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 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

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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 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 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