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 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

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

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

View of Tsukui lake from the top of Mt Shiro

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

Hiking inside Shiroyama park

The Mt Jubei viewpoint

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

Tough climbing up the man’s slope

A view of the Tokyo skyline

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

Izuna shrine, half-way up the mountain

The Tanzawa mountains

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

Sagami river heading into Yamanashi prefecture

The Oku-Chichibu mountains, topped with spring snow

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

Easy walking down the woman’s slope

A good viewpoint at the base of the mountain

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

Some more easy hiking along the Fureai no Michi

A glimpse of Switzerland in Kanagawa prefecture

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

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

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

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

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

Mt Fuji from the Brahma’s nose

Sun along the Maeda River Promenade

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

Start of the hiking trail up Mt Ogusu

One of the level sections of the trail

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

The white tower on the way to the summit

View towards Sagami bay from Mt Ogusu

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

The southern part of the Miura peninsula

The Miura Alps with Yokohama behind

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

Pleasant hiking on the Miura peninsula

Few hikers but a well-maintained trail

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

See the view from the highest point of the Miura peninsula

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

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

Hiking in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

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

On the right, the highest point of the Hakone area

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

Haya river with Mt Kintoki directly behind

Hiking the Sengoku-Hara Kojiri Nature Trail

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

Kojiri water gate with Mt Hakone behind

Hiking the Ashi Lake West Shore Trail

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

The only clouds remaining in the afternoon were above Mt Koma

Good view from the west shore of Lake Ashi

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

Hiking the west side of Lake Ashi

Mt Haku (284m) and Mt Kane (561m), Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture, January 2021

2021 started off very cold so I wanted to stay low for the first hike of the year. I also wanted to start and finish near areas where buses would be running during the Japanese New Year. In the end I decided to combine two small mountains at the edge of the Tanzawa mountains, just south of 2019’s last hike. The first one was featured in my Kanagawa hiking book; the second one I found on Google Maps; the trail in between followed the Kanto Fureai no Michi (関東ふれあいの道), a real treasure trove of good hiking paths around Tokyo. The weather was supposed to be sunny – it usually is this time of the year – and I was hoping to get some good views of the capital.

Hiking in the Tanzawa Mountains 丹沢山地

View from near the highest point of the hike

I left late, arriving at Atsugi station around 10am. I caught one of the frequent buses for Iiyama, running as usual over the New Year so that people can visit the nearby Iiyama Kannon (Hasedera) Temple (飯山観音). At 11am, I reached the bright red bridge over Koayu river, marking the official entrance to the mountain. I walked up the road and then a flight of steps to reach the temple. I walked past a the line of people waiting to pray, and found the trail entrance behind the main temple building.

The sunny “woman’s slope”

I went up the “woman’s slope” (女坂 “onna-zaka“), the gentler of the two trails up the mountain, mainly because I didn’t see the entrance to the steeper, “man’s slope”. The well-maintained path followed the valley side, colourful arrows pointing the way. Despite the cold temperatures, it felt warm thanks to the midday sun shining above the trees. At 11h30 I reached the small observation tower at the top of Mt Hakusan (白山 はくさん hakusan). Although It was a short climb, I decided to take a short break and have a late breakfast at one of the benches.

The Shinjuku skyscraper district

Taking up the entire eastern view was the vast Tokyo Megapolis, with the Shinjuku skyscrapers in the center just 40km away; beyond Shibuya, I could make out the Tokyo Skytree; to the west was Mt Oyama in the Tanzawa mountains; looking south I spotted the outline of Oshima island, 80km away. After checking out the view, I made a quick roundtrip to Hakusan Shrine (白山神社) just 5 minutes away along the top ridge. At noon, I set off again, walking down a steep path on the other side of this small mountain.

