Mt Sashiro (205m), Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Saturday, March 7, 2020

This hike was also different from usual, since it was more walking and sightseeing than pure hiking, albeit with a couple of summits and some views. I had hiked nearly all the mountains near the Mito and Joban lines, except for the ones near Kasama station. The hike described in my “Mountains of Ibaraki” was only 3 hours long . However, it followed the Kanto Fureai no Michi, and I was confident that there would be some interesting sights along the way enabling me to stretch the hike to a full day.

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Nearing the top of the castle

After a later than usual departure, I transferred to the Mito line in Oyama, and reached Kasama station a little before 11am. There was a tiny tourist information office outside, where I picked up some good maps of the area. It took half an hour through town to reach the Kasama Inari Shrine, the main attraction of the area. I spent some time exploring the shrine and the main shopping street in front of it, and I only started up the hiking trail, ten minutes East of the shrine, around 1pm.

Kasama Inari Shrine is dedicated to the fox god

The first part was a short climb up a rounded hill called Fujiyama (143m) 富士山, quite a common mountain name in Japan. It was an azalea park, but none were in flower at this time of the year. Although there was no summit marker, there was an observatory platform with a 360 degree panorama of the entire area. Looking South, I could see Mt Wagakuni, climbed in 2017, and West, Mt Takamine and Mt Bucho, climbed in 2018. The skies were overcast, but I am sure the view must be spectacular on a cloudless day.

Mt Takamine (left) and Mt Bucho (right)

I followed the road down the other side, crossed a larger road, and continued up a small road into a cedar forest. On the side of the road, there was a large boulder known as “Daikokuseki” (大黒石 or big black rock), which had been rolled down from above on castle attackers. A little further on the right, was the start of the road up to the ruins of Kasama castle. Halfway up, I took a shortcut via a flight of moss-covered stairs, to reach a flat grassy space. It was hard to figure out the way when looking at the map, but it was easier while walking it because there were frequent signposts of the Fureai no Michi.

Leafy and mossy steps leading to the ruins of Kasama castle

As with many old Japanese castles, there wasn’t much left to see, just traces of the foundations overgrown by grass. At the back, there was another staircase leading to the shrine at the very top of Mt Sashiro 佐白山, which I reached just after 2pm. It was completely in the trees, except for a small gap to the West. Behind the shrine, was an alternate path going down. It was steep and rocky, but there were some chains for steadying oneself. It led to a place with some big boulders, called ishikura (石倉 or rock cellar). I climbed on top of one of them to see the view to the East. A mostly level path through the forest brought me back to the castle ruins.

Stone steps leading to the top of Mt Sashiro

On the other side, there was a hiking path leading down the mountain through the forest. I arrived at Sashirosanroku park after 3pm. At this point I felt quite satisfied with today’s hiking, and since I was close to the city, I decided to have a late soba lunch. I chose Sobakiri Ichibee そば切り一兵衛, fifteen minutes away on foot. It seemed quite a famous place, judging from the autographs of celebrities covering the walls. After a satisfying meal of soba and tempura, I made my way back to Kasama station, twenty minutes away. There I got the local train for Tomobe, where I switched to the limited express for Ueno.

Soba lunch at Sobakiri Ichibee

NEXT UP: Mt Hinata & Mt Mijo in Tanzawa (Kanagawa)

Mt Kamimine (598m), Mt Oiwa (530m), Mt Takasuzu (632m), and Mt Sukegawa (328m), Hitachi City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Sunday, February 9, 2020

Hiking in the Hitachi Alps 日立アルプス

This was my first time hiking in the Hitachi Alps 日立アルプス, but traversing the entire range in one day seemed too long, so I decided to go up the West side, do a round trip to a peak on the North end, then head to another peak on the South end, and finally walk down the East side. This was a combination of two hikes from my Mountains of Ibaraki hiking book.

View of the Pacific Ocean near the end of the hike

Using the Tokyo Wide Pass, it took me less than 2 hours to reach Hitachi City from Ueno station. I was impressed by the view of the blue sparkling sea through the wide station windows, but I had to hurry since I only had a few minutes to catch the bus for Oiwa Shrine 御岩神社. It took about half an hour on a nearly empty bus to reach the shrine, known in the area as a power spot. I was fascinated by the many tall cedar trees within the shrine grounds, especially the group of three towering up to 50 meters near the entrance gate.  Apparently it’s one of the one hundred forests of giant trees in Japan. I definitely felt like I was inside some enchanted world!

