.

The peaceful Iwabu lake

I was stunned by the sight of a picturesque, forested valley as I emerged from the unlit tunnel. I walked on a road with no traffic and passed through two more dark tunnels (see video). At 2pm, I reached Iwabuko Lake (岩婦湖 iwabuko), at the bottom of a slope lined with cherry blossom trees, their buds still firmly closed. The quiet of the lake was punctuated by birdsong coming from the trees on the opposite shore; a fisherman drifted across the lake on an inflatable floating device. I found a rocky spot near the water and enjoyed the rest of my lunch. From the lake it was another 30 minutes back to the station, where I caught the limited express for the 2 hour ride back to Tokyo.

See the views of Iwai bay, walk the dark tunnels of Mt Harada and listen to the birds of Iwabu lake

Mt Gozen (193m) & Mt Fuji (183m), Shirosato Village, Ibaraki Prefecture, Saturday, March 12, 2022

I was looking for some low altitude, snow-free hiking and knew I could find it in the hills of northern Ibaraki. I remembered seeing in my guidebook a loop-hike above a river valley I had never been to before; after checking it again, I saw it followed a section of the Kanto Fureai no Michi inside a prefectural nature park. I would ride the Hitachi limited express to Mito and then switch to a bus taking me close to the trail entrance, then do the same trip in reverse for the return. The weather was supposed to be sunny with spring-like temperatures, a good day for short sleeves. I was looking forward to hiking through some beautiful nature and getting some good views of a new area.

Hiking the Fureai no Michi

ふれあいの道

View from the top of Mt Fuji

Beautiful forest at the start of the gozenyama hiking trail

After a comfortable ride to Mito under light blue skies, I boarded a bus for the one-hour ride to the Gozenyama bus stop. Although it was only 11am, I decided to have an early soba lunch at Sobakiri Kuzo (そばきり空蔵) and then make a quick visit to the Katsura Michi no Eki road station. At 12h30, I was finally ready to start hiking. At first, the path climbed through stunning mixed forest, each species of trees carefully labeled; after passing an “azumaya“, a sheltered seating area, the trail became mostly level, with towering cedar trees on both sides. After a few minutes, I reached a turnoff on the left leading to a view point to the south, just a minute away, and the site of an old bell tower.

Walking under the cedars (left) one of the many ups (right)

A sunny section section of the trail

After admiring the view, I returned to the main trail. Some ups and downs, brought me to the highest point of Mt Gozen (御前山 ごぜんやま gozen-yama), completely in the trees. The trail descended sharply, crossed a road, and then rose again. At 2h30, I reached another “azumaya“, slightly off the main trail, with a view east through the trees, so I took a short break before setting off again. From this point, the trail became increasingly hilly and not unlike some of the “Alps trails” I had done in other places; about an hour later, I was glad to finally reach the top of Mt Fuji (富士山 ふじやま fuji-yama). From the top of the viewing platform, I had a view east of the Nakagawa river and the hills of Daigo on a cloudless day.

North view from the Mt Fuji observation platform

Nakagawa river from the Mt Fuji observation platform

I walked down a seemingly endless series of steps and reached the base of the mountain around 4pm. From there, one-hour walk of peaceful walking along a road through the fields and then above the Nakagawa river, took me back to the Gozenyama trail entrance and its bus stop. At 6h30, I was back at Mito station where I got on the limited express for the short ride back to Tokyo.

See the trees and views of Mt Gozen

Mt Buko (1304m), Yokoze Town, Saitama Prefecture, Saturday, March 5, 2022

I had climbed Mt Buko over ten years ago on a hazy June day and wanted to do it again on a clearer day. This time, I would take a taxi from Seibu-Chichibu station to the trail entrance and make a loop; this way, I could shorten the hiking time, because I needed to walk over an hour to Yokoze station at the end. Although the forecast for the next day was sunny and warm, I knew some snow and ice would be left above 1000m, so I packed my light crampons just in case. I was looking forward to revisiting this mountain and getting some great views of Chichibu from the summit.

