Mt Choshichiro (1579m), Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture

This was my 4th trip to Mt Akagi, but my first time by car. This ancient volcano has many peaks and trails surrounding the top crater, making it a great hiking destination for all levels. On my previous visit, I followed a little-used trail down a beautiful river valley. I was looking to repeat that experience, but on the other side of the mountain. As usual, I was concerned about the weather. The forecast called for rain showers, but I hoped that there would be an equal amount of sunshine.

Hiking on Mt Akagi 赤城山

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I arrived at the Konuma Parking lot around 1pm in sunny weather. Today’s hike was relatively short so I stopped for an early soba lunch on the way. The moment I set off, thicks clouds rolled in, followed by some light rain. Fortunately, there was no wind and the temperature was comfortable. It took me barely half an hour to reach the top of Mt Choshichiro (長七郎山 choushichirousan), less than 100 meters higher than my starting point. The rain had let up, but all I could see was white cloud…and lots of dragonflies.

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Do you dare to walk under?

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The East side of Mt Akagi

After this nice warm-up, I continued down the other side. This path was steep, and some sections had been washed away, maybe by last year’s powerful typhoons. Ten minutes later, I reached a four-way intersection with a sign. I took the path opposite for Otogi no Mori オトギの森, meaning fairytale forest. There were many paths but almost no signs; most joined up a little further down; a few headed down to the Kasu river on the right. I avoided the latter since from my pre-hike research I knew that the area around the river had been damaged by typhoons.

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A hidden river valley near the top of Mt Akagi

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Otogi no Mori or Fairytale Forest

Eventually I reached the center of Otogi no mori, a flat quite area with many impressive oak trees, possible “konara“, and a view across the river valley. Continuing straight along the sole remaining path, I soon reached another intersection where I turned right towards Cha-no-ki-batake Pass (茶ノ木畑峠). Here it was possible to hike down to a waterfall and Akagi hot spring, but that will be a hike for another day. I turned right again, and followed the ridge. It was an easy walk, but the views through the trees were lost in the cloud.

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Ropes to help the hiker

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For once the bamboo grass was replaced with regular grass

Very soon, the path started to descend steeply. It was slippery because of the recent rain, but I managed to reach the river without any mishaps. I hadn’t expected to find such a beautiful river valley on the upper slopes of Mt Akagi. There was no one else and it felt lonely and mysterious. At the end, the water was funnelled through a narrow opening between some rocks and disappeared into a dark cave – quite an interesting and unexpected sight. It’s called Choushi no Garan 銚子の伽藍 (“choshi” is a kind of sake container, narrow at the top and wide at the base).

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The Kasu river valley, a fun place to explore

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All the water from the river disappeared into a rocky tunnel

It was now 4pm, and it had started raining softly again. The trail continued up the other side of the mountain, but it was steep, muddy and overgrown with bamboo grass, so I decided to head back the same way. Soon, the rain stopped again and some sun broke through. I took a different and more direct path back through Fairytale Forest and reached Konuma lake around 5pm. I had an amazing view of the lake through the mist, with Mt Jizo and its TV antenna behind. From a distance, it looked like the spires of a fairytale castle. While walking back to the my car, I had one more surprise – a couple of deer bounding away through the forest.

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The “towers” of Jizo

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Konuma Lake in the late afternoon

I was glad I was able to discover another great river valley, although there was no path next to it. The weather was good enough for hiking, but I’ll need to return on a sunny day for the views, probably in the Spring of the Autumn.

Check out “Choushi no Garan” on Mt Akagi

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Mt Nakahara (1969m), Katashina Village, Gunma Prefecture

Hiking in Oze 尾瀬

I had been to Oze twice before, but each time I stayed overnight. I had heard that Oze was too far from Tokyo for a daytrip, so I had never really given it much thought. However, I have become more willing to put up with long train rides in order to find new hiking spots so I thought I would give it a try. It would mean about 9 hours travel for less than 6 hours hiking , even with using the shinkansen. Would it be worth it? another reason, I had avoided the area was because of the crowds. This time I planned to go on a weekday. Would I have the place to myself? for once the weather wasn’t a concern – a rarity for Oze, the forecast called for sun and clouds, with no rain expected till the evening.

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Looking back at Mt Shibutsu from Yoko-Tashiro

I arrived at Hatomachi Pass 鳩待峠 at 10h30. There was only a handful of hikers, all heading down to the Ozegahara Marshland.  I took a different path, behind the rest house, and opposite the path for Mt Shibutsu. I was walking alone on an elevated walkway, and quite happy to be back in Oze National Park after a few years. The surrounding forest was pretty, but a little spoiled by all the “sasa” or bamboo grass.

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Clouds, Pines and Ponds

An hour after setting off, I reached an open grassy space called Yoko-Tashiro 横田代. Behind me was Mt Shibutsu, a hyakumeizan, it’s summit lost in the clouds. To it’s right was another hyakumeizan, Mt Makihata, snow still visible around the summit. I had started off quickly, but here I spent some time. It was still sunny, but impressive clouds were quickly moving in from the East, making for some dramatic pictures.

