Mt Kasuga (1158m), Mt Meisho (1236m) & Mt Inayama (1112m), Fuefuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture

This hike followed the ridgeline in the opposite direction of Mt Shaka. I had been wanting to return there for a while, but couldn’t figure out how to get back to the train station at the end of the trail. After poring over maps and bus timetables, I discovered that the bus taking me to the starting point, also passed relatively close to the end point. Unfortunately, the trail was just off my Mt Fuji hiking map, and it wasn’t included in my “Mountains of Yamanashi” guide book either. So using the Yamareco website, and information from the Inayama Zelkova Forest website, I created my own hike. It involved a round-trip on one section, thus forming a Y shape.

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Bird’s eye view of Kofu City

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Hard to believe that this is just 100 km from Tokyo

After taking the comfortable Chuo line limited express to Isawa Onsen, I boarded a nearly empty bus for the one-hour trip to Torisaka Pass 鳥坂峠. This was my third time taking this bus, and each time it has been empty; a shame since it goes into a valley surrounded by several good hiking trails with views of Mt Fuji. I arrived at the pass just before 11am, and although several cars were parked there, I saw no one during my hike. The other hikers probably went the other way, towards Mt Shaka. I first followed a road (closed to cars) for a few minutes, till I reached a small trail on the right, marked by a stone monument. After about five minutes of climbing, I reached the ridgeline where I took the trail heading left.

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Easy-to-spot start of the trail

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Nice hiking trail at 1000 meters elevation

The next section was a pleasant ramble that climbed gradually through bare trees. At an elevation of 1000m, spring had yet to arrive. It was a blue sky day, but a cold wind was blowing from the valley below. I soon arrived at Kasugasawa-no-to 春日沢の頭 (1235m), a flat open space surrounded by trees. After a short up and down, I reached Mt Kasuga 春日山. Here again there was no view. Since it was only noon, I decided to wait a little longer for lunch. After another short descent, I reached a narrow road, closed to cars in the winter. I continued up a surprisingly steep trail on the opposite site, to the top of Mt Meisho 名所山. The trail continued beyond to another road, from where it was possible to walk to the last stop of my morning. However, I preferred to retrace my steps, back down the steep slope, thanks to which I could get some views of the Oku-chichibu mountains above the trees.

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Steep slope on Mt Meisho

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The Oku-Chichibu Mountains with Mt Kinpu in the center

Once I was back on the road I had crossed earlier, I walked along it, heading North for 5 minutes to an amazing viewpoint with a bench of the Kofu valley. It was 1h30 so I decided to take a break for lunch. To my left, I could see the South Alps, the highest peaks hidden in the clouds; in front the wide expanse of the Kofu valley, with the buildings of Kofu city in the middle, and Yatsugatake under a big cloud behind; to my right, I could see the Oku-Chichibu mountains, completely free of clouds, with the small triangular peak of Mt Kinpu in the middle.

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Looking Northwest towards Nagano

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Looking Northeast towards Yamanashi

It was still terribly windy, so I had to cut my lunch short. I made my way back to Kasugasawa-no-to, where I took a path to the left, and followed a wide downhill slope. I reached Mt Ina 稲山 just before 3pm. There was another view, similar to the one I had during lunch. Here I had the choice between a North trail and a South trail, both of the same length. They each followed a ridge above a valley and ended at the same place. I couldn’t find the North one, so the choice was easy. From now, the ridge became steeper and more narrow, with many tall pine trees along the path. You truly felt you were hiking in the mountains, a feeling you don’t always get when hiking closer to Tokyo.

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Some of the best hiking was through the Zelkova forest

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Approaching the end of the hike

At 4pm I emerged onto a small road and a small parking area. On the way to the bus stop, I made a short detour by the nearby Yatsushiro-Furusato Park. There were some “Kofun” (ancient mound tombs), and good views of the surrounding mountains. At 5h30 I caught the empty bus back, and reached Isawa onsen station before 6pm. After a quick hot spring bath at Yamanami Hotel, I got the limited express train back to Tokyo.

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Late afternoon sun in Yatsushiro-Furusato Park

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Looking back at Mt Inayama (left)

Mt Sanpobun (1422m) & Panoramadai (1300m), Fujikawaguchiko Town, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, November 30, 2019

Hiking in the Fuji Five Lakes Area

This is one of my favourite areas to hike in the late autumn and early winter since the views of Mt Fuji are so beautiful. Also, since April 2019, there is a direct limited express between Shinjuku and Kawaguchiko that I really wanted to try. It’s the same deal as the Chuo line limited express – all seats are reserved only. However, for the Fuji train, there were no seats to be had on the day itself, and I had to stand most of the way. Although it’s convenient, I probably won’t be using this train again.

