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.

null

View halfway up Mt Oyama from Afuri Jinja Shrine 

null

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.

null

Cable car up Mt Oyama

null

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

null

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.

null

View of the Izu Peninsula

null

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.

null

The roots along this ridge made for tricky walking

null

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.

null

A 120 year-old Ryokan in Nanasawa Onsen

null

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.

null

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.

IMG_20200215_102243

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.

IMG_20200215_135335

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

Mt Kyogatake (633m), Mt Bukka (747m) & Mt Takatori (706m), Aikawa Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, Sunday, December 29, 2019

Hiking in the Tanzawa Mountains 丹沢山地

For my last hike of 2019, I chose 3 small peaks along a narrow mountain range, squeezed between the Tanzawa mountains and the urban sprawl of Tokyo. This hike is right next to the city, and it’s possible to get to the start of the trail in under two hours. I had been to the area a few years ago, but this time I used different routes up and down. From afar, these mountains can seem deceptively high, however the trail inclination is mostly slight to average.

The highest part of the hike follows a gentle ridgeline

I took the Romance car to Atsugi station, technically still within the Tokyo area, where I transferred to one of the frequent buses heading out to Miyagase Lake 宮ヶ瀬湖. At 10am, I was ready to start hiking under blue skies and near freezing temperatures. The first part followed a section of the Kanto Fureai no Michi 関東ふれないの道. Like other portions of this long-distance trail, it was well-maintained and well-signposted; the surrounding forest was pretty and quiet, making this a good start to the last hike of the year.

Following the Kanto no Fureai Michi trail

Soon, I was getting my first views of Tokyo. With the zoom of my smartphone camera, I could make out the row of skyscrapers in the city center, as well as the Skytree. Later on, I had glimpses of the ridges and peaks of the Tanzawa range in the opposite direction. I arrived at the top of Mt Kyogatake 経ヶ岳 at 11h30, where I had a magnificent view of Mt Oyama, Mt Tono and Mt Tanzawa, their peaks white with snow. A few minutes before the summit, there was a local trail heading left to the next mountain in the opposite direction – a hike for another day maybe.

Lunch with a view of the Tanzawa mountains

Mt Oyama, with its distinctive pyramidal summit

After a quick bite, I set off again. Some clouds had appeared over the Tanzawa mountains, but overall it remained a sunny day. The path descended steeply, crossed a road, and ascended steeply again. The climb was made easier thanks to steps built into the path, a common feature in the Tanzawa area. I reached a level section, soon merging with a path coming up from the left, the one I had used on my previous hike here.

The trail is well-maintained, as in the other parts of the Tanzawa mountains

The path immediately started rising again, via another series of steps, and turned into a narrow ridge with spectacular views of the Tokyo metropolis on the right, and Tanzawa mountains and Miyagase lake on the left. Up to this point, the hike had been relatively easy, but this section required some surefootedness. Although I had hiked this part before, it all seemed new to me, and I spent a lot of time taking photos. Enjoying the dual view of the mountains and the city from above is one of the aspects I like the most about hiking in the Kanto area.

In winter, the trail is often in the sun

Approaching the highest point of the hike

I reached the top of Mt Bukka 仏果山 just before 1h30 pm. The summit is completely in the trees, but someone thoughtfully built an observation tower so hikers can enjoy panoramic views of the entire area; the next peak has a similar tower. Despite being artificial structures, they make the hike worthwhile. They offer some of the best views in the Kanto area. I could see the entire Southern side of the Oku-chichibu mountains stretching from East to West, from Mt Takao to Mt Kinpu; in the foreground was Mt Sekiro. Unfortunately, Mt Fuji was hidden from sight, despite being quite close.

The observation tower rising above the trees…

…offers a great viewpoint of Tokyo

Without the protection of the trees from the icy wind, it was very cold at the top. I had left my backpack with my gloves at the base of the tower, so I soon went back down, and continued to the next peak. This section was short and easy, and I reached Mt Takatori 高取山 just fifteen minutes later. From the top of this second tower, the view was similar, except for a person dabbling in amateur radio; he had deployed quite a big antenna on one side.

