Mt Atago (653m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture [Fureai no Michi]

I was looking for a new hike in the Oku-Musashi area (meaning “Deep Tokyo” but actually in Saitama). I decided to explore a ridgeline west of Mt Warabi and south of Mt Izu, following the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” for most of the way, and including a minor peak and a couple of temples along the way. Since it was a short hike, with frequent buses to the start of the hike and frequent trains from the end, I could leave later than usual. The forecast announced cloudy with some sun around lunchtime; temperatures were predicted to be cool for the season – perfect for some low altitude hiking at the end of spring. I was looking forward to walking through beautiful nature close to Tokyo just before the start of the rainy season.

View of the Oku-Musashi mountains from Nenogongen Tenryu-ji Temple

Mt Buko at the very end of the valley

I arrived at Hanno station around 10h30 under grey skies and transferred to a Seibu bus, full of hikers headed for Mt Bonomine. I got off at the following stop and at 11am I was walking up the mountain side through a dark forest. Twenty minutes later I reached a clearing with a view northwards: at the end of the valley I could make out Mt Komochi and Mt Buko. After fifteen more minutes I reached a pass, from where it was a pleasant stroll on a level path to the moss-covered Taka-dera temple (高寺 490m).

Pleasant walking through the hills of Saitama Prefecture

The moss-covered roof of Taka-dera visible through the trees

I was intrigued by a pair of wooden totem poles representing buffalo-headed humans playing flutes: I had never seen anything like it before. I continued along the easy to follow and easy to walk Fureai no Michi trail. The path rose slightly before becoming level again. At 12h30 I reached another pass. Here the trail left the mountain side and followed the ridgeline. I climbed a path crisscrossed with roots and then walked down a log staircase. At 1pm, I was at the top of Mt Atago (愛宕山), completely surrounded by trees and slightly off the main trail.

Totem pole of Taka-dera (left) and guardian demon of Tenryu-ji (right)

Easy hiking along the mountain side

A little further, I reached an amazing viewpoint of the valley, through which the Seibu-Chichibu line passes. There was even an unoccupied bench, and the clouds had started to melt away, so I decided to stop for lunch. To the north, I could see the observatory at the top of Mt Maru and Dodaira; opposite was the Oku-Musashi Green line; looking south I thought I could spot Mt Hiwada. After a peaceful lunch, I continued to Nenogongen Tenryu-ji Temple (子ノ権現天龍寺 520m) just a few minutes away. There was another viewpoint above the temple and next to the bell, with the Kanto plain spreading eastwards.

The perfect place for a lunch break

Looking east towards the Kanto plain

I walked out of the temple complex past two guardian demons and a huge cedar tree and after a short trot on the road, reached the trail for Nishi-Agano station. I descended through beautiful forest and then followed a small babbling brook at the bottom of the valley. At 3pm, I reached some houses and a paved road; it took another thirty minutes through pleasant countryside to reach the station. I was just on time for the local train, which I rode for a short while before switching to the Laview Limited express at 4pm for the short and comfortable ride back to Tokyo.

Enjoy the sights and sounds of the Saitama section of the Fureai no Michi

Mt Taka (1668m) & the Chuzenji Lake Nature Trail, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture

Since climbing Mt Shazan last summer, I had been wanting to return and explore the shoreline of Chuzenji lake. Although circling the entire lake would be too long for a day hike, it was possible to do only the western and southern sides, away from the main road, and also include a small summit on the way. Since I visit Oku-Nikko nearly every year, I was familiar with the way there and back; I could use a bus to get to the start of the hike, and also for the return. My main concern was to finish the hike early enough so that I could get back to Nikko station in time for the last limited express back to Tokyo. The rainy season hadn’t arrived yet and blues skies were forecast for the entire Kanto area, so I was looking forward to exploring a new corner of “deep Nikko” in good weather.

Hiking in the Nikko National Park 日光国立公園

Sightseers taking a break at the western end of Chuzenji lake

The weather was as forecast and I could see Mt Nantai and Mt Nyoho from my seat on the Nikko line. At 9h30 I boarded a bus for Yumoto-Onsen; one hour later I got off at the Ryuzu falls (1355m above sea level), and just before 11am I set off on my hike. The surrounding forest was beautiful and the trail was well-maintained: it definitely felt like I were hiking inside a National Park. There were few views from the trail: I had a glimpse through the trees of Sengohara plain to the north and of Chuzenji lake to the south. The sound of buzzing insects was deafening; luckily I had brought repellent with me today.

Hiking inside the Nikko National Park

Hiking up Mt Taka

It took me less than an hour to reach the top of Mt Taka (高山 たかやま takayama). There was no view but it was grassy with several places to sit down. I took a short break and then continued down the other side. The path zigzagged down the steep terrain and ten minutes later I reached a pass and a junction. To the right was Sengohara; however, I headed left, down a wide, gently sloping valley alongside a small stream. Eventually, the valley flattened, and I was walking in the midst of some very tall trees.