View of Mt Fuji from Yamadaya Hotel

I got off at Fuji station, boarded the bus for Motosu lake, and got off at Yamadaya Hotel next to Shoji lake. The view of Mt Fuji rising from behind the lake was stunning. Originally I wanted to hike all the way to Mt Ou and end at lake Saiko, but considering the fresh layer of snow that covered the higher reaches of the mountain, I decided to shorten the hike, and make a loop back to my starting point. The fact that the Yamadaya hotel also allowed day-trippers to use their hot spring bath was also a factor in that decision.

Already hiking in the snow in November

I started up the hiking path quite late in the day – at 11h15. I had hiked up this path once before in February 2013 in the snow, and there was snow again this time. I met many people coming down – apparently this is a popular hike. I reached Panoramadai パノラマ大 one hour later, and had an early lunch. Six years ago I continued down to lake Motosu on the other side. This time, I retraced my steps to follow the ridgeline Northwards. There were less people, and the path went up and down more steeply. Fortunately, the snow layer was thin, but I had to be careful not to slip on the descending parts. I was glad I had chosen the shorter hike and that I didn’t have to rush!

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View of Shoji lake and Mt Ou in February 2013
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View of Mt Fuji and Aokigahara forest in February 2013

There was a great view of Mt Fuji and Shoji lake, a few meters to the right of the path, just before Shoji pass – I nearly missed it even though it was marked on my map. After that, the path climbed steadily. I reached an area with a small shrine that seemed like the top but wasn’t. It took another five minutes along a level path to reach the true summit of Mt Sanpobun 三方分山. It was surrounded by trees, but there was a nice view of Mt Fuji on the South side.

 

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The best view of the hike was near Shoji Pass
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View from the top of Mt Sanpobun

It was past 2pm and time to head down. On the way, I had some good views of the ridge leading up to Mt Ou – hopefully I can hike it another time. The whole mountainous area spreading North-East, and bound by the Fujikyuko and Chuo lines, is known as the Misaka mountain range. One hour later, I emerged from the forest near the base of the lake. There was an interesting shrine with a couple of very large cedar trees. According to the sign, they were 1200 years old, 10 meters in circumference, and 40m high! A short walk brought me back to my starting point where I was able to take a nice bath with a good view of Mt Fuji in the late afternoon light.

Next up: Mt Iwadono in Yamanashi Prefecture

Mt Ihai (1458m), Susono City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Sunday, October 27, 2019

Hiking on Mt Ashitaka 愛鷹山

This wasn’t my first visit to Mt Ashitaka – I had already climbed the highest peak, Mt Gozen (1504m), in December 2013. I had taken the most direct route up, then headed Northeast to Mt Kuro (1086m), before ending up on the Eastern side of the mountain. The close-up views of snow-capped Fuji were absolutely stunning. However, Mt Ashitaka, a 200-famous mountain, is quite a huge mountain with more peaks to climb and ridges to hike, and I had been meaning to return for a while. As usual, logistics held me up, but his year I discovered that there was limited express train that runs several times a day between Shinjuku and Gotemba – it’s also a very easy way to get to the Mt Fuji area – so I decided it was time to visit Shizuoka again.

Mt Fuji visible from behind the ridge leading up to Mt Ihai

After arriving at Gotemba station, I hopped onto a mostly empty bus for the short ride to the base of Mt Ashitaka. Despite the good forecast, the weather was pretty horrible, and the top of the mountain was hidden in the clouds. After getting off the bus, I couldn’t find any signs, but thanks to Google Maps, I eventually stumbled on a sign indicating the start of the trail. It pointed to a staircase going down, but no sooner had I stepped on it, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a spiderweb spread right across it…with a massive “jorogumo” (a kind of orb-weaver spider) in the center. Although they aren’t poisonous, I didn’t really want one on myself. There was no way around or under it, and rather than destroy the web, I choose to climb over the railing and lower myself onto the staircase lower down.

Today I got to see Mt Fuji wearing a baseball cap

At the bottom of the short staircase, I crossed a small stream and headed up into the forest on the other side. At 9h30, I was finally hiking. Almost immediately, I walked into another spiderweb – luckily it seemed to be spiderless. However, from that point onwards, I decided to arm myself with a small stick, and wave it in front of me as I marched on. The path followed a gently sloping ridge through cedar forest, with few signs to confirm that I was on the correct path. There was no one else, apart from a couple of deer that escaped into the forest. There was a section with many fallen trees, possibly caused by the recent typhoons. Most of this hike on the Eastern side of Mt Ashitaka is inside the Southern part of the Fuji section of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, although there weren’t any signs indicating this.

