Mt Buko (1304m), Yokoze Town, Saitama Prefecture, Saturday, March 5, 2022

I had climbed Mt Buko over ten years ago on a hazy June day and wanted to do it again on a clearer day. This time, I would take a taxi from Seibu-Chichibu station to the trail entrance and make a loop; this way, I could shorten the hiking time, because I needed to walk over an hour to Yokoze station at the end. Although the forecast for the next day was sunny and warm, I knew some snow and ice would be left above 1000m, so I packed my light crampons just in case. I was looking forward to revisiting this mountain and getting some great views of Chichibu from the summit.

Mt Buko, taken on my 2009 hike

View from the top observatory

It felt like early spring as I stepped off the Laview Limited Express at Seibu-Chichibu station. After buying some supplies, I hopped into a taxi for short ride to “ichi-no-torii” (一ノ鳥居). By 11am, I was walking up a steep paved road next to a river; I remembered this as the toughest part of my 2009 hike. Many people were already coming down, having enjoyed the early morning view. I soon reached some log steps marking the start of the trail. I passed several interesting sights on the way: the partially frozen “fudo-taki” waterfall (“fudo” means motionless); a delicate wooden bridge for only one person at a time; a pile of white limestone rocks taken from the summit; a giant cedar tree, its crown too high to see. I was walking alone through the forest and was stunned by the silence, since the other side is forever noisy because of the mining.

Some snow on the way up (left) and down (right)

Chichibu city stretching from south to north

At noon, I was treading on snow. Fortunately, the slope never became steep enough to justify putting on crampons. The long log staircase from my previous climb had disappeared, replaced by a switchback path. Half an hour later I reached the summit shrine, bathed in sun and surrounded by trees. I made my way to the observatory on the north side, a little higher up, and the official summit of Mt Buko (武甲山 ぶこうさん bukou-san), a two-hundred famous mountain of Japan. I was almost by myself, which was lucky since the top area was narrower than I had remembered. It hadn’t rained for a while so the sky wasn’t as clear as I had hoped, but I had a good view of the Minano Alps, Mt Mino, Mt Ogiri, Mt Dodaira and Mt Maru.

Looking back at the sunny descent to Shirajikubo

Back into the sun and out of the snow

I was most impressed by the bird’s-eye view of Chichibu city, stretching south to north along the Arakawa river. It was 12h30 so I had lunch standing up, since I couldn’t find a spot to sit. At 1pm, I headed back to the shrine and down a steep trail on the south side; I was relived it was in the sun and snow-free. Pine trees on both sides made it feel like a different mountain. I soon arrived at Shirajikubo (シラジクボ), the start of the climb up Mt Komochi. Here, I turned left onto a trail hugging the east slope. It was in the shade and covered by snow, but since it was mostly level, crampons weren’t needed. I had fun walking in the snow for a while; soon I was back in the sun and walking on solid ground. After an hour of descending through the forest, I was back at the “torii“, the shinto gate at the mountain base. As I walked to the station, I passed several impressive factory buildings, working hard on a Saturday. At a little past 4pm, I boarded the limited express for the 80 minute ride back to Tokyo.

Enjoy the bird’s-eye view from the top of Mt Buko

Mt Momokura (1003m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Sunday, February 27, 2022

After Mt Takagawa, I felt like revisiting another mountain in the area, so that I could get more views of Mt Fuji with its seasonal snowcap, especially since snowfall had been quite generous this year. On my last visit, I had combined this summit with its neighbour, Mt Oogi; this time, I was looking for something more laid-back. Studying my map, I found alternate trails leading up and down, meaning the entire hike would be new. The weather forecast was looking good, apart from strong winds threatening the higher elevations; I was more concerned about clouds forming around the top of Mt Fuji. I was looking forward to my first hike of the year above 1000 meters, as well as keeping my fingers crossed that Fuji wouldn’t be too shy.

Download a map of the Mt Momokura hike

This map was developed for Japanwilds with the Hokkaido Cartographer

Find more Japan hiking maps on Avenza

View to the south of Mt Fuji half in the clouds

View of Mt Fuji from my 2011 hike

I rode the Chuo line limited express for about an hour to Otsuki station, where I transferred to a bus, taking me close to the trail entrance. It was nearly 11am, and I felt quite warm while making my way up a steep road. I soon arrived at a fork and followed the left branch. I passed by a relatively new toilet facility (advertised as “very clean”), and had my first view of Mt Fuji, partially hidden by the clouds.