Amateur radio antenna and Mt Oyama

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Panorama of Tanzawa and Miyagase lake

I had the second half of my lunch, and after I had my fill of food and views, I climbed down the tower, and started to descend towards Aikawa town. It was nearly 3pm and at this time of the year, it would be getting dark soon. The path down was easy to hike; there were a number of other trails, but I just followed the signs for Fureai no Mura ふれあいの村, and it took me less than an hour to reach the bus stop for Atsugi. It was a short ride back to the station. I hopped on the romance car back to Tokyo, and started to think of all the great hikes I would do in 2020.

Trees pointing in the wrong direction

A view of Aikawa town through the trees

Panoramic view from the top of Mt Takatori (you can hear the amateur radio user in the background)

Mt Kinubari (122m) & Mt Omaru (157m), Kamakura and Yokohama Cities, Kanagawa Prefecture, Saturday, December 21, 2019

 

IMG_20191221_115651

 

Kamakura area is a great place for hiking, especially during the colder months. The trails are easy to walk, the surrounding nature is lush even in winter, and it’s just one hour from Tokyo by train. My previous visit was in February last year, when I hiked the Miura Alps. Since then, typhoon Hagibis had wrecked several of the trails in the area, and I was concerned whether I could complete my hike as planned. Fortunately, the path I had chosen was open from start to finish. On the other hand, the very popular Ten-en hiking trail 天園ハイキングコース, which I had done a few years earlier, was closed due to fallen trees. It’s supposed to reopen in June.

The Ten-en hiking trail is closed…

Since most hiking trails around Kamakura are quite short, I had to cobble together 3 of them to get a full day of hiking (about 6 hours). I arrived at Kamakura station around 10am, and walked to Hokokuji Temple 報国寺. It’s also possible to get there by bus. There is a beautiful bamboo forest inside, but I skipped it since I had been there before and it was getting late. I found the entrance of the hiking trail a few meters further up the street. It was already 11am and I was finally ready to start hiking!

A well-hidden hiking trail…

Almost immediately, I went from a suburban neighbourhood to thick forest – the transition always amazes me. After a short climb, the path became level for a while, before reaching a park bordering a suburban community on the border between Zushi and Kamakura cities. Even though it was a Saturday, the park was nearly deserted, probably due to the overcast weather, despite the sunny forecast.

Surrounded by nature only ten minutes from the start of the trail

The hiking trail resumed at the end of the park. After some up-and-down over a couple of minor peaks, I reached the top of Mt Kinubari 衣張山 just before noon. It’s a low mountain, but since it’s right next to the ocean, the view was quite spectacular. I could see the Miura Peninsula stretching away to the South, and Kamakura City opposite Sagami Bay to the West.

Miura Peninsula near the top of Mt Kinubari

Shortly after, a group of a about a dozens hikers arrived. They were on some kind of guided tour – I had encountered the same thing when hiking the Miura Alps. It seems like guided hikes are quite popular in the Kamakura / Zushi area. I finished my early lunch and took off quickly. The trail heading down was short and enjoyable, but there were many fallen trees lower down. It’s not often that I see multiple fallen trees blocking the trail…in succession. Hopefully the trail will get cleared up in the future.

Evidence of the destructive power of typhoons on the way down

The trail soon ended a short way from my starting point of Hokokuji Temple. From there, I walked along roads to the start of a minor trail leading to the Ten-en hiking course, which I would cross but not follow. Kamakura is pleasant and laid-back, and thus a nice city to stroll through – there are plenty of sights to check out. On the way, I decided I had enough time to pay a short visit to Sugimoto-dera Temple. According to the sign at the entrance, it was founded in the 8th century and is the oldest temple in Kamakura. It was a quick visit (costs 200 yen) but I was able to get some nice views and pictures. After that, I walked past Kamakura-gu shrine, turned left at Tsugen Bridge, then continued past Yofukuji ruins without visiting either since it was getting late. After 1pm, I was hiking on a trail and surrounded by nature again. It’s possible to skip Mt Kinubari and walk directly from Kamakura station (about 30 min)

View from the highest reaches of Sugimoto temple

First, the path followed a dramatic narrow gorge along a small stream, then climbed through some nice forest that still had some red and orange. Some steps brought me to the highest point: the intersection with the now-closed Ten-en hiking trail. It was 1h30, and I could hear many people talking and having lunch at the rest area just above, so I skipped it and continued in the direction of Kanazawa-Hakkei station 金沢八景 (not the final destination), through a short but beautiful bamboo forest. The trail was mostly level and thus easy to walk. It’s probably one of the flattest hikes I’ve ever done in the Kanto area. There was a fallen tree here and there, but it wasn’t too troublesome to get around. I was amazed that there were so few people hiking this great trail, but then it was a cold cloudy winter day.