Cloudy day yet Mt Fuji was clear

Just before 11am, I got my first views of Mt Fuji on the West side. The weather had cleared up a bit but the top of Mt Fuji was still in the clouds – under a kind of baseball cap. The further I climbed, the more the ridge narrowed, and the more views I got. Soon, Mt Fuji was totally clear and I started to lose a lot of time taking photos. I also had some views of Hakone to the East The ridge went on and on, and after what seemed like a long time, I reached Mt Mae, connecting with a trail coming from the valley – there was no view, and the summit marker was half-broken. Beyond that, the path descended a bit and I was able to make out my target peak – it looked close, but it took me another hour to reach. Occasionally I could hear the roar of lions from the nearby Fuji Safari Park below.

Cloudy ridge on the Northern side of Mt Ashitaka

I arrived at the top of Mt Ihai 位牌 (meaning “mortuary tablet” although there were none at the top) at quarter to one, and very behind schedule. There were 2 other people at the top, about to head down. They kindly offered me some tasty “age-senbei” or fried rice crackers, which I enjoyed on the train ride back. From the top, looking Westwards, I could see Mt Fuji and Mt Gozen – according to the sign, the connecting ridge is quite dangerous. The weather was much better now – blue skies with swirls of mist floating by. Southwards, I could make out an impressive valley, but not much else since there were still a lot of clouds in that direction. Originally, I had been planning to hike towards Mt Ashitaka, the peak that gives the whole mountain its name, but I realised that there was no way I could catch the last bus back – at 3h35 – if I took this longer way. If I missed my bus, I faced another two hours of walking to Mishima station on paved roads. So this time, I took the shorter route down.

Swan cloud passing by

Even with this shorter route, I would barely make it to the bus stop on time. Very soon I reached an amazing viewpoint. Behind me, the top of Mt Fuji was visible from behind the ridge I had just climbed up, with a beautiful blue sky in the background. In front, the Hakone mountain range rose up from the valley in between. I had never seen Hakone from this angle – I was so fascinated that I stepped into some brambles, and I had to spend a few minutes putting bandaids on all the scratches (the weather was warm enough for shorts).

Hakone Panorama

I finally managed to pull myself away from the view and continue down the mountain. I really enjoyed this part of the hike, following a narrow forested ridge, and it was a shame I had to rush it. It took me ninety minutes to reach the viewpoint at Ikenodaira 池ノ平 (846m), where I could get a view of Numazu city, Suruga Bay and the Izu peninsula, although the visibility wasn’t the best at this time of the day. I snapped a few pictures and continued down. Very soon I reached a parking and a road, from where it was another thirty minutes to the bus stop, which I reached with ten minutes to spare. This time the bus was pretty full, but I was able to sit all the way to Mishima station, where I caught the shinkansen back to Tokyo.

Clouds on Mt Ashitaka

NEXT TIME: Mt Tengu (Mt Haruna) in Gunma

Hiking down – not up – Mt Fuji

 

Now that the Mt Fuji climbing season is officially over, you may think that there is no point in going to Fuji-san anymore, and that it’s time to put away that Mt Fuji hiking map. Actually, there are number of good hiking courses that can be done “down” the mountain from the various 5th stations – as opposed to going up. The buses are still running so why not take advantage of them? hiking is hiking, it doesn’t matter if it’s up or down, as long as the scenery and views are beautiful. Also, it’s perfect if you need to get in shape for some more intensive hiking in the near future – the muscles will ache regardless of the inclination of the hike.

Before you go hiking I’d strongly recommend you get the Mt Fuji hiking map!

 

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The tippy top of Fuji briefly visible through the clouds

 

So here is a quick description of several hikes that I’ve done up to now on the flanks of Japan’s highest volcano. There are several more that can be done, so consider this is a work in progress, but as you can see, there are a lot of good “lower altitude” hiking options. All of them, save a couple, were done from the top of the Subaru line, simply because the Fujinomiya side is a little bit far and expensive for a daytrip.

If you decide to go during the official hiking season (July to mid-September), you may be asked to pay 1000 yen. However this is only for people hiking up to the top – if you say that you are heading down instead, they won’t insist on the fee. Just make sure you know your route and/or final destination (as mentioned in this article) as they may ask you about it – I’m not sure what happens if you fail that question!

 

Ochudo 御中道 to Oniwa 御庭 – Middle path to the garden

 

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The ochudo offers some easy walking – light footwear should be fine!

