Mt Tanze (1398m), Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, Saturday, November 12, 2022

Hiking in the Nikko National Park 日光国立公園

I chose a beautiful sunny autumn day for this hike from my mountains of Tochigi guidebook. I had been keeping it for the autumn, since it was mostly along a forest road and required dry conditions. I used the Nikko limited express to get to Tobu-Nikko directly from Ikebukuro.

Mt Nantai, a 100 famous mountain of Japan

Road walking, enhanced by the autumn colours

A short bus ride from Nikko station brought me to the trail entrance, ten minutes past the Toshogu shrine. I followed a forest road up the mountain side via a series of zigzags, spotting several “kamoshika“, or Japanese Serow, along the way. It took about an hour an a half to reach “numa no daira” (沼の平) in the midst of the orange larches.

Resplendent colours in the autumn sun

Pine trees could be found higher up the mountain

I continued hiking through the beautiful forest of the Nikko National Park, and reached a junction at 12h20, where I turned left. I walked along the gently sloping dirt road as it continued its zigzag up the mountain, enjoying views of Oku-Nikko on the west side, and scaring the occasional “kiji” or Japanese pheasant.

View from the near the start of the summit trail

Fiery larch in front of Mt Nantai

After about an hour, I reached a fantastic viewpoint of Mt Nantai, towering above fiery larches. After some searching, I found the trail entrance for the final climb to the summit, a ten-minute scramble through thick vegetation. At 1pm, I was standing on top of Mt Tanze 丹勢山(たんぜやま tanzeyama). It was completely in the trees, so I quickly retraced my steps to a viewpoint of Mt Nantai and Mt Nyoto, and sat down on some rocks for a quick lunch.

Mt Nyoho (right) in the clouds

The mountains of Nikko

Feeling satisfied with the views, I walked back the same way, but went left at the junction, following an alternate route down the mountain. The switchback forest road quickly descended into a deforested valley bottom, offering good views to the west of Mt Nakimushi. It was already 3h30 and most of the valley was already in the shadows. I crossed two bridges, surprised a deer at a bend in the road, and finally emerged from the forest into a residential area at 4h30.

Looking west, Mt Nakimushi

Autumn colours could be seen along the entire hike

After enjoying the setting sun, I decided to walk back to Tobu-Nikko station, less than an hour away, to avoid the usual traffic jams around the Toshogu. There, I boarded a Revaty limited express for the 90-minute ride back to Tokyo. Although most of the hike was along forest roads, I saw no other hikers, and was rewarded with beautiful autumn colours and glimpses of wild animals along the way.

See the beautiful autumn colours of the Nikko area

Mt Koasama (1655m) & The Shinano Nature Trail, Karuizawa Town, Nagano Prefecture, Saturday, November 5, 2022

Hiking with the Tokyo Wide Pass

Hiking in the Joshin-Estu Kogen National Park

上信越高原国立公園

View towards the Nishi-Joshu mountains

Autumn colours were at their peak on the Shinano Nature Trail

This was the second of two hikes using the Tokyo Wide Pass. On the first trip, I went to Shiobara. This time, I decided to visit the Karuizawa area; I created my own hike, since I couldn’t find anything suitable near a shinkansen station in my hiking books. I would ride a bus to the east side of Mt Asama, go up and down a small protrusion there (I did one on the south side during Golden week), and then follow the Shinano Nature Trail back to the outskirts of Karuizawa town; on the way, I would pass by the Shiraito Falls. It was my first time to visit Karuizawa in November, and although I was concerned about crowds, I was looking forward to seeing its beautiful autumn colours.

View of Mt Hanamagari (left) and Mt Myogi (right)

View of Mt Asamakakushi (left) and Mt Haruna (center)

It was overcast and cold when I reached the start of the trail near Mine-no-Chaya (峰の茶屋) at 11am, after a 30 minute bus ride from the station. At 1400m high, autumn was already over. I followed a gently rising trail through leafless birches up the side of the miniature volcano. Very soon, I was scrambling up the exposed, rocky summit cone, and just before noon, I was standing on top of Mt Koasama (小浅間山 こあさまやま koasamayama). The name means “little Asama” and turning around, I could see the much bigger summit cone of Mt Asama opposite, its tip already covered with specks of snow.

View of the eastern side of Mt Asama from Mt Koasama

Trail for Mt Koasama (left) / The Shinano Nature Trail (right)

I had a glorious view of the surrounding forest, forming a multicolour patchwork of red, orange and yellow. To the south, I could see the mountains of Nishi-Joshu fading into the midday haze, although the jagged top of Mt Myogi was clearly visible. After enjoying the panoramic view, I retreated to the relative warmth of the forested lower section. By 1pm, I was at the start of the Shinano Nature Trail (信濃自路然歩道 shinanoji shizen hodo), just a few minutes from the base of the mini-volcano. It felt even colder than before, and I was surprised to see a few snowflakes float down from the sky.

Yellow larches along the Shinano Nature Trail

A relaxing hike along the side of a river valley

I followed a well-maintained and easy to hike trail through a wintry white-birch forest (白樺 shira-kaba), and after descending a series of log steps, reached the the Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝 shiraito-no-taki, meaning “white thread”). There were quite a few people here so I didn’t linger. I continued along the trail, as it followed the side of a narrow river valley, occasionally crossing the water over small wooden bridges, the sound of rushing water always in the background.

