Mt Taro (1165m) and Mt Kokuzo (1077m), Ueda City, Nagano Prefecture

I had seen these two mountains before on previous hiking trips to Nagano since the shinkansen passes through a tunnel under them. Although they aren’t as high or as beautiful as other mountains in the area, they are on a ridge jutting into the Chikuma river valley and the summit views are apparently quite spectacular. I could get to the start of the hike by taking a taxi from the station, and then walk back from the end of the trail. I decided to stick to the route recommended by my guidebook, moderate in time and difficulty. The forecast was good, and I was hoping to get a view of the Japanese North Alps covered in snow.

View of the northern half of the Japanese North Alps

Looking southeast up the Chikuma river valley

I couldn’t have hoped for better weather as I got off the bullet train at Ueda station at 9:30. A short taxi ride brought me to the start of the trail entrance, next to where the highway enters a tunnel under the mountain. At 10am, I started up the mountain side; as the noise of the cars faded away, I was able to enjoy the silence of the forest, the trees at the very end of winter still bare of leaves. Just before 11am, I passed under a huge stone shinto gate, marking the entrance to the shrine located near the summit. Half an hour later, I reached a big bright red shinto gate below the shrine itself.

Easy hiking near Ueda city

The flat top of Utsukushigahara

After walking up some steps, I had my first big view of the day. Half a kilometer below, Ueda city stretched away southeast along the floor of the Chikuma river valley; Mt Tateshina with its rounded top rose behind it; the flat plateau of Utsukushigahara, still topped with snow, lay directly south; looking west, I could see roughly half of the snow-capped peaks of the North Alps, the other half being cut off by the trees; Mt Fuji, 125 km away, and the peaks of the South Alps could be faintly seen beyond the Yatsugatake range.

Views of the Japanese North Alps

I got on my stomach and wriggled through the miniature shinto gate in from of the main shrine building; the taxi driver had told me that it brings luck! After a few more minutes of climbing, I arrived at the highest point of Mt Taro (太郎山 たろうやま tarouyama). The view was similar, but I could now see the entire North Alps, from Mt Hotaka to Mt Shirouma. It was past noon so I sat down for an early lunch on the grassy top. Around 1pm I set off again along a pleasant undulating ridge trail. Many trees were labeled by name, but since they were still bare of leaves, they all looked alike!

Hiking between Mt Taro and Mt Kokuzo

Looking northwest down the Chikuma river valley

I passed by some more spectacular viewpoints of Ueda city; looking north, I could also see Mt Azuma and the peaks of Togakushi highland. At one point, I was able to observe cars moving along the highway as they exited the tunnel on the other side of the mountain. It took me an hour and half to reach the top of Mt Kokuzo (虚空蔵山 こくうぞうやま kokuuzouyama). By now, the sun had moved west and thin clouds had appeared to the south, radically changing the views. With the sun directly above, the southern part of the North Alps with the pointed tip of Mt Yari in the center, resembled a painting.

Heading down in the afternoon

Gentler slopes near the base of the mountain

After enjoying the warm sun for a while, I started to go down just before 3pm. It took me only a few minutes to reach a rocky viewpoint directly above Ueda city; it felt like I was looking down from inside a plane. The next part of the trail became quite steep and was lined with ropes; soon I reached gentler slopes through a pine forest near the base of the mountain. At 4pm I arrived at Zama shrine and the end of the hiking trail; this is also where the shinkansen enters a tunnel under the mountain. I followed the road back to Ueda station where I jumped on the shinkansen for the one hour ride back to Tokyo.

Mt Tsukui-Shiro (375m) and Mt Amagoi (429m), Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

I found this mountain in my Kanagawa guidebook; apparently, the view from the top was quite spectacular, despite its low altitude. The hike itself was relatively short, under two hours, but once again the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” came to my rescue. I had the choice of extending my hike to the north towards Mt Takao, or south. In the end, I chose the latter since it included less road walking. This time, I would be hiking only 40 kilometers from Tokyo, just a short bus ride away from the last stop on the Shinjuku subway line. On the other hand, I wondered how immersed in nature I would be, so close to the big city. The weather was supposed to be sunny all day, and I was looking forward to climbing a new mountain at the edge of Tokyo.

View of Tsukui lake from the top of Mt Shiro

I arrived at Motohashi station under blue skies around 8:30. About an hour later, the bus dropped me off on a busy prefectural road. I crossed to the other side via a pedestrian bridge and entered the Lake Tsukui Shiroyama Park (津久井湖城山公園). Almost immediately, I was walking on a wooden walkway surrounded by trees at the bottom of a small valley – quite an impressive transition! After one hundred meters, I turned right up a small path leading to the Mt Jubei viewpoint (十兵衛山展望台). Looking south beyond Sagami river, I could see the high-rise buildings of Atsugi city. There was a bench, so I sat down for some breakfast under the warm morning sun. At 10am, I set off again.

Hiking inside Shiroyama park

The Mt Jubei viewpoint

I was now walking along the “man’s slope” (男坂). At first, it was relatively easy but it soon turned surprisingly steep and narrow; occasionally, I steadied myself with the chains lining the left side of the path, while catching glimpses of Tsukui lake through the trees to the right. I never thought I would have such a tough climb so close to Tokyo! It took me nearly half an hour to reach the junction with the woman’s slope, from where it was just a few minutes of gentle climbing to reach Takauchi-Ba (鷹射場 meaning “hawk launching spot”). Looking east, I could see the skyscrapers of Shinjuku, as well as the Tokyo Sky Tree. To the south, I could make out the buildings of Yokohama, and the hills of the Boso peninsula behind.