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Walking among the tall cedar trees inside Oiwa shrine

I found the entrance to the hiking trail behind the main shrine building. For once, I wasn’t hiking alone, since most visitors to the shrine continue up to the mountain directly above. The straightest route to the summit was closed due to typhoon damage (predating 2019), but the detour path is clearly indicated. I reached the top ridge before 10h30, and turned left along a mostly level path. There were a couple of ups and downs, but each can be avoided by taking an alternate path on the right (something I confirmed on the return). I reached the top of Mt Kamimine 神峰山 just after 11pm. The view of the coast stretching Southwards and the Pacific Ocean was stunning.

View of the sea from the top of Mt Kamimine

I enjoyed a late breakfast sitting on the ground under a tree, since the bench was taken by another hiker. It’s possible to continue beyond Mt Kamimine, and back down to Ogitsu station (one stop from Hitachi station), but today I retraced my steps to where I had reached the top of the ridge one hour earlier. I continued up a short rocky path to Mt Oiwa 御岩山. It wasn’t the highest point of the ridge, and it didn’t feel like a mountain top, but there was a wide view to the West of the forested hills of Ibaraki, including Mt Nantai and Mt Yamizo, as well as the snowy mountains of Tochigi in the distance, so who am I to complain?

Panoramic view from Mt Oiwa

Unsurprisingly, there were quite a few people, and there was even an interesting sign forbidding people to eat rice balls (see below), so after checking out the views, I moved on quickly since it was nearly 1pm. There were multiple paths, but they all joined up eventually. The next part was easy to walk, and quite peaceful as there were few hikers.

Pleasant winter hiking after Mt Oiwa

I soon reached the top of Mt Takasuzu 高鈴山, the highest point of the hike. There was a sixty meter high white tower for measuring rainfall on the Eastern side (no view), and a wooden observation platform on the West side, with similar views as before, plus Mt Kamimine to the North.

Observation platform at the top of Mt Takasuzu

I had my lunch, and set off again at 1h30. The path continued Southwards, but I backtracked a few minutes till a road signposted for the ruins of Sukegawa castle 助川城跡 which I had crossed a little earlier. After a few turns, it joined up with a hiking path on the right. This section was very enjoyable. I saw no one while I made my way down the mountain, and it felt like a secret path. I sometimes wondered if I was on the right trail, and was relieved everytime I spotted a signpost!

Hiking down from Mt Takasuzu along a narrow path

I reached Omusubi pond おむすび池 before 3pm. It was part of a wide park, nearly completely deserted in the middle of winter. Fifteen minutes later I reached the top of Mt Sukegawa 助川山 with a superb 360 degree view.

Arbour and lookout point at the top of Mt Sukegawa

I could see the entire range of the Hitachi Alps, Iwaki to the North, Chosi to the South, and the Pacific Ocean. It was hard to believe that San Francisco lay 8000 km straight ahead with nothing in between but the ocean.

In clear weather, one can see all the way to Choshi

It was windy and cold, and already past 3h30, so I took off again for the last part of the hike. At the edge of the park the signposting was a little confusing, but thanks to Google Maps, I managed to find my way to the ruins of Sukegawa castle, and the edge of Hitachi city. There I caught a bus back to the station, and the comfortable limited express train back to Ueno and Tokyo.

Looking back at Mt Kamimine

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NEXT UP: Jogasaki in Coast Shizuoka

Mt Ontake (230m) & Mt Amabiki (409m), Sakuragawa City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Sunday April 7, 2019

This is most likely my final Ibaraki hike till autumn. I purposely chose a low hike so that I could check out cherry blossoms trees on the way, and a shorter one since I had skipped the previous week due to Hanabi. The hike starts from Iwase station on the Mito line and follows the “Kanto Fureai no Michi”, a network of trails through the Kanto area (I followed another portion during my previous hike in Chiba). This is the last portion of the ridgeline stretching North of Mt Tsukuba and Mt Kaba (one can continue to Mt Kaba for a longer hike).