The Shiraito falls, the highlight of the Shinano Nature Trail

Walking next to a river (left) / Walking among the autumn leaves (right)

I was surrounded by towering yellow larches, and it felt like autumn had suddenly returned. At 3pm, I took a break at Ryugaeshi no taki (竜返しの滝), a few minutes off the main trail. As the hiking path gradually descended, the trees regained their colours and the sunlight burst through the clouds. I met few other hikers, and after another hour of relaxing and peaceful hiking, arrived at the Mikasa (三笠) bus stop. There, I caught a bus just after 4pm for the short ride back to Karuizawa station, where I boarded the shinkansen for the one-hour trip back to Tokyo.

See the views from the top of Mt Kosama and along the Shinano Nature Trail

See a slideshow of more photos of the hike

Mt Yasuto (1151m), Nasu-Shiobara City, Tochigi Prefecture, Thursday, November 3rd, 2022

Hiking in the Nikko National Park 日光国立公園

Hiking with the Tokyo Wide Pass

View of Mt Yasuto near the start of the hike

River crossing near the start of the hiking trail

The weather was supposed to be good for the 3-day period starting with Culture Day, a national holiday in Japan, so I decided to buy a Tokyo Wide Pass. For my trip I decided to climb a mountain from my Hiking in the Tochigi mountains guidebook located between Shiobara and Nasu mountain, inside the Nikko National Park. Apparently the previous emperor also climbed it at one time. I rode the shinkansen to Nasu-Shiobara station where I transferred to a local train for Nishi-Nasuno, the next station on the line; there, I caught a bus for Agripal Highland which I reached a little before 11am.

Beautiful autumn colours below the summit ridge

Stunning momiji tree just before the steep climb to the top

I had some good views of today’s mountain as I walked 40 minutes along country lanes to the trail entrance. I followed a well-maintained, but poorly signposted trail up the side of the mountain. At 1pm, the trail connected with the end of a forest road, which I would later follow on the way down. For now, I followed the trail through a stunning forest of yellow, orange and red leaves. After climbing a steep slope, roped for safety, I arrived at the narrow top of Mt Yasuto (安戸山 やすとやま yasutoyama) just before 2pm, a peaceful place surrounded by trees.

More colours along the undulating ridgeline

A peaceful trail through the forest

The trail continued along the undulating ridgeline and eventually, a little before 3pm, merged with the forest road, which I followed for about half an hour, before leaving it for an easy-to-miss hiking trail on the left side. It took another half an hour of relaxing hiking to reach Takahachimangu shrine (鷹八幡宮) at the foot of the mountain; supposedly, there was a viewpoint along the way but I completely missed it. From there, it was a short walk through the fields back to the roadside station at Agripal Highland, which I reached at around 4pm.

Merging with the forest trail below the summit

Walking through the fields back to the bus stop

The amazing autumn colours more than made up for the lack of views on this hike. Moreover, I didn’t see a soul on the trail, apart from a small brown frog hiding among the fallen leaves. After catching the bus back to Nishi-Nasuno, I had a quick soak at the nearby Nogi Onsen before heading back to Nasu-Shiobara for the 90-minute shinkansen ride back to Tokyo.

Watch a video of the autumn colours on the Mt Yasuto hike

View a slideshow of some more photos of the Mt Yasuto hike

Mt Yogai (780m), Mt Fukakusa (906m) & Mt Daizokyoji (715m), Kofu and Fuefuki Cities, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, October 15, 2022

View of the Kofu basin from near the summit of Mt Yogai

This was a hike from my mountains of Yamanashi guidebook. I chose it mainly because it seemed to follow fire breaks through the forest and would thus be free from spiders and their webs (or so I hoped), a real problem when doing low altitude hiking in the autumn. I also chose it because it ended at Isawa Onsen, a hot spring town and a limited express station; I hadn’t been there since 2020 so I was looking forward to visiting again. Finally, I could reach the trail entrance next to Yogai Onsen via a short taxi ride from Kofu station, making it almost a station to station hike.

An easy to follow trail at the start of the hike

Nearing the summit of Mt Yogai, the site of an ancient fort

At 10h15, I started up a well-maintained trail for the summit of Mt Yogai (要害山 ようがいさん yougaisan), the site of an old castle; signposts marked the various sections of the fort, but apart from mounds and ditches, there wasn’t much to see (except for a huge snake – see video). The summit was a grassy, rectangular area surrounded by trees, through which I had glimpses of the Kofu basin. The next part of the hike, a level trail along the mountainside, led to Fukakusa Kanon (深草観音); the main attraction is a long metallic ladder leading to a tiny cave in a cliff, also accessible via a small path on the right side (this is not part of the hiking trail).

Beautiful red pine trees along the way

The ladder leads to a small cave

After a short climb next to a rocky, dried-up river bed, I reached Iwado Pass (岩堂峠) and then followed an easy, level path through beautiful forest. I soon reached a junction at Shishiana (鹿穴) where I turned southeast along the ridgeline. The path suddenly became harder to follow. It was obvious that fewer people had followed it and I soon walked into a spider web; fortunately its owner remained dangling above my head. After some ups and downs, I arrived at the peaceful summit of Mt Fukasaka (深草山 ふかくさやま fukasamayama), also completely in the trees.

The ladder at Fukakusa Kannon, from the side and looking up

View of the Kofu basin between Mt Fukakusa and Mt Daizokyoji

Past this point, the trail started to descend steeply. I had some more glimpses of the Kofu basin on the right side, and spotted another large snake slither off the trail and into the bushes, before arriving at Mt Daizokyoji (大蔵経寺山 だいぞうきょうじやま daizoukyoujiyama). Oddly enough, the summit maker was about 100 meters from the highest point, and surrounded by thick forest. I chose to take the panorama route down, but had to wait till the lower half of the trail for some good views of the Kofu basin and surrounding mountains.