Tough climbing up the man’s slope

A view of the Tokyo skyline

A few more minutes of hiking brought me to another good viewpoint, from where I could see the Tanzawa mountains to the south. Just above, and among the trees, there was the small Izuna Shrine (飯綱神社). At 11h30 I finally arrived at the top of Mt Tsukui-Shiroyama (津久井城山 つくいしろやま tsukuishriroyama). I sat down for lunch on a bench on the south side, enjoying a view of Mt Hiru framed by the trees. However, the best view of the day was to be had on the north side: west of Tsukui lake, I could see the long ridge culminating in Daibosatsurei with a dab of snow on the top. In the foreground was Mt Momokura and Mt Ogi. Through a break in the mountains, I could see Mt Kita-Okusenjo, the highest peak of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, still fully covered in snow.

Izuna shrine, half-way up the mountain

The Tanzawa mountains

There were several trails down and I decided to take the level “woman’s slope”, which wound around the mountain top. It was a good decision as it was easy to walk and went through some pretty forest – the best trail of the day so far. Fifteen minutes later, I reached a pedestrian road coming from the entrance of the park on the north side. Walking down it for a few minutes, I reached a nice viewpoint of the lake and the mountains of Yamanashi to the west. I then walked in the opposite direction, along a nice, wide wooden walkway. It was equipped with brooms and explanations on how to sweep the deck – an interesting way of making a labourious activity seem fun!

Sagami river heading into Yamanashi prefecture

The Oku-Chichibu mountains, topped with spring snow

I soon reached a good viewpoint of the Tanzawa area to the south. I could see Mt Bukka and Mt Takatori,which I had climbed about a year ago. I continued straight on past the end of the road, and along a small path leading out of the park and onto the same busy road I had left over 3 hours ago. This time, I used a staircase passing under it to get to the other side. After following a parallel but smaller road for about ten minutes, I reached the “Fureai no Michi” and the start of the hiking trail for the next mountain of the day. After a short climb through a forest, I reached a flat area of fields with goods views south of the mountain I had just come from. After crossing a village and some more fields, I reentered the forest and the hiking trail.

Easy walking down the woman’s slope

A good viewpoint at the base of the mountain

After some gentle climbing through a mixed forest, I reached the top of Mt Amagoi (雨乞山 あまごいやま amagoiyama meaning “pray for rain”) at 1h40. There was no view and nowhere to sit, so I continued down the other side without a break. Barely a few minutes later, I reached a junction and a bench. There was still no view but I sat down for a late lunch anyway. Although the trail continued along the ridge, I decided to follow the “Fureai no Michi” down the mountain and back into the valley. Once out of the forest and back on a paved road, I had finally had some good views; the green fields and the towering Tanzawa mountains in the background reminded me strongly of Switzerland.

Some more easy hiking along the Fureai no Michi

A glimpse of Switzerland in Kanagawa prefecture

Since it was only about 3h30, I decided to drop by a local sake brewery called Kubota Shuzo, better known for their Sagaminada brand. I was in luck – they were selling a new brew of sake made with Miyama Nishiki rice. After buying a couple of bottles, I hopped on the bus for Motohashi station where I transferred to the subway for Shinjuku, less than an hour away. Overall, I was quite impressed with the greenery and the views in Tokyo’s backyard (technically Kanagawa)…as well as the sake which tasted great!

Mt Akayuki (620m), Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture [Forest Fire]

Ashikaga is another area, just a dozen kilometers southeast of Kiryu, that is suitable for winter hiking. Here again, I had exhausted all the suggestions from my guidebook, but I was able to find a section of the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” nearby that would make a good hike. Starting several kilometers north of the city, it was the continuation of the hike I had done up Mt Gyodo in February 2018. There were no peaks on this route, and probably few views, but it ended at a shrine and an interesting rock formation. It seemed a little short, but after examining Google Maps, I discovered a hiking trail that led to Mt Akayuki which I had climbed in November 2018. From there, I could descend to Matsuda town and a bus stop. On my previous trip, I had missed out on that last part, so I was excited at the prospect of climbing this summit a second time.

Looking north, the mountains of Tochigi

I rode the comfortable Ryomo limited express to Ashikaga City, arriving there before 9am. The weather was sunny and I had good views of Mt Akagi to the north. As I boarded the bus, the driver told me that a certain hiking area was prohibited and pointed to a red sign at the front of the bus. Fortunately for me, it concerned Mt Ryogai (両崖山), the peak before Mt Gyodo, and a few kilometers away from my starting point. The fire, which had started just the day before, continued to burn for 3 weeks, unfortunately for the people of Ashikaga, and hikers and lovers of nature in general. From the bus, I could see smoke rising from the ridgeline; a helicopter flew by, releasing water from above.