Lion-dog guarding the start of the trail

View of the Doshi and Tanzawa mountains

The start of the trail lay just beyond a lion-dog statue guarding a shrine entrance. After half an hour of climbing through the cool forest, I arrived at the first view of the day. On the left, I could see the Doshi and Tanzawa mountains; opposite was Mt Fuji, popping in and out of the clouds; on the right stood Mt Takagawa and Mitsutoge. I sat down on a bench to enjoy the view, but a cold wind started blowing, so I quickly set off again; ten minutes later, I reached a junction on the top ridge.

To the right of Mt Fuji, Mt Takagawa and Mitsutoge

A bench with a view

I was hit by powerful gusts of wind coming from the north side and I immediately felt very cold. I had to take shelter on the south side to add a layer of clothing. I continued towards the summit, slightly worried about falling branches. Fortunately, the wind abated somewhat once I arrived at the top of Mt Momokura (百蔵山 ももくらやま momokura-yama), a Yamanashi hundred famous mountain. Since it was 12h30, I found a grassy spot and sat down for lunch.

Fairly easy hiking all the way to the top

One of the 12 views of Mt Fuji from the Otsuki area

Mt Fuji was flirting with the clouds, but eventually I had a clear view. At 1h30, I retraced my steps to the ridge junction, and continued straight, heading west. I soon passed Mt Daido (大同山 907m) and then started down a steep descent. I encountered some snow for the first time of the day, but it was half melted and I reached the base of the slope safely. I continued along the path as it descended gently, slowly curving around to the south side. On the way, I passed Konpira-kyu, a lonely shrine in the middle of the forest.

Heading back to the ridge junction

Looking across the Kazuno river valley

At around 2h30, the path leveled and glimpses of the Kazuno river valley came into view; on the left side, I could see Mt Iwadono. It was still windy, but the biting cold of the summit ridge was now a distant memory. Fifteen minutes later, I reached a road and a bus stop near Fukusen-ji Temple. A little after 3pm, I boarded the bus for Otsuki station, and by 4pm I was back on the limited express for the one-hour ride back to Shinjuku.

See the views of Mt Momokura on a windy day

Kotohira Hills (highest point 398m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, Wednesday, February 23, 2022

I needed a short hike to get back in shape after a five-week break. I had done part of this trail several years ago, after visiting Chichibu’s famous “shibazakura” (carpet cherry blossom). The surrounding forest, wedged between the terraces of Mt Buko’s northern face and the populated Arakawa valley, was unexpectedly green and peaceful. This was the perfect opportunity to return and walk the entire length of these hills from my hiking guidebook. I would use the Laview limited express, and then the local Chichibu line to get to Kagemori station. I would end up at Seibu-Chichibu station, so I just had to time my arrival with the hourly train back to Tokyo. The weather was supposed to be cold and sunny. I hoped I would get some sun and views through the trees on a cold, clear winter day.

On the left, the Minano Alps, on the right, Higashi-Chichibu

I was surprised to see snow on the ground after exiting the last tunnel on the Seibu-Chichibu line. I knew the trail could be done without crampons, but I wanted to keep my feet dry. Around 10h30, I boarded the colourful Chichibu line and saw no more snow on the way to Kagemori (影森), the next station. At 11am, after walking on a road for a while, I reached Daien Temple (大淵寺), temple number 27 on the Chichibu Pilgrimage (Chichibu-fudasho); behind it was the start of the Kotohira Hiking Trail (琴平ハイキングコース).

The colourful design of the Chichibu line train

Some sun trickling through

From the start, I had to navigate some icy sections. As the path climbed out of the valley, sunshine started to filter down and all traces of snow vanished. Through a break in the trees, I observed the train make its way back along the valley (see video). I soon arrived at Gokoku Kannon (護国観音), a statue of the Buddhist deity of compassion, with a wide view of the mountains on the Saitama-Gunma border; on the left, I could see the huge bulk of Mt Ryokami; in the center were the Minano Alps; on the right lay Mt Hodo with snowy Akagi faintly visible in the background.

View of the mountains along the border of Saitama and Gunma

Kannon statue (left), a narrow and sunny ridge (right)

I followed the trail up and down a narrow ridge, mostly in the sun thanks to the winter trees ; on the right, loomed the terraced north side of Mt Buko. At noon, I arrived at a small temple, part of Temple 26 of the Chichibu-fudasho, located at the base of a staircase on the left. It was nicknamed “Mini-Kiyomizu-dera” because it was on top of wooden stilts. After a short climb, I came upon a statue of Buddha, and nearby, the “Monk’s Meditation Rock”, from where I had another good view to the north. The path then suddenly ended at a small wooden structure at the top of a cliff.