View towards the Mt Fuji area from the Panorama trail

View toward the South Alps from the Panorama trail

I arrived at Isawa Onsen at 4h30, in time to enjoy some wine tasting from the wine server at the Fukeki Tourist Office on the 1st floor of the station building (ends at 5pm). After a nice hot bath at the nearby Hotel Hana Isawa, I boarded the Chuo line limited express for the 90 minute ride back to Shinjuku.

See the views on the Mt Yogai – Mt Daizokyoji hike

Mt Kintoki (1212m), Minami-Ashigara City, Kanagawa Prefecture, Saturday, October 1st, 2022 [Yuhi Waterfall to Otome Pass route]

Hiking in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

I was looking for a hike close to Tokyo, high enough to escape the late summer heat and strenuous enough to maintain my regained form. I decided to revisit a mounatin I climbed ten years ago, which I could traverse north to south via a different route that would include a famous waterfall, as well as views of Mt Fuji. The trail up from Ashigara in Kanagawa, connected by local bus from Matsuda station, had been closed for a while due to typhoon damage; however looking online, it seemed to be in use again. I also saw that the final section was quite steep, a good test of my current physical ability. The trail down ended at a hot spring near Gotemba in Shizuoka, connected to the station by shuttle bus. The weather was supposed to be mostly sunny and warm, with few clouds and little wind, ideal conditions conditions for hiking. I was looking forward to climbing a familiar mountain via a new, challenging route and getting some good views of Mt Fuji in the autumn.

Mt Fuji before it got engulfed in the clouds

Yuhi waterfall, a famous purification spot

A cloudy cover still lingered in the early morning sky, as I rode the Odakyu Romance limited express train to Shin-Matsuda station. There, I boarded a full bus and rode it all the way to Jizodo (地蔵堂), the last stop. I had been there once before on my Yamabushi-daira hike. This time, I continued on foot along a small paved road up a pleasant, green valley. The sun was now shining above, and although it was only 9h30am, it already felt quite warm; despite that, the cosmos flowers were out, a sure sign of autumn.

A 23 meter drop (left) Climbing up the Ashigara Pass trail

Moth spotted near the start of the hike

I was delighted to spot a beautiful yellow moth on a phone booth, possibly a Japanese silk moth. At 10am, I reached the entrance for the short trail to the waterfall, next to a campground. A few minutes later, I was standing in front of the thundering Yuhi waterfall (夕日の滝). The water falls from a height of 23 meters, and apparently it’s a popular place for people to stand under to get purified. At 10h30, I started up the Kintoki trail (金時コース), a gently climbing trail through cedars. After passing an open shelter, the trail went up a shady valley next to a mountain stream.

Easy hiking along the Ashigara Pass trail

The summit of Mt Kintoki, a tough climb via the north side

I was happy to be walking next to a river again, the rushing water like music to my ears. The rocky terrain made it difficult to see the path, but pink ribbons attached to branches, as well as the occasional signpost, led the way. At 11am, the trail left the river and went up a steep ridge. I met no one along this section, adding to the sense of peace and quiet. Half an hour later, after getting a glimpse of today’s summit through a gap in the trees, I reached a level dirt road, also the Ashigara Pass Trail (足柄峠コース). I turned left, and 3o minutes later, arrived at a viewpoint of Mt Fuji.

Mt Fuji slowly disappearing into the clouds

The western part of the Tanzawa mountains

I was lucky that the summit was free of clouds; just a few minutes later some clouds rolled in and refused to budge for the rest of the day. According to my map I was at the remains of the Inohara Fort (猪鼻砦跡 962m), a few stone blocks making a good place to sit and have an early lunch while enjoying the view. Directly ahead loomed the triangular-shaped summit of today’s mountain, looking steep and menacing. I soon set off again, the path now climbing straight up the mountain side, equipped with ropes and ladders for safety.

Lots of ladders to assist the hiker

Mt Hakone at the center of Hakone Volcano

I was surprised to find such a thrilling ascent so close to Tokyo; halfway up, the view through the trees to the northwest made me feel like I was hanging from a cliff. To the left, Mt Fuji was now completely in the clouds, to the right, I could see the green Tanzawa mountain range. I met several people on their way down, and had to find “passing spots” to let them by. At 1pm, I emerged onto the top of Mt Kintoki (金時山 きんときやま kintoki-yama). I had a fantastic view of the entire Hakone area; beyond the outer caldera, I could see Mt Ashitaka, Suruga bay, and a big cloud where Mt Fuji was supposed to be. As on my previous visit, the summit area was fairly crowded so I quickly moved on.

Viewpoint between Mt Kintoki and Mt Nagao

View of Mt Fuji and Gotemba city from Otome Pass

I made my way down a steep path through forest, counter-clockwise along the outer caldera rim, and now inside the Hakone part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Half an hour later, I passed the flat summit of Mt Nagao (長尾山 1150m), surrounded by trees. After some more descending I arrived at Otome Pass (乙女峠 1004m). From a small wooden observation platform, I could see the lower half of Mt Fuji and Gotemba city spread out around its base. At 3pm, I reached a bus stop next to Otome Tunnel; I hopped on the next bus and got off at the nearby Fuji Hakkei no Yu. After a relaxing hot spring bath, I took the shuttle bus to Gotemba station, where I boarded the Odakyu Fujisan limited express for the 100-minute trip back to Shinjuku.