In the center, smoke from the Ashikaga forest fire

Another helicopter carrying a load of water flew directly over me shortly after I got off the bus (see video). I walked up the narrow road and reached the start of the hiking trail just before 10am. At first, it followed a dirt road through the bottom of a small valley, before suddenly turning right up the mountain side. A few minutes later, I was walking north along a low wide ridge through the forest. The wind was blowing hard today and the cypress trees were swaying above me; I was worried about the fire, thinking it would be hard to put it out in such conditions. At 10h30 I reached the road at Umauchi Pass (馬打ち峠 meaning “hit the horse”).

Sunny conditions all day long

The signboard at the pass said that in ancient times you had to whip your horse to get it up the steep slope. I needed no such encouragement, but finding a bench at this spot, I sat down for a late breakfast. From now, the path gradually went up, but as I had expected, there were few views; at the same time, I was glad that the trees blocked out the cold wind. Half an hour later, I reached a nameless summit with a picnic table. Looking through the trees, I could see Matsuda town stretching south along the valley. After a short break, I continued down the other side, soon arriving at another road crossing.

A great place to hike in the winter

The path now climbed more steeply, but since the steepest sections had log staircases, it remained easy to hike. Thirty minutes later, I reached an area free of trees, and turning around, I had a good view southwards of the ridge I had walked so far. Beyond, I could still see smoke rising from the forest fire (see video). Facing east, I could look down on the Nagusa river valley. The path descended again and very soon I reached the Nagusa Itsukushima Shrine (名草厳島神社). A few minutes later, I reached the Nagusa Megalith Group (名草巨石群), several mossy boulders in the middle of a forest of towering cedar trees. This was also the end of the Fureai no Michi.

Itsukushima Shrine and one of the boulders of the Nagusa Megalith Group

I continued along a paved road as it zigzagged up the mountain. It took 20 minutes to reach a log staircase and the entrance to the hiking trail. Here the path was narrower, with more ups and downs. At one point, I had some good views to the north, although I couldn’t recognise any of the mountains. At 2pm, I reached the turnoff for the terrible path I had taken 2 years earlier. There was now a sign prohibiting entry because of the many fallen trees blocking the path. A few minutes later, I reached the top of Mt Akayuki (赤雪山 あかゆきやま akayukiyama meaning red snow). I sat down on a bench for a short break, facing the view to the east through a break in the trees.

View of the hills of Southern Tochigi

I admired the low hilly area of southern Tochigi while munching on my last onigiri. I then went down as fast as I could and arrived at a road next to Matsuda lake in just twenty minutes. Walking past the dam, I saw a bright red fire engine and a group of fire fighters spreading a bag used for transporting water. As I was walking down the road towards the bus stop, a helicopter flew by overhead; a few minutes later, it flew back with its load of water (see video). It seemed like the efforts to put out the fire were still continuing. I reached the bus stop at 3pm, and by 4pm, I was sitting comfortably again on the Ryomo limited express headed back to Tokyo.

See the view from the top of Mt Akayuki and video of the Ashikaga forest fire

Mt Azuma (481m), Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture

I wanted to do another hike in the Kiryu area since its low hilly terrain is perfect for winter. I had already completed all the ones in my hiking book, but searching online, I noticed that a section of the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” went up a peak I had yet to climb, before going down the other side and ending at a nature center and a bus stop. It was a little on the short side, so I decided to extend it with a roundtrip to the next peak along the same ridge; the trail continued further for another 5 km to Mt Narukami, which I had climbed two years ago. If I walked that far, I probably wouldn’t make it down before dark, so I decided to keep that section for a longer day. I had been to Kiryu station before so I knew exactly how to get there. Since there was no bus to catch to the start of the trail, I could be flexible with my departure time, something which is much appreciated on cold winter mornings!

View of Kiryu city from the Kite’s Rock

I got to Kiryu station in under 2 hours on a sunny and windless day – ideal conditions for hiking. After a thirty minute walk through a residential neighbourhood, I reached the entrance of Azuma Park behind a temple, and the start of the hiking trail. Today’s mountain seemed popular with families, and many children were having fun climbing the steep, rocky “man’s slope” (男坂). The rocks formed a kind of natural staircase and it was easier to go up than it seemed at first.

View of the Hachioji Hills from the top of Mt Azuma

Nice hiking north of Kiryu city

I soon had my first view of the day from the Kite’s Rock (トンビ岩). Eastwards and directly below, Kiryu city filled up all available flat space between hilly ridgelines. Directly south, the Hachioji Hills stretched west to east between the city and the Kanto plain. However, I couldn’t spot any Black Kites circling above the valley. After some more steep climbing, I arrived at the top of Mt Azuma (吾妻山 あづまやま azumayama), a little after noon.

The long ridge leading to Mt Senjin

Viewpoint near the highest point of the hike

It was unseasonably warm – a thermometer under the summit sign indicated 20°C! The views were similar to before and, after finding a place to sit, I had an early lunch. The summit was getting crowded, and I decided to set off again after twenty minutes. The trail followed the gentle ridge northwards through a mixed forest of pine and cedar. I had occasional views on both sides; to the east was the long ridge leading to Mt Senjn; to the west, I could make out the shape of Mt Akagi despite the midday haze. I had seen no other hikers since lunch, and it was very peaceful.