Mt Buko, taken on my 2009 hike

View from the top observatory

It felt like early spring as I stepped off the Laview Limited Express at Seibu-Chichibu station. After buying some supplies, I hopped into a taxi for short ride to “ichi-no-torii” (一ノ鳥居). By 11am, I was walking up a steep paved road next to a river; I remembered this as the toughest part of my 2009 hike. Many people were already coming down, having enjoyed the early morning view. I soon reached some log steps marking the start of the trail. I passed several interesting sights on the way: the partially frozen “fudo-taki” waterfall (“fudo” means motionless); a delicate wooden bridge for only one person at a time; a pile of white limestone rocks taken from the summit; a giant cedar tree, its crown too high to see. I was walking alone through the forest and was stunned by the silence, since the other side is forever noisy because of the mining.

Some snow on the way up (left) and down (right)

Chichibu city stretching from south to north

At noon, I was treading on snow. Fortunately, the slope never became steep enough to justify putting on crampons. The long log staircase from my previous climb had disappeared, replaced by a switchback path. Half an hour later I reached the summit shrine, bathed in sun and surrounded by trees. I made my way to the observatory on the north side, a little higher up, and the official summit of Mt Buko 武甲山 ぶこうさん bukou-san), a two-hundred famous mountain of Japan. I was almost by myself, which was lucky since the top area was narrower than I had remembered. It hadn’t rained for a while so the sky wasn’t as clear as I had hoped, but I had a good view of the Minano Alps, Mt Mino, Mt Ogiri, Mt Dodaira and Mt Maru.

Looking back at the sunny descent to Shirajikubo

Back into the sun and out of the snow

I was most impressed by the bird’s-eye view of Chichibu city, stretching south to north along the Arakawa river. It was 12h30 so I had lunch standing up, since I couldn’t find a spot to sit. At 1pm, I headed back to the shrine and down a steep trail on the south side; I was relived it was in the sun and snow-free. Pine trees on both sides made it feel like a different mountain. I soon arrived at Shirajikubo (シラジクボ), the start of the climb up Mt Komochi. Here, I turned left onto a trail hugging the east slope. It was in the shade and covered by snow, but since it was mostly level, crampons weren’t needed. I had fun walking in the snow for a while; soon I was back in the sun and walking on solid ground. After an hour of descending through the forest, I was back at the “torii“, the shinto gate at the mountain base. As I walked to the station, I passed several impressive factory buildings, working hard on a Saturday. At a little past 4pm, I boarded the limited express for the 80 minute ride back to Tokyo.

Enjoy the bird’s-eye view from the top of Mt Buko

Mt Momokura (1003m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Sunday, February 27, 2022

After Mt Takagawa, I felt like revisiting another mountain in the area, so that I could get more views of Mt Fuji with its seasonal snowcap, especially since snowfall had been quite generous this year. On my last visit, I had combined this summit with its neighbour, Mt Oogi; this time, I was looking for something more laid-back. Studying my map, I found alternate trails leading up and down, meaning the entire hike would be new. The weather forecast was looking good, apart from strong winds threatening the higher elevations; I was more concerned about clouds forming around the top of Mt Fuji. I was looking forward to my first hike of the year above 1000 meters, as well as keeping my fingers crossed that Fuji wouldn’t be too shy.

Download a map of the Mt Momokura hike

This map was developed for Japanwilds with the Hokkaido Cartographer

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View to the south of Mt Fuji half in the clouds

View of Mt Fuji from my 2011 hike

I rode the Chuo line limited express for about an hour to Otsuki station, where I transferred to a bus, taking me close to the trail entrance. It was nearly 11am, and I felt quite warm while making my way up a steep road. I soon arrived at a fork and followed the left branch. I passed by a relatively new toilet facility (advertised as “very clean”), and had my first view of Mt Fuji, partially hidden by the clouds.