Looking south towards Shonan bay

The path soon leveled and I was now walking along the Fureai no Michi trail, a pleasant path along a forested ridge, with occasional viewpoints with benches. I passed several other hikers; it seemed to be a well-known secret among the locals. The path descended gradually, and I eventually arrived at the Nanasawa Forest Park (七沢森林公園). It was past one o’clock, so I stopped for lunch at another Tokyo viewpoint. Looking east, I could see the Miura peninsula and, half-hidden behind it, was the Boso peninsula, 50km away.

The Nanasawa Forest Park

At 1h30, I headed down the valley on the west side, towards Nanasawa Onsen (七沢温泉 meaning “seven stream hot spring”), a place I had first visited after descending Mt Tanzawa in a snowstorm several years ago. I stopped by a convenience store to replenish my supplies and started up my second, slightly higher, mountain of the day at 2pm. I soon found the start of the trail thanks to the abundance of signboards. Although I had never heard of it till a few days ago, it seemed a local favourite, probably because of the shrine at the top.

The path for Nanasawa Onsen

The path followed a ridge up through thick forest, alternating flat and steep bits. After thirty minutes of climbing, I reached a group of exposed boulders with good views eastwards of Tokyo, its buildings much sharper in the mid-afternoon. A little later, I had a good view of the ridge I had walked earlier in the day, also know as the Hakusan Pilgrimage Hiking Trail (白山順礼ハイキングコース). Looking down from my viewpoint 300 meters higher up, it looked very small indeed.

Tokyo in the late afternoon light

I finally arrived at a long stone staircase, marking the final approach to the shrine, and at 3pm, I was standing next to Asama Shrine (浅間神社). I wasn’t quite at the highest point, but there was a bench with a view of Tokyo, so I settled down for a break and an afternoon snack. By now, the sun had disappeared behind the mountains, and it was getting quite cold. Since it would be getting dark in about an hour, I quickly walked the final meters to the top of Mt Kane (鐘ヶ嶽 かねがたけ kanegatake), completely in the trees, and continued straight ahead down the other side.

In the shade, Mt Kyo, hiked at the end of 2019

I definitely felt that this trail was the nicer of the two. The surrounding forest was wild and beautiful despite the proximity of the city; I could hear deer calling in the distance; the path zigzagged down the steep, rocky mountain side, with chains fixed to the rock for safety. At 4pm I reached the road for Nanasawa Onsen next to a tunnel, and less than an hour later I was back on the road for Atsugi, waiting for the bus that would take me back to the big city.

The Rokoku Pass Hiking Trail, Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture, December 2020

I discovered an interesting hiking area between Kamakura and Yokohama at the end of 2019, and I was keen to return for some more exploring. This time I would start on the east side, from Kanazawa-Bunko station, a mere one-hour train ride from the center of Tokyo. I hadn’t quite worked out where I would finish. There were many trails to choose from and some were still closed due to typhoon damage; a flexible approach seemed best. The weather forecast was good, so I was hoping for better views than last time, and maybe even a glimpse of Mt Fuji!

View from the “Beetles” trail

Since today’s hike was relatively short, I arrived at the station around noon and started with some soba at the nearby Jutokuan (寿徳庵). At 1pm, I was at the entrance of the Rokoku Pass hiking trail (六国峠ハイキングコース meaning “six country pass”). It took me just 15 minutes up a series of logs steps to get to the top of the ridge, and my first viewpoint of the day. Looking south, I could see the hilly outline of the Miura Alps beyond the suburbs of Yokohama city. The easy to walk trail soon reentered the forest, and followed the narrow wooded ridge through the city.

Start of the Rokoku Trail

View of the Miura Alps

I wondered whether the city was encroaching on nature or vice versa. It was clear, however, that many locals enjoyed walking this well-maintained trail. Occasionally I heard some rustling from the trees next to the trail. Initially I thought the noise was made by stray cats, but later on I spotted a squirrel scampering along a tree branch. I saw quite a lot of them during the rest of the hike; I had never realised that there were so many squirrels in the Yokohama area! At 2h30, I reached Kanazawa zoo, and located the second half of the trail behind next to the parking area.