Visible through the trees, the terraced northern face of Mt Buko

The path was mostly snow-free

After stepping onto the wooden platform, I spotted a ladder on the other side, enabling me to get down the cliff and resume my hike. Half an hour later, I found a sunny, grassy spot with a view of Mt Buko, so I decided to take a break for lunch. I continued again at 1pm, and soon had a view of Mt Ryokami to the west through the bare branches. A little later, I passed the highest point of the Kotohira Hills (琴平丘陵 ことひらきゅうりょう kotohira-kyuuryou), completely in the trees, and apart from a triangulation point, totally featureless.

A steep slope up (left) a steep staircase down (right)

The pyramidal north face of Mt Buko, used for rock mining

The path now descended through dark forest, this section familiar from my previous visit, and at 1h30, emerged onto a forest road next to a stream. For the next half an hour, I walked along a mostly flat, straight path before reaching Hitsujiyama Park; in addition to the “carpet sakura”, it also has regular cherry blossoms trees, although the buds were still firmly closed. A little after 2pm, I was back at Seibu-Chichibu station where I boarded the next limited express for the 80-minute ride back to Tokyo.

See the Chichibu line travel along the Arakawa river valley

Mt Mayumi (280m), Mt Kazenokami (242m) & the Hitachi Origin Park, Hitachi City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Saturday, January 15, 2022

I had hiked in every prefecture surrounding Tokyo in the past 2 months except Ibaraki, last visited in April, so I felt it was a good time to explore more of the Hitachi Alps. The hike, from my Mountains of Ibaraki guidebook, was about 4 hours long, perfect for a short and cold winter day. I could get to the start of the trail by riding a limited express from Ueno, then switching to a local train in Mito, and finally catching a bus from Omika station; I would walk back to the same station, so without needing to catch a return bus, I could take it easy. The weather was supposed to sunny in the morning and cloudy in the afternoon. The trail seem straightforward and I was looking forward to a relaxing hike in the low hills of Ibaraki.

Start of the trail for Mayumi shrine

It took about an hour to reach Mito city on the Hitachi Limited express. After changing to the local line, I got off at Omika station just before 10am, from where it was a thirty bus minute ride to the entrance of Mayumi shrine. Of the two approaches to the shrine, I chose to use the rear entrance (裏参道), instead of the front one (表参道). I walked for half an hour along a dirt road to a staircase and a grey stone shinto gate marking the start of the trail.

In the distance, the mountains of Oku-Nikko

At 11h30, I reached a viewpoint towards on the west side. The sky was already overcast, but I could make out Mt Takahara and the Oku-Nikko mountains, 100 kilometers away; to the southwest, and considerably closer, was Mt Tsukuba. I continued on my hike and soon noticed many cedar trees towering overhead; I was surprised to see such beautiful forest outside a national park. A little after noon, I arrived at Mayumi shrine (真弓神社), a peaceful place in the middle of the forest.

The very tall cedar trees surrounding Mayumi shrine

From the shrine, I walked down a path for a few minutes to a giant cedar tree. I couldn’t see the top, but according to a signboard it was 45 meters high; it was also nearly one thousand years old. After admiring this ancient tree, I made my way back to the trail. I soon reached a dirt road which I followed for a short while before getting back on to a level trail through the forest. At 1pm, I reached a bench with a view eastwards of the Pacific ocean through some pine trees, a good spot for a lunch break.

A little sun on a cloudy day

An easy to hike trail through beautiful forest

Westwards view of the Kanto plain

It was still cloudy and a little cold so I soon moved on again. I started to walk downhill and at 1h30 reached another viewpoint, this time to the southwest . I could see the flat Kanto plain with Mt Tsukuba in the distance. The path suddenly became wide and easy to walk. One hour later, I reached the highest point of Mt Kazenokami (風神山 かぜのかみやま kazenokami-yama) inside the Kaze-no-Kami-yama Nature Park. It was completely in the trees, but a few minutes further, I reached a viewpoint to the East of Hitachi city and the Pacific Ocean.

Looking East towards the Pacific Ocean

It took only twenty minutes to get to the base of the mountain. Since it was only 3pm, I decided to visit the newly opened and free Hitachi Origin Museum (see video), conveniently on the way to the station. I learned about the founder of Hitachi, Namihei Odaira, and had some fun with the interactive displays. I arrived back at the station just after 4 pm and after riding the local line to Katsuta station, I transferred to the limited express for the one hour ride back to Tokyo.