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Flower season in Oze

It took me another 30 minutes to reach the top of Mt Nakahara (中原山 nakaharayama), a minor peak surrounded by fir trees. Around this point, I finally started meeting other hikers. Very soon I emerged into another open grassy space, this time with many ponds (and from the noise, frogs), known as “Ayame-Daira” アヤメ平 or Iris Plain, although there were any iris flowers yet. There was some sitting space, so I decided to have lunch, although by now the weather had become overcast and grey.

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Walking through the Oze Marshland

I reached Fujimi Pass 富士見峠 just before 1pm. At this stage, I needed to descend towards the Marshlands. There were two paths, and I chose the shorter one called the “Nagazawa-Shindo” 長沢新道. Although it was mostly downhill, it was least pleasant part of today’s hike, first down a wet and slippery wooden walkway, then down a steep and rocky path. After crossing a small stream followed by some beautiful forest, I reached the flat open space of Oze Marshlands. At the end of the valley stood Mt Shibutsu, towering clouds perched dramatically above it.

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In July expect lots of clouds and green

From here, the hike was straightforward, and I had hiked the same way on my previous trip. However, unlike last time, there was almost no one, and it felt amazing to have the place to myself. I walked fast, stopping from time to time to take photos of the blue iris flowers which were in full bloom everywhere. I passed the visitor center at 3h30 without stopping, and started to climb back to Hatomachi Pass, which I reached at 4h10, five hours and thirty minutes after setting out, and twenty minutes before the bus was due to leave. A couple of hikers arriving 10 minutes after me, claimed to have spotted a bear!

“chinguruma” (top left), Iris (top right & bottom left), “kisuge” (bottom right)

Overall I was very satisfied with the hike mainly since it was crowd-free. The bus there and back was also empty, so the travel part was comfortable as well. I hope I can return this season and try another hike through the Oze National Park.

 

Listen to the sounds of Oze 

Mt Amagoi (2037m), Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture

Hiking in the Minami Alps 南アルプス

As the weather becomes hotter and humid, I need to find higher and higher places to go hiking. This also means traveling further from Tokyo, since I have already climbed the highest peaks close to the capital. I had never heard of this Yamanashi 100-famous mountain 140 km West of Tokyo in the Minami Alps, till I saw it listed on a website about Yamanashi prefecture (I was researching river walks). My previous visit to the area was in November 2018 when I climbed Mt Nyukasa, about 10 km to the North.

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As usual, access was a bit of a headache; in the end I decided to take a train to Nagasaka station on the Chuo line, then take a taxi from there to the trail entrance, next to the Hakushu Village campsite; other options would have been too long for a daytrip. According to my map, the hike was about 6 hours; since I hadn’t recovered my hiking legs yet, I was curious whether it would be as easy as it seemed. Also, since it was the middle of the rainy season, I wasn’t sure whether I would get any good views.

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View of the Minami Alps on the way to the trailhead

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The forest is beautiful this time of the year

The taxi dropped me off right at the trail entrance at 10am, after a long winding drive up a narrow mountain road. I was surprised to see how lush and green the surrounding vegetation was; definitely worth risking a little rain, although today the sun was shining. The start of the trail gently wound up the side of the mountain, packed earth beneath my boots, the rare steep sections offset by low wooden steps. It was very peaceful. The temperature was on the warm side, but since there was no hard climbing, I didn’t break a sweat.

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An easy to hike trail going up

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First views of Mt Kaikoma (right) and Mt Hou (left)

Around noon, I got my first views to the South of Mt Kaikoma and Mt Hou, two “hyakumeizan” in the Minami Alps. Slightly to the left, I could make out the triangular outline of Mt Fuji, nearly 70 km away.  Much closer, and lower, was the white sandy top of Mt Hinata which I have yet to climb (it had the river valley I was researching). I took a short break and had the first half of my lunch, before setting off again. The trail now alternated climbing and level parts. I had some more views, this time to the East of the Oku-Chichibu mountains. I passed several groups walking down; it seems many people drive to the campsite and just walk up and down the same way.

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Some level hiking – are we getting close to the summit?

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Mt Kaikoma through the trees

During the climb, I couldn’t see the summit at all, and apart from a stream halfway up, there were no landmarks to tell me how far along I was. Suddenly, at 1pm, I reached the top of Mt Amagoi (雨乞岳 あまごいだけ). There was one other hiker, who left soon after I arrived. I had good views East and South, the Yamanashi side, but the Nagano side was hidden by the trees. Descending a little bit on the other side, I was able to make out Yatsugatake on the left side. While having some lunch sitting on a fallen tree, it was so peaceful that a deer wandered closeby, but ran off immediately after spotting me (I still got a photo).

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Hello my dear! 