The paradisiac shore of lake Chuzenji

Boarding deck at Senjugahama

At 12h30 I reached the white sandy shore of Chuzenji lake. Under the blue sky, it felt like I was on a Pacific island. I continued along the shady path to the right, circling the lake counter-clockwise. Ten minutes later, I arrived at Senjugahama (千手ヶ浜), also accessible via boat and bus, which explained the number of people I saw there. I moved on quickly, enjoying the various views of the lake and Mt Nantai to the left. Twenty minutes later, after crossing a river on a small footbridge, I was back on a hiking trail with no one else around.

Sailing boat with Mt Nantai directly behind

Mt Taka from the southern side of Chuzenji lake

It took about three hours of solitary hiking through pleasant forest to reach the end of the hiking trail at the Italian Embassy Villa Memorial Park. During the first half, the narrow trail went up and down but also remained within sight of the lake. The second half was wider and flatter and I had to be careful not to lose the trail. I wasn’t sure till the final hour that I would make the bus, but it was with great relief that I got to the bus stop with ten minutes to spare. At 5pm, I was comfortably seated on the Tobu bus back to Nikko station, at at 6pm I was on the limited express for Asakusa station.

See the views along the Chuzenji Lake Nature Trail

One of the many view of Mt Nantai along the trail

Jomine Park (498m) & Sanbaseki Gorge, Kamikawa Town & Fujioka City, Saitama & Gunma Prefectures

As I was looking for a way to continue my exploration of western Gunma, I found a section of the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” surrounded by four previously climbed peaks: Mt Jomine, Mt Mikabo, Mt Sakura and Mt Yokogai. The highlights were a viewpoint of Kanna lake and a river gorge; on the downside, the route followed paved roads instead of hiking paths. I wasn’t worried about access, since I had traveled to the area before. It would be a short hike, so I could leave later than usual. Although most of the hike would be inside Saitama, except the river gorge, I would be arriving and leaving via Gunma. The weather was supposed to be fine all day, and although I wouldn’t be summiting any mountains, I was hoping to get some good views along a hidden valley close to Tokyo.

Hiking the Kanto Fureai no Michi 関東ふれあいの道

Kanna lake and Shimokubo dam from Jomine Park

I had only a few minutes to transfer to the bus after arriving at Shinmachi station around 10h30. I got off one hour later, a couple of stops before the dam and the lake, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I could see Jomine park and the dam straight ahead, so I got my bearings easily. After getting ready, I used my phone GPS to find my way to the bottom of the river valley. I crossed the bright red Tosenkyo bridge (登仙橋), also crossing into Saitama prefecture at the same time, and walked up the road opposite, alongside a small river.

Straight ahead and at the top of the mountain, Jomine park

Looking downstream (left) and upstream (right) from Tosenkyo Bridge

I soon spotted a small path next to the river and immediately switched to it so that I could better enjoy the sight and sound of the rushing water. I was now walking inside Tobagawa river park (鳥羽川河川公園). At 1pm, I rejoined the road, which climbed steeply and away from the river. Half an hour later, I reached a junction: straight ahead the road continued to the top of Mt Jomine, 4km away and 500m higher; however, I took a sharp turn to the right, along a gently rising, almost flat road.

A pleasant stroll through Tobagawa river park

Yellow iris next to Toba river

I now had my first good view of the day: looking east, I could make out the top of Mt Yokogai which I had climbed just one month ago; huge cumulus clouds were crowding the sky to the south, and although rain was forecasted closer to Tokyo, the surrounding mountains were still in the sun. At 2pm I arrived at Jomine Park (城峰公園) and had lunch at the observatory overlooking Kanna lake (神流湖) to the north. Beyond it, I could see the rounded top of Mt Sakura.

The only hiking path on this “hike”

Cloudy weather to the south over Chichibu

After lunch, I made a quick tour of the park and found another less impressive viewpoint on the other side, and at 3pm, I headed down a wide road leading to the dam. After only a few minutes, I reached a shortcut following a log staircase overgrown with grass; it was the first and only hiking path of the day. Less than 10 minutes later, I was back on the road. At 4pm, I was on the pedestrian road that ran along the top of Shimokubo dam (下久保ダム).

The blue-green water of Kanna lake

Kanna lake, a hidden gem

This was the second highlight of the day: looking west, I could see Kanna lake sparkling under the afternoon sun; turning around, I could see the impressive ravine through which flowed the Kanna river. After walking up and down the dam, I headed down into the deep valley on a road closed to traffic; 15 minutes later, I was at the entrance of the Sanbaseki Gorge (三波石峡). Although the riverside path is no longer in use, I could approach the river via four small paths situated at regular intervals along a road.