Some minor obstacles on the way…

IMG_20191221_151658

…but mostly easy hiking

The path was now running alongside and above a huge cemetery. Later on, it passed above another suburban community. I could get occasional glimpses of both through the trees. On a clear sunny day I suppose you could see all the way to Yokohama city to the North. There were good information boards (with English) along the way, showing the extent of the local hiking trails: they connect several community woods, a nature sanctuary, and even a small zoo. There is also a pond in the middle of the forest, but trails leading to it were currently closed due to typhoon damage. I will certainly return in the future to hike more in the area since it’s so close to Tokyo. I couldn’t decide what was more amazing: that the city had penetrated nature so deeply, or whether nature had survived the invasion of the city.

Hiking a narrow green ridge…

IMG_20191221_145914

…at the edge of the city

I was now following the signs for Kanazawa Bunko 金沢文庫 (not the final destination either). At 2h30, I reached the Sekiyaoku viewpoint 関谷奥見晴台. There were some benches but not much of a view on this grey day. I had the rest of my lunch and moved on. At last, I was following signs for Konandai station 港南台, the end point of my hike. A little before 3pm, I reached the turn-off for a long staircase leading to the top of Mt Omaru 大丸山, the highest point of Yokohama city. There was a view to the South of Tokyo Bay and the Eastern end of the Miura Alps.

 

IMG_20191221_144517

Staircase to the top – one of the few climbs on the hike

I was starting to feel cold and since the sun was showing no sign of appearing, I didn’t linger. It took me another hour to reach Isshindo Plaza いっしんどう広場, a wide area where several trails intersect. Apparently you can see Mt Fuji from the West side in good weather. However the hiking trail wasn’t finished yet. It took me another fifteen minutes along a dirt trail through the countryside to get back to the busy city roads. There were some good views of the hills of Kamakura to the East. I finally reached Konandai station on the Negishi line station around 4h30, a short train ride from Yokohama and central Tokyo.

Looking back towards Kamakura on a gloomy day

 

IMG_20191221_115619

NEXT UP: Mt Yaeyama in Yamanashi

Mt Gongen (1019m), Yamakita Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, Sunday, October 20, 2019

Hiking in the Tanzawa Mountains 丹沢山地

This was my first hike since typhoon Hagibis, which hit the Kanto area the previous week. Not only did it flood many low-lying areas, but it also damaged mountain roads and hiking trails. According to the latest update from the Nishi-Tanzawa visitor center, all trails in their vicinity were open, but this was before the heavy rains that hit the Kanto area again two days before my hike.

The Sunday forecast was supposed to be good, but when I got to Shin-Matsuda station it was definitely overcast. Oddly enough I was the only person to board the bus for Nishi-Tanzawa, a popular hiking destination, especially in the Autumn season. The reason soon became clear – Friday’s rain had caused a landslide along the road, preventing the bus from reaching the visitor center, the starting point for most hikes. Fortunately for me, I was getting off before that, at Tanzawa Lake. The bus ride was along a river, and I noticed that the water was brown and muddy. Further upstream there was a sign saying that water was being released from the dam at Tanzawa lake.

Once, I got off the bus, I was shocked to see the amount of debris, mostly tree branches, floating on the lake. The lake colour was muddy-brown like the river; hopefully it will regain its normal colour soon. On the bright side, it seemed that my target mountain was just low enough to stay clear of the clouds. Before I set off, I dropped by Ochiaikan 落合館 a nice little hotel where I took a bath after hiking Mt Ono three years earlier, to confirm whether they still allowed daytrippers to take a bath (“higaeri nyuyoku” 日帰り入浴). I was told yes, and I said I would be back around 4pm.

Tanzawa lake: May 2016 (left) and Oct 2019 (right)

I had to walk counter-clockwise alongside the lake for about forty minutes to reach the start of the trail. Along the way, I saw a small parking area full of cars and cameras mounted on tripods nearby. I asked one person what they were hoping to photograph. He replied “taka” which according to my dictionary is a falcon or a hawk. Always curious about the local wildlife, I would have liked to stick around to catch a glimpse of the bird, but I was running late, so I had to move on.