See the interactive displays of the Hitachi Origin Park

Kasamori Green Path (highest point 135m), Chonan Town, Chiba Prefecture, Sunday, January 9, 2022

I hadn’t been to Chiba since March 2019, because so many trails had been damaged by the powerful typhoons of 2018 and 2019. I found a hike from my guidebook relatively close to Tokyo, in the northern half of the Boso peninsula. The trail seemed to be in good condition, although a bit short for a day trip. Luckily, it could be extended, if needed, since it was on the Kanto Fureai no Michi. I wouldn’t be hitting any summits, but instead following a path with the intriguing name of “Green Path” and ending at a Buddhist Temple in the middle of the forest. I could take a bus from Mobara station to Chonan town, about a couple of kilometers from the start of the hike; at the end, I could catch a different bus back to the station. The weather was supposed to be sunny in the morning and afternoon, with a cloudy period around noon. I was excited to revisit Chiba after a three year interval and enjoy some low-altitude winter hiking.

View of northern Chiba from Nomikin park

The very green Kasamori “Green Path”

It took about one hour on the comfortable Wakashio Limited Express to reach Mobara station, and then another half an hour by bus to get to Chonan town. I first headed downhill towards a wide flat area through which the Habu river flows. At around 10h30, I finally spotted a sign for the Fureai no Michi, leading onto a small road through the countryside. I was surprised to see snow and ice on the shaded sections and had to be careful not to slip, especially when the road started to lead up a slope.

Looking eastwards from the Nomikin park viewpoint

Looking northwards from the observation tower

The road became snow-free as it turned towards the sun. At 11am, I reached a breathtaking viewpoint at the top of a hill inside Nomikin Park (野見金公園). Although I was only about 120m high in an area without any remarkable features, I had an unobstructed view east and north; flat forest stretched away in the distance, divided by a highway through Mobara city ten kilometers away. I had a coffee at Miharashi Terrace, just next to the viewpoint, and then headed over to an observation tower on the next hill.

Kuramochi lake, a paradise for birds

Heading up the “Green Path

I had a fantastic 360 degree view from the top; on the west side, I could even see the snowy summit of Mt Fuji, 130 kilometers away. It was already past noon, so I continued on my way and soon reached Kuramochi lake. I was surprised to hear many kinds of birdsong while standing on the bridge over the lake (see video). Ten minutes later, I arrived at the start of the Kasamori Green Path (笠森グリーンルート kasamori green route). True to its name, the path was entirely surrounded by forest, as it followed a hilly ridge northwards. Although I didn’t get any views, I enjoyed the changing scenery from the top of each set of steps.

The many up and downs of the Kasamori “Green Path

View of the Chiba countryside

After ninety minutes of up and down, I arrived at another observation tower. From the top, I could hear successive gongs from the bell tower of the closeby Kasamori temple, famous for its main hall built on top of wooden stilts. I gave up on a visit as it was quite crowded and rang the bell instead. Since it was only 2pm, I decided to continue north along the Fureai no Michi. I followed small, winding roads through charming countryside and reached my bus stop around 4pm; one hour later, I was back at Mobara station where I caught the limited express for the short ride to Tokyo.

Some snow on the Fureai no Michi

Listen to the bell of Kasamori temple

Mt Jinmuji (134m) & Mt Takatori (139m), Zushi & Yokosuka Cities, Kanagawa Prefecture, Monday, January 3, 2022

I was looking for a relaxing hike for my first outing of the year. I found inspiration in a manga I had recently started reading called “The Climber“; it featured a mountain I knew from my hiking guide, but hadn’t attempted yet, as it seemed too short for a day trip. Using Google Maps, I discovered trails extending in several directions from the summit, along narrow forested ridges, similar to the ones I had previously hiked north of Kamakura. I decided to start from Keikyu-Jinmuji station and finish at Keikyu-Taura station, crossing the neck of the Miura Peninsula from west to east. The weather was supposed to be cold and sunny, typical for this time of the year. I hoped to enjoy a nice hike through the low hills south of Yokohama and get some good views of Tokyo and Sagami bays.

The rock climbing area featured in “The Climber” manga

View south from the top observatory

I rode the Shonan-Shinjuku line under blue skies to Yokohama where I changed to the Keikyu line. I got off at Jinmuji station a little after 11am and walked ten minutes along a road to reach the start of the trail. I soon arrived at a path along a small stream leading up the mountain. Along the way, I could hear squirrels scampering away in the nearby trees. It was nearly noon and the sun was shining down into the narrow valley, creating a magical scenery.