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Opposite, the Oku-Chichibu mountains

The weather had now turned cloudy, and it felt cool above 2000m. I started to head down after 1h30, along a very steep slope –  I was glad I hadn’t climbed this way! At 2pm, the path flattened and led me to a T junction. To the right, it was a short roundtrip to a place called Suisho Nagi 水晶ナギ, a place where crystal used to be mined. In less than 15 minutes I emerged onto an impressive narrow sandy and rocky ridge with surrounded by green forested mountains. I couldn’t see any sign of civilisation, and I felt like I was exploring a new world.

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On the right Mt Nokogiri, a 200-famous mountain next to Mt Kaikoma

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Going down was also easy (except the bit near the top)

It was getting late so I quickly made my way back to the main trail. From here the path was easy to walk, although there were no more views. It took me an hour and a half to reach the road at the end of the trail, where there is a shrine called Sekison 石尊神社 accessed via a long steep staircase. It was a 20 minute walk to the bus stop opposite a 7/11/ from where I caught a bus around 17h30 for Nirasaki station. Closeby was the Hakushu whisky brewery, normally open to visitors but now closed due to the pandemic.  I ended walking nearly 6 hours, and I definitely felt it the next day, although I was glad that I had clear weather and great views!

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Tanbara Highland (1200m), Numata City, Gunma Prefecture & Bear Sighting

I had been to Tanbara highland in May 2018, so I thought it would be the perfect place for some easy hiking during the rainy season. Since I had already been to the highest point, Mt Kanomata, this time I decided to take a different trail and skip this summit. This would make for a slightly shorter hike which was good, since this time I was driving there and back myself (it’s also possible to get there by bus). My main concern was the temperature – would it already be too hot and humid to hike comfortably?

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Tanbara Lake, seen from ski slope, turned grassy field

I arrived at the Tanbara Center house 玉原センターハウス around 12h30. Contrary to my expectations, the air felt a little chilly and a few raindrops were falling; however, the sun was just coming out from behind the clouds. I set off the along the same trail as my previous hike, heading gently uphill through a beautiful beech forest and following a small bubbling stream. Just before arriving at the Tanbara camping ground, I turned left along the road towards the Lavender Park  in bloom from next month only. Now, however, the flowers were still closed, and the area was deserted.

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Hiking next to a small stream

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The Tanbara Lavender Park

I walked up one of the paths among the flowerbeds to a small observatory. It had a bell that one can ring to scare away any bears that may be lurking nearby. I gave it a good ring. After climbing down, I spotted a black shape out of the corner or my eye. It was about a hundred meters away on the edge of the ski slope (Tanbara is a ski resort in the winter months). Using the zoom of the camera, I was able to ascertain that this was in fact a bear cub. It seemed unperturbed by the noise of the bear bell, but a few seconds later it ran off into the forest. This was my fourth bear sighting, and it had been a while since the previous one, so this made my day.

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Bear cub above the Lavender Park (taken using 10x zoom on my camera)

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Tanbara is mainly known as a ski resort

I headed back down, and continued along the hiking trail up into a forested area between two lavender zones. Unfortunately, after a few minutes, the trail became so overgrown with bamboo grass that I had to give up . Even though it was indicated on the maps, it was obvious that the trail wasn’t much used, most people preferring the direct route to the summit. I decided to make my way back to the start of the hike, and turn right along the the bird-watching route 探鳥ルート so that I could at least reach the beech flats ブナ平, one of the highlights of the hike (I didn’t see any birds though).

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Tanbara Marsh, after descending from the beech flats

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The Iris flowers were in full bloom

Around 4pm, and somewhat behind schedule, I was finally walking on a level path among the beech trees. This is one of the rare places with a mostly flat trail high up in the mountains, so it’s perfect for beginners. Soon, I turned left, down the river source route 水源ルート, ending up at Tanbara Marsh 玉原湿原 around 4h30, another of the highlights of this hike. After crossing the marsh on wooden planks, I emerged onto a road (closed to traffic), and I was back at the parking lot just before 5pm. Even though I couldn’t do the hike exactly as I had planned, I was still able to hike for around 5 hours through beautiful nature in good weather. I was also relieved that the temperature and humidity had turned out to be perfect for hiking!

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Mt Hashimoto (321m) & Yugate (290m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture

I was looking for an easy and short station to station hike nearby Tokyo to help me get back into hiking mode after a two-month forced break. I thought it would be too hot and uncomfortable to hike in the low hills of Oku-Musashi 奥武蔵 in the month of June. Also, I had hiked these trails three times previously, so I thought it might not be so interesting. Finally, I had no idea whether the trail would be open and properly maintained. In the end, I couldn’t come up with a better idea, and since the train ride was just over an hour, I decided to just go for it.

