2019 got off to a great start – I was able to manage 5 great and new hikes in the months of January. This was thanks to a combination of lack of snow and abundance of national holidays. I visited five different prefectures, working my way clockwise from Yamanashi to Shizuoka, although this was unintentional. Two were station to station hikes, whereas the others were accessed by bus, taxi and car.
Mt Ryu (1485m), Fujikawaguchiko Town, Yamanashi Prefecture, Thursday January 2
Spectacular view of Mt Fuji from near the top of Mt Ryu
I chose the Kawaguchiko area for my first hike of the year since it is said that seeing Mt Fuji at the beginning of the year brings luck. Luckily Fuji was clearly visible till the early afternoon, after which it progressively wrapped itself up in layers of clouds. I also had unfinished business there since Mt Ryu 竜ヶ岳, meaning “dragon” in Japanese, was one of the remaining peaks surrounding Mt Fuji that I had yet to climb. My trip got off to a bad start when my bus at Fujisan station failed to materialise. Despite confirming that the bus would be running, just before it was supposed to arrive there was an announcement saying that it wouldn’t be running today. Luckily there was another bus that was leaving about twenty minutes later – it would just mean a later start and later return in the evening. In any case, lesson learned: don’t count on buses around the new year holidays.
Mt Fuji as seen from the top of Mt Ryu
I finally got started around noon. First I inquired about a place where I could get a hot bath after my hike. Unfortunately, one place I enquired at didn’t accept daytrippers and another place was closed to day trippers during the new year period. The start of the hike was along a road sandwiched between the mountain and Motosu lake. Although the views of the lake to the right were beautiful, I was walking in the shade so it got pretty cold. After an hour or so I was able to get onto a path which led up the mountain through the forest. There are several ways up but my guidebook recommended this one as being particularly beautiful. It’s easy to forget that most of the area is inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, but this path offered a vivid reminder of the kind of beautiful nature the park was created to protect. Unfortunately, a big cloud has moved in from the South, so even though I had higher up, I was still in the shade and the freezing January cold.
The cloud looming up from behind Mt Ame
I finally reached a col with a great view of Fuji. The view from the West is probably the best because the sun sets in your back so the whole mountain is in the sun all afternoon. The path to Mt Ame (meaning Mt Rain) was to the right but my hike took me left. As I rose, the trees disappeared, the views got wider and the wind got colder. On the right was majestic Fuji, on the left the South Alps. I noted sadly that all the surrounding mountains were in the sun except mine. I finally reached the top where it was freezing cold but free of snow. I had quick lunch, snapped pictures till my fingers grew numb, and then set off down the mountain.
The 3 Shirane peaks in the South Alps
Since the path was Fuji side, there were lots of great photo opportunities. After some zigzagging I reached a small lookout, after which the path entered the forest. After some nice views of Motosu lake, I finally got back to flat ground, and followed the road back to the bus stop. Because of my late start, it had to take the very last bus of the day, dashing any hope I had stopping by an onsen. On top of that the bus was quite late – often the case in the Fuji area. There were tons of people when I got back to Kawaguchiko station, mostly tourists. I love the area but it is drawing more and more people, thus making it in a hassle to visit. On the plus side, there is a lot of English spoken and written.
Wonderful hiking overlooking Aokigahara forest
Mt Takamatsu (801m), Matsuda Town, Kanagawa Prefecture , Saturday January 5
View from the top of Mt Takamatsu (Fuji in the clouds)
I opted for something relatively easy for my second hike of the year, and although it was short, it proved very satisfactory. I took the train to Yamakita station on the Gotemba line, two stops from Matsuda station. The first part of the walk was along a road which took me past a sake brewery. A small shop opposite had some of their sake but unfortunately I couldn’t burden myself at the beginning of my hike. After an hour I got to the start of the hiking trail, which quickly rose and offered some nice views. Eventually the path entered some lovely forest. Quite soon I emerged onto a wide rounded summit of Mt Takamatsu 高松山. Sadly, Fuji to the West was in the clouds. However there were good views of the Hakone mountains, Sagami bay and the foothills of the Tanzawa mountains.
Fuji showed itself towards the end of the day
After a leisurely lunch, I headed down taking the path East towards Matsuda station. After some nice solitary forest walking, I emerged onto a small road for a short while before joining another hiking trail. I thought I was done with climbing but I was wrong – the path went up again, apparently over the top of Mt Matsuda but I never saw a summit marker. I soon reached a park with a pond famous for plum blossoms although at this time of the year there wasn’t anything going on. After the park, the path alternated between road and trail before ending at Matsuda station. It was well signposted but I did manage to make a wrong turn once. You definitely need a map or a guide to navigate this hike. Continuing past Matsuda would lead into the Soga hills which I hiked around the same time last year.
A bend in the trail lit by the late afternoon sun
Mt Inafukumi (1370m), Shimonita Town, Gunma Prefecture, Sunday January 13
Soaring above Shimonita (center) with Mt Asama (left) and Mt Myogi (right)
The first long weekend of the year combined with good weather gave me a chance to go hiking twice and use the Tokyo Wide Pass. I chose a couple of short hikes so that I wouldn’t be exhausted come Tuesday. The first hike was a Kanto 100 famous called Mt Inafukumi 稲含山. I wouldn’t normally dare to hike above one thousand meters in the middle of January but my research told me that the snow cover was minimal. I took the shinkansen to Takasaki, then the local train to Shimonita, and finally a taxi to the start of the trail. I was glad I had decided against renting a car since some parts of the road were really in a poor state. I enjoyed chatting with the taxi driver as well. There were five other cars parked at the top ensuring that I would have company.