Looking down at the river gorge from the lake dam

Solar panels getting the sun at the end of the hike

Each riverside spot was like straight out of a fairytale: at the first two, the clear water rushed through huge boulders, 48 of which have names; at the last two, the light-green water flowed lazily under grey cliffs. The sinking sun shone down the valley through the leaves and onto the water; a slight breeze blew occasionally, its coolness welcome on a warm day. I took a short break at the third spot and enjoyed this magical secluded place.

Kanna river in the late afternoon sun

A magical spot along the Sanbaseki Gorge

It was now past 5pm and my bus was due in half an hour. I continued along the road at a fast pace and soon arrived back at the red bridge which I had crossed five hours ago. Huge grey clouds had now spread above, and it seemed like it could rain at any moment. I quickly climbed out of the valley back to the bus stop. One hour later I was at Shinmachi station, from where it was a 90 minute train ride back to Tokyo.

Mt Koo (550m), Mt Hinata (482m) & Mt Taka (420m), Fujioka City, Gunma Prefecture [Ontake Trail]

After visiting Mt Sakura the previous year, I really wanted to do another hike in the same area. I knew there were two more short trails to the north, making them suitable for the winter. However, looking online, there seemed to have few views, and I thought it would be nicer to visit during the new green of spring. I chose the better maintained Ontake trail, over the more adventurous Kamatori trail. By starting with Mt Koo, a separate peak connected by a short walk on the road, I could extend the hike to 3 hours. These trails weren’t shown on my hiking map and weren’t mentioned in my hiking guides, so I had to rely exclusively on information found online. Getting to the start of the hiking trail would require a combination of two local trains and a bus: not the easiest route, but with plenty of time between connections, it seemed problem-free. The weather forecast was “cloudy with sun later on”; although the views were supposed to be scarce, the new green of spring always looks better in the sun, so I was hoping for some sunlight on this hike.

View of the Kanto plain through a break in the mountains

Start of the “2000-step staircase”

The sky was grey and gloomy during the first part of the my trip. However, while switching to the Hachiko line, the clouds parted, and after arriving at Gunma-Fujioka station at 10am, the sun was shining. Instead of a bus, I got on a mini-van, a common form of public transport in this part of Gunma. A little before noon, I got off at the last stop, called “nisen-kaidan-iriguchi” (二千階段入口), meaning entrance to the 2000-step staircase. Looking west, I could make out the foothills of Mt Mikabo, its top half lost in the clouds.

Some of the 2000 steps of Mt Koo

View from the top of Mt Koo

It certainly didn’t feel like 2000 steps: it took me just five minutes to reach the the summit of Mt Koo (子王山 こおうやま meaning small king), completely in the trees. Walking north and down a few meters, I reached an opening in the trees, where I had a view of the Kanto plain with the tall buildings of Takasaki city to the northeast. I should have been able to see Mt Haruna, Mt Akagi and the Nikko mountains, but the weather still wasn’t good enough. I had an early lunch before setting off again.

The beautiful spring green of Gunma

Start of the Ontake hiking trail

I went down some steeps steps on the other side, and then followed a forest road round the mountainside, arriving back at my starting point 15 minutes later. I walked east along the countryside road till I reached the entrance to the Ontake trail (御嶽コース). The trail descended for a short while, before crossing a metallic bridge and then heading up a ridge. Soon, I was walking along a level path through the forest. At 1h30, I reached the narrow summit of Mt Hinata (日向山 meaning in the sun); oddly enough, despite being surrounded by trees, the summit marker was…in the sun.

A level section of the trail (left) / An interesting trio of trees (right)

By the afternoon, the good weather had prevailed

The trail continued up and down, with the steeper sections helpfully equipped with rope; half an hour later I was at the top of Mt Ontake-Taka (御嶽高山), once again hemmed in by the trees. Past the summit, the path started to descend and at 2h30, I emerged onto a forest road. At 3pm, I reached the road and the end of the hiking trail. It walked ten minutes to the Takayama-sha Ruins bus stop, next to a world heritage site, where I caught the mini-van back to Gunma-Fujioka station. It took only a few minutes to connect to the Shonan-Shinjuku line, after which it was a 90-minute ride back to central Tokyo.

See the view from the top of Mt Koo and the waters of the Sanmyo River

Yamabushi-Daira (710m), Minami-Ashigara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

I had been up Mt Kintoki and Mt Yagura before. Back then, I hadn’t known that a bus went up to the park near the pass between the two mountains. Studying my hiking map, I saw that I could ride this bus there and then walk down to a train station at the bottom of the valley. I was mostly interested in trying out a new bus line and getting some good views, even though I wouldn’t summit any mountains; I would also get to ride the Daiyuzan railway line to get there, a railway I had only taken twice before. Since this hike was on the short side, I could leave later in the day and have a soba lunch beforehand. The weather forecast predicted it would be sunny day with some clouds – not a bad thing on a warm spring day.