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Looking towards Chichibu

After getting off the train at Higashi-Agano station 東吾野 a little after 10am, it took me less than 5 minutes to reach the start of the hiking trail, behind Agana Shrine 吾野神社. This is surely one of the most convenient hiking trails in the area! the trail immediately starting climbing through beautiful forest. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the trail was well-maintained and the signposts were relatively new; often they were entirely in English. As I moved along the trail, I was amazed at how different the surrounding vegetation looked. Previously, I had seen the light green of early spring, the colours of Autumn, and the snowy whiteness of Winter. This time, I was treated to the lush dark green of summer. The forest was still relatively insect-free and the humidity was average; contrary to my expectations, the conditions were nearly ideal. All my concerns has been washed away minutes after starting the hike!

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Start of the hiking trail for Yugate

After less than an hour, I reached the top of Mt Hashimoto 橋本山 (はしもとやま) where I had a good view of the Chichibu mountains to the West. After a late breakfast, I set off again, and reached the tiny village of Yugate ユガテ at noon. Yugate is made up of a handful of houses and fields situated on a small plateau among the hills. There is a nice grassy field on one side, with a couple of benches in the shade – the perfect place for a lunch break. Today however, it was too early for lunch, and the benches were already occupied by groups of hikers. I moved on quickly, reached a fork, and headed along the right branch. I had planned to do a circle hike centered on Yugate, so I would be returning via the left branch later in the day.

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Easy to hike trail through the forest

The next section was highly enjoyable: for 40 minutes, the narrow trail followed the side of the mountain through silent forest, crossed a couple of small streams, before climbing to the Oku-Musashi Green Line Road. I saw and heard no one during this time. The area between the station and this road is part of the Nishikawa Forestry Area 西川林業地, and I suppose special care is taken to its maintenance. I had now reached Kitamukijizo 北向地蔵. Instead of following the top of the ridge towards the left, I decided to make a longer loop by descending to the lake on Moroyama Town side of the mountain. The forest here was less beautiful, but the descent was pleasant, and at one point there was a view of the Kanto Plain to the East.

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Yugate, a good place for a break

I reached the edge of Kamakita lake 鎌北湖 just after 1pm, and I was shocked to see that it had been entirely drained for construction work. By now, it was getting pretty hot, and it would have been refreshing to walk alongside a body of water. Instead it was a dusty pit filled with noisy excavators. I wasn’t sure what the purpose was, but apparently it would be completed by April next year.  I quickly made my way around the side of the lake. I was walking on an asphalt road now, and I was starting to feel pretty hot. At 2pm, I turned left onto a gently climbing path up the side of the mountain, bringing me under the welcome shade of the forest.

 

Construction work on Kamakita Lake

After a short climb, I was back on top of the ridge. I noticed that several of the Japanese-only signs had the English names scribbled on them, and I couldn’t help wondering who had added them. I now made my way back down to Yugate. This time the benches were empty, but I wanted to catch an early train back (and I already had eaten my lunch) so after a quick sit down, I moved on. I followed the trail I had come up in the morning, but skipped the summit of Mt Hashimoto by following the “Woman’s Slope” 女坂 that went around the other side. I took an alternative path at the very end and finished at Fukutokuji Temple 福徳寺 from where it was a ten minute walk back to the Higashi-Agano station, arriving there at 3h30.

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The crossroads of Yugate

This hike is probably one of the best kept secrets of the Tokyo area. Even though, there are no famous shrines or great views, it’s easy to reach and ideal for those who want to do some peaceful “nature bathing”. However, it’s best to wait till that lake is filled up again!

Mt Takahata (982m) & Mt Kuki (970m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture

I had climbed these two peaks before, but separately and via different routes. The trail along the connecting ridge was one of the few remaining ones for me to hike in the Doshi Sankai, the mountainous area between the Tanzawa and the Oku-Chichibu mountains. Although I was guaranteed good views from each summit, I was curious whether I would get more views along the way. According to my map, the total hiking time was nearly 7 hours, so I also wondered whether I would be able to do the full hike. Finally, since it wasn’t a popular trail, I was hoping it wouldn’t be too difficult to follow.

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

I took the local Chuo line to Uenohara, where I caught a nearly empty bus for Mushono 無生野. The fifty minute ride took me along some exciting, narrow roads through beautiful countryside, dotted here and there with cherry blossom trees in full bloom; it was like a magical hidden valley. After getting off at the last stop, I walked ten minutes on the road to get to the start of the hike, marked by a sign on the right. Past a fence for keeping wild animals out, the trail entered a thick forest of cypress trees. Here the path was hard to follow here, at one point entering a streambed for a few meters, but became easier once it started to climb. It was still winter in the mountains, and the path was sunny under the leafless trees.

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Bus ride through the Akiyama river valley 

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Climbing out of the valley towards the pass

At 10h30, I reached a pass, joining up with the path for Mt Kura. I didn’t have time to do the round trip to the top, but I had been there twice before. I turned left and a few minutes later I reached the top of Mt Tenjin (876m) 天神山. There was a great viewpoint of Mt Momokura and Mt Ogi on the other side of the valley to the North. After a few quick pictures, I continued on my way. The trail went up and down, and I soon reached the top of Mt Takahata 高畑山, meaning high field. On my last visit in June 2018, Mt Fuji was completely hidden. This time around I could see Japan’s most famous volcano, all but the very top free of clouds.