See and hear the sounds and sights of the Yuhi waterfall and Mt Kintoki hike

Hatcho Pond (1170m), Izu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Sunday, September 25, 2022 [Mt Amagi Hike]

Hiking in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

I wanted to use the Shinkansen for this hike, since a typhoon had dashed my silver week Tokyo Wide Pass plans. I decided to use the Tokaido shinkansen, not covered by the pass, to do a hike on Mt Amagi on the Izu peninsula. It had been five years since my last time there; it would also allow me to make a 4th consecutive visit to a National Park. Looking at my hiking map, I saw that I could hike up the west side to a lake and a viewpoint, and then return via a different path. I would ride the high speed train from Tokyo station to Mishima, and then transfer to the Izu-Hakone line which I would ride to Shuzenji; there, I could hop on a bus for Amagi Tunnel; I would return the same way. The typhoon had brought record rain to the area but online information showed no disruption to public transport; I hoped the trails would be intact as well, since the weather was supposed to be blue skies and warm temperatures. I was looking forward to a nice forest hike and a great view from its highest point.

Hatcho Pond from the observatory

Hatcho Pond on Mt Amagi

It was a beautiful day as I rode the shinkansen from Tokyo station. After arriving at Mishama station, I transferred to the nearly empty Izu-Hakone line; it was an exciting ride along a pretty river valley through green hills. I got off at Shuzenji, the end of the line, and boarded an equally empty bus, finally getting off at the Amagi Pass bus stop (天城峠 あまぎとうげ) just before 11am. I had been here before and so I was familiar with the short hike up to the pass, which I reached less than thirty minutes later.

First view of Mt Fuji

Trail leading to Amagi Pass (left) Beech tree along the trail (right)

I had my first glimpse of Mt Fuji soon after turning left onto a level trail hugging the mountain side. Very soon, the trail took a right turn and went up some logs steps taking me to the ridgeline. Here I found the pathlovely forest harder to follow; eventually it descended back to a level path following the mountain contour. I had another good view of Mt Fuji before reaching a swollen stream rushing down the mountain and cutting straight through the path. After hopping across, I soon arrived at a second ridge, leading to another level path, now heading north.

One of the more level sections of the hike

Looking towards the Aosuzudai viewpoint and the Pacific ocean

I reached a rushing stream interrupting the quiet of the forest. The path turned east and became hard to follow again; I was relieved each time I spotted a wooden signpost. A little after 1h30, I reached the entrance of the Nobori Gyoko trail (上り御幸歩道). Before heading to the viewpoint, I made a short detour to another viewpoint called Aosuzudai (青スズ台), from where I was able to see the ocean and Toshima island; the rest of the view was hidden by high bushes. I soon turned back and a little after 2pm, arrived at the Hatcho Pond observatory (八丁池見晴台) at the top of a metallic staircase.

Mt Amagi, a Japan hundred famous mountain

On the left, the path flooded by the lake

I had a fantastic 360° panoramic view of the center of Izu peninsula: directly below on the north side was Hatcho pond (八丁池) with Mt Fuji behind it; stretching eastwards was the gentle summit ridge of Mt Amagi, a Japan 100-famous mountain; looking south, I could see the Aosuzudai viewpoint and the Pacific ocean; westwards was Mt Chokuro, its summit in the clouds. I felt lucky that the sunny weather had continued the whole day with just a few cumulus clouds floating in from the ocean side. I had the observatory to myself, so I had a late lunch while admiring the views. Half an hour later, I descended to the lake shore.

Some clouds coming in from the south

A gentle descending trail through lovely a forest

I was surprised to see that the path around the lake was flooded. I managed to get to the other side by walking through the forest and reached the entrance of the Kudari Hatcho trail (下り八丁歩道), a little before 3pm. It descended gently through a stunning forest; I passed several huge beech trees, their branches twisting in fantastic shapes, and I could truly feel that I was walking within the Izu part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. The path was hard to follow once again; I was relieved when I eventually got to a level wide path going straight through the forest. After merging with a forest road, the trail headed south, before arriving at a sunny junction at the edge of a cedar forest.

Walking through the Japanese beeches

A giant beech (left) towering cedars (right)

I enjoyed the change in the surrounding vegetation, as well as the extra sunlight filtering through the smaller cedar tree canopies. The path started to descend quickly and soon the sun was lost behind a ridgeline. A little past 4pm, the rocky trail suddenly merged with a small stream; I was glad I had good hiking boots. After about ten minutes of “river walking”, I emerged onto a paved road. From there, it was another half an hour to the Suiseichi Shita bus stop (水生地下), which I reached ten minutes before my bus was due. After arriving at Shunzenji statiom, I had a quick hot bath at the nearby Hyakuwarai no yu hot spring before riding the Izu-Hakone line to Mishima station, where I transferred to the shinkansen for the 40-minute ride back to Tokyo.