Lion-dog guarding the start of the trail

View of the Doshi and Tanzawa mountains

The start of the trail lay just beyond a lion-dog statue guarding a shrine entrance. After half an hour of climbing through the cool forest, I arrived at the first view of the day. On the left, I could see the Doshi and Tanzawa mountains; opposite was Mt Fuji, popping in and out of the clouds; on the right stood Mt Takagawa and Mitsutoge. I sat down on a bench to enjoy the view, but a cold wind started blowing, so I quickly set off again; ten minutes later, I reached a junction on the top ridge.

To the right of Mt Fuji, Mt Takagawa and Mitsutoge

A bench with a view

I was hit by powerful gusts of wind coming from the north side and I immediately felt very cold. I had to take shelter on the south side to add a layer of clothing. I continued towards the summit, slightly worried about falling branches. Fortunately, the wind abated somewhat once I arrived at the top of Mt Momokura (百蔵山 ももくらやま momokura-yama), a Yamanashi hundred famous mountain. Since it was 12h30, I found a grassy spot and sat down for lunch.

Fairly easy hiking all the way to the top

One of the 12 views of Mt Fuji from the Otsuki area

Mt Fuji was flirting with the clouds, but eventually I had a clear view. At 1h30, I retraced my steps to the ridge junction, and continued straight, heading west. I soon passed Mt Daido (大同山 907m) and then started down a steep descent. I encountered some snow for the first time of the day, but it was half melted and I reached the base of the slope safely. I continued along the path as it descended gently, slowly curving around to the south side. On the way, I passed Konpira-kyu, a lonely shrine in the middle of the forest.

Heading back to the ridge junction

Looking across the Kazuno river valley

At around 2h30, the path leveled and glimpses of the Kazuno river valley came into view; on the left side, I could see Mt Iwadono. It was still windy, but the biting cold of the summit ridge was now a distant memory. Fifteen minutes later, I reached a road and a bus stop near Fukusen-ji Temple. A little after 3pm, I boarded the bus for Otsuki station, and by 4pm I was back on the limited express for the one-hour ride back to Shinjuku.

See the views of Mt Momokura on a windy day

Kotohira Hills (highest point 398m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, Wednesday, February 23, 2022

I needed a short hike to get back in shape after a five-week break. I had done part of this trail several years ago, after visiting Chichibu’s famous “shibazakura” (carpet cherry blossom). The surrounding forest, wedged between the terraces of Mt Buko’s northern face and the populated Arakawa valley, was unexpectedly green and peaceful. This was the perfect opportunity to return and walk the entire length of these hills from my hiking guidebook. I would use the Laview limited express, and then the local Chichibu line to get to Kagemori station. I would end up at Seibu-Chichibu station, so I just had to time my arrival with the hourly train back to Tokyo. The weather was supposed to be cold and sunny. I hoped I would get some sun and views through the trees on a cold, clear winter day.

On the left, the Minano Alps, on the right, Higashi-Chichibu

I was surprised to see snow on the ground after exiting the last tunnel on the Seibu-Chichibu line. I knew the trail could be done without crampons, but I wanted to keep my feet dry. Around 10h30, I boarded the colourful Chichibu line and saw no more snow on the way to Kagemori (影森), the next station. At 11am, after walking on a road for a while, I reached Daien Temple (大淵寺), temple number 27 on the Chichibu Pilgrimage (Chichibu-fudasho); behind it was the start of the Kotohira Hiking Trail (琴平ハイキングコース).

The colourful design of the Chichibu line train

Some sun trickling through

From the start, I had to navigate some icy sections. As the path climbed out of the valley, sunshine started to filter down and all traces of snow vanished. Through a break in the trees, I observed the train make its way back along the valley (see video). I soon arrived at Gokoku Kannon (護国観音), a statue of the Buddhist deity of compassion, with a wide view of the mountains on the Saitama-Gunma border; on the left, I could see the huge bulk of Mt Ryokami; in the center were the Minano Alps; on the right lay Mt Hodo with snowy Akagi faintly visible in the background.