Wood debris floating on Tanzawa lake

I reached the start of the trail a little before noon, and started climbing immediately. The trail climbed steeply through cedar forest. From the start it was hard to follow – this wasn’t a popular trail, and according to my guidebook, this hike is mainly done in the spring because of certain flowers that grow higher up. I got a nice surprise on the way – a small light-green frog hopped onto the path. Further up, it was the turn of a light-grey one. I have occasionally seen toads while hiking, but I had never seen a frog till this year. Earlier in the month I had also seen a couple of frogs along the Nakasendo in Nagano prefecture. I had read that the frog population was declining, but perhaps it’s making a rebound?

Frogs posing for pictures along the trail

I’m not sure whether it was because of the recent typhoon, but bright green cedar leaf branches were scattered all over the trail. I had never seen so many before, but they were effective at making the muddy trail underneath less slippery. As I gained altitude, the path became less steep, and the forest less dense, helping me spot two young deer dash away ahead of me. At times, the path was hard to follow, and I often had to rely on the “pink ribbons” to find the correct way.

The hiking path was covered with cedar leaf branches

I reached the flat top of Mt Mitsuba ミツバ山 (834m) just before 1pm. There was an opening in the trees a few meters to the South, but everything was in the clouds beyond the next ridge. In good weather, I imagine one could see Mt Fuji. After a quick break, I continued to climb along the ridgeline. Eventually, I saw mist to my right, so I figured that the top was in the cloud after all. Curiously enough, the left side remained clear for a while, before being engulfed in cloud as well.

This sign was kind of funny so I left it as it was

I reached the lonely summit of Mt Gongen 権現山 before 1pm. According to my map, there weren’t any views, just as well since there wouldn’t have been any because of the mist. This mountain’s name is fairly common: purely by coincidence, the next mountain I climbed, just 3 days later, had the same name. I didn’t even realise it until I went through my photos. After a quick lunch, I set off immediately. Since I had climbed fairly quickly, I hoped to descend equally quickly, and catch an earlier bus back, especially since the weather was poor.

Mysterious and quiet forest at the top

The path down (heading left – the path going past the top is a shortcut leading back down to Tanzawa lake) was as hard to follow as the one going up. There were steps built into the steep slope, but they lacked maintenance. It seems that this path has fallen out of favour among the hiking community, and I can’t recommend it, unless one is seeking absolute solitude. On the way down I had some glimpses of Nakagawa onsen 中川温泉 in the valley below, an aging hot spring town I had stayed at a couple of years ago.

I lost quite a bit of time looking for the trail, at one point heading down a steep valley by mistake and having to climb back up, and I ended up missing the earlier bus, as well as the next one, arriving at the bus stop just below Nakagawa Onsen, at around 4h30. Even though sunset was at 5pm, it got quite dark hiking in the forest after 4pm. I might even have spotted the elusive “taka” taking off from a branch at one one point, but it might have been just a crow.

I finally arrived back at Tanzawa lake just before 5pm, and was looking forward to a hot bath, only to discover that the hotel was closed! However, after knocking at the door, the owner arrived, and kindly let me have a quick bath – since they didn’t see me arrive at 4pm, they thought I had changed my plans, and decided to lock up for the day. After a quick bath, I caught the last bus back to Shin-Matsuda station.

NEXT UP: Mt Gongen in Yamanashi Pref. (Yatsugatake)

Mt Nango (610m), Mt Maku (626m) and Mt Shiro (563m), Yugawara Town, Kanagawa Prefecture

I felt like it was time to try something different, something special to Japan; I wanted to do a hike next to the ocean. I found one such hike in my hiking book, but it seemed a bit short, so I combined it with a couple of nearby peaks. Although the elevation of these three mountains was relatively low, they seemed quite impressive when seen from the sea-side town of Yugawara, famous for its plum blossoms and hot springs. The area is also known for rock climbing, although today’s purpose was purely hiking.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Tokyo or Shinagawa station, catch the Tokaido line to Atami;  Yugawara is the stop before. Depending on the type of train you catch, it takes between 60 and 90 minutes, direct or with changes. This is not a line I take often so it was a pleasant change with lots of views of the sea (sit on the left when heading out). From the station there are frequent buses to “Kaiya” which is the last stop. I was the sole person on the bus for the last portion of the trip, and on the first part of the hike.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Nango, Mt Maku, Mt Shiro