See the views up and down Mt Amagi’s west side

Oku-Nikko hike (highest point 1460m), Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, Saturday, September 17, 2022 [Monkeys]

Hiking in the Nikko National Park 日光国立公園

I was eager to continue my tour of the national parks close to Tokyo. I had last visited Oku-Nikko a little over a year ago, so it seemed like a good choice; I also expected a dip in the crowds between the summer vacation and the Autumn colours season. Looking at my hiking map, I combined some trails northwest of Lake Chuzenji into a loop hike, and although it included no mountains, I hoped it would be more challenging than just a walk in the woods. The area is also the heart of bear territory, with nearly one hundred sightings so far in 2022, so I would need to make sure to pack my bear bell. I would ride the now familiar Nikko limited express from Ikebukuro to Tobu-Nikko, and there switch to a Tobu bus for Yumoto-Onsen, getting off at Akanuma at the edge of the Senjogahara Marshland; the hike would end at the nearby Ryuzu Falls. The weather was supposed to be sunny, with high clouds appearing in the mid-afternoon; the temperatures and humidity were also supposed to be lower, which I hoped would create the ideal conditions for a hike at an average elevation of 1400m. I was looking forward to a nice forest hike, and maybe even catching a glimpse of some animals in the wild.

View of Mt Nantai from Senjugahama

Walking next to Odashirogahara

I left Tokyo under cloudy skies, but fortunately, the sun was shining once I got off the limited express at Tobu-Nikko station. At 11am, I was standing under a light blue sky, opposite Akanuma-Chaya (1390m 赤沼茶屋) at the edge of the Senjogahara Marshsland (戦場ヶ原), ready to start my hike. First, I headed down the “Nature Study Path” (戦場ヶ原自然研究路), the main route leading through the marsh and crowded with other hikers; I soon left it to follow a trail over a wooden bridge and through the forest, a trail I had done previously in the winter on cross-country skis.

First view of Mt Nantai from the Senjogahara Nature Study Path

A mix of walkways (left) and hiking trails (right)

At once, I was able to relax and enjoy the surrounding nature as few people ventured this way. After going through a gate in a deer fence, I reached another intersection where I turned right, onto a wooden walkway. I was now walking among tall larches and silver beeches, the autumn colours would probably be wonderful around this area, and soon reached the edge of Odashirogahara (1408m 小田代ヶ原), a smaller, lesser-known marshland. I turned left at the next intersection, following the contour of the marsh, eventually reaching a viewpoint of the Nikko mountains.

View from the start of the loop around Odashirogahara

View of the mountains of Oku-Nikko

I was impressed by the sight of these majestic peaks rising above the green-brown marsh. From left to right, I could distinguish Mt Taro, Mt Nyoho, Mt Omanago and Mt Nantai, all free of clouds. It was nearly 1pm so I sat down for lunch at one of the picnic tables. Afterwards, I went to check out the nearby stop of the low-emission bus (低公害バス) that runs through the area I was exploring on foot. On the way, I spotted a longhorn beetle making a difficult ascent of the restroom building (see video). A little after 1pm, I set off again, this time along the bus road, going over Yumihari Pass (1433m 弓張峠), and then re-entering the forest via a path on the right.

This part of the hike is bound to be very crowded in the autumn season

From left to right: Mt Taro, Mt Nyoho, Mt Omanago and…

From this point, I enjoyed a solitary ramble through a beautiful forest. This was the best part of the hike, but it was also bear territory, so I tried not to linger. After crossing a bridge over a river, the trail abruptly went up the mountain side, reaching the highest point of the hike, before becoming level again, and finally descending to the valley floor. A little after 2pm, I was again walking on a paved road and soon arrived at another bus stop. It definitely felt weird to see a bus pass by in the middle of a forested valley in the Nikko National Park. Here, I turned right onto a wide, straight track through a larch forest, and half hour later, reached Sainoko Lake (1295m 西ノ湖).

…at the very right, Mt Nantai

A kind of longhorn beetle having trouble with the polished wood

I was surprised to see that the lake was a lot smaller than it appeared on the map. I had somehow fallen behind schedule, so I didn’t have time to cross the wide sandy beach, formerly the lakebed, to reach the shore of the tiny expanse of water. I had the second half of my lunch on a bench and made my way back to the main trail, heading east at a fast pace through a forest of tall oaks. I suddenly heard a high-pitched shriek and noticed movement near the river on the right side. I moved to the edge of the trail, keeping in mind the signs warning hikers not to leave the trail, and saw a troupe of monkeys foraging for food along the river.

Sunny forest in bear territory

The smaller than expected Sainoko lake

I was delighted to be able to observe wild monkeys for the second time in a month. They weren’t as indifferent as the Shiga-Kogen ones, taking note of my arrival, but not as fearful as the ones I saw near Mt Tsurugatoya, soon resuming their quest for food, a couple even turning over stones in the river in search of some river-dwelling treat (the reflection of the sunlight on the water surface made it hard to film). I wanted to keep on watching them but I had to keep moving if I wanted to catch my bus back. A few minutes later, I reached Senjugahama (1276m 千手ヶ浜) at the western edge of Chuzenji lake, also visited on my previous Oku-Nikko hike.

The furthest pier at Senjugahama

A peaceful place after the crowds have left for the day

This time I could fully appreciate its tranquil atmosphere and the stunning view of Mt Nantai rising above the blue lake waters, as both the last boat and last bus had already left, and I was the last person around. After a few minutes of contemplation, I went left, following the path I had taken last year, but in reverse. I quickly passed the turn-off for Mt Taka, continuing straight ahead. It was nearing 4pm and some altostratus clouds had started to spread from the south, a sign of the approaching typhoon; inside the forest it was already dark, except for breaks in the trees letting in the slanting sunshine. The trail went up and down, accommodating the rocky nature of the shore.

