Although I prefer to go on day trips as much as possible, I do enjoy staying the night of December 31st in a mountain hut and taking part in the Japanese tradition of “hatsuhinode” (初日の出) or seeing the first sunrise of the year on the 1st of January. There is something magical about spending the last hours of the old year and the first hours of the new year near the top of a mountain. In addition to the special year end food and drinks, seeing a beautiful sunrise is a great way to start the new year. The weather is usually excellent in this season, despite being cold, so you can also get in two days of solid hiking.
Here are three places which I recommend for doing hatsuhinode, with their pros and cons:
Hirugadake Lodge 1673m (Kanagawa)
Hirugadake sansou (蛭ヶ岳山荘) sits on top of Mt Hiru (蛭ヶ岳), the highest point of the the Tanzawa mountain range in Kanagawa prefecture, South of Tokyo. It is the hut that has the longest and toughest access, in terms of hiking time and elevation gain.
PROS: Less crowded than other huts, great view of Mt Fuji and night view of Tokyo, summit is just next to the hut
CONS: Early bedtime curfew (around 8pm), not much in terms of New Year celebrations, small snow layer possible
ACCESS: Take the Odakyu line from Shinjuku station to Shibusawa station. There are many buses that can take you to Okura (大倉), the trailhead for for Mt Tonodake, Mt Tanzawa and Mt Hiru (the first two also have lodges open over the New Year period).
Kumotori lodge around 1950m, Tokyo
Kumotori Lodge (雲取山荘) is located below the triangular summit of Mt Kumotori 2017m (雲取山), the highest mountain of Tokyo prefecture. It is the highest and largest of the 3 huts with a capacity of around 200 people.
PROS: “Amazake” (sweet sake) on the evening of the 31st, lively atmosphere and countdown at midnight, relatively comfortable lodge
CONS: Crowded on December 31st, summit is 30 minute from the lodge, some snow possible
ACCESS: If possible try to catch the direct train from Shinjuku station that goes all the way to Okutama station, otherwise you’ll need to transfer once in Ome. From there, it’s a 35 minute bus ride to Torizawa 鳥沢, the start of the trailhead for Mt Kumotori.
Nabewari Lodge 1272m, Kanagawa
Nabewari Lodge (鍋割山荘) is also located in the Tanzawa mountain range, near the top of Mt Nabewari (鍋割) overlooking Sagami Bay. It’s one of the friendliest lodges that I have ever stayed at during my time in Japan. It also has the shortest hiking time of the three.
PROS: “Zouni” (Japanese new year dish) and sake on the morning of the 1st, great view of Mt Fuji, summit is right next to the hut
CONS: The hike down is relatively short, located on a ridge so doesn’t feel like being on the top of a mountain
ACCESS: Same as for Mt Hiru, you’ll need to take the Odakyu line from Shinjuku station to Shibusawa station, and catch the bus for Okura (大倉). However, instead of going straight up, take the path that goes left.
Before you go, there are 3 things you should do before.
First get a map of the mountain so that you can plan your hiking route carefully.
Secondly, call the hut to make a reservation and ask about the trail conditions.
Finally, check the weather before your departure. Although the weather is usually stable around this time of the year, bad weather can always happen.
In any case, be sure to bring warm clothes because it will be very cold while waiting for the first sunrise on the 1st of January 2019!