Path leading to Jinmu-ji Temple

Start of the path for Jinmu-ji (left) Gate leading to the temple (right)

It took only 15 minutes to reach Jinmu-ji Temple (神武寺). I saw relatively few people doing “hatsumode“, the first temple visit of the year, perhaps because it was still early in the day. I climbed some stone steps and then followed a level path for a short while. A small path leading up on the right took me to my first viewpoint of the day and the top of Mt Jinmuji (神武寺山). I had a view or the Miura Alps and Shonan bay. I found a good place to sit and had an early lunch.

View of the Miura Alps from the top of Mt Jinmuji

View of Chiba’s Boso peninsula beyond Tokyo bay

The next part followed a wide and mostly level path along the top of a ridge. Along the way, I had a view of Mt Fuji to the west and Yokohama to the north. Just after 1pm, I had a glimpse of a rock climber (see video); I had arrived at the climbing area. I walked around the base of the cliffs to a staircase leading to the top of Mt Takatori (鷹取山 たかとりやま takatori-yama). From the observatory, I could see Yokosuka city and Tokyo Bay to the east; to the south lay the Miura peninsula; directly below, children were flying kites at the base of the cliffs. After enjoying the view, I headed down at 2pm.

The observatory at the top of Mt Takatori

The rock climbing cliff (left) The Takatoriyama Buddha (right)

I made my way to an impressive Buddha carved into a cliff face, past several more climbing areas. I then turned right onto a path heading down a forested ridge and above a residential area. Half an hour later, I reached a junction where I took the left branch, and soon after, I found myself walking among the houses towards Taura station. At 3pm, I boarded a local train for Yokohama station where I changed to the Shonan-Shinjuku line for the one-hour ride back to Tokyo.

Walking above the suburbs

See the views of Mt Takatori

Mt Furo (839m), Mt Takasasu (911m) & Mt Sebuchi (554m), Uenohara City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Thursday, December 30, 2021

I found these three peaks north of the Chuo line and east of Otsuki station by simply examining my hiking map. They don’t belong to any famous lists, but together they form a short, easy hike with views of Mt Fuji, making it suitable for the last outing of the year. I could get to the start of the trail by riding the local Chuo line to Uenohara station, followed by a short bus ride, although I would have to leave before 7am to catch the only bus running in the morning. The weather was supposed to be sunny, with some wind, but since all tree peaks were below one thousand meters, the temperatures wouldn’t go below freezing. I was looking forward to wrapping up the year with a quiet hike and getting some new views.

Mt Fuji before its disappearance in the clouds

The Doshi mountains and the Tanzawa mountains (behind)

I arrived at Uenohara station under blue skies and quickly transferred to the Fujikyu bus. I was the sole passenger and got off at the end of the line just after 9am. I followed a paved road for a short while before reaching the start of the trail, next to a small graveyard. The path went up the mountain side in a series of switchbacks and soon reached a small shrine with a view of Mt Fuji, framed by two pine trees. After some more climbing, I reached the top of Mt Furo (不老山 ふろうさん furou-san, meaning “enduring youth”).

An easy hike up the first summit of the day

View of Mt Fuji framed by two pine trees

I had a view of the all the mountains south of the Chuo line. To the west, I could see Mt Fuji, the top now in the clouds; opposite were the Doshi mountains, with the Tanzawa mountains rising behind; eastwards, I could make out Sagami lake and Mt Tsukui-Shiro. It was nearly 11am, so I sat down on the sole bench, fortunately in the sun, for a late breakfast. Below, the Chuo expressway seemed busy with people driving to their hometowns for the new year. I set off again, and after a short, steep climb, arrived at the summit of Mt Takasasu (高指山 たかさすやま takasasu-yama).

View of the mountains south of the Chuo line

Looking through the trees towards Mt Sebuchi

The summit was entirely in the trees, and although it was also in the sun, I moved on immediately, as I had just stopped for a break. The path went downhill and became harder to follow. After some switchbacks, I reached a forest road, and soon after, an intersection. The hiking path continued behind a huge boulder, and due to some fallen trees, was a bit difficult to follow. Eventually, I arrived back on a forest road, which then turned in a steep paved road leading to a grassy summit. I found the summit marker for Mt Sebuchi (瀬淵山 せぶちやま sebuchi-yama), on a tree next to a shrine.