Hiking between Hakone and Tanzawa

After a comfortable ride on the Romance Car, I arrived at Odawara station around noon. I switched to the Daiyuzan line and got off at the last stop. After an excellent soba lunch at Hatsu Hana Soba, I caught the last bus of the day for Ashigara Manyo Park (足柄万葉公園). It was an interesting ride up a narrow winding road which also doubles as a hiking path.

An easy start to the hike

At 2h30, I was walking northwards along a flat and easy trail along the ridgeline. On the way, I spotted an interesting moth – I found out later that it was the Japanese version of the American Luna moth. Through a break in the trees, I could see the rounded top of Mt Yagura ahead to the northwest. At 3h30, after a short climb, I reached Yamabushi-Daira (山伏平) in the middle of the forest.

A rare moth in the daytime

There was no view so I continued without a break, heading down the other side of the mountain. Half an hour later, I crossed a small stream. After some descending, I reached a forest road following the mountain side. At 4h30, I arrived at the 21st Century forest (21世紀の森), although nothing about it made me think of the current century.

Mt Fuji through the late afternoon haze

A few minutes later, I reached a lookout point; it was rather small and the view wasn’t as great as I had hoped for. Looking west, I could see Mt Fuji, only a dim outline visible in the later afternoon haze. To the north, I could make out the peaks of western Tanzawa just above the treetops. I took a short break before setting off again, on a level gravel road.

Still some way down

Along the way, I had a view of Sagami Bay to the east, soon followed by a view of the Central Tanazawa mountains to the north, this time clear of trees, with the bare top of Mt Ono in the middle. Suddenly, the path swerved to the left and headed down a steep log staircase through the forest. At 5h30, I reached a little traveled forest road in dire need of maintenance.

The Tanzawa mountains

As the road wound round the mountainside, I got a wide view of the valley through which the Gotemba trail line passes, and Yamakita town, my final destination; it was easily the best view of the day. It still looked a long way down so I had to hurry up. I had a brief glimpse of a deer before it bounced away through the trees. I soon arrived at a paved road, which went steeply down via a series of switchbacks.

The Iris Japonica

The road was lined with Iris flowers (シャガ shaga) in full bloom, and it was a very peaceful walk at the end of the day. At 6pm, I arrived at the entrance for the Shasui falls (洒水の滝) and the end of the hiking path. I had been to the falls before, so I continued through the town, reaching Yamakita station at 6h30, just before dark. It was a short train ride to Matsuda station, where I changed to the Fujisan Limited Express (part of the Romance Car series) for the one hour ride back to Shinjuku.

Mt Yokogai (593m), Honjo City, Saitama Prefecture, April 2021

I wanted to visit Chichibu as I hadn’t been there since Mt Jomine last December. Looking through my guidebook, I found a four-hour hike along a ridge in northern Saitama, above a valley that used to be a secret Christian hideout during Tokugawa times. I could access it via train or by bus; I chose to go by train, allowing me to leave later, and then return by bus in the mid-afternoon. The weather for the next day was supposed to be sunny but windy, not much of a concern in the warmer spring days. I was looking forward to visiting this “hidden valley” and seeing the views on the border between Saitama and Gunma prefectures.

Looking down at Onishi town from the summit

I arrived at Nogami station before 10am under light blue skies. After walking for thirty minutes along paved roads surrounded by light green hills, I reached a forest road up a small river valley which soon turned into a small hiking path. Just past 10am, I emerged onto a small road on the ridgetop where I was greeted by strong gusts of wind. I quickly continued down the other side and reached a clearing full of tree stumps – a good place to sit down for a late breakfast.

The forest road at the start of the hike

A good place for a break

Opposite, I had a view of the today’s mountain, barely distinguable from the other minor peaks along the ridge. It was less windy here and I could hear many different birds singing nearby. I set off again and soon reached the road at the bottom of the valley. I turned right and followed the Koyama river downstream. I stopped by Hanaogi (花扇), a small confectionery shop, to buy some “manju“, buns filled with sweet-tasting red bean paste.

On the right side under the big cloud, Mt Yokogai

Start of the hiking trail for Mt Yokogai

As the noon chime echoed across the valley, I crossed a bridge and turned left onto a road heading up. At 12h30 I was back on a hiking trail up another river valley through a cedar forest. This time, the river was dry; instead of the noise of water, I could hear the noise of the wind blowing through the treetops. It took only a few minutes to reach the ridgetop, where I took a short path off the main trail to a huge sacred rock called “Gongen Iwa” (権現岩 ごんげんいわ).

In the center, Mt Jomine

Sunny hiking near the top

I found a sunny spot out of the wind to snack on a “manju“. I then made my way back to the main trail and followed the ridge northwards. I soon reached an area clear of trees with a view of Mt Jomine to the south. Next I arrived at another viewpoint to the west from where I could see Onishi town and Mt Sakura; but I wasn’t at the highest point yet, and a few more minutes brought me to the top of Mt Yokogai (横隈山 よこがいさん yokogai-san). Straight ahead, I could see Mt Akagi, Mt Haruna, and even the snow-capped peak of Mt Asama.