Less protection from the wind along this section

Looking west, Mt Akagi faintly visible on the right

An hour later, I passed the turn-off for the nature center. I continued up the ridge and was rewarded with a sweeping view to the south. I could see the forested ridge I had walked up, and beyond, the Kanto plain, a vast urban area, its many buildings reflecting the afternoon sun. Past this viewpoint, the trail entered a leafless forest; unimpeded, the cold winter wind now swept over the ridge. At 2pm, I was standing at the top of Mt Ogata (681m 大形山). My map promised a view to the south but it was completely obscured by trees, even without their leaves. However, I did get a glimpse of Mt Narukami on the North side.

Last view of the day from the Nature Observation Forest

Some easy hiking to finish the day

I walked back to the previous viewpoint where I sat down for a short break under the warm sun. By 3pm, I was on the path for the nature center, heading down and west; thirty minutes later I reached the Nature Observation Forest (自然観察の森). There were several paths through this forest, and since the bus wasn’t due for another hour, I tried to pick the longest one. I reached the bus stop at 4h30, a few minutes before the sun disappeared behind the mountains, and I was back at Kiryu station by 5pm, where I boarded a local train for the 2 hour ride back to Tokyo.

Mt Ogusu (241m), Yokotsuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture

I had climbed this mountain once before in 2014, hiking up and down the western side. This time, I wanted to cross over to the other side; I would go up the trail I had descended the previous time, as it is the better of the two. Hopefully, the trail on the other side would be just as nice. Since trains and buses run frequently this close to Tokyo, access would be straightforward. The weather was supposed to be good again, and I was also hoping for a glimpse of Mt Fuji across Sagami bay.

The peaks of Mt Hodai and Mt Miura-Fuji near the heel of the Miura peninsula

I rode the Shonan-Shinjuku line directly to the seaside resort of Zushi, where I caught one of the frequent buses heading south along the western coast of the Miura peninsula. I could already see Mt Fuji from the bus; after getting off, I backtracked for a few minutes to “Bonten no Hana” (梵天の鼻 meaning the Brahma’s nose), a rocky promontory from where I snapped some pictures of Japan’s most famous mountain. On its right, I could see the Tanzawa mountains, and to the left, the Hakone mountains.

Mt Fuji from the Brahma’s nose

Sun along the Maeda River Promenade

Before starting my hike, I had an early lunch at nearby Soba Okeya, so I only reached the Maeda River Promenade entrance (前田川遊歩道 maedagawa-yuhodo) at 1pm (also part of the Fureai no michi). It was a small river but enjoyable to walk along in the sunny winter weather, and I shared the trail with many locals. Twenty minutes later I reached the end of the promenade and the start of the hiking trail. First, it followed a long curving log staircase up the mountain side, then alternated between flat and climbing sections. The surrounding forest reminded me of hiking in Kamakura.

Start of the hiking trail up Mt Ogusu

One of the level sections of the trail

One hour later, I arrived at a tall white tower; it looked quite spectacular against the blue sky. From the top, I had good views of the entire Miura peninsula; directly west, Mt Fuji was still faintly visible; looking north, I could see the hills of the Miura Alps with the skyscrapers of Yokohama in the background. However this wasn’t the summit yet. It took another ten minutes to reach the the top of Mt Ogusu (大楠山 おおぐすやま oogusu-yama), the highest point of the Miura peninsula, and a hundred famous mountain of Kanto.

The white tower on the way to the summit

View towards Sagami bay from Mt Ogusu

There was another tower here, just as tall as the previous one but made of metal. From the top, I had an excellent view to the south of the flat boot-shaped extremity of the Miura peninsula. Westwards was Yokotsuka city and its port. Directly above, a black kite bird (“tobi” in Japanese) was circling in the sky. It was already past 3pm and time to head down. At first, I walked down a steep staircase at the bottom of which I turned sharply left and hugged the mountain side. At one point, I passed next to a golf course and through a tunnel made of a protective netting similar to the one near Miyazawa Lake.

The southern part of the Miura peninsula

The Miura Alps with Yokohama behind

Just past the golf course, I reached a fork in the trail. As I was confirming the way in my hiking book, I suddenly turned around, and saw a cat watching me from the path; halfway up a mountain was certainly an odd place for a cat to be. The trail now descended to the bottom of the valley through the forest. I was near the center of the Miura peninsula, and it was easy to forget that I was only 20 kilometers away from Yokohama. There were no other hikers here and I could enjoy the tranquility of nature. As when I had hiked the Rokoku pass, I was occasionally spooked by the many squirrels scampering up and down the tree branches (could be the reason for the cat).

Pleasant hiking on the Miura peninsula

Few hikers but a well-maintained trail

At 4pm, I reached the stream at the bottom of the valley. After crossing two small concrete bridges, I was back on a countryside road. A few minutes later, I was walking through the suburbs of Yokotsuka city; I spotted a few more cats, as well as many daffodils which flower at this time of the year. Thirty minutes later, I reached a bus stop on a busy road which cuts through the center of the peninsula. After a short ride, I was back at Zushi station where I boarded the Shonan-Shinjuku line for the one hour train ride back to Tokyo.

See the view from the highest point of the Miura peninsula

The Sengoku-Hara Kojiri Nature Trail and Ashi Lake West Shore Trail, Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture

This would be my third hiking trip to Hakone in the past year (8th overall). I enjoy going there because it’s close to Tokyo and has good public transport access. This time, instead of climbing one of the many peaks of this active volcano, I would walk along the west shore of Lake Ashi, and thus avoid snow and cold winds of the higher elevations. On the other hand, I would not get any Mt Fuji views, although I would still be able to see many of the mountains surrounding the twin calderas of Hakone. Since the lakeside trail would take less than 4 hours, I decided to start with a nature trail that went through the Sengoku plain. I didn’t need to look up the bus times since I would use the same bus as for my hike up Mt Myojin. The weather forecast good, but since Mt Hakone, the highest peak in the area, is a cloud magnet, it was always possible that the weather would turn cloudy.