 

So let’s start with a short and easy one. To find the start of the Ochudo trail, look for the staircase going up to the right of the bus stop (when facing the mountain). This easy-to-walk path will take you clockwise around the side of Mt Fuji with only minor ups and downs, through some impressive volcanic landscape. On the way, and if the clouds are feeling generous, you might get some clear views of the summit, so keep checking to your left at every clearing. Most of the way, you are at the tree line limit, but occasionally you’ll also get some sweeping downward views to the right as well.

 

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The first part of the trail is mostly through a wooded section

 

After about an hour or so, you’ll reach the end of the trail. It used to go further around the side of the volcano, but the part is now closed due to rockfall danger. It takes 20 minutes to walk to Oniwa 御庭 where you can catch a bus back to Fujisan station. Or, if the bus times don’t line up, you could head back along the Ochudo to your starting point, where you can get a bite to eat and browse the souvenir shops while waiting for the next bus back (they sell a great relief map of the Mt Fuji area). Another option would be to visit Okuniwa 奥庭 (inner garden) and / or hike down to the 3rd station – read the next section for more.

 

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A good view of Mt Fuji with some snow remaining in June

 

Okuniwa 奥庭 to Fujiyama Onsen ふじやま温泉 via the Funatsu rindo 船津林道

 

You can connect this hike to the previous one if you want to make a long day out of it (like I did). Otherwise, you can just get off at the Oniwa bus stop 御庭 (the last one before the end) and walk down the short path to the Okuniwasou 奥庭荘. Out of season, it’s a good place to enjoy some local dishes, and check out their souvenirs. When I was there I got to sample some wood berries for free.

 

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Despite a wisp of clouds, the summit was briefly visible

 

After checking out the hut, I’d recommend doing the short 20-minute loop that starts and end behind the hut, marked with a torii (red shinto gate). There is an excellent view point of Mt Fuji – if the clouds are being kind on the day you are there, After this short warm-up, head straight down the mountain through incredibly beautiful forest to the third station or sangome 三合目 – if you go out of season, you will most likely see few people – hard to believe on a mountain such as Fuji!

 

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Thick forest above the third station

 

Eventually – just over an hour – you’ll pop out of the forest into a wide rocky clearing. Here there are two options – you can go straight and continue to the third station (see next section) or you can do a hard right and descend along the Funatsu Rindo (described here). The Funatsu rindo is an easy to walk, easy to follow path that will take you the forested parts on the lower flanks of Mt Fuji. When I walked it, I saw absolutely no one. Perfect for some deep pondering. After an hour you’ll need to cross the Subaru line (near the 2nd station) and then there is at least another 90 minutes of solitary forest walking till you emerge onto a paved road. At one point there are some good views of Kawaguchiko town and lake.

 

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A view of Kawaguchi lake from the Funatsu forest path

 

From there, it is a bit of a slog (another 90 minutes) along a fairly straight paved road till you get to Fujiyama Onsen. You’ll need to turn right at one point – just use Google maps to point the way out for you – it’s smack next to the Fujikyu Highland theme park (you could also just follow the screams from the roller coaster). If hot springs aren’t your thing then continue straight – you’ll eventually get to Kawaguchiko station.

Subaru Line gogome (5th station) スバルライン五合目 to Shojiko Lake 精進湖 through Aokigahara jukai forest    青木ヶ原樹海

 

Another amazing hike is the one that through that goes through the heart of Aokigahara forest. If you live in Japan, you’ve probably heard of it before. It is also known as suicide forest, since it’s famous for people going there to end their lives. However there is almost no chance of encountering anything upsetting along a well-established hiking path. On the other hand you’ll get a great opportunity to cross an interesting forest that is growing on top of an ancient lava field.

 

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Spectacular view of the Kawaguchi area from near the third station

 

This hike starts along a path below the Subaru Line 5th station. Unfortunately it’s a bit worn out and hard to walk at times. After about an hour you’ll emerge into the same rocky clearing as in the section above. Continue straight in the direction of lake Shoji. After another fifteen minutes you’ll go under the Subaru line via a small tunnel – this is the third station. If you have time, I’d suggest making your way up to the road and walking down it a few minutes – there is an excellent view point next to the road, where you can even see Mt Fuji.

 

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Mt Fuji with its cloud umbrella or kumogasa 雲傘, from the Subaru line near the 3rd station

 

Beyond that is a three to four slog through Aokigahara forest. I say slog because it’s a relatively straight path through forest that pretty much looks the same all along the way. However don’t let that discourage you – it feels awesome to be walking through such a vast forest. As before, you’ll probably encounter few people. The last portion is through regular forest. Finally you’ll pop out onto the road that goes circles Mt Fuji – there is a bus stop, right on Shoji lake to your right called Akaji 赤地, that will take you back to Kawaguchiko station.