First viewpoint just south of the summit

Lake Kanna between Saitama and Gunma

I enjoyed a quiet lunch before heading back the same way. It was only 2h30 and I was ahead of schedule. At the junction for Gongen Rock, I continued straight on an up and down path taking me past a view point of Kanna lake and ending at a paved road. From there, it was easy walk down to the bus stop at the bottom of the valley. I had an hour before the 4h30 bus so I went and bought some more “manju“. At Minano station, I caught the Chichibu line for Kumagaya and then transferred to the Shonan-Shinjuku line for the one hour trip back to Tokyo.

See the sights and hear the sounds of Mt Yokogai

Mt Tomiya (365m) and the Ogodo Alps, Sakuragawa City and Mashiko Town, Ibaraki Prefecture, April 2021

I first noticed this mountain from the top of Mt Ontake two years ago. It wasn’t in my guidebook, but looking at the comments on Google Maps, it seemed to have a great summit view. Searching some more online, I discovered a circular hiking trail just behind it, going up and down a series of small hills and thus deserving the “Alps” designation. It seemed possible to combine these two trails, although I wasn’t sure how long the final hike would be. To save time, I would take a taxi from the station to the start of the trail and walk on the way back. Blue skies were forecast for the next day, and I hoped I would be able to see the mountains of Nikko to the north. The temperatures were still cool for the season, and it was a good thing that the elevation of the hike was relatively low. I was looking forward to visiting Ibaraki again and doing another “Alps” hike in the Tokyo area.

View south from the Tomiya-san Fureai Park

Western branch of the Ogodo Alps

I arrived at Iwase station at 9am under a cloudless sky. I had the taxi drop me off in Tomiyasan Fureai Park (富谷山ふれあい公園) at a parking lot surrounded by double-flowered cherry trees (八重桜 “yaezakura“) in full bloom. Once ready, I visited the nearby Tomiya-Kannon, a mountain temple with an impressive three-story pagoda. I then walked for a few minutes to an observation tower at the top of the park, from where I had a fantastic view of the low mountains south of the Mito line. Directly opposite, I could see Mt Ontake, Mt Amabiki, Mt Kaba and Mt Ashio; behind them was Mt Tsukuba, a hundred-famous mountain and the highest peak in the area; on its left was Mt Wagakuni. after a late breakfast, I finally started my hike at 10am.

The 3-story pagoda of Tomiya-Kannon

The main building of Tomiya-Kannon

The start of the trail was hard to follow and I felt relieved when I saw the first signpost. After a few minutes, I left the forest and reached a dirt road from where I had my first good view of the summit. At 11h30, I was standing near the top of Mt Tomiya (富谷山 とみやさん tomiyasan). Like Mt Buko in Chichibu, the mountain is used for mining and its shape has been artificially changed. According to a sign, the true summit used to be further along the ridge and about ten meters higher, but had collapsed years ago. The area was like a giant construction site, with rumbling trucks lower down on the southern and western sides; a few meters away, a lone bulldozer was busy shoveling dirt.

Late morning view from the summit of Mt Tomiya

View of Mt Amabiki from the summit of Mt Tomiya

The upside was that I could enjoy a fantastic 360 degree panorama, since only bushes and shrubs remained. The view south was similar to the view from the observatory. The flat, featureless Kanto plain stretched away to the southwest – apparently Mt Fuji can be seen, but not today; I could make out the snowy peaks of Oku-Nikko faraway to the northwest; directly west was Mt Amamaki and Takamine; finally, directing my gaze to the north, I had my first look at the Ogodo Alps (大郷戸アルプス おおごうどアルプス oogoudo arupusu), the rolling light green hills, divided into western and eastern branches. Walking downhill, I reentered the forest and quickly reached the Alps trail junction. I chose to go right, westwards, since it seemed to be hillier, and thus harder, leaving the easier branch for the return.

View from the northern side of the Ogodo Alps

The tiny Asama Shrine

Despite the low altitude, the trail made me work hard, going up and down a succession of small peaks without views, simply named after their elevations, such as “354m Peak”. The surrounding forest was bursting with new green, and the trail was well maintained and easy to follow thanks to frequent signs, but I was starting to wonder whether I would ever find a good place to sit down for lunch. At 12h3o I finally reached a cleared space around an electric pylon where I could enjoy the view of the Ibaraki hills while munching on a sandwich. A little later, I passed a second pylon, after which the path descended steeply.

Level walking near the end of the Alps

View from the start of the eastern branch of the Ogodo Alps

The path flattened and I arrived at a small park with pink floweringyaezakura“; at its edge, next to a pine tree, there was the picturesque Asama Shrine. A few minutes later I reached the flat bottom of the valley. I walked through beautiful countryside, with traditional houses separated by rice fields, and wild flowers growing along the lanes, all encircled by the Ogodo Alps. At 2pm, I reached the start of the trail for the eastern branch. It had just as many ups and down as the western side but more views from the highest points. I passed two more electric pylons, twins of the ones on the other side of the valley. Half an hour later, I arrived at the Ogodo dam viewpoint; looking down, I could spot the light blue pond among the green trees.