The last part of the hike followed the lake shore

Once of the several views through a gap in the trees

I was glad for the exercise on a hike with no ascents. After a final view of the lake from the top of Akaishi Rock (1312m 赤石), reachable thanks to a brand new wooden staircase, I finally emerged at Shobugahama (12297m 菖蒲ヶ浜), arriving at the bus stop ten minutes before the bus for Tobu-Nikko, nearly five hours after setting off. Although I had considered this an easy hike, the many ups and down made me quite tired at the end. I got to the station one hour later, just in time for the 90-minute ride to Kita-Senju on the Tobu Spacia limited express. In the end, I hadn’t seen or heard any bears (or sign of them), but getting to see monkeys close up was just as rewarding.

See the marshlands, forest, lakes and creatures of Oku-Nikko

Monkey looking for food between Sainoko and Senjugahama

Mt Futago (1804m), Gotemba City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Sunday, September 11, 2022 [Hiking on Mt Fuji]

Hiking in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

It had been 4 years since my last hike on Mt Fuji, so I thought it was time to visit again. As on my previous trips, instead of climbing to the summit, I wanted to combine several of the trails that crisscross the Shizuoka side of the mountain. This would allow me to do some moderate hiking, further helping me get back into shape, and immerse myself in nature again, since I would be inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. I would get up extra early to catch the first Odakyu limited express of the day, the only one in the morning going all the way to Gotemba station. From there, I would take a Fujikyu bus to the Gotemba New 5th station, the lowest of the four trails up Mt Fuji. This time, I decided to do a loop hike, so I would travel back the same way. The weather was supposed to be sunny and even a little warm, perfect for a high-altitude ramble on the side of Japan’s most famous volcano. I was looking forward to getting some great views and enjoying the beautiful forest covering the lower half of Japan’s highest mountain.

Summit of Mt Fuji from the 5th station, clear of clouds and snow

Pleasant hiking at high altitude

Some clouds remained as I rode the early morning limited express to Gotemba, where I boarded a Fujikyu bus for the one-hour ride to the Gotemba New 5th station (1439m 御殿場口新五合目), getting there a little after 9am. By now, the clouds had vanished, and it was already felt quite warm under the sun. From the parking lot observation tower I enjoyed a wide view to the west of Gotemba city and the Tanzawa and Hakone mountains; turning around, I could also see cloud free summit of Mt Fuji, looking somewhat ordinary without its snowcap. At 9h30, I set off up the, now officially closed for the season, trail for the summit.

The Tanzawa mountains in Kanagawa

Yamanaka lake in Yamanashi

It seemed like a perfect day to climb to the top, which felt tantalizing close, even though it was 17oo meters higher. I quickly reached a junction at Oishi-Chaya (大石茶屋), where I took the left branch, heading towards a gap between two pimple-like mounds protruding from the volcano side. I slowly treaded up the sandy path, often stopping and turning to take in the soaring views; north, I could now see the light blue waters of Yamanaka lake, emerging from behind a light-green ridge. At 10h30, I reached the wide, flat top of Mt Futago (双子山 ふたごやま futago-yama, also called Futatsuzuka-Shitazuka 二ツ塚下塚).

The summit looks tantalizingly close

The twin mounds of Shitazuka (left) and Kamitsuka (right)

I was stunned by the majestic view, looking down at the surrounding area, which had been obscured by the clouds on my previous visit. South, I could now see Mt Ashitaka, and directly behind, the Izu peninsula and Tsuruga bay; the slightly higher Kamitsuka (上塚), and Mt Fuji, now with a cloudy headpiece, rose behind me. After a short break, I headed back to the main trail along a valley between the two mounds, and followed the “H route” of the Mt Fuji Natural Recreation Forest Trail (自然休養林歩道 “shizen kyuyorin hodo“), as it climbed gently through scattered pines, with impressive views of the rocky formations around Mt Hoei, as well as of Mt Ashitaka.

View of some of the rocky formations around Mt Hoei

View of the Ashitaka volcano mountain range

It felt amazing to walk this mostly level, panoramic trail at an altitude of nearly 2000 meters. A little before noon, I arrived at the entrance of Goten Garden (御殿庭入口). From this point, the feel of the hike became completely different, as I made me way through a dense mixed forest, on a narrow and faint path. However, this section was equally enjoyable, as the midday sun amplified the various shades of green, from the dark green of the pine needles to the light green blades of the grassy forest floor. I soon arrived at a junction at the base of Goten garden (1977m 御殿庭下). I found a fallen tree in a sunny clearing, and sat down for an early lunch.

The low mountains of Izu disappearing into the haze

It was easy to forget I was hiking on Mt Fuji

It was hard to believe I was more than halfway up Japan’s highest mountain, as I was completely surrounded by trees; it was also eerily quiet, except for the background hum of insects. At 12h30, I headed down the steep Suyamaguchi hiking trail (須山口登山道), also the “D route” of the Nature Recreation Forest Trail. As the altitude dropped, I got to enjoy the change in the surrounding nature, from a thick, impenetrable pine forest, to a roomy, shady birch forest. After nearly an hour of descending, I reached another junction at about 1600m, where I turned left, along the “E route”, heading back to my starting point.

Looking back at the trail hiked so far from the entrance of Goten Niwa

A mix of dense pine (left) and spacious birch (right) forests

I was once again walking along a pleasant and mostly level trail, although this time, the views were hidden by the towering birches. I slowed my pace and admired the beautiful nature of the Fuji part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, better known for the volcano view, rather than the ancient forests covering its lower slopes. At 2pm, I reached Maku Rock (幕岩 “makuiwa“), a lava formation created by the Mt Hoei eruption 300 years ago. From there, it took less than an hour along the ” I route” to get back to the Gotemba New 5th station, completing the loop hike in five hours and a half.