An easy to walk and well-maintained hiking trail near the city

Autumn leaves in late December

I was now walking a paved path called the “Interesting Nature Route” (おもしろい自然ルート). True to its name, there were many interesting trees along the way, including some that were still dressed in their autumn colours. At the end of “fern valley” (しだの谷), I climbed a long staircase, and then walked along a small road (closed to traffic) next to an elevated toll road. Soon I was back on an up and down hiking trail. The forest crowded in on both sides; it felt like I was in the middle of the jungle, although I was still technically inside Yokohama city. Many trees had labels; I studied each one carefully, since I wanted to learn more about Japanese trees.

The forest crowding in on all sides

Surrounded by nature in Yokohama

After crossing the Yokohama-Yokosuka Toll Road on a pedestrian bridge, and hiking up and down some more through the forest, I reached the Sekiya-Oku Viewpoint (関谷奥展望台) at 3h30. There wasn’t much to see, but there were some benches, so I sat down for a late lunch. Although the Rokoku hiking trail continued further south towards Kamakura, I decided to turn north along the “Ridge Trail” (尾根道), also called the “Beetles Trail” (ビートルズコース). Apparently there are many “kabuto-mushi” (Japanese Rhinoceros beetle) along the trail although I didn’t spot any – just overactive squirrels. This had been the best part of my 2019 hike, and I enjoyed hiking it a second time in better weather.

The days are short in the winter

In the background, the Tanzawa range

Against the sun, I was able to see the faint outline of Mt Fuji. I was delighted to view Japan’s most famous volcano from a new angle. To the right was the Tanzawa range. It was nearly 4 o’clock and the sun was slowly setting. The squirrels were more active than ever. Earlier on, I had enjoyed seeing them dart through the trees; in the gathering gloom, the crashing noises coming from the dark forest made me jump. I had hoped to walk east through the Hitorizawa Community woods (氷取沢国民の森) but I had to save it for another day. Instead, I continued to Ishindo Plaza. There, I turned left and descended into the valley, along a narrow hiking path.

Mt Fuji at dusk

Goodbye sun!

It was now 4h30 and getting dark quickly. I arrived at at Segami Pond (瀬上池), which I had glimpsed from above on my previous hike. I followed a road at the bottom of the valley next to a stream; it had gotten quite cold after the sun had set. Near a small house, I was joined by what looked like a domestic cat, and was “escorted” to a safe distance past the dwelling. At 5pm, I was back in the city. I jumped on a bus for Konandai station, where I switched to a train for the one-hour ride back to Tokyo.

My escort for the final part of the hike

Mt Myojin (1169m), Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, December 2020

I had climbed this peak more than ten years ago, starting at Daiyuzan Saiyoji Temple, and finishing at Gora, the last stop on the Hakone Tozan line. This time, I decided to start from the entrance of the hiking trail for Mt Kintoki, and finish on the Daiyuzan train line, meaning that the two hikes would only overlap very slightly. On the up side, this would combine a short climb with a long descent, and an easy return by train. On the down side, there was an hour of road walking at the end and no hot spring. Overall, I was excited to try a new route, in an area I hadn’t visited since February. I had some misgivings about the weather; we were in the middle of a cold snap, and the temperature at the top would be around freezing. I was most concerned about keeping my fingers warm, especially when taking photos. However, no matter how cold it turned out to be, I would be satisfied as long as I could see Mt Fuji in its winter coat.

Hiking in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

Mt Hakone, the highest peak in the Hakone area

Mt Kintoki, a 300-famous mountain

I rode the Romance Car limited express train under a beautiful blue sky to Odawara, where I transferred to a Hakone Tozan Bus. I got off in Sengokuhara and walked to the closest convenience store to buy supplies for the hike. There I bought a pair of gloves that work with a smartphone touchscreens. I had never used such gloves before, so I hoped they would do the job today. At 10:30, I was finally ready to hike. Thanks to the many signposts, I easily found the start of the trail and was quickly making my way up to the ridgeline, reaching it at around 11am.