Fishing pond formed by Ogodo dam

Hiking through the new green of spring

I felt that I was extremely lucky with the weather. It was rare to be able to enjoy the new green in relatively cool conditions, almost as if spring had arrived in the middle of winter. I was now walking through a forest of Chinese flowering ash (アオダモ) in full flower. I then reached a steep but short climb, which brought me to the top of Kaiko-no-Mine (回顧の峰) with a good view of Mt Amabiki and Mt Takamine to the east, and the other half of the Ogodo Alps to the west. The next section was by far the best of the whole hike: a level path through low pine trees with mountains tops popping up above, it actually felt alpine. The trail dipped and reentered the forest, and I was back at the junction with Mt Tomiya.

Hiking through the pines

Afternoon view from the top of Mt Tomiya

At 4pm, I was once again standing on the treeless summit; however, it was completely quiet since the construction trucks had gone home for the day. After appreciating the view again in a different light, I went down the way I had come up in the morning. Near the temple, I found a path that went straight down and I could thus avoid walking on the road. At 5pm, I was at the bottom of the valley and it took me another half hour of road walking to get back to the train station, where I caught the local train for the trip back to Tokyo.

See the views from the Ogodo Alps

Late afternoon view from the observatory

Mt Sengen (804m), Chisuji and Hiryu Waterfalls, Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, April 2021

I felt it was time to visit Hakone again since I wanted to redo last year’s river hike in the new green of spring. I was also hoping to see more water flow through Hiryu waterfall. Studying my Hakone map, I saw that I could start with another waterfall nearby, climb Mt Sengen via a different route, and then walk down the river and past the waterfall, effectively doing a shorter version of the original hike in reverse. I could easily extend it by walking some more of the old Hakone highway. An added bonus was that I could get to the trail entrance using the Hakone Tozan Railway, the steepest railway in Japan featuring three switchbacks. On the return, I could take one of the frequent buses crisscrossing the area. The weather was supposed to be sunny again but chilly for the season, ideal conditions for a spring hike.

Hiking inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

The upper section of Hiryu waterfall, the highlight of the hike

After a smooth ride with the Romance Car Limited Express, I arrived at Hakone-Yumoto station a little after 10am. As with my last few hikes, the sky was a disappointing white instead of the expected blue. I transferred to the colourful Hakone Tozan Railway for the eventful ride up. The mountain sides were peppered with Mountain Cherry trees (“yamazakura“) in full bloom. Announcements in Japanese and English noted the various highlights along the way. At 11am, I got off at Kowakidani (523m), two stops before the end station of Gora.

The white thread-like falling water of Chisuji waterfall

Looking downstream from the bridge near the start of the hike

A ten-minute walk brought me to the start of the hiking trail and Chisuji waterfall (千条の滝 chisujinotaki). Thin white threads of water tumbled into a small pond, reminding me of the pitter-patter of rainfall; I took a short break to listen to the soothing sounds. At 11h30, I crossed a wooden bridge and started up the hiking path through the forest, leaving the river behind. The surrounding mountains shielded the noise of traffic and birdsong reverberated among the bright green leaves; I could really feel that I was hiking inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.

Views of the the Futago (twin) mountains of central Hakone

Hiking up to Kowakidani junction (left) Hiking up to Takanosu (right)

Through a break in the cedar trees, I had my first views of the day; I could see the small rounded hills, the heart of Hakone, dotted here and there with white “yamazakura“. A few minutes later, I reached the ridgeline, rejoining the last year’s hike. Although the hike continued to the right, I first turned left for the twenty-minute round-trip to Mt Sengen, along a path lined with Tsubaki trees, their flowers just past their prime. There was no view, but several cherry trees were still in full bloom, making it a nice place for a break. I then retraced my steps and walked up the other side to the ruins of Takanosu castle.

Easy walking under the cherry blossoms

Walking through the light new green of spring

I was glad to see that the next part of the trail had been completely fixed, and was now easier to walk. At 1h30, I reached Hiryu waterfall (飛龍の滝 hiryunotaki). This time, a lot more water was flowing through the jumble of rocks and boulders. I discovered another viewpoint on the other side that I had completely missed last time. I could fully feel the arrival of spring while walking down the narrow mountain path, surrounded by the bright green leaves on all sides and with the sound of the rushing river below. At 2pm, I reached Hatajuku where I caught a bus for Moto-Hakone.

The weather improved in the afternoon

Perfect weather at Ashi Lake

By now, the weather had improved and I arrived at Lake Ashi under a cloudless sky. Looking up at Mt Koma, I could see the ropeway going up the mountain. However, I was headed back down, along the old Hakone Highway. Even in dry, sunny weather, it was tough to walk on the wide uneven cobblestones, and it was with some relief that I arrived at the Amazake Teahouse at 4pm. After a snack of mochi and green tea, I caught the bus back to Hakone-Yumoto station, where I transferred to the Romance Car for the 90 minute ride back to Shinjuku.