Sunny, grassy path lower down the mountain

A relaxing trail near the end the hike

I was glad I had chosen to revisit the area on a clear day: although the the top of Mt Fuji was shrouded in clouds for most of the day, I enjoyed great views in other directions; I also got a decent workout thanks to the moderate climb from the 5th station to Goten Garden. After a short wait, I caught the bus for Gotemba station; even though the bus was full, I had seen few people on the route I had chosen. Back in Gotemba, I made a quick visit to Ninjinyu public bath (人参湯) to wash off the sweat, before boarding the limited express train for the 90-minute comfortable ride to Shinjuku.

See the views from halfway up Japan’s highest volcano

Shiga-Kogen & Mt Asahi (1524m), Yamanouchi Town, Nagano Prefecture, Sunday, September 4, 2022 [Monkeys]

Hiking in the Joshin-Estu Kogen National Park

上信越高原国立公園

After a two-month break, I was looking for an easy hike to get back in shape. I also wanted to visit a national park for a total immersion in nature. Shiga-Kogen, last visited two years ago, seemed like the ideal choice, since it had mostly level hiking trails passing next to small lakes, as well as a minor summit. I could get there by taking the shinkansen to Nagano city, then ride the “snow monkey” limited express to Yudanaka, and finally board a bus for the last leg of the trip. For the return, I would catch the same bus but from a slightly lower elevation. The weather was supposed to be sunny with some clouds; hopefully the sun would have the upper hand. I knew that Yudanaka is famous for its snow monkeys bathing in hot water in winter; in summer, however, they tend to roam further away, so I thought I might catch a glimpse of them along the way.

View of Biwaike and the peaks of Shiga-Kogen from Mt Asahi

Clouds slowing vanishing above Tanohara Marshland

I rode the Hokuriku shinkansen under blue skies, enjoying the views of the mountains surrounding the Kanto Plain. After getting off at Nagano station, I boarded the limited express for the one hour ride to Yudanaka, where I switched to a surprisingly empty bus for Shibutoge (渋峠); a little before 11h30, I finally got off at Kidoike Pond (木戸池 1620m, meaning “Wooden Door Pond”). After getting ready, I set off on a wooden walkway next to the lake side, but very soon made a sharp right up a short slope, leading to the top of a grassy rise.

Kidoike at the start of today’s hike

Looking back at Tanohara Marsh

I enjoyed a fantastic view of two peaks emerging from the clouds and a wide grassy area directly below; I felt I had made the right choice by visiting Shiga-Kogen (志賀高原) and the Joshin-Etsu National Park (上信越高原国立公園) on my first Autumn hike, even though at the moment, the lower sections were still in the mist. I made my way down to Tanohara Marsh (田ノ原湿原 1610m), and followed another wooden walkway to the forest on the other side; after crossing a road and descending along a rocky trail, I reached Sankakuike Pond(三角池 1630m, meaning “Triangle Pond”), a little after noon.

Blue sky reflected in Sankakuike

Shiga Lake Hotel reflected in Hasuike

As I approached the lake, I marveled at the reflection of blue sky and fluffy white clouds on the perfectly still water surface, the low clouds having temporarily parted. I continued along the gently undulating path through thick forest and soon arrived at Kami-no-koike Pond (上の小池 1570m), a lot smaller than the two previous ones. At 12h30, I was walking the length of the narrow Nagaike Pond (長池 1584m, meaning “Long Pond”) while observing the mad dance of the dragon flies.

Today’s mountain, Mt Asahi

Caution: monkey crossing

I took a while to enjoy its mysterious atmosphere: wisps of cloud drifting with the breeze down the opposite slope, creating ripples on the water surface. I crossed another road and arrived at Shimo-no-koike Pond (下の小池 1610m), the smallest pond so far, covered in bright green water plants. Next, I emerged on a steep slope near the top of a chairlift (Shiga-Kogen is also a ski resort). At the bottom, I passed through a tunnel and found myself at Hatsuike Pond (蓮池 1490m, meaning “Lotus pond”). I walked over to the nearby Ariake-no-oka Observatory where I had a view of Mt Terakoka and Higashi-Tateyama.

Sky and clouds reflected in Ichinuma

Monkey enjoying the pond view

At the other end of the lake, I was mesmerised by the reflection of the white facade of Shiga Lake Hotel. I popped into the nearby Shiga Kogen Yama no Eki (志賀高原山の駅), a mountain roadside station, to check their flower chart. I crossed the road once more, and after descending through the forest, reached Biwaike Pond (琵琶池 1390m), the largest lake so far. Through a gap in the trees, I had my first view of today’s mountain, a flattish peak rising above the opposite shore. I was hoping to have lunch there, it was already 2pm, but before that, I passed by Ichinuma Pond (一沼 1410m), the prettiest pond of the day.

Mt Ura-Shikakogen (left) and Mt Ura-Shigakogen (right)

Last pond of the day, Mizunashiike

As I approached, I was surprised to see a monkey squatting on the wooden walkway, and then two more relaxing in a tree above. In total, I spotted about a dozen, eating various plants, as well as water lily leaves; one brave monkey even went for a dip in the cold water. After they had all left, I resumed my hike up a pleasant path through a forest of Japanese white birch (白樺 shirakaba). A little before 3pm, I reached the summit of Mt Asahi (旭山 あさひやま asahi-yama). It was mostly in the trees, but on the east side the valley bottom was faintly visible; on the west side, I could see Biwa lake, as well as Mt Shiga, Mt Terakoya and Mt Higashi-Tate.