The Sengokuhara plain and part of the Hakone outer caldera rim

Menacing Mt Hakone

I was now following a path through bamboo grass higher than my head. After some more climbing, I had the first views of the day; to the west, I could see Mt Kintoki; to the south, was Sengokuhara, a vast plain in the middle of the Hakone caldera; behind it was the outer crater rim, curving eastwards; finally, under a dark cloud, and looking like Mordor’s Mount Doom, was Mt Hakone. It was cold and windy but still sunny. The gloves were hit-and-miss; I usually managed to take a picture only after a few tries.

No view but also no wind

Looking ahead and looking back views

Most of the trail was through a bamboo tunnel, like walking in a giant maze. Apart from a few gaps, there were no views, but at least the bamboo kept the wind out. At one point, the trail dipped down through a forest on the north side, to rejoin the ridge near the top of Mt Hiuchiishi 988m (火打石岳) around noon. From there, I had a good view of the last part of the climb to the top of today’s mountain; it looked close but it took me another hour to get there.

Mt Fuji’s “glacier”

Strate visible on the side of the mountain

I finally saw Mt Fuji near the top of the climb, but it was a different view from what I expected; the side facing me had snow halfway down, but the sides were bare, so it looked like a glacier. It was a good addition to my collection of Fuji pictures. To the right, I could see the entire range of the Tanzawa mountains, from Mt Mikuni to Mt Oyama. There was less bamboo grass here, and I had many good views of Mt Hakone, looking more and more menacing. I was now close enough to see the plumes of the sulfur fumes (it is an active volcano).

In the center, Mt Mikuni

Mt Oyama at the very right

The dark clouds over Mt Hakone had extended their reach to include the sky directly above me. I arrived at the summit of Mt Myojin (明神ヶ岳 みょうじんがたけ myoujingadake) at the coldest point of the day. There was no sun and the wind was now blowing hard. I took off my gloves to eat lunch, and my fingers ended up getting a bit numb after all. There were two other hikers, and after one of them complained of the cold, the other one asked if she was sensitive to the cold. In my mind, I was thinking “right now, yes, very much!”

The Shonan coast and Tokyo bay

Mt Hakone with Gora at its feet

The cold finally won over the views, and I moved on quickly, rubbing my hands to warm them up. On the other side of the flat summit, I finally had a view east of the Shonan coast and Tokyo Bay. Ten minutes later, I reached the turn-off for the descent. I launched myself down the path, relieved to be out of the freezing cold wind. The path was easy to walk and not too steep, so I could move at a fast pace. Before long I was feeling more comfortable and was even able to remove a layer of clothing. Although I was now outside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, the surrounding forest seemed more beautiful than before.

A short section of road before returning to the hiking trail

Two pines marking a view point

I saw no one on the way down and enjoyed the solitude of the mountain. Around 2h30, I popped out on to a road which I followed for a short while, before reaching a couple of pine trees and a view of the Tanzawa mountains to the north. By now, the sun had reappeared, so I stopped to finish the rest of the my lunch in warmer conditions. I set off again at 3pm. The path dived back into the forest, and thirty minutes later I reached the end of the trail and a small road. This was the prettiest section of the hike, and I thought it was a shame it wasn’t mentioned in any of my guidebooks.

A pleasant forest trail near the end of the hike

Autumn leaves and a fiery dusk

The walk back to the station turned out to be quite interesting. I passed by some trees still showing off their beautiful autumn colours. I also saw a statue of Ninomiya Sontoku, an important historical figure born in the area. Finally, just after sunset, I saw the Tanzawa mountains (and clouds) tinted in red. I lost some time here taking photos, but I could afford it, since the train ran frequently. I reached the tiny Tsukahara station just before 5pm, from where it was a short ride to Odawara and the Romance Car limited express back to Tokyo.