Hiking in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

View of the Sengoku plain from the Sengoku-Hara Kojiri Trail

On the right, the highest point of the Hakone area

I rode the comfortable Romance car from Shinjuku and transferred to the Hakone Tozan bus at Odawara, arriving at Sengoku at 9h30. It took about 20 minutes to reach the start of the Sengoku-Hara Kojiri Nature Trail (仙石原湖自然歩道) connecting Sengoku with Ashi Lake. The trail took me to a bridge over Haya river, then followed it upstream for a short while. I found a nice sunny bench and sat down for a late breakfast. Looking south, I could see the pointed top of Mt Kintoki. The trail soon left the river and crossed a small road; I was now following a forest road at the edge of the plain and I had good views of the outer crater rim to the south, as well as Mt Hakone in the center.

Haya river with Mt Kintoki directly behind

Hiking the Sengoku-Hara Kojiri Nature Trail

The trail went in and out the woods. Although it was the middle of winter, there was little wind and it wasn’t too cold. At 12h15, I arrived at the Kojiri water gate (湖尻水門) at the northern end of Ashi lake. The water gate was unexpectedly picturesque, like something you might see in Europe. I settled down on one of the benches facing the lake, and despite the strong cold wind, had an early lunch, listening to the wavelets lap against the stony beach. The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds, and I was starting to get cold; soon I was back on the hiking trail.

Kojiri water gate with Mt Hakone behind

Hiking the Ashi Lake West Shore Trail

It was now completely overcast and I was hoping it wouldn’t start raining. I was now walking the Ashi Lake West Shore trail (芦の湖西岸歩道). Like the nature trail, it followed a forest road closed to traffic. There were few viewpoints, but I saw no other hikers and enjoyed some quiet and easy hiking. At one point, I observed a fairly big bird of prey making circles above the lake (see video). Half an hour later, the forest road suddenly narrowed and became a proper hiking trail. I spotted an unoccupied nest in a bush just next to the road, a testimony to how few people pass through here.

The only clouds remaining in the afternoon were above Mt Koma

Good view from the west shore of Lake Ashi

Another hour of hiking brought me to an excellent viewpoint of Lake Ashi, Mt Hakone, Mt Koma and the Moto-Hakone port at the southern end of the lake. It was sunny again, except for the top of the Mt Koma ropeway, which was disappearing in and out of the clouds (see video). Suddenly, another “bird”, an artificial one, flew by overhead; probably a helicopter belonging to the Japanese self-defense force. I arrived at Hakonemachi at 3h30, completely deserted by this time, and caught the 4pm express bus for Hakone Yumoto. There I hopped on the romance car for the 90 minute trip back to Shinjuku.

Hiking the west side of Lake Ashi

Miyazawa Lake Loop and the Kaji Hills, Hanno and Iruma Cities, Saitama Prefecture

A few years ago, I did several short hikes in the Hanno area. There was a couple of loose ends left over, so I decided to combine them into a day hike. At that time, the Moomin Valley park was being built, so the loop around Miyazawa lake was closed. The park opened in 2019, and it’s once again possible to walk around the lake. I had done some cycling close to the Kaji hills, but I had never hiked them. Thanks to the new theme park, there was a frequent bus service from Hanno station and I decided to use it rather than walk through the city from the train station to the lake. The weather forecast was good once again, and I was looking forward to doing some hiking close to home.

View of Hanno city and the Oku-Musashi mountains

The Tanzawa mountains

I arrived at Hanno station under blue skies and transferred to the bus for Metsa Village, next to the Moomin theme park. By 10am, I was standing above the dark blue surface of Miyazawa lake (宮沢湖). There was a bitter cold wind, and I was glad I wasn’t hiking higher up today. In the distance, I could see the summits of Mt Odake and Mt Gozen, barely visible above the trees. The hiking path, known as the Oku-Musashi Nature Walk (奥武蔵自然歩道), soon entered the forest and moved away from the lake shore. After a short climb and a short descent, I arrived at a T-Junction, where I turned left up a gentle slope.

Mt Gozen (left) and Mt Odake (right)

Protection from stray golf balls

I was now walking alongside a golf course, and for a short while the trail went through a kind of tunnel that prevented stray golf balls from striking passerby’s. At 11am, I reached Koma pass (高麗峠 177m). I was now surrounded by forest on both sides the trail; some trees had name tags which I found quite useful. Half an hour later, I arrived at Fujimi Pass (富士見峠), where, as the name suggests, I had a view of Mt Fuji. After a short break, I set off again. A few minutes later, I passed an open space called Hohoemi-Oka (ほほえみ丘 meaning smile hills), a good place for a picnic in warmer weather.