Looking back towards Mt Takasasu

View from the paragliding jump-off spot

The mountain is also used as a jump-off spot for paragliders; I had seen some when hiking Mt Yogai nearly a year ago. The view was similar to the one from the first summit of the day, except that I couldn’t see Mt Fuji at all; I could see the long ridgeline of Mt Nodake eastwards. It was one o’clock so I found a bench in the sun and sat down for lunch. At 1h30, I made my way back to the intersection, and from there headed down the mountain. I arrived at a bus stop on the same line I had used in the morning just before 2pm. After a short bus ride, I was back at Uenohara station, where I boarded a local train for Shinjuku station.

See the views on this three-peak hike

Mt Takagawa (976m) & the Yamanashi Prefectural Maglev Exhibition Center, Thursday, December 23, 2021

I had climbed this mountain once before, about ten years ago. I remembered it mainly as an easy to reach peak with a spectacular view of Mt Fuji. On the other hand, the top had been packed with other hikers, making it difficult to get good pictures of Japan’s most famous volcano. I had a rare weekday off and, with the forecast looking good, decided to give it another shot. Studying my map, I counted seven trails leading to the summit; previously, I had gone up from Kasei station and then down to Otsuki; this time, I would start from Hatsukari station and aim to end at Takanokura station, crossing the mountain from west to east. I noticed that the Maglev Exhibition Center was located near the end of my planned route, so I decided to drop by if time allowed. I was looking forward to an easy station to station hike and getting some good, unobstructed views of snowy Fuji.

This map was developed for Japanwilds with the Hokkaido Cartographer

Find more Japan hiking maps on Avenza

View of Mt Fuji from the summit of Mt Takagawa

I rode the Chuo line limited express for a short hour to Otsuki station, where I changed to a local train to reach Hatsukari, one station away. The weather was as forecast, and the outline of Mt Takigo, opposite the station on the north side, was clearly visible against the blue sky. I set off just after 11am, first through the town, then along a forest road. By now the sun had risen high enough in the sky to shine through the trees on the northwest side, and despite the cold temperature, it felt pleasant walking through the forest.

A mostly sunny hike to the top

First view of Fuji

Thirty minutes after setting off, I reached a trail on the left; the forest road continued along the valley, eventually turning into the “sawa” trail, but I was keen to get on a proper trail as soon as possible. In no time, I was making my way up a steep ridge and had to stop to take off a layer of clothing. I soon arrived at a fork, and with little hesitation, left the slope for a more relaxing level path, following the contour of the mountain. Fifteen minutes later, the path merged with the “sawa” trail, climbing out of the valley to the left.

On the right, Mitsutoge, where I was just 2 weeks before

Looking at the Doshi mountains

The trail doubled back and was now completely in the sun. Through the leafless trees, I had my first glimpse of Mt Fuji, its white summit rising above a ridgeline. After another fifteen minutes, I passed the top of the steep ridge I left earlier. The path turned around again and rose gently through bamboo grass and a sparse forest. A little before 1pm, I reached the top of Mt Takagawa (高川山 たかがわやま takagawa-yama), a 100 famous mountain of Yamanashi.

The Maglev tracks can be seen at the bottom of the valley, on the right

Still some sun on the way down

As I had hoped, I was the only person there to enjoy the views. I was also lucky with the weather, since on top of the blue skies, I couldn’t feel the slightest breeze. Looking south, I could see Mt Fuji, at the end of the corridor linking Otsuki with the Fuji Five Lake Area. To its right was Mitsutoge, and to its left was Mt Kurami and Mt Shakushi. Peering down on the west side, I could see the straight Maglev tracks crossing the flat valley bottom. Above the trees on the north and west sides, I could make out Mt Gangaharasuri and the northernmost peaks of the South Alps.

The Yamanashi prefecture diorama

Kofu city and its castle

After having lunch and enjoying the fantastic views, I was ready to head down by 2pm. First, I followed a path along the north ridge, and then turned right onto a path going down the mountain in a series of zigzags. The path dipped in and out of the sun, and less than an hour later, reached a paved road. At 3pm, I was at the entrance of the Maglev Exhibition Center. I found the huge diorama of Yamanashi very interesting, as well as the demonstration of the levitation principle (see video). I also discovered I could catch a bus just outside the museum for Otsuki station; after arriving there, I boarded the limited express for the short trip back to Tokyo.

See a demonstration of the Maglev system

Mt Takakusa (501m) & Mankanho (470m), Yaizu & Shizuoka Cities, Shizuoka Prefecture, Sunday, December 19, 2021

I hadn’t been to Shizuoka since March, so I felt I should make at least one more trip before the year end, especially since the clear December skies would be ideal for seeing Mt Fuji and the Pacific ocean. I found a suitable hike in my guidebook, through a small mountainous area next to the sea and south of Mt Hamaishi and Satta Pass. I could get to the start of the trail by riding the shinkansen to Shizuoka station, and then change to the Tokaido line for a few stops; finally a bus would get me to the base of the mountains. Afterwards, I could catch another bus directly back to Shizuoka station: thanks to the bullet train, this hike could be done as a daytrip. The weather was supposed to be good, although windy, and I was looking forward to exploring a new area and getting some views of snow-capped Fuji.