The “red” Tanzawa mountains

See the views from the top, filmed in strong wind (again)

Mt Hinata (404m) & Mt Mijo (237m), Isehara & Atsugi Cities, Kanagawa Prefecture

There is a section of the Kanto Fureai no Michi that passes by Mt Oyama. It doesn’t go all the way to the summit, but goes past the top of the cable car halfway up the mountain. I had hiked the section on the Southern side a few years ago, and I had always wanted to return and hike the Northern section. It continues to Nanasawa onsen 七沢温泉 which seemed like a good place to finish. Mt Oyama, a 300 famous mountain, is a popular hiking spot close to Tokyo, but since I went on a weekday there were relatively few people.

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View halfway up Mt Oyama from Afuri Jinja Shrine 

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Viewpoint of Mt Oyama and mostly empty benches

I took the Odakyu Romancecar to Isehara, where I transferred to one of the frequent buses for the Oyama Cable car. For once, the bus was nearly full. Since it was a short hike, I left later than usual, and got there around 11am. It had been a few years since my last visit, and I had forgotten that it was a twenty minute-walk up the Koma Sando コマ参道 shopping street to the cable car station. Since the next one was leaving at 11h20, I flew up the flights of steps, past the shops selling spinning tops, and hopped on to the green cable car just before they closed the doors.

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Cable car up Mt Oyama

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View from the top of the cable car

After getting off, I decided to walk up the steps to Afuri-Jinja Shrine 阿夫利神社 to check out the view. It was a bit hazy in the late morning but I could just make out the boso peninsula in the far distance. The path up Mt Oyama is behind the shrine, but the Fureai no Michi trail is at the base of the steps, so I headed back down, and it was around noon when I finally started hiking. The first part was mostly flat, hugging the side of the mountain. The surrounding trees were very beautiful, and I saw a giant cedar tree soaring up into the sky next to a tiny shrine.

A couple of impressive trees along the trail

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Few people hiking on a weekday

Half an hour later, I reached a viewpoint with a dozen benches, to accommodate the weekend crowds. I could see the triangular summit of Mt Oyama, as well as the urban spread to the North. After a short break, I set off for Hinata-Yakushi Temple 日向薬師寺, in the opposite direction of the trail for Mt Oyama, heading down the mountain. Some workers were doing maintenance on the trail, due to be completed today according to a sign I saw lower down. I had some good views Southwards of the Izu peninsula. Past a rather large jizo statue, which I first mistook for a person, the path turned sharply off the ridge and went downhill via a series of switchbacks.

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View of the Izu Peninsula

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Jizo statue protecting the traveler

Around 1h30, I emerged onto a road, but I soon turned left onto a small trail to Johotsuganji Temple. At this point, I had left the Fureai no Michi. After about ten minutes, I arrived at a small cave at the base of a cliff. It contained some Buddhist statues, and from the croaks I was hearing, some frogs as well! The trail continued up the mountain, along a ridge crisscrossed with tree roots, making it a little difficult to follow. Before reaching the highest point, the path turned right and followed the side of the valley. Here the path showed signs of maintenance, and was much easier to follow. Around 2pm I reached an old bench, a good place for a break and a late lunch. There was no view, but the surrounding was very peaceful save for the chirping of birds. The path continued, along a level ridge extending northwards.

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The roots along this ridge made for tricky walking

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Easier level ridge after lunch

This was my favourite part of the hike. It felt very wild and isolated; it was hard to believe that I was less than 10km from Hon-Atsugi station. I was also surprised that I had never heard about it before; perhaps the locals wanted to keep it a secret. After some descending, and then a short climb via log steps, I reached the summit of Mt Hinata 日向山. Through a break in the trees, I could see the flat expanse of Tokyo. The weather which had been sunny and warm in the morning, was now overcast and windy. I continued along the trail downhill, and soon reached an intersection. I continued straight up the other side to the top of Mt Mijo 見城山, the site of an ancient castle. The view was much better here; below was Nanasawa onsen, and the forested hills separating it from Tokyo.