Steps, snow and sun
It was a short climb to the top, with a thin layer of snow covering the parts in the shade. The view of the Nishi Joshu (Western Gunma) area from the summit was mind-blowing. Some people may consider 1370m as not particularly high, but after Mt Yatsugatake and Mt Arafune to the West, and Mt Asama to the North, it’s the highest mountain in the area. I had the sensation of being in a plane. To the East, nestled at the bottom of the valley, was a hidden village – according to my guidebook, one of the 100 beautiful villages of Japan.
There was a little snow but nothing troublesome
After lunch and photos, I reluctantly headed down. I took a different route but running parallel to the ascending one. At one point a did a quick there and back along a side path promising some nice views. I soon emerged back onto the road. My plan was to walk along it till I found a hiking path I knew existed and that would take me back down. However before I could leave the road, a car stopped and the driver offered to take me. I accepted since I knew that the hike down was quite long and I needed to save some energy for the following day. The driver, a local called Isamu, kindly took me by a couple of historical sites that were on the way before dropping me off at the train station. We visited a small cemetery and a residence, both linked to the family of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the ruler of Japan before Tokugawa.
My little detour at the end had some nice views
Mt Tatsuware (658m), Hitachi City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Monday January 14
Lots of interesting stones on the way
The next day I set off express train for Mito station from where I drove about an hour all the way to the start of the trail. The last few hundred meters were along a narrow dirt road so I decided to park my car just before, since there was some space, instead of at the parking area. At the end of my hike I was offered a ride again which I had to decline. I don’t often get offered rides, so it was unusual for it to happen twice in a row.
Mt Tatsuware 竪破山 is another hundred famous mountain. It isn’t a long nor difficult hike but there are several interesting rock formations on the way (reminiscent of Mt Tsukuba). I quickly reached the summit where there was a lookout tower. From the top, I could see the outline of Mt Tsukuba to the West, the Nikko mountains and Mt Nasu to the North, and the Pacific ocean to the East. I noticed that the top parts of the surrounding trees had recently been cut in order to provide this view.
In the distance, the outline of Mt Tsukuba
The clouds were in again, so after a short and cold lunch, I continued my hike. I retraced my steps for a short while before continuing straight along the ridge through the forest. I encountered a Tochigi climbing group having fun one on the big boulders along the way, and we chatted for a bit. I made a short detour to see a small waterfall, and finally got back to my starting point ahead of schedule, always preferably when driving.
Shinto gate at the start of the trail
Mt Sukumo (580m), Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Sunday January 27
The magnificent view of Mt Fuji and the South Alps from Mt Sukumo
I hadn’t been hiking in Shizuoka since I did the Numazu Alps in December 2016 – far too long. With cold and snowy weather finally arriving to the Kanto plain, the Izu Peninsula seemed like the perfect place to visit. It is also a very easy place to get to, thanks to the Odoriko express trains running from Tokyo station. To get to Mt Sukumo 巣雲山 I had to change to a local train in Atami and get off at Usami station. From there I could start hiking directly. The first part is along road through the town. At one point I turned around to gaze at the view of the sea behind me and a small flatbed van stopped beside me. The driver asked me where I was going, thinking I was lost. After hearing that I was heading up Mt Sukumo, he offered to drive me up – third time in a row this has happened to me! Since it would allow me to skip some road walking up, I got in the very small passenger space next to him.
View of Usami from near my drop off point
Very soon we were zipping up narrow steep roads through mikan orchards. We didn’t slow down even when the road became a bumpy dirt road. “Luckily this is a four-wheel drive otherwise we wouldn’t be able to continue” he explained. I don’t think I would have minded walking at this stage but in any case it was a thrilling drive. Shortly after the first views appeared on the left, he stopped at a fork in the road and let me out. I thanked him profusely, and then he drove back down the mountain. Just as he disappeared from sight, I realised that because of the cramped seating, my map had fallen out of my pocket – goodbye map! Luckily I had another map on my phone. I also realised that I was already halfway up the mountain. Not a bad thing since I had left late in order to take the express train. This meant that I could take my time at the top. After taking a ton of photos of Usami town, the Pacific ocean and Oshima island, I finally started hiking up the mountain.
I love seeing the ocean from the top of a mountain!
Soon I reached a viewpoint of Mt Fuji, as well a fork in the path. I chose the higher path along Mt Daimaru. At one point I crossed the Izu Skyline. This part of the hike was very pleasant. I found out later that this the path is inside a small trip that belongs to the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. After an hour or so, I reached the very wide and flat summit where there was a concrete observation tower. The view was one of the best I had ever seen in Japan. On one side was Hakone, Mt Fuji, the South Alps, the Numazu Alps and Sagami Bag. On the other side was the Pacific ocean, the Miura peninsula and the Boso peninsula. To the South was the massive bulk of Mt Amagi. I was glad I had extra time to spend there.
The Southern part of the South Alps – I was there last year in July
I finally managed to pull myself away and slowly start descending. After a short hour I emerged onto a road that snaked down the mountain back to Usami station between mostly summer residences. I was surprised to hear a lot of loud snapping and cracking noises coming from bamboo groves. At first I thought there were monkeys but afterwards I realised that it was the bamboo itself making the noise while growing – very impressive. On the way back I had to change trains in Atami so I decided to take a hot bath at one of the numerous hot spring hotels near the station, my first onsen of the year. I really enjoyed this hike in Izu and decided that I would try and come back soon.
Bamboo forest towards the end of the hike