Japanese Monkshood, one of the many flowers of Shiga-Kogen

View of sun rays passing through clouds from near the bus stop

After enjoying the best view of the day, I retraced my steps to a junction I had passed earlier, and took the left branch. I soon emerged from the forest, crossed a road for the last time, and followed a grassy path to the tiny Mizunashiike Pond (水無池 1470m meaning “Pond without water”), the last and lowest pond of the day. I saw some purple bell-shaped flowers, called Yama-Torikabuto (ヤマトリカブト Japanese monkshood). I followed the trail around the marsh, reaching the road and the bus stop just before 4pm. After getting back to Yudanaka, once more on an empty bus, I caught the “Snow Monkey” to Nagano where, after enjoying some local sake inside the station, I boarded the shinkansen for the 90 minute ride back to Tokyo.

See the ponds and monkeys of Shiga-Kogen

Kanhashu Viewpoint (771m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture, Monday, June 13, 2022

I wanted to do a half-day hike near Tokyo to escape the early summer heat and humidity. Poor weather had prevented me from going as planned on the weekend but fortunately, an opportunity presented itself to go the Monday right after. I decided to visit a viewpoint in Oku-Musashi, which I had last visited about ten years ago. I could take the limited express “Laview” train to Nishi-Agano station; it made a special stop there during spring and autumn. After reaching the highest point, I could descend via a different trail to “Kyuka Mura”, where I could enjoy a hot spring bath; day trippers were only allowed on weekdays, so it was a good chance to drop by. Afterwards, I could use their free shuttle bus to get to Agano station on the Seibu-Chichibu line. The weather was supposed to be cloudy and cool in the early morning, turning sunny and warm in the mid-morning. I hoped that I could reach the top before it got too hot, and was looking forward to revisiting a favorite spot after several years.

Good visibility from the Kanhashu Viewpoint

Looking East towards the Kanto Plain

I was slightly disappointed to see that the sky was still completely overcast after arriving at the tiny Nishi-Agano station around 8h30. I walked a short way along the road to the trail entrance and surprised a black and white cat sitting in the tall grass nearby; it escaped into the forest before I could say “hi”. I followed the wide path, labeled as the “Panorama Route” on my map, up a green valley alongside a tiny brook.

An easy path to start the hike with

Although it was called the Panorama route, there were few views

At 9am, I reached an open space offering a view of the forested valley and neighbouring hills. The path narrowed and after a couple of switchbacks up a shoulder of the mountain side, entered the forest and started to climb more steeply; half an hour later, it merged with another path coming from the left and became level. I found this part of the hike very pleasant, as sunshine was now filtering through the trees and the birds had started to sing.

Mt Fuji, barely visible from Takayama

Out of the forest and through the flowers

At 10am, I reached a road with a viewpoint and was excited to spot Mt Fuji in the distance. After admiring its still snowy cap, I picked up the next part of the path less than a hundred meters away, opposite a signpost for Takayama (高山), a place I would return to later; I was now on the well-trodden Kanto Fureai no Michi. After crossing the road a second time, the trail finally emerged from the forest and passed through some Kalmia bushes (カルミア) covered in white flowers.

View south towards Okutama, and lost in the clouds, Tanzawa

The Musashi hills fading into Musashi

I hoped this was the last climb of the day as the sun was shining directly above and it was starting to feel quite warm. At 10h30, I was relieved to reach the Kanhashu viewpoint (関八州見晴台 かんはっしゅうみはらしだい kanhasshuu-miharashidai), which translates as the Kanto 8 provinces lookout and refers to its historical role. There was an open shelter and a number of trees providing some welcome shade. I took a break on a bench to enjoy the view and a late breakfast.

A better view of Mt Fuji from the highest point of the hike

One of the few paths with a view in Oku-Musashi

The view was better than I had remembered: to the west, the Oku-musashi hills melted into the Kanto plain; to the south, they merged with the Okutama mountains; Mt Fuji was visible behind the long flat summit of Mt Bonomine; closer by were the Hanno Alps on the other side of the Agano valley; supposedly, Mt Akagi and the peaks of Oku-Nikko could be seen on the north side, but today they were lost in the haze. At 11h30, I made my way back to Takayama and Takayama-Fudoson Temple (高山不動尊), just off the main road.

View of Oku-Musashi between Takayama and the Takayama-Fudoson Temple

The main building of Takayama-Fudoson Temple

I was astounded to see such a magnificent structure in the middle of the forest; it’s these kind of moments that make hiking in Japan so rewarding. I returned to the road and soon rejoined the hiking trail again, leading back into the forest. After a few minutes, I reached a junction where I turned right. The path was pleasantly level for a while, but then proceeded to rush straight down the mountain, ending at a lovely stream.

A glimpse of “Holiday Village” (on the left)

Crossing the Koma river

After crossing a rickety bridge, I emerged into a narrow, sunny valley at around 12h30. I noticed a small house on the right, meaning I was getting near the end of today’s walk. However, it took another half hour of small ups and downs, a couple more bridges and road crossings, to finally arrive at Kyuka Mura Hot Spring (休暇村 meaning Holiday Village), nestled in a bend of the Koma river. After an enjoyable hot bath, I hopped on the shuttle bus for Agano, where I boarded the local line to Hanno and then transferred to the limited express for the forty-minute ride back to Tokyo.

See the views from the Kanhashu viewpoint (in 4K)