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A 120 year-old Ryokan in Nanasawa Onsen

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A rare but no longer functional rotary phone

Since the trail ended here, I retraced my steps to the intersection, only a few minutes away, and turned left down the mountain, following the sign for the intriguingly named Turtle Rock 亀岩 (in English on the sign). I spotted it, just before arriving at a road, a massive moss-covered boulder in the midst of the cedar forest beyond a small stream. I walked up the road for a few minutes to check out the Nanasawa Observatory. It was a worn-out structure with an unimpressive view, a curiosity from past times. However, I did get a glimpse of the first signs of spring on the branches of the nearby trees. I continued down the road, and just after 4pm, I arrived at Tamagawakan, a Ryokan more than 100 years old; it even had an old rotary public phone near the lobby. After a short hot spring bath, I caught the bus for Hon-Atsugi station from the nearby bus stop, and from there, I took the Romancecar for the short trip back to Tokyo.

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Mt Byobu (948m) & Mt Sengen (804m), Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, Saturday, February 15, 2020

Hiking in the Hakone Mountains

My last visit to Hakone was in December 2014 when I hiked the mountains around Lake Ashi. The area is close to Tokyo, offers good hiking and sightseeing at the same time. However, like Mt Fuji and Nikko, it sits right on the tourist trail, so buses, and hot springs, are usually crowded. The recent, and unfortunate, drop in the number of tourists was a good chance to do some hiking there, as well as support the area. There was a hike in my “Mountains of Kanagawa” that I had been wanting to do for a while. However, it was a bit short (3 hours), so using my Hakone hiking map, I built a longer hike that would take me from Hakone Town on Lake Ashi, all the way down to Hakone-Yumoto station. There were few views, and no sun, so I wasn’t able to get many good pictures. Nevertheless it was a good ramble.

Shy Fuji on a grey day

I used the comfortable Romancecar from Shinjuku, but got off at Odawara, one stop before Hakone-Yumoto. Since most buses start from there, I thought I would have a better chance of getting a seat. To my surprise, the driver wouldn’t let me board till I told him my exact destination. I had memorised the kanji, but couldn’t recall how to say them, so I just said “Hakone”. The driver replied, in English, “Hakone is wide.” Suddenly the name popped into my head. “Sekisho-ato!” I blurted out; the driver acknowledged it as a valid bus stop, and I was finally allowed to board the completely empty bus.

Start of the trail among the bamboo bushes

The bus remained mostly empty, even after passing Hakone-Yumoto. I could see the usual line of sightseers at the bus stop, but for some mysterious reason they didn’t get on. The bus passed by the Yusaka trail 湯坂道, the starting point of the second part of today’s hike. As was established earlier, I got off at Sekisho-ato 関所跡, meaning “checkpoint ruins”, the start of the Hakone section of the Old Tokaido Road (more on that later), and popped into a nearby souvenir shop. On the other side, there was a view of Lake Ashi, with Mt Fuji partially hidden by Mt Mikuni.

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Steep climbing on Mt Byobu

At 10 o’clock I finally set off. I found the start of the trail indicated by a signpost near the bus stop. Very soon I reached some steps going straight up the mountain side. They were so steep that at one point it felt like a ladder would have been more appropriate. Thankfully it didn’t take long to reach the top of the ridge, after which it was pleasant stroll along a mostly level trail to the top of Mt Byobu 屛風山, part of the outer crater rim of Mt Hakone.

Walking through thick vegetation above Hakone Town

It was entirely surrounded by trees, so I didn’t linger, and followed the path down the other side. There were some glimpses of the surrounding mountains through the trees. Even though I was close to a major hot spring resort, I couldn’t see any buildings nor hear any noise. It felt like I was exploring a hidden valley. Less than thirty minutes later, I reached the Tokaido road, connecting Hakone-Yumoto with Hakone Town, and the Amazake-Chaya Teahouse. I decided to take a short break and have some of their famous non-alcoholic sweet sake with “chikara-mochi” meaning “power rice cake”. This was a welcome break, since I had forgotten half of my lunch at home.