Mt Fuji (left) and Mt Izu (right) at Fujimi Pass

Walking through the forest close to the city

So far the path had been mostly flat, but from now it turned hilly. The steeper sections were fitted with steps so it remained a rather relaxing hike. At 12h15, I was back at my starting point, and shortly afterwards I was sitting on the bus for Hanno station. There, I transferred to the Seibu line for the short ride to Bushi station. Once outside the station, I quickly found the signs for the Kaji hills hiking trail (鍛冶丘ハイキングコース). At 1pm, I was walking on the northern branch of the hiking trail, on a narrow paved road through the woods. Very soon, I arrived at a viewpoint, where I could see Hanno city through a break in the trees.

Hiking around Miyazawa lake

Hiking the Kaji Hills

It took another thirty minutes of gentle climbing to get to the Sakurayama Viewpoint (桜山展望台 さくらやまてんぼうだい sakurayama-tenbodai), a twenty-meter high structure at the highest point of the Kaji hills (180m). At the top, I had a panoramic view of the Tokyo metropolis and the surrounding mountains. Looking east, I could see the Shinjuku skyscraper district, as well as the Tokyo Skytree (about 40km away); directly south were the Tanzawa mountains; the Okutama and Chichibu mountains stretched across the western side with Mt Fuji in the center; to the north, I had a view of the Oku-Musashi hills, with the flat top of Mt Dodaira just visible in the back; finally, I could just make out the outline of Mt Akagi, 80km away.

Viewpoint along the Kaji Hills hiking trail

The Sakurayama viewpoint

Once I had enough of the views, I climbed down to the base of the tower, and walked back to Bushi station, via the south course. By 3pm I was back on the road, and from there it was a 15 minute walk back to the station. Both hikes were quite short, two hours each, and could be done separately; however, combined they formed a satisfying outing which included forest walking and views of Mt Fuji, and some of the mountain ranges surrounding the Kanto plain. Less than an hour later, I was again surrounded by the buildings of Tokyo.

See the view from the top of the Sakurayama Observatory

Mt Iwatakeishi (793m), Mt Kuro (842m) & Mt Onita (505m), Ome and Hanno Cities, Tokyo and Saitama Prefectures, January 2021

I was looking for some more “Kanto no Fureai trails” close to Tokyo. I found a promising section in the Okutama area and decided to combine it with a couple of nearby mountains, forming a zigzag hike, straddling Tokyo and Saitama prefectures. My main concern was whether I would have enough time to complete what seemed like an ambitious hike. The last section followed local trails that weren’t shown on my hiking map, and I was hoping they would be easy to follow. I had been to the area many times before, so I was familiar with the way there and back. The weather forecast was good, and I was looking forward to my first multi-prefecture hike in a while.

Hiking in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park

Looking east towards Tokyo

I arrived at Kawai station at 9h30 on a sunny winter day. I quickly made my way down to the Ome-Kaido road to catch the bus scheduled to arrive in a few minutes. I got off before the other passengers headed for Bonomine, and followed the signs, first through the village, and then along a paved forest road, which later became a dirt road. At 10h30, just when I was starting to think that I would be walking on this road all the way to the top, I spotted the hiking trail leading off to the right and up the mountain side.

The low, hilly area of Oku-Mukashi

The path to Mt Takamizu

The trail went up a small valley through a gloomy, dark forest. Suddenly, it veered left, leaving the valley and hugging the sunny mountain side. It took me another twenty minutes to reach Nasaka pass (名坂峠). Today’s hike was along the ridge to the left, but, I decided to first do a short round trip to the peak on the right. At 11am, I was standing on the top of Mt Iwatakeishi (岩茸石山 いわたけいしやま iwatakeishi-yama), a Kanto hundred famous mountain I had climbed once before in the spring a few years ago. There were so many people at the top it was hard to find a place to sit down!

On the left, Mt Kawanori

The ridge leading down from Mt Kuro towards Kosawa pass

The view was a lot better than I remembered. To the east was the summit of Mt Takamizu; looking north, I could see the mountains of Oku-Musashi; eastwards was Mt Kawanori and Mt Honita. I walked south along the summit ridge to another viewpoint, where I could see right through the middle of the Okutama mountains all the way to Daibosatsurei and the long ridge leading away from it to the south. After having a late breakfast, I made my way back to the pass and started the long climb along the ridge, part of the Fureai no Michi, leaving the crowds behind me.

In the back, Daibosatsurei

This is still inside Tokyo Prefecture

There were almost no other hikers along this section and it was very peaceful. It was also quite warm, and felt like March rather than January. After about an hour, I reached a viewpoint above a cliff from where I could see Mt Mitake and its shrine to the south; behind and on the right was Mt Odake; Mt Fuji, further behind, was hidden by the clouds. I reached the lonely but sunny top of Mt Kuro (黒山くろやま kuroyama meaning black mountain). There was no view but there was a bench in the sun so I sat down and had some lunch. I decided to skip Bonomine, which I had climbed several times before, and head down another ridge; it formed a sharp angle with the one I had just come up, like a bent elbow.

Looking towards Mt Mitake

A good place for a break

Here the trail became more difficult to follow; I was no longer following the Fureai no Michi, and the signposts were less frequent. At one point, I passed a group of lumberjacks just as the tree they had been cutting crashed to the ground (I was at a safe distance). Just afterwards, I crossed a forest road where a group of hunters was getting ready. They had a loud barking dog, but fortunately it was locked inside a cage. I started to walk faster to put some distance between myself and the hunt. Suddenly, I was no longer on the path. Using Google Maps, I saw that the ridge curved northwards around this point. I retraced my steps and quickly found the trail again.