See and hear the waterfalls of Hakone

Kirifuri River, Mt Bishamon (586m) and Mt Chausu (517m), Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, April 2021

I had been planning on hiking these two mountains for a while, but since the hike itself was under 3 hours, I was putting it off till I found a good way to extend it. Examining my hiking map, I saw that I could take a bus to Kirifuri Highland, and then walk down, above Kurifuri river; I could then connect to the main hike via a thirty minute walk on paved roads. This would double the length of the hike, and would justify the time and expense of traveling all the way to Nikko. An added bonus was that my route would take me past several waterfalls. I had been to Kirifuri Kogen before, so I knew exactly how to get there; for the return, I would walk to the train station, just 20 minutes from the end of the trail. The weather was supposed to be sunny, and I was looking forward to seeing this year’s new green, as well as lower-altitude mountain flowers, normally in full bloom around this time of the year.

View of the mountains of eastern Tochigi

I reached Nikko station at 9h30 under unexpectedly grey skies and caught the bus for Kirifuri (霧降 meaning “falling mist”). I arrived about twenty minutes later, and true to its name, I found myself standing in the midst of thick mist. I retreated to the warmth of the restaurant house where I had a coffee while I got ready for hiking. My weather app stubbornly persisted that it was sunny outside, and I was hoping that by delaying my departure by a few minutes, the weather would miraculously improve.

The mist was starting to lift – time to leave!

Still winter in the mountains above Nikko

The mist had started to lift slightly when I finally set off at 10h30; I could see Nikko city, faintly visible at the bottom of the valley 700 meters below. At 1200m, it was still winter: the grass was yellow and the trees bare of leaves. I made my way down the steep trail, but before reaching the bridge over the Kirifuri river (霧降川), I turned right onto a overgrown and hard to follow path, in need of some urgent maintenance; thanks to the diagonal trail makers attached to trees at regular intervals, I could find my way down through the forest.

Looking back towards Kirifuri Highland

Finally some sun!

The trail veered from Kirifuri river and at 11h30, I reached one of its tributaries. There was no bridge and I had to cross by stepping on stones. I spotted a bone-white antler next to the water (see video) – now if I could just spot its owner…The weather was improving gradually. Looking up, patches of blue sky were appearing overhead; looking right, I could see Kirifuri Highland free of mist; straight ahead, there were green buds uncurling on the tree branches; looking down, I could see dogtooth violets (片栗 カタクリ) covering the ground. At 12h30, I arrived at Choji waterfall (丁字滝), the first of today’s 3 waterfalls.

Water rushing down Choji waterfall

Close up of Choji waterfall (left) and Kirifuri falls from afar

I was lucky that it had rained the night before; the waterfall was at its full power and I spent some time admiring the falling water. It took another hour to reach Kirifuri falls along an easier to follow trail. On the way, I spotted another pheasant; this one ran away quickly but I still got a short video. I had been to Kirifuri falls before but this time I had a nice surprise – although the trees were still bare, rhododendron (シャクナゲ) were growing here and there among the leafless trees. After checking out the falls from the viewing platform, I continued my hike.

Kirifuri river below the Kirifuri falls

The clear waters of Tokoname

The trail had become hard to follow again and signposts were sparse; at times I used Google Maps to check that I was heading in the right direction. At 2h30 I emerged onto a forest road right next to the river. Around a bend, I arrived at the last waterfall of the day, Ryuzu waterfall (竜頭の滝). The river felt wild and beautiful here. I sat down on some rocks for a late lunch listening to the roar of the water below. Ten more minutes of walking brought me to a place called Tokoname (床滑 meaning “slippery floor”), famous for its transparent waters; I could indeed see the rocky brown riverbed clearly. The dirt road left the forest and turned into a paved road, alongside which several varieties of cherry trees, as well as a magnolia tree, were in full bloom. Despite earlier efforts by the sun, the sky remained overcast.

View to the east with the sun in the west

Mt Takahara with Kinugawa Onsen below it on the left

At 4pm, I was finally at the entrance of the hiking trail for today’s mountain. A short climb through a cedar forest brought me to the top ridge, and after some easy walking, I was at the base of the steep summit, covered in rhododendron. At 4h30, I was standing on the summit of Mt Bishamon (毘沙門山 びしゃもんやま bishamonyama named after the guardian god of Buddhism). The cloudy cover had started to break up; I had a great view to the east, enhanced by the afternoon sun in the west. Northeast, I could see Mt Takahara, a two-hundred famous mountain of Japan, with the Kinugawa hot spring resort nestled at its feet; southeast was the craggy top of Mt Kogashi.