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Mt Ogi (Center) and Mt Momokura (right)

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Mt Fuji wearing one of its “cloud caps”

It was still early for lunch, so I moved on without a break. I passed by the minor summit of Mt Okuwa (980m) 大桑, with 3 different summit markers but no view, before descending to a road. While continuing down it, I came across a green snake. It was sunning itself in the middle of the road, but once it realised I was there, it slithered away into the bushes (see video at the end of the post). The road soon joined up with the road for Saruhashi, and went uphill for a bit before reaching a pass. Here the hiking trail reappeared on the left, heading slowly up the mountain.

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Nice ridge walking around 1000m

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This snake is most likely an Aodaisho or rat snake

At 12h30, I arrived at the top of Mt Takasazu (860m) 高指山. Despite the lack of view, I found a sunny log to sit on, so I decided it was a good place to have lunch. Afterwards, the trail went down for a bit, before climbing again, following a fence on the right side. The surrounding trees changed from deciduous to coniferous, giving the trail an alpine feel. I had glimpses through the trees of the valley leading to Tsurishi city to the South; at the bottom lies the Maglev line that is still in construction.

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More and more pine trees along the path

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The Misaka mountains with Mt Takagawa on the far right

After an hour and a half, I reached a viewpoint of Mt Fuji, called Fujimidaira 富士見平, but the volcano was becoming hard to appreciate in the afternoon haze. A few minutes later, I was standing on the flat top of Mt Kuki 九鬼山, meaning nine devil mountain. On one side, through the trees, was another view of Mt Fuji, the top part now firmly in the clouds. On the West side, there was a wide view of the Misaka mountains, including Mt Mitsutoge on the left side.

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View from Tengu Rock

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Mt Fuji making its final appearance of the day

I was only one hour away from the train station, and largely ahead of schedule, but as the summit was in the shade, I left soon after finishing my lunch. There were several routes down, and I decided to take the Ike-no-yama one. The first part was quite steep, but after a few minutes, I spotted a sign for Tengu-iwa 天狗岩 on the left. It promised a great view only minutes away. Since I had loads of time, I decided to check it out. It turned out to be a couple of boulders in a small opening on the side of the mountain. Standing on top of them, I had the best view of the day, looking down the valley leading to Kawaguchiko City. On the right was Mt Mitsutoge, and on the left was the ridgeline between Mt Imakura and Mt Nijuroka hiked in 2016. In the back, I could just about make out the shape of Mt Fuji.

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Walking down the Ike-no-yama route

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Lots of views on the way down

I returned to the trail and continued down the mountain. This was by far the most pleasant section of today’s hike. On top of the occasional views to the left, I also spotted some yamazakura or mountain sakura in bloom. I reached a sign for Mt Ikenoyama 638m 池の山, meaning pond mountain, even though there was no apparent summit. The road at the end of the hiking trail was lined with sakura in full bloom, making a nice end to what was a satisfying ramble through the mountains. The walk back along the road to the charming Tanokura station took ten minutes, and I arrived there just after 4pm. After arriving at Otsuki two stops further, I caught the limited express back to Tokyo.

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Sakura lining the road at the of the hike

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Although there were few views between the two peaks, I was relieved that the path was easy to follow with frequent signposts. One curious aspect of the hike was that there was often two or even three types of signposts at various points, all equally worn out. Overall I was glad that I was able to complete the hike nearly one hour under the map time, and being able to get to Tokyo before sunset.

Caution: Snake on the road!

 

Mt Kamakura (216m), Motegi Town, Tochigi Prefecture

This was another hike following the Kanto Fureai no Michi. This time I combined two short segments, so that I could start and end at a train station. The trail went through the countryside and low hills of Eastern Tochigi, near the border with Ibaraki, and about 20 kilometers North of Kasama city. I was hoping that I would be able to walk on forest paths, and that I would be able to enjoy a hike that didn’t take me up a mountain.

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A secret spot in Tochigi Prefecture

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Naka River near Shimono-o Bridge

Although I had planned to hike from train station to station, in the end I took a bus from Utsunomiya (Google Maps insisted it was quicker). I arrived at Motegi station, the last stop on the Moka railway, at 10am. I had never been to this corner of the Kanto area before; even though it was just 100km from the center of Tokyo, it felt like I had traveled to the other side of Japan. It was a beautiful blue sky day, and the temperature was on the warm side. I got ready and started walking around 10h30. I followed the distinctive Fureai no Michi signs to a river, which in turn led me to Shiroyama Park, located on top of a low hill.