The sunny top of Mt Kuro

Still sunny through the leafless trees

I could hear the noise of barking getting ever closer. The hunting dog eventually caught up and overtook me. Having seemed quite agressive earlier on, it showed no interest in me. Later on, it passed me again on its way back, having failed to find anything hunt-worthy (see video). On the left side, I had some glimpses of the Iruma valley. Around 2h30, the path started to descend steeply and I saw some towering cedar trees. This section was very beautiful and I was glad it was protected since it was part of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park. At 3pm I reached Kosawa Pass (小沢峠). It was later than I had planned and I needed to quicken the pace if I wanted to be able to climb today’s last mountain before dark.

Mostly hiking through forest at lower altitude

Approaching the last mountain of the day

The sun was already low on the horizon and I had to be careful not to miss the frequent twists and turns of the trail through the dark forest. It took me one hour and a lot of ups and downs to reach the top of Mt Onita (大仁田山 おおにたやま oonita-yama). There was a small gap through the trees on the east side through which I could see the flat Kanto plain. For some reason, one side of the summit sign was in English. I took a short break before heading down as fast as I could. It took me 20 minutes to reach the road and the bus stop. At 5h30 I was at Hanno station where I got the Limited Express train for Tokyo, relieved that I had managed to complete this long hike before sunset.

Check out the views from the top of Mt Iwatakeishi

Mt Shomure (542m) and Mt Yogai (536m), Uenohara City, Yamanashi Prefecture, January 2021

I found these two mountains on my Takao area hiking map – they aren’t mentioned in any of my guidebooks. I was mainly interested in the second one; however, since it was too short for a day hike, I decided to tack on a small mountain just north of Mt No and Mt Yae, with a little road walking in between. One advantage of this addition was that I already knew which bus to take to the start of the trail. Since my planned hike made a loop and ended quite close to the starting point, I would be able to take the same bus back with a little more road walking. I had done several hikes in the area before, so I was wondering if I would get any new views on this trip.

Mt Fuji view from the top of Mt Koyashiro

View of the mountains south of the Chuo line

There wasn’t a cloud in sight when I arrived at Uenohara station around 9am. I rode the bus till the end of the line; after getting off, I could see the white top of Mt Fuji popping above the low mountains to the south. I continued walking along the road, and soon arrived at a small trail on the left leading to a trio of waterfalls. I decided to check them out quickly since I hadn’t had time to do so on my last visit. The path descended steeply into the valley via a series of switchbacks. I soon reached a small partly frozen waterfall, something I don’t usually see so close to Tokyo.

Mt Fuji from near the start of the hike

A good place for a short break on Mt Shomure

I reached a much higher waterfall just above a bend in the Tsuru river (see video). The path ended there, so I made my way back up; just below the road, I spotted the third waterfall through the forest. Back on the road, it took another ten minutes to reach the base of the today’s first mountain. I took the east route, heading straight up, with ropes on the side for the less sure-footed. Half-way up, I arrived at at small open space with a good view of Mt Fuji. At 11am, I reached the top of Mt Shomure (聖武連山 しょうむれやま shomure-yama). It took only 30 minutes but it was enough to work up an appetite, and I sat down for a late breakfast.

Mt Fuji from the top of Mt Shomure

The Tsuru river

I had a good view southwards of Uenohara city and Mt Fuji. I shared the summit with an NHK radio wave tower. At 11h30, I descended via the west route. This trail zigzagged down the side of the mountain and was the better of the two routes. Fifteen minutes later I was back on the same road as before; I crossed it and continued down the mountain side following the signs for Shomure Bridge. Halfway down, I came across a side trail on the left for another waterfall viewpoint. I decided to check it out since I had ample time for detours today. The path led directly to the riverside, and then turned left following it downstream.

Lots of good views of Mt Fuji in the area

A gentle slope up the mountain

I reached a tricky rocky section with chains on one side. The valley narrowed beyond and the river became a rushing torrent below high cliffs (see video). I soon reached the end of the trail with a viewpoint. On the left was another small half-frozen waterfall. Although it was winter, there were still many fallen leaves on the ground; I suppose this spot must be quite popular in the autumn. I retraced my steps, rejoined the main path and crossed the hanging bridge over Tsuru river. Walking up the other side, I had some good views of Mt Shomure. I was soon back on the main road, and a few minutes later I was at the entrance of the hiking trail for today’s second mountain at 12h40.

Looking east towards Mt No and Mt Yae

The top of Mt Koyashiro, a good place for lunch

The trail climbed gently through the forest with occasional views towards Uenohara city on the left. Thirty minutes later, I reached the top of Mt Ozuku 538m (尾続山 おづくやま ozuku-yama). To the south, I could see the top of Mt Fuji through a break in the trees. A little further, I had a good view westwards of Mt No and Mt Yae, with Mt Jinba and Mt Sekiro in the background. Twenty minutes later, I reached the summit of Mt Minashi 609m (実成山 みなしやま minashi-yama). It was the highest point of the hike but completely surrounded by trees. Ten minutes of walking along the top ridge brought me to another Fuji viewpoint and the top of Mt Koyashiro 600m (コヤシロ山 こやしろやま koyashiro-yama).