 

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The last part of the hike is through a nice forested area

 

 

Subaru Line gogome (5th station) スバルライン五合目 to Sengen jinga Shrine 浅間神社 via the Yoshida route trail 吉田ルート

 

This is the classic route up and down Mt Fuji, when starting below the 5th station. There are a number of descriptions of this path on other sites, and it was also recommended to me by staff working at the 5th station. Consequently, you will pass many people, mainly going up. It is also the second shortest of all the hikes described here, after the Ochudo). This is the one route where you will certainly be approached for the 1000 yen donation – just tell them you are headed for “umagaeshi” 馬返し (there is a small parking lot there) or Sengenjinja shrine 浅間神社, where there is a bus stop.

 

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Big climbing sign with rocky backdrop

Head East (away from the end of the Subaru line), between the souvenir shops – the start of this hike is the same as the one that goes up the mountain. During the daytime you’ll get to see exhausted, bedraggled climbers returning from a night spent on the mountain. Luckily, you won’t be going up but down. At first the path is pretty flat but after a short while you’ll get to a split – take the branch heading down (not the climbing route). Shortly,  you’ll get to another split – take the descending one again, which passes below a hut. Look to your left for the start of the Yoshida route, a small trail that disappears into the forest.  This part should take less than half an hour.

 

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The Yoshida trail has one of the better maintained paths

The Yoshida route is probably the best maintained trail of the lot. On the way, you’ll pass a number of historical landmarks with signs in Japanese and English. This path was used in ancient times to climb Mt Fuji, before there were proper roads to various 5th stations. A lot of the landmarks are in ruin (or becoming ruins) but the old photos from the Meji area are worthwhile checking out.

 

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View of Kawaguchi lake

There are also several viewpoints towards the Kawaguchiko area. As with the other paths, the surrounding forest, especially at a higher altitude is awe-inspiring. The various stations are well indicated as well as the ever decreasing altitude. After a short hour, you should reach a tori (shinto gate) made of stone. This is ichigome 一合目. There is a small hut just below, which functions as a resting spot or 休憩所 (kyukeijo). I was actively encouraged to take a break there while passing in front. I was offered free tea, miso soup and pickles, since it was the last official hiking day on Mt Fuji. I was surprised to get such a warm and friendly welcome – I guess they don’t that many people climbing up the lower parts of Mt Fuji, compared to the higher ones.

 

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Approaching Umagaeshi

A few minutes below the resting spot, there is a car park – this is the aforementioned Umegaeshi. Here you need to be careful – don’t take the road but instead go to the back of the car park, You’ll find a small path that heads into the forest. It  mostly runs parallel to the road but it is way nicer than road-walking. The final bit before reaching Nakanochaya 中の茶屋 (the teahouse in the middle) is especially pretty. It will take you an hour to reach the teahouse. It was another very friendly resting spot – they invited to sit inside and have some tea, again totally free.

 

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Lovely forest walking at the end of the Yoshida trail

As I was leaving they pointed out there was a shuttle bus that was about to leave for Fujisan station. The next bit was a guaranteed one hour of asphalt-road walking, and I was starting to have a strange pain in my ankle, so I decided to take advantage of this unexpected transportation opportunity – I hadn’t expected anything till Sengen shrine. Since I did want to stop by the Fujiyama onsen before getting on the train, the driver kindly offered to drop me off at the closest corner.  One drawback of doing this is that I completely missed Sengen shrine so I will need to come back one day.

 

 

Fujinomiya gogome (5th station) 富士宮五合目 to Mt Hoei 宝永山 and back

 

This is a good one to do if you have a JR Rail pass because it requires you to take a shinkansen to Shinfuji 新富士 station on the Tokaido line. You will be able to ascend to nearly 2700m – pretty impressive for a day trip from Tokyo. This is possibly the highest you can get on any mountain in Japan, without having to spend the night in a hut. In addition, most of the hike is above the tree line, so if the clouds are busy elsewhere, fantastic views are guaranteed.

 

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On the flanks of Japan highest mountain

 

The 5th station “gogome” of Fujinomiya-guchi 富士宮口 五合目 2380m is a lot less busy than the Subaru Line 5th station. In fact, when I was there in early November, there was only a handful of other cars. To get to the start of the trail for Mt Hoei 宝永山 2693m about 20 minutes away, you’ll need to go to the 6th station or “rokugome” 六合目, above the car park. Outside the official climbing season, you’