Looking back at Yaizu city on the way up

View of Shizuoka city and Mt Fuji from the Korean Rock

I arrived at Yaizu station a little after 9am on a cold but cloudless day. I was pity I had no time to use the hot spring footbath outside the station before the bus arrived. At 10 am, I got off at the entrance for Rinsoin Temple (林叟院), the start of two trails up the mountain. I chose the “Sakamoto B trail” (坂本Bコース), since it went up the sunny mountain side, whereas the A trail followed a paved road along the valley bottom. The breeze was blowing, but thanks to the sun and the low altitude, it didn’t feel too cold; I was surprised, however, to see some autumn leaves still hanging on to the branches.

Hiking under the winter sun on the way up

Yellow Suzuki and blue Suruga

Less than an hour later, I had my first views of the day: directly below was Yaizu city, filling the wide, flat coastal area; beyond was Suruga bay, sparkling under the winter sun; looking west, I could see the foothills of the South Alps across the bay; finally, turning eastwards, I could make out the outline of Izu peninsula. The path headed straight up through low vegetation, quickly gaining more altitude and repeatedly crossing a switchback road. Shortly after merging with another, more popular trail, I reached the top of Mt Takakusa (高草山 たかくさやま takakusa-yama meaning “tall grass”), a 100 famous mountain of Shizuoka.

The tail end of the South Alps

Mt Hanazawa (foreground) and the Izu peninsula

The view was half-blocked by the trees covering most of the summit, but at least Mt Fuji was visible to the north, a cloud parked on its head. Since it was noon, I sat on a bench for an early lunch. Half an hour later, I set off again down a narrow path heading north. I saw almost no one and enjoyed the solitude of the surrounding forest. Through gaps in the trees, I could see the ocean speckled with the white foamy tips of the breaking waves. After several ups and downs, I arrived at Kurakake pass (鞍掛峠), where I crossed a road and continued along the trail on the other side.

A narrow but easy to walk trail through the forest

Looking back at Mt Takakusa (on the left)

I was now on a path steadily rising through a thick forest. I passed many people and assumed I would soon be arriving at the highlight of the hike. It took half an hour to reach the edge of the forest with a view of what I had hiked so far. Soon after, I arrived at the wide flat summit of Mankanho (満観峰 まんかんほう). The name means “satisfying view”, and indeed, I had no complaints: I could see Shizuoka city spreading out at the foot of Mt Fuji, with the Minobu mountains on the left, and Mt Ashitaka on the right; on the opposite side, I could see the southernmost part of the South Alps, many of its peaks new to me. It was now 1h30, so I found an empty bench and had the rest of my lunch.

View of Mt Fuji from Mankanho

View of the South Alps from Mankanho

I was the last person to leave the summit at 2pm, following a path northwards back into the forest. After a short while, I reached the top of Mariko-Fuji (450m 丸子富士), a minor peak, cone-shaped like its namesake. It was entirely in the trees, but had a well-used visitor’s book, so I left a short message before continuing. Soon after, I arrived at “koyodai” (紅葉台 meaning “autumn colours pedestal”), a rocky prominence in the forest with a single maple tree on top, its bright orange leaves swaying in the wind. Next, I passed by a tiny tea field, probably producing some special kind of tea due needing this remote location. At 3h30, I was finally standing on top of the Korean Rock (韓国岩), a natural platform jutting out from the mountainside.

The final view of the day from the Korean Rock

Looking back at Mt Hanazawa

I had a close-up view of Shizuoka city with Mt Fuji rising above. The sun was sinking below the ridgeline behind me, and half the city was already in the shade; I had to hurry if I wanted to make it down before dark. Almost immediately, I encountered an unexpected fork in the trail. I decided to go left on the “Zelkova route” (けやきコース) descending in a steep zigzag. At the top of some fields, I had my final view of the day; although the low-lying city was now completely in the shadows, the surrounding mountains were still bathed in soft yellow light. A few minutes later I reached a temple and the end of the hiking trail. After a short bus ride to Shizuoka station, I jumped onto one of the frequent bullet trains for the one-hour ride back to Tokyo.