THE ROUTE: The bus stops in front of a temple, but the hiking trail doesn’t go through it. There wasn’t anybody around to ask, but I found a sign for the hiking trail along the road that continues up the mountain to the left of the temple. The signposting was particularly poor on this hike, and some route-finding was needed (this was nearly ten years ago so things may have changed). I followed the road as it curved to the right and then back to the left again, with many minor roads branching off it. I eventually reached a sign pointing straight up a very steep slope; it must of had an inclination of 45 degrees; I cannot imagine driving up here with ice or snow, although I guess that it rarely happens in this area (it felt pretty balmy for December).

Mountain Mikans

Japanese citrus fruit or mikan

A cape jutting into Sagami bay

Manazuru peninsula jutting into Sagami bay

Soon I was walking among the mikan trees with their bright orange fruit. I was getting pretty views of Yugawara town, Sagami bay and the surrounding mountains. I couldn’t see any more signs, but I decided to stick to the main road, a tough proposition since the other roads that branched off seemed to be the same width (wide enough for a small car). Instinct served me well, for shortly after entering a forest section, I found another wooden signpost for the summit. Unfortunately this sign was placed a few meters before another junction. I hesitated for a couple of minutes, and then continued in the most plausible direction which was straight ahead.

Towards Izu

Looking South to Izu

Mt Maku, I think

Near the top of Mt Nango

Since I was going up the side of a steep mountain, taking the wrong way could have big consequences. Fortunately, as I reached the top of the ridge, I came upon a third and better sign marking the start of a proper hiking trail. The surrounding landscape had become quite fascinating, not because of its beauty, but because of the sense of abandonment. This area had enjoyed a boom a few decades ago, but was now in decline, and there were a lot of ruined buildings making it a little spooky.

Now I was following a proper hiking path along the ridge. The views were hidden by the surrounding vegetation, lucky in a way, since it had become considerably windy. I was skirting a golf course, surrounded by an electric fence to keep trespassers (or hikers) out. I then reached a road, and after following it for a few minutes, I came to a hiking path on the left heading to the top of Mt Nango (南郷山 nangosan)about ten minutes away. There were some nice views of the coastline a few meters below the summit, better than from the summit itself. Here I met some other hikers, as it usually happens at the tops of mountains, and was easily able to get someone to take my photo.

Mountain scape near the coast

Mountain scenery near the coast

A great forest path

Easy walking through the forest

After a short rest, I set out again for summit number two and the highest point of the hike. Here the signposting let me down again. At the first intersection, there were no signs for my mountain, only a sign going straight to a temple, and a one pointing for the road that running between the two mountains. I had to cross the road at one point, but according to my map, not before passing by a small lake. So I decided to continue straight ahead. This turned out to be wrong, and I was soon forced to retrace my steps. Back at the junction, I took the second path towards the road (now going right). This was a pretty trail, zigzagging down through a pine wood before reaching a flat wooded area, where I crossed what must have been the other path leading down from Mt Nango.

The path to Mt Maku

The path to Mt Maku

Nearing the top

Getting close to the top of Mt Maku

Here I turned right and continued walking through some more delightful forest. I finally spotted the lake that I had been aiming for. It was a small and lonely lake hidden in the middle of the forest. Just beyond it was the road which I crossed in order to re-enter the woods on the other side. This part was really pleasant and made me want to bring other people here.

After a few minutes I reached the path heading for the summit. It took me another fifteen minutes of gentle climbing to reach Mt Maku (幕山 makuyama). From there I could see the ocean and the surrounding mountains. There weren’t any benches so I sat on the ground to have lunch. Since my view while sitting was obscured by bamboo grass, and the wind was terribly strong, probably due to the proximity of the sea, I decided not to linger.

Nice ocean views

Nice ocean views

Enjoying the soft autumn sunshine

Enjoying the soft autumn sunshine

Heading down, I mistakenly turned onto a path circling the summit. Once I realized this, I cut back through the woods and got back on the correct path. I was soon facing south and had some nice views of Sagami bay. I passed a group who had taken my photo on the summit, and left them behind me scratching their heads, since I had left ahead of them.