 

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View of Motegi town from Shiroyama Park

There was a small watchtower on one side, probably a reconstruction. From the top, I had a good view of Motegi town to the South, cut in two by the Sasaka river. In the distance I could make out the ridgeline of Mt Takamine. On the other side of the park were the foundations of Shiroyama Castle, as well as some weeping cherry blossom trees or “shidarezakura” in full bloom. The trail continued down the other side of the hill and onto a small road. At 11h30, I arrived at Arakashi Shrine. The path from the entrance “torii” and the shrine itself was lined with some impressive giant cedars.

 

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Shidarezakura in full bloom

The next hour was mostly along small back roads. Walking on a road with little traffic is fine. However the longer you do this, the more you feel tired in your legs. There were some wide views, but like with forest roads, fewer surprises. The road took me all the way to the top of Mt Kamakura 鎌倉山, and despite its low elevation, there were good views on both sides of narrow forested valleys. There was a small shelter, so I sat down for lunch.

 

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View North from the the top of Mt Kamakura

Afterwards, I followed a small trail for a few minutes along the top ridge, past a tiny shrine, and arrived at a dramatic viewpoint. It showed a wide bend of the Naka river, famous for being the clearest river in the Kanto area. While I was taking pictures, I noticed a couple of birds of prey, flying in circles and using the air currents to gain altitude once they had drifted too low (see video at the end).

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Mt Kamakura Viewpoint

I couldn’t stay too long since today’s hike was about 25 kilometers. Also, there was a soba restaurant, on the other side of the river, that I wanted to drop by, even though I had just had lunch. I quickly followed a small path down the side of the small mountain. While crossing the bridge, I noticed a group of people kayaking down the river, something I might like to try one day.

 

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Naka River as seen from the bridge

After a delicious meal of cold soba and tempura or “tenmorisoba” at Sobanosato Magino, I continued on my way at about 2h30. The next two hours were again mostly along small roads. They were interrupted by two short sections of lovely forest walking. Occasionally I had some good views of the surrounding hills. There were a couple of observation towers, but the views must have been better decades ago, when the trees weren’t so high.

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One of the nicer sections of the hike

It was getting late, so I decided to skip the last part of the hike to Kaiishi Shrine, and head directly to the train station. I recrossed the Naka river, and followed the road till I reached the Ryumon falls 龍門の滝 just after sunset. After admiring the falls, I made my way to the nearby and appropriately named Taki station (meaning waterfall station) to wait for the local train for Utsunomiya, where I would hop on the shinkansen for Tokyo. In the end there was a little too much road walking for my taste, but I was happy that I was able to summit at least one mountain!

 

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Ryumon falls and Sakura

 

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Sunset on the Naka River

Birds in flight above Tochigi Prefecture

Mt Kasuga (1158m), Mt Meisho (1236m) & Mt Inayama (1112m), Fuefuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture

This hike followed the ridgeline in the opposite direction of Mt Shaka. I had been wanting to return there for a while, but couldn’t figure out how to get back to the train station at the end of the trail. After poring over maps and bus timetables, I discovered that the bus taking me to the starting point, also passed relatively close to the end point. Unfortunately, the trail was just off my Mt Fuji hiking map, and it wasn’t included in my “Mountains of Yamanashi” guide book either. So using the Yamareco website, and information from the Inayama Zelkova Forest website, I created my own hike. It involved a round-trip on one section, thus forming a Y shape.

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Bird’s eye view of Kofu City

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Hard to believe that this is just 100 km from Tokyo

After taking the comfortable Chuo line limited express to Isawa Onsen, I boarded a nearly empty bus for the one-hour trip to Torisaka Pass 鳥坂峠. This was my third time taking this bus, and each time it has been empty; a shame since it goes into a valley surrounded by several good hiking trails with views of Mt Fuji. I arrived at the pass just before 11am, and although several cars were parked there, I saw no one during my hike. The other hikers probably went the other way, towards Mt Shaka. I first followed a road (closed to cars) for a few minutes, till I reached a small trail on the right, marked by a stone monument. After about five minutes of climbing, I reached the ridgeline where I took the trail heading left.

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Easy-to-spot start of the trail

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Nice hiking trail at 1000 meters elevation

The next section was a pleasant ramble that climbed gradually through bare trees. At an elevation of 1000m, spring had yet to arrive. It was a blue sky day, but a cold wind was blowing from the valley below. I soon arrived at Kasugasawa-no-to 春日沢の頭 (1235m), a flat open space surrounded by trees. After a short up and down, I reached Mt Kasuga 春日山. Here again there was no view. Since it was only noon, I decided to wait a little longer for lunch. After another short descent, I reached a narrow road, closed to cars in the winter. I continued up a surprisingly steep trail on the opposite site, to the top of Mt Meisho 名所山. The trail continued beyond to another road, from where it was possible to walk to the last stop of my morning. However, I preferred to retrace my steps, back down the steep slope, thanks to which I could get some views of the Oku-chichibu mountains above the trees.