Refueling with some sweet sake and power mochi

At noon, I was powered up and ready to continue hiking. I was now walking the Old Tokaido Road to Hatajuku 畑宿. I could have followed it all the way from Hakone Town, since it started near the bus stop I got off. However, it seemed that, apart from the historical aspect, it wouldn’t make for an interesting hike, so I preferred the detour through the mountains. The Tokaido used to connect Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period. Most of it has disappeared, but some sections have been restored along the Hakone part.

An ancient road dating back to the 17th century

It’s stone-paved, so it was easy to mentally travel back in time, and imagine what it must have been like to walk this road 400 years ago. However, it wasn’t easy to walk on the stones. At first it ran parallel to the modern Tokaido road, so the noise of cars was never far away. When the modern road made a series of switchbacks down the side of the mountain, the ancient one descended directly via a series of stone steps, at the end of which was a short section of road-walking.

A not so old staircase on the Old Tokaido Road

At one point there was a view of the Shonan coast and Odawara city below, probably quite spectacular on days with better visibility. Half an hour later, I reached Hatajuku, a center for traditional handicrafts, and left the Old Tokaido Road. It continues all the way down to Hakone-Yumoto, but I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you are into Historical reenactment.

Turn right here to return to the paved road

I walked up the Hakone Shindo Road for a few minutes till the start of the trail for the Hiryu falls 飛龍の滝 up the other side of the mountain. The first part was punishingly steep. The next part, following a rushing stream, was more level but surprisingly rocky at times, especially for regular sightseers who just wanted to see the falls, not experience a full-blown hike. I got to the observation platform base of the falls at 1h30, and was underwhelmed by what I observed. The water rushing down the rocky side of the mountains never really “fell”, but I figured it would look more impressive after a big rainfall. However, the picturesque Hiryu river made the climb worthwhile.

Hiryu river valley, just below the falls

The next part of the trail was badly damaged, probably due to last year’s typhoons. A little higher up were signs that the trail was being repaired, and the next part was a lot better. The trail climbed steadily through thick forest along steps built into the gentle slope. I was now all alone as most people turn back at the waterfalls.

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Trail after the waterfall

At 2pm, I reached the Yusaka hiking trail. To the left was the road I had taken earlier by bus. Turning around, I saw a sign on the trail I had just come up, reminding me that I was inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. I headed right along a wide path, doubling as a firebreak. I soon reached a table on top of a grassy mound. According to my map, this was the top of Mt Takanosu 鷹ノ巣山 (834m). There was no summit marker, but instead there was a sign saying this was the location of the ruins of Takanosu castle. A little further was a steep and short descent, followed by a gentle climb. I had some views of the Gora area of Hakone (cable car service should resume on March 20) and Mt Kintoki in the background (Mt Ashigara on some maps). Before I knew it, I was at the top of Mt Sengen 浅間山. There was another table, but no view.

A glimpse of Gora with Mt Kintoki in the background

The final section of the hike followed the firebreak along a ridge, all the way back down to Hakone-Yumoto. I am sure this would be a nice hike on a sunny spring or autumn day, but today under a grey sky and surrounded by leafless trees, it felt rather bleak. However it was quite warm for the time of the year, around 15 degrees, so it was odd walking in a winter landscape in spring-like temperatures. I reached the ruins of Yusaka castle a little before 4pm. Apart from a signboard there wasn’t much to see. A few minutes later, I popped out onto the main road next to a river. I had a hot spring bath at nearby Izumi, before walking the 5 minutes back to the train station, where I caught the Romancecar back to Tokyo.

NEXT UP: Mt Ushibuse in Gunma