Eventually I got to the base of the mountain and got to see its famous rock climbing cliffs. There were a few people practising their skill in the good weather. It was interesting to note that they place mattresses underneath in case they fall. That’s Japanese safety for you. This is where the famous Yugawara plum trees are located (just bare branches at this time of the year).

The rocky base of Mt Maku

The rocky base of Mt Maku

Rock Climbing part I

The rock climbing area

I was now following a paved road along the bottom of a valley. It was only 3pm, but the winter sun was already starting to dip below the surrounding ridges. I stopped to take photos of the beautiful colours of a maple tree and the shadows nearly overtook me. A little later I crossed a bridge, went straight another hundred meters,  turned left up another smaller road, and ten minutes later reached a small hiking trail. The paved road continues around Mt Maku, and joins up with the path I went up on the other side.

Orange Maple tree

Orange Maple tree

Short but nice river walk

Short but nice river walk

Here darkness overtook me as the path twisted and turned through thick forest. There were a few ropes and chains, but nothing challenging. It was tough to climb up a mountain again, but it was too soon to head back. After about 30 minutes I reached a small shrine under a small waterfall. Above it, there was a paved path lined with stone lanterns switching back and forth; it felt rather sacred. At this time, there was nobody else around.

Turn left here

Walking along the valley before climbing again

The holy path

The path to the shrine

I reached another road which I followed through a windy tunnel under the highest section of the ridge. On the other side, I emerged back into the sun. I followed the road one hundred meters to a lookout point and a bus stop. Behind the observation platform, I found the hiking trail again. It double backed towards the ridge and passed above the tunnel. This was an enjoyable section despite the strong wind, heading slightly downhill with occasional views of the adjacent ridges and the ocean.

Windy but nice view

In the sun again…

The Izu peninsula

The Izu peninsula

A short while later I reached the final summit of the day, Mt Shiro (城山 shiroyama). It was the lowest of the three peaks, but it had by far the best view, with places to sit down and no vegetation in the way (and toilets as well!). At this late hour, I had the summit to myself. To the South was the Izu peninsula, to the North was the Shonan coastline, and beyond, the Landmark Tower in Yokohama, to the west was Oshima Island. The most amazing thing about this summit was that it was right at the edge of the sea. I think it’s the first time I have stood about 500 meters directly above the coastline.

Ocean view

The coveted ocean view

Mt Maku ridge

Looking back at Mt Maku

I had to pull myself away from this great view only fifteen minutes after arriving, since I really needed to get down before dark. I headed down at a fast pace, the path being relatively easy to walk. There another good view of Oshima island on the way. Very soon I reached a paved road. My map showed that there were a couple of shortcuts so that you didn’t to walk so much on the road. However I got tricked on the second one, it led basically nowhere, and I had to climb five minutes back to the road.

When I got to the real short cut, I didn’t dare to take it so I jogged the wide bend of the road. Soon I started seeing signs of civilisation again: telephone wires, houses and cars. There were again no signs and more roads than were indicated on the map, but following my instinct I ended back at the station by dusk. I celebrated by taking a hot bath at an onsen with outdoor bath just five minutes down the road, on the top floor of the hotel.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Nango, Mt Maku, Mt Shiro

Final view of Ooshima

Final view of Ooshima

Mt Omuro (1587m) & Mt Kanyudo (1418m), Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

These mountains are located in the Western half of the Tanzawa mountains, and harder to access than those in the Eastern half like Mt Tanzawa and Mt Oyama. I  rode the bus from Shin-Matsuda station for over an hour, past Tanzawa lake, all the way to the last stop, the Nishi-Tanzawa Visitor Center 西丹沢ビジターセンター, a great starting or ending point for hikes in the area. It was the second week of November, which was rather late in the season; the autumn colours had already crept down the mountain sides into the valley. I was told by the staff at the visitor center to start heading down by 1pm at the latest, to avoid getting caught in the dark.

Hiking in the Tanzawa Mountains

丹沢山地

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Omuro

 

In the back hidden in the clouds is Mt Fuji

I set off at 10am under blue skies. The first part of the hike was along a small road that followed the river valley past a couple of camping sites. At the first junction, I headed right – I would be descending via the left junction. Here I finally entered the hiking trail proper, also part of the Tokai Nature Trail 東海自然歩道. I followed a narrow valley alongside a rocky river. Looking up, I could admire autumn colours in all directions. After an hour of climbing, I reached a pass, an Emergency hut, and the first views. However by now, grey clouds had rolled in hiding the ridgelines.