View of the mountains along the border of Saitama and Gunma

Kannon statue (left), a narrow and sunny ridge (right)

I followed the trail up and down a narrow ridge, mostly in the sun thanks to the winter trees ; on the right, loomed the terraced north side of Mt Buko. At noon, I arrived at a small temple, part of Temple 26 of the Chichibu-fudasho, located at the base of a staircase on the left. It was nicknamed “Mini-Kiyomizu-dera” because it was on top of wooden stilts. After a short climb, I came upon a statue of Buddha, and nearby, the “Monk’s Meditation Rock”, from where I had another good view to the north. The path then suddenly ended at a small wooden structure at the top of a cliff.

Visible through the trees, the terraced northern face of Mt Buko

The path was mostly snow-free

After stepping onto the wooden platform, I spotted a ladder on the other side, enabling me to get down the cliff and resume my hike. Half an hour later, I found a sunny, grassy spot with a view of Mt Buko, so I decided to take a break for lunch. I continued again at 1pm, and soon had a view of Mt Ryokami to the west through the bare branches. A little later, I passed the highest point of the Kotohira Hills (琴平丘陵 ことひらきゅうりょう kotohira-kyuuryou), completely in the trees, and apart from a triangulation point, totally featureless.

A steep slope up (left) a steep staircase down (right)

The pyramidal north face of Mt Buko, used for rock mining

The path now descended through dark forest, this section familiar from my previous visit, and at 1h30, emerged onto a forest road next to a stream. For the next half an hour, I walked along a mostly flat, straight path before reaching Hitsujiyama Park; in addition to the “carpet sakura”, it also has regular cherry blossoms trees, although the buds were still firmly closed. A little after 2pm, I was back at Seibu-Chichibu station where I boarded the next limited express for the 80-minute ride back to Tokyo.

See the Chichibu line travel along the Arakawa river valley

Mt Mayumi (280m), Mt Kazenokami (242m) & the Hitachi Origin Park, Hitachi City, Saturday, January 15, 2022

I had hiked in every prefecture surrounding Tokyo in the past 2 months except Ibaraki, last visited in April, so I felt it was a good time to explore more of the Hitachi Alps. The hike, from my Mountains of Ibaraki guidebook, was about 4 hours long, perfect for a short and cold winter day. I could get to the start of the trail by riding a limited express from Ueno, then switching to a local train in Mito, and finally catching a bus from Omika station; I would walk back to the same station, so without needing to catch a return bus, I could take it easy. The weather was supposed to sunny in the morning and cloudy in the afternoon. The trail seem straightforward and I was looking forward to a relaxing hike in the low hills of Ibaraki.

Start of the trail for Mayumi shrine

It took about an hour to reach Mito city on the Hitachi Limited express. After changing to the local line, I got off at Omika station just before 10am, from where it was a thirty bus minute ride to the entrance of Mayumi shrine. Of the two approaches to the shrine, I chose to use the rear entrance (裏参道), instead of the front one (表参道). I walked for half an hour along a dirt road to a staircase and a grey stone shinto gate marking the start of the trail.

In the distance, the mountains of Oku-Nikko

At 11h30, I reached a viewpoint towards on the west side. The sky was already overcast, but I could make out Mt Takahara and the Oku-Nikko mountains, 100 kilometers away; to the southwest, and considerably closer, was Mt Tsukuba. I continued on my hike and soon noticed many cedar trees towering overhead; I was surprised to see such beautiful forest outside a national park. A little after noon, I arrived at Mayumi shrine (真弓神社), a peaceful place in the middle of the forest.

The very tall cedar trees surrounding Mayumi shrine

From the shrine, I walked down a path for a few minutes to a giant cedar tree. I couldn’t see the top, but according to a signboard it was 45 meters high; it was also nearly one thousand years old. After admiring this ancient tree, I made my way back to the trail. I soon reached a dirt road which I followed for a short while before getting back on to a level trail through the forest. At 1pm, I reached a bench with a view eastwards of the Pacific ocean through some pine trees, a good spot for a lunch break.