An example of the well-maintained trail on this hike

Outside the station there was a sign informing me that I was inside the Mt Tsukuba area Geopark. Apparently there are about 30 such geoparks in Japan. There is also a cycle rental shop near the station since the Tsukuba Ring Ring Cycling Road passes nearby, and the hike uses it to get back to the station. Around this time of the year it is lined with cherry blossom trees in full bloom.

Outside the station I turned right, walked through the town for a short while before turning right again and crossing the railway track. The road than led straight up the hillside to the start of the trail with an information board. There are 2 trails but apparently they join up so I took the right one. Very soon I reached the top of Mt Ontake 御嶽山 where there is a nice little “azumaya” with a good view of the valley I just came up, framed with sakura. The top also has a small shinto shrine.

Mt Tomiya, not in my guidebook, but can be hiked

After a short break, I continued along a pretty path through the forest. At one point, a yellow-furred Japanese stoat or weasel “itachi” darted across the path and disappeared into the trees, only the third one I’ve ever seen while hiking. So far, all “Kanto Fureai” paths I have walked have always been well maintained and easy to walk, with nice surroundings. After a while, I reached a long staircase (just as I was attempting a timelapse video – see video below) and I reached the top of Mt Amabiki 雨引き slightly out of breath and ahead of schedule. The mountain name can be read as “rain pull” but fortunately the weather was sunny that day, although a bit hazy.

View of Mt Kaba from the top of Mt Amabiki

I had lunch on one of the benches around the summit and took in the view of Mt Kaba and Mt Tsukuba to the South, and the Kanto plain to the West. After I set off again, the path soon started to descend and I reached the junction with the trail to Mt Kaba. For some reason the sign for Mt Kaba hadn’t been repainted as the other ones had. Since I had already been up there, I turned right and proceeded further down the mountain.

Soon I took a left along a steep descending path, supposedly a shortcut for the Amabiki Kannon temple at the end of the hike. There were a lot of visitors, and it was an interesting place to explore, since I had enough time for once. The sakura in full bloom made the place especially beautiful. I then followed an old staircase that ran parallel to the car road to reach the base of the hill and the main road.

Early April is a good time of the year to do this hike

Here are I was supposed to rejoin the cycling road but I spotted a bus stop out of the corner of my eye. Although my guidebook stated that there was no public transport in the area, it seemed that amazingly there was a bus for Iwase station coming in just a few minutes. It was still mid-afternoon but the clouds had rolled in so I decided to take the opportunity and get back to Tokyo early for once. I will come back another spring and see the cherry blossoms along the Ring Ring road by bicycle!

Get a feel of the hike by watching the timelapse video

Mt Nantai (654m), Daigo Town, Ibaraki Prefecture

This was a trip to a prefecture that I have recently come to appreciate as a great hiking destination. Most of its hikes are situated in the Abukuma Mountains 阿武隈山地. This was also my first time to take the Suigun line that connects Mito, the capital of Ibaraki, and Koriyama in Fukushima (I took it again this year). Finally it was a good station to station hike – I had to walk one hour along a road from Saigane station to reach the start of the trail, but the surrounding scenery was beautiful.

One of the other peaks in the area

Once I started hiking in earnest, I got some really great views of the rocky summit of this Kanto 100 famous mountain. The weather was perfect, and the autumn colours were still at their peak. Soon I started climbing through some beautiful forest, and I reached the top of Mt Nantai 男体山 around 1h30. From the top, there was no doubt that this was the highest mountain in the area. To the south, I could see the shape of Mt Tsukuba in the distance.

At the very back, Mt Tsukuba and neighbouring mountains

After enjoying the bird’s eye views, I continued along the ridge. First down a steep slope, then along a pleasant mostly level path. It was so pleasant that I completely missed the turn-off down the mountain. After a while, I realised I was going in the wrong direction and retraced my steps to the junction which was properly signposted – I must have looked the other direction just when the sign came into view!

The prominent bulk of Mt Nantai

The downhill part to Kami-Ogawa station was through pleasant autumn forest, then along countryside back roads. Looking back, I got some more nice views of the rocky summit of the mountain I had just climbed. I reached the station in time for the infrequent train back to Mito city.