Paragliders enjoying the Mt Fuji view

An up and down trail

From here I could properly admire Mt Fuji, finally in its winter coat. Circling the valley like birds of prey, were two paragliders enjoying front row views of Japan’s most famous volcano (see video). It was now 2pm, so I sat down for a late lunch. There was almost no wind, and it felt very pleasant in the afternoon sun. At 2h30, I set off again, leaving the main ridge and following a smaller one as it curved back eastwards. At first, it descended steeply before climbing again to the top of “Kaze no Kamisama” 540m (風の神様 meaning the wind god). There, I had good views of the long flat top of Mt Gongen to the west.

Panoramic view from the top of Mt Yogai

Mt Sekiro framed by the trees

The way down followed a narrow, exciting ridgeline through mountainous terrain with lots of up and down. At 3pm, I finally reached the top of Mt Yogai (要害山 ようがいさん yogaisan meaning Mt Fortress) where I had the best view of the day. I could see the entire valley spanned by the Chuo line from east to west; this was one of the best panoramas I had ever had in the Tokyo area. Half an hour later, I headed down the mountain, and had some more good views of Uenohara before reaching a small road. At 4pm, I was back on the main road just one kilometer south of the start of the of the Yogai Hiking Trail (要害ハイキングコース). It was another 15 minutes back to the bus stop, and thirty minutes later I was on the Chuo line for Tokyo.

See the waterfalls of Tsuru river

Rapids of the Tsuru river

Tomioka Alps (Mt Kannari 320m) & the Gunma Museum of Natural History

I had first read about this hike in my Gunma hiking book, but it was too short and too far for a day hike, so I reluctantly set it aside. Later on, I found out that the Kanto Fureai no Michi also went through the area, and I could use it to extend the hike eastwards. The path passed by the Gunma Museum of Natural History which I could also visit, if time allowed. I generally don’t drop by museums on hikes, but this one had a high rating on Google Maps, and I was interested in learning more about the local animals and plants. I was excited about checking out another “Alps” trail; according to online reviews, it was “the cleanest hiking course in Japan, ” apparently because the locals sweep the leaves off. It was a station to station hike on the Joshin Dentetsu line, a railway line I had used many times before. The weather forecast showed the sun mark for the whole day, so I was looking forward to some good views of the mountains of western Gunma.

The mountains of western Gunma under a grey sky

I reached the small Nanja station a little after 10am. The promised sun was hiding behind grey clouds, and it seemed unlikely that it would emerge anytime soon, a rare miss for the Japanese Meteorological Agency. I kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t rain. Every cloud has a silver lining though, and these ones were high enough for the surrounding mountains to be still visible. After half an hour of walking, I reached the small shrine at the base of the Tomioka Alps (富岡アルプス tomioka arupusu), also known as the Kannari Hiking course.

Mt Inafukumi, climbed 2 years ago

The trail is definitely clean of leaves

It took just ten minutes of climbing to reach the top of Mt Azuma (328m 吾妻山 あずまさん azumasan), and the first views. Looking west, I could see the outskirts of Shimonita village, with Mt Ozawa behind; directly ahead was the triangular shape of Mt Inafukumi. As expected, the trail went up and down along the ridgeline and over several minor summits. I reached the halfway point just before noon where there was a mini natural museum (ミニ自然博物館) consisting of a glass cabinet with various exhibits related to the local plants and animals, a foretaste of my museum visit planned for the afternoon.

The Mini Nature Museum

At the extreme left, the pointed tip of Mt Ushibuse

I reached the second viewpoint of the day thirty minutes later, next to the summit of Mt Kannari (神成山 かんなりやま kannariyama). Looking east, I could see the pointed summit of Mt Ushibuse. Directly beneath, a train on the Joshin Dentetsu line was moving along the valley floor (see video). After a brief stop for lunch, I set off again, now heading down to the bottom of the valley. I passed by a somewhat scary statue of “fudosama” lurking among the bamboo next to the trail. At 1pm, I was off the mountain and walking through Tomioka Town. It would take 45 minutes to reach the museum, which was starting to seem like a good place to spend a cold and cloudy winter afternoon.

See the views from the Tomioka Alps

A good thing the museum has a high roof

I spent nearly two hours exploring the Gunma Museum of Natural History, but could easily have spent three hours or more. Of the five sections, the most impressive one by far was “The Age of the Earth” which held full-size dinosaur skeletons and scaled-down animated models (see video and gifs). The most interesting section, for me, was “The Nature and Environment of Gunma.” It contained a forest diorama, and seeing different kinds of trees side by side helped me understand the subtle differences between them. There were also many mounted animals, some of which I had never seen or only glimpsed briefly while hiking.

A fossil dig display

I’ve seen many copper pheasants fly away from me

Visually, the museum is stunning; a pity there are no English explanations. By the time I had satisfied my curiosity, it was already past 3pm, and I had to rush through the three remaining sections. I had originally planned to continue walking the Fureai no Michi and finish at Higashi-Tomioka station. However, I now had to leave that for another day. At 4pm, I walked back to Joshu-Nanokaichi Station, the closest station to the museum. Although the weather was disappointing, the museum visit definitely made it a success. By 4h30 I was back on the train for Takasaki, for the 2h30 minute trip back to Tokyo.

To hear them roar, watch the video below

See the animated Tyrannosaurus Rex