A little sun on a cloudy day

An easy to hike trail through beautiful forest

Westwards view of the Kanto plain

It was still cloudy and a little cold so I soon moved on again. I started to walk downhill and at 1h30 reached another viewpoint, this time to the southwest . I could see the flat Kanto plain with Mt Tsukuba in the distance. The path suddenly became wide and easy to walk. One hour later, I reached the highest point of Mt Kazenokami (風神山 かぜのかみやま kazenokami-yama) inside the Kaze-no-Kami-yama Nature Park. It was completely in the trees, but a few minutes further, I reached a viewpoint to the East of Hitachi city and the Pacific Ocean.

Looking East towards the Pacific Ocean

It took only twenty minutes to get to the base of the mountain. Since it was only 3pm, I decided to visit the newly opened and free Hitachi Origin Museum (see video), conveniently on the way to the station. I learned about the founder of Hitachi, Namihei Odaira, and had some fun with the interactive displays. I arrived back at the station just after 4 pm and after riding the local line to Katsuta station, I transferred to the limited express for the one hour ride back to Tokyo.

See the interactive displays of the Hitachi Origin Park

Kasamori Green Path (highest point 135m), Chonan Town, Chiba Prefecture, Sunday, January 9, 2022

I hadn’t been to Chiba since March 2019, because so many trails had been damaged by the powerful typhoons of 2018 and 2019. I found a hike from my guidebook relatively close to Tokyo, in the northern half of the Boso peninsula. The trail seemed to be in good condition, although a bit short for a day trip. Luckily, it could be extended, if needed, since it was on the Kanto Fureai no Michi. I wouldn’t be hitting any summits, but instead following a path with the intriguing name of “Green Path” and ending at a Buddhist Temple in the middle of the forest. I could take a bus from Mobara station to Chonan town, about a couple of kilometers from the start of the hike; at the end, I could catch a different bus back to the station. The weather was supposed to be sunny in the morning and afternoon, with a cloudy period around noon. I was excited to revisit Chiba after a three year interval and enjoy some low-altitude winter hiking.

View of northern Chiba from Nomikin park

The very green Kasamori “Green Path”

It took about one hour on the comfortable Wakashio Limited Express to reach Mobara station, and then another half an hour by bus to get to Chonan town. I first headed downhill towards a wide flat area through which the Habu river flows. At around 10h30, I finally spotted a sign for the Fureai no Michi, leading onto a small road through the countryside. I was surprised to see snow and ice on the shaded sections and had to be careful not to slip, especially when the road started to lead up a slope.

Looking eastwards from the Nomikin park viewpoint

Looking northwards from the observation tower

The road became snow-free as it turned towards the sun. At 11am, I reached a breathtaking viewpoint at the top of a hill inside Nomikin Park (野見金公園). Although I was only about 120m high in an area without any remarkable features, I had an unobstructed view east and north; flat forest stretched away in the distance, divided by a highway through Mobara city ten kilometers away. I had a coffee at Miharashi Terrace, just next to the viewpoint, and then headed over to an observation tower on the next hill.

Kuramochi lake, a paradise for birds

Heading up the “Green Path

I had a fantastic 360 degree view from the top; on the west side, I could even see the snowy summit of Mt Fuji, 130 kilometers away. It was already past noon, so I continued on my way and soon reached Kuramochi lake. I was surprised to hear many kinds of birdsong while standing on the bridge over the lake (see video). Ten minutes later, I arrived at the start of the Kasamori Green Path (笠森グリーンルート kasamori green route). True to its name, the path was entirely surrounded by forest, as it followed a hilly ridge northwards. Although I didn’t get any views, I enjoyed the changing scenery from the top of each set of steps.

The many up and downs of the Kasamori “Green Path

View of the Chiba countryside

After ninety minutes of up and down, I arrived at another observation tower. From the top, I could hear successive gongs from the bell tower of the closeby Kasamori temple, famous for its main hall built on top of wooden stilts. I gave up on a visit as it was quite crowded and rang the bell instead. Since it was only 2pm, I decided to continue north along the Fureai no Michi. I followed small, winding roads through charming countryside and reached my bus stop around 4pm; one hour later, I was back at Mobara station where I caught the limited express for the short ride to Tokyo.

Some snow on the Fureai no Michi

Listen to the bell of Kasamori temple