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Steep slope on Mt Meisho

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The Oku-Chichibu Mountains with Mt Kinpu in the center

Once I was back on the road I had crossed earlier, I walked along it, heading North for 5 minutes to an amazing viewpoint with a bench of the Kofu valley. It was 1h30 so I decided to take a break for lunch. To my left, I could see the South Alps, the highest peaks hidden in the clouds; in front the wide expanse of the Kofu valley, with the buildings of Kofu city in the middle, and Yatsugatake under a big cloud behind; to my right, I could see the Oku-Chichibu mountains, completely free of clouds, with the small triangular peak of Mt Kinpu in the middle.

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Looking Northwest towards Nagano

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Looking Northeast towards Yamanashi

It was still terribly windy, so I had to cut my lunch short. I made my way back to Kasugasawa-no-to, where I took a path to the left, and followed a wide downhill slope. I reached Mt Ina 稲山 just before 3pm. There was another view, similar to the one I had during lunch. Here I had the choice between a North trail and a South trail, both of the same length. They each followed a ridge above a valley and ended at the same place. I couldn’t find the North one, so the choice was easy. From now, the ridge became steeper and more narrow, with many tall pine trees along the path. You truly felt you were hiking in the mountains, a feeling you don’t always get when hiking closer to Tokyo.

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Some of the best hiking was through the Zelkova forest

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Approaching the end of the hike

At 4pm I emerged onto a small road and a small parking area. On the way to the bus stop, I made a short detour by the nearby Yatsushiro-Furusato Park. There were some “Kofun” (ancient mound tombs), and good views of the surrounding mountains. At 5h30 I caught the empty bus back, and reached Isawa onsen station before 6pm. After a quick hot spring bath at Yamanami Hotel, I got the limited express train back to Tokyo.

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Late afternoon sun in Yatsushiro-Furusato Park

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Looking back at Mt Inayama (left)

Mt Hinata (404m) & Mt Mijo (237m), Isehara & Atsugi Cities, Kanagawa Prefecture

There is a section of the Kanto Fureai no Michi that passes by Mt Oyama. It doesn’t go all the way to the summit, but goes past the top of the cable car halfway up the mountain. I had hiked the section on the Southern side a few years ago, and I had always wanted to return and hike the Northern section. It continues to Nanasawa onsen 七沢温泉 which seemed like a good place to finish. Mt Oyama, a 300 famous mountain, is a popular hiking spot close to Tokyo, but since I went on a weekday there were relatively few people.

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View halfway up Mt Oyama from Afuri Jinja Shrine 

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Viewpoint of Mt Oyama and mostly empty benches

I took the Odakyu Romancecar to Isehara, where I transferred to one of the frequent buses for the Oyama Cable car. For once, the bus was nearly full. Since it was a short hike, I left later than usual, and got there around 11am. It had been a few years since my last visit, and I had forgotten that it was a twenty minute-walk up the Koma Sando コマ参道 shopping street to the cable car station. Since the next one was leaving at 11h20, I flew up the flights of steps, past the shops selling spinning tops, and hopped on to the green cable car just before they closed the doors.

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Cable car up Mt Oyama

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View from the top of the cable car

After getting off, I decided to walk up the steps to Afuri-Jinja Shrine 阿夫利神社 to check out the view. It was a bit hazy in the late morning but I could just make out the boso peninsula in the far distance. The path up Mt Oyama is behind the shrine, but the Fureai no Michi trail is at the base of the steps, so I headed back down, and it was around noon when I finally started hiking. The first part was mostly flat, hugging the side of the mountain. The surrounding trees were very beautiful, and I saw a giant cedar tree soaring up into the sky next to a tiny shrine.

A couple of impressive trees along the trail

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Few people hiking on a weekday

Half an hour later, I reached a viewpoint with a dozen benches, to accommodate the weekend crowds. I could see the triangular summit of Mt Oyama, as well as the urban spread to the North. After a short break, I set off for Hinata-Yakushi Temple 日向薬師寺, in the opposite direction of the trail for Mt Oyama, heading down the mountain. Some workers were doing maintenance on the trail, due to be completed today according to a sign I saw lower down. I had some good views Southwards of the Izu peninsula. Past a rather large jizo statue, which I first mistook for a person, the path turned sharply off the ridge and went downhill via a series of switchbacks.

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View of the Izu Peninsula

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Jizo statue protecting the traveler

Around 1h30, I emerged onto a road, but I soon turned left onto a small trail to Johotsuganji Temple. At this point, I had left the Fureai no Michi. After about ten minutes, I arrived at a small cave at the base of a cliff. It contained some Buddhist statues, and from the croaks I was hearing, some frogs as well! The trail continued up the mountain, along a ridge crisscrossed with tree roots, making it a little difficult to follow. Before reaching the highest point, the path turned right and followed the side of the valley. Here the path showed signs of maintenance, and was much easier to follow. Around 2pm I reached an old bench, a good place for a break and a late lunch. There was no view, but the surrounding was very peaceful save for the chirping of birds. The path continued, along a level ridge extending northwards.