See what it feels like to hike Mt Takakusa

Mitsutoge (1785m), Fuji-Kawaguchi & Nishi-Katsura Towns, Yamanashi Prefecture, Friday, December 10, 2021 [Snow hike]

I had been thinking about visiting the Fuji Five Lakes area again. Having heard on the news that it had snowed there, I decided to make it my next destination, as it would be a great opportunity to do some snow walking close to Tokyo. Also, I could use the Fuji Excursion limited express from Shinjuku, which hadn’t existed on my last visit 5 years ago. From the station, I could catch a bus to the trail entrance. Reaching an elevation of 1230m, it’s one of the highest bus lines near Tokyo that is open all year round. After climbing to the summit, I would go down the opposite side to Mitsutoge station on the Fujikyu line. I was a little unsure about the weather forecast: it was supposed to be sunny, despite the presence of high-altitude clouds. However, I was mainly concerned about the amount of snow and ice on the trail. I packed my light crampons and planned alternatives, feeling excited about seeing the first snow scenes of the season.

Hiking inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

View of Mt Fuji from the Mitsutoge lodge

A popular rock climbing spot

I travelled to Kawaguchiko under gloomy, grey skies, and felt certain I would be hiking inside freezing cold clouds. However, once I was on the bus, the clouds parted, the sun started shining and Mt Fuji appeared. At 10h30 I started hiking from “Mitsutoge Tozan Guchi” (三つ峠登山口), first on a road next to a mountain stream, then on a forest road, winding gently up the mountain side.

Finally, snow!

Just a little further on to the highest point

I saw the first traces of the recent snowfall thirty minutes later, and one hour after setting off, I could feel the satisfying crunch of snow underfoot. It was melting quickly but enough was left to create the hoped for winter landscape. Patches of blue were spreading above as the weather continued to improve. I passed a handful of hikers, and even a couple of jeeps (see video), probably fetching supplies for the lodges before the busy weekend.

Looking south towards the Tenshi mountains

The Mikasa mountains with the Japanese Alps behind

At noon, I had a glorious view of snowy Fuji outside the Mitsutoge Lodge. I had an early lunch and then continued to the highest point, Mt Kaiun (開運山 meaning “better fortune”), above an impressive rocky face. This part truly felt like a snow hike, but thanks to steps placed on the steep slope, I didn’t need to take my crampons out. At 12h30 I was on top of Mitsutoge (三ッ峠 みつとうげ), a 200-famous mountain of Japan. Despite the name, “three passes”, it has three summits rather than mountain passes.

Time to head down down – on the right is Yatsutagake

The southern ridge of Mitsutoge

I had arguably one of the best views of the entire area, the visibility being excellent despite high clouds veiling the sun. Ancient volcanoes surrounded the younger Fuji-san: Mt Hakone, Mt Amagi, Mt Ashitaka and Yatsugatake. The snowy peaks of the Japanese Alps stretched across the western horizon. I could see all the main mountain ranges: Doshi, Tanzawa, Tenshi, Misaka, and Chichibu. Only the north side was blocked by trees and a radio tower; to the northeast, Tokyo was covered in a grey smog.

The Doshi mountains with Tanzawa in the background

Mt Kura with Mt Shakushi directly behind

By 1pm the sun had completely vanished; thankfully it was a windless day and it wasn’t as cold as I had expected. I retraced my steps to the lodge and, since it was still early, I made a roundtrip to Mt Kinashi (木無山 1732m), another of the three summits. Although the name means “without trees”, they were inconveniently blocking the view; only Mt Fuji was visible directly south. By now, it was nearly 2pm and time to head down.

Reaching the base of the cliffs

High-altitude clouds masking the sun

It soon became clear I wouldn’t need my crampons at all today. I descended safely, thanks to a series of steps and a walkway, and reached the base of the cliffs. It’s a popular rock climbing spot and a couple of people were practicing their skills. All traces of snow were now gone, but it was thrilling to walk under the cliff face. At first, the path was mostly level, as it went round to the east side, but eventually it started to zigzag into the valley .

Mt Fuji in the afternoon shade

Last sun rays of the day

I could still see Mt Fuji through gaps in the trees, its eastern side now in the shade. The sun made a final appearance, shining briefly through the leafless trees, before disappearing for good behind a ridge at 3pm. Shortly after, I reached a paved road at the trail entrance. I dropped by Mitsutoge Green Center to take a hot bath before continuing to the nearby Mitsutoge station. At 5pm, I boarded a local trail for Otsuki, where I transferred to the Chuo limited express for the one-hour ride to Tokyo.

See the snowy views of Mitsutoge