The brilliant red of the “momiji” tree

Climbing up through a “koyo” tunnel

I still needed another hour an hour of tough climbing to reach the summit of Mt Omuro (大室山 oomuroyama), a 100-famous mountain of Yamanashi and the 3rd highest peak of the Tanzawa mountains. Here, the trees were already bare of leaves, a strong hint that winter was just around the corner. I was now mostly above the clouds that had gathered on the Southern side, with just a few milky strands of mist left. I had great views North of Doshi Valley and the Doshi Sankai mountains. Since it was nearly 1pm, I had a quick lunch, and made my way Westwards along the ridgeline to the next peak Mt Kanyudo (加入道山 kanyuudouyama).

Mist and leafless trees near the summit

Doshi valley and Doshi mountains

There was another emergency hut here, but fortunately I still had enough time to descend safely.  Soon, I was walking on a wooden path alongside a beautiful mountain stream with a carpet of colourful fallen leaves on both sides. Suddenly the path and the stream parted ways. A few minutes later, I caught a glimpse of an impressive waterfall to my right. By now the clouds had disappeared and the blue skies were back. The sun had already disappeared behind the mountain ridge behind me. I emerged into a river valley with rocky banks, which I crossed several times on small wooden bridges, and finally got back to the visitor center by 4pm.

Easy walking on the way down

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Omuro

 

Mt Kintoki (1212m), Minami-Ashigara City, Kanagawa & Shizuoka Prefectures

This 300-famous mountain jutting out of the Northern tip of the Hakone outer crater, is one of the easiest, and most popular, climbs in the area. I first found out about it from my Kanto hiking book, and realised that I had already seen its pointy top from the train while traveling by train along the Shonan coast. The main attraction seemed to be the unobstructed view of Mt Fuji from the top, but would Japan’s famous volcano be clear of clouds the day of my hike? and with how many other hikers would I have to share the summit with?

Hiking in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Kintoki

 

I took a bus from Hakone-Yumoto station bound for Gotemba, but got off around 9am at the entrance of Kintoki Shrine 金時神社 about 30 minutes later (it’s before the tunnel that passes under the outer crater). The bus was fairly empty, slightly unusual for Hakone. However the parking lot next to the shrine was nearly full. These were the days when the highway toll was a flat fee of 1000 yen on weekends, a kind of stimulus put in place after the Lehman shock (as it is called here). The first part of the hike was fairly easy; it took one hour along a winding trail to reach the top of the rim.  There were some nice views of the outer crater, with Mt Mikuni above lake Ashi directly opposite, and Mt Koma to its left.

My best shot of Mt Fuji 

Turning left, it took another 20 minutes of steep climbing to reach the top of Mt Kintoki 金時山 (kintokiyama or kintokizan). The trees on this section were small, rather like big bushes, and bare of leaves since it was the middle of December. As expected, the top was packed with people and nearly all benches were taken. It seemed to be a popular place to have lunch while enjoying the view of majestic Fuji. Today, the giant was wrapped in grey clouds,  with only its white top showing itself.  It wasn’t the best view I had ever had, but it was still impressive.

Another hiker gazing at Mt Koma, the highest point of Hakone

I found a spot to sit for lunch. In all directions it was mostly blue skies, and I had a great view of the impressive Hakone crater with the Suruga Bay in the background. This was undoubtedly one of the best views of the Kanto area within close reach of Tokyo. After lunch, I went back down the same way but instead of going back to the shrine, I followed the rim a little further East. The path was lined with tall bamboo grass on both sides, but it wasn’t high enough to block out the view of Mt Myojin ahead. At Yagurasawa Pass 矢倉沢峠, I turned right and headed down. The trail was steep this time, and I had to be careful not to slip. Half an hour later, I was back on the road.

Mt Myojin, another great mountain to climb

Although it was a short hike, I didn’t mind since December days are also short. I definitely want to try my luck again to see Mt Fuji completely free of clouds from the top. One more good point about Hakone, is that there are many hot spring hotels. So after completing the hike in about four hours, I was able to have a nice hot soak before making my way back to Tokyo.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Kintoki

See the panoramic view from the top of Mt Kintoki