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The roots along this ridge made for tricky walking

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Easier level ridge after lunch

This was my favourite part of the hike. It felt very wild and isolated; it was hard to believe that I was less than 10km from Hon-Atsugi station. I was also surprised that I had never heard about it before; perhaps the locals wanted to keep it a secret. After some descending, and then a short climb via log steps, I reached the summit of Mt Hinata 日向山. Through a break in the trees, I could see the flat expanse of Tokyo. The weather which had been sunny and warm in the morning, was now overcast and windy. I continued along the trail downhill, and soon reached an intersection. I continued straight up the other side to the top of Mt Mijo 見城山, the site of an ancient castle. The view was much better here; below was Nanasawa onsen, and the forested hills separating it from Tokyo.

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A 120 year-old Ryokan in Nanasawa Onsen

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A rare but no longer functional rotary phone

Since the trail ended here, I retraced my steps to the intersection, only a few minutes away, and turned left down the mountain, following the sign for the intriguingly named Turtle Rock 亀岩 (in English on the sign). I spotted it, just before arriving at a road, a massive moss-covered boulder in the midst of the cedar forest beyond a small stream. I walked up the road for a few minutes to check out the Nanasawa Observatory. It was a worn-out structure with an unimpressive view, a curiosity from past times. However, I did get a glimpse of the first signs of spring on the branches of the nearby trees. I continued down the road, and just after 4pm, I arrived at Tamagawakan, a Ryokan more than 100 years old; it even had an old rotary public phone near the lobby. After a short hot spring bath, I caught the bus for Hon-Atsugi station from the nearby bus stop, and from there, I took the Romancecar for the short trip back to Tokyo.

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Mt Sashiro (205m), Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Saturday, March 7, 2020

This hike was also different from usual, since it was more walking and sightseeing than pure hiking, albeit with a couple of summits and some views. I had hiked nearly all the mountains near the Mito and Joban lines, except for the ones near Kasama station. The hike described in my “Mountains of Ibaraki” was only 3 hours long . However, it followed the Kanto Fureai no Michi, and I was confident that there would be some interesting sights along the way enabling me to stretch the hike to a full day.

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Nearing the top of the castle

After a later than usual departure, I transferred to the Mito line in Oyama, and reached Kasama station a little before 11am. There was a tiny tourist information office outside, where I picked up some good maps of the area. It took half an hour through town to reach the Kasama Inari Shrine, the main attraction of the area. I spent some time exploring the shrine and the main shopping street in front of it, and I only started up the hiking trail, ten minutes East of the shrine, around 1pm.

Kasama Inari Shrine is dedicated to the fox god

The first part was a short climb up a rounded hill called Fujiyama (143m) 富士山, quite a common mountain name in Japan. It was an azalea park, but none were in flower at this time of the year. Although there was no summit marker, there was an observatory platform with a 360 degree panorama of the entire area. Looking South, I could see Mt Wagakuni, climbed in 2017, and West, Mt Takamine and Mt Bucho, climbed in 2018. The skies were overcast, but I am sure the view must be spectacular on a cloudless day.

Mt Takamine (left) and Mt Bucho (right)

I followed the road down the other side, crossed a larger road, and continued up a small road into a cedar forest. On the side of the road, there was a large boulder known as “Daikokuseki” (大黒石 or big black rock), which had been rolled down from above on castle attackers. A little further on the right, was the start of the road up to the ruins of Kasama castle. Halfway up, I took a shortcut via a flight of moss-covered stairs, to reach a flat grassy space. It was hard to figure out the way when looking at the map, but it was easier while walking it because there were frequent signposts of the Fureai no Michi.

Leafy and mossy steps leading to the ruins of Kasama castle

As with many old Japanese castles, there wasn’t much left to see, just traces of the foundations overgrown by grass. At the back, there was another staircase leading to the shrine at the very top of Mt Sashiro 佐白山, which I reached just after 2pm. It was completely in the trees, except for a small gap to the West. Behind the shrine, was an alternate path going down. It was steep and rocky, but there were some chains for steadying oneself. It led to a place with some big boulders, called ishikura (石倉 or rock cellar). I climbed on top of one of them to see the view to the East. A mostly level path through the forest brought me back to the castle ruins.

Stone steps leading to the top of Mt Sashiro

On the other side, there was a hiking path leading down the mountain through the forest. I arrived at Sashirosanroku park after 3pm. At this point I felt quite satisfied with today’s hiking, and since I was close to the city, I decided to have a late soba lunch. I chose Sobakiri Ichibee そば切り一兵衛, fifteen minutes away on foot. It seemed quite a famous place, judging from the autographs of celebrities covering the walls. After a satisfying meal of soba and tempura, I made my way back to Kasama station, twenty minutes away. There I got the local train for Tomobe, where I switched to the limited express for Ueno.

Soba lunch at Sobakiri Ichibee

NEXT UP: Mt Hinata & Mt Mijo in Tanzawa (Kanagawa)