The interplay of clouds, blue sky and the sun

Last view of the day of Imaichi City

It was nearly 5pm and I had to hurry to get down before dark. After some up and down through the darkening forest, I soon reached the top of Mt Chausu (茶臼山 ちゃうすやま chausuyama). There was no view so I continued without stopping. At 5h30, I reached a viewpoint of Imaichi city. I was impressed by how developed the valley along the Tobu line was. I saw the express train heading for the capital – hopefully I would be on the next one. Looking north, I enjoyed a spectacle of light and cloud above the Oku-Nikko mountains. I reached the end of the trail at the bottom of a steep staircase. Shortly after 6pm, I caught the local train at Daiyamuko station, and after just one stop, transferred to the Kegon Limited Express for the 90 minute trip back to Tokyo.

See the waterfalls of Kirifuri river

Mt Ashitaka (1504m), Numazu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, March 2021

It was my third trip to this multi-peak mountain just south of Mt Fuji, and my first trip of the year to Shizuoka. This time, I planned to climb a secondary peak after which this ancient volcano is named. To get to the start of the trail, I would use the same bus I had taken at the end of my hike on Mt Ihai. From the summit, I would walk all the way down to the base of the mountain on Suruga Bay, and then walk along paved roads to a bus stop. To do this as a day trip, I needed to take the shinkansen there and back; it seemed worth it, since the weather was supposed to be quite good the next day. I was hoping to see plenty of “Sakura” and also get a glimpse of Mt Fuji.

A view of “floating Fuji” on the way down

It took less than an hour to travel the 100 kilometers between Tokyo and Mishima stations. I rode the bus all the way to Momozawa Onsen (桃沢温泉), the last stop. It had been sunny when I left in the morning, but now the sky was overcast. I started hiking at 10am inside a river park following the Momozawa river up the mountain valley. The path crossed the rushing river over several suspended bridges and went through a barbeque area with several cherry blossom trees in full bloom.

A nice place for a BBQ

All too soon I reached the end of the park and the lovely river walk. I then followed a narrow paved road for a short while to the start of the hiking trail and the Ashitaka Water Shrine, which I decided to check out quickly. It was interesting to see a shrine right next to a river. The sun had come out of the clouds and there was a slight breeze. The combination of sun, wind and water, as well as the new green of the surrounding vegetation was enchanting. At 11h30, I finally started hiking up a steep mountain trail.

Waterfall at the end of the park

It was a brand new path not shown on my map. I soon reached the ridgetop, completely in the trees, where I turned right along a flatter section. At 12h30, I emerged onto a level forest road, which I followed for a hundred meters. I then left it to follow a smaller path up the side of the mountain. This area was cleared of trees; looking back, I had a view of Hakone to the east. I reentered the forest and was now walking next to a dry riverbed. I saw some “Mitsumata” flowers in full bloom, the petals facing down, making them hard to photograph.

Walking the ridgetop among the trees

It took me an hour of climbing through a dark forest to reach a windy pass with a view west of Suruga Bay. I took a short break before heading up the round summit on the left. Ten minutes later I was standing at the top of Mt Ashitaka (愛鷹山 あしたかやま ashitakayama). Turning around, I could see the snowy summit of Mt Fuji, playing hide and seek in the clouds. I could also see the two highest peaks of this volcanic complex, Mt Echizen and Mt Ihai. I explored the tree-covered summit and found a small shrine.

View of Mt Fuji from the top of Mt Ashitaka

After lunch and a short rest, I started to head down on the other side. It was nearly 3pm and I had to make good time if I wanted to catch my bus. The path was mostly in the trees, but I got another view of Mt Fuji, now free of clouds, and later on, a view of the entire Hakone area. On this side, the trail had suffered from erosion and at times was hard to walk on. I saw another interesting flower, the Japanese Andromeda, growing from a tree. The air was filled with birdsong and it felt like spring had finally arrived.

The Hakone mountains behind Susono city

Suddenly, I spotted a pheasant next to the path. I had seen these birds before but they usually fly away. This one, however, was in ho hurry to get away. I soon found out why: behind some bushes was a brown chick, almost as big as the mother (see video). I left them in peace and continued on my way. It was 4pm and I was out of the forest, walking along the tea fields for which Shizuoka is famous. Soon I reached the Ashitaka 600 Golf Club from where I had a hazy view of the Numazu Alps with the Izu peninsula in the background.

Mother pheasant trying to lead me away from her chick

I walked down a steep road, stray white golf balls littering each side, and passed under some superb cherry blossom trees in full bloom. The sky was cloudy again but the temperature was still comfortable. Using Google Maps, I walked thirty minutes to the bus stop inside the Fujitsu Numazu Plant. As I stood all alone inside the empty parking lot, I really wondered whether a bus would come to pick me up on a Saturday afternoon. However, it arrived right on schedule and dropped me off at Numazu station, for a short train ride to Mishima and my shinkansen ride back to Tokyo.

See the sights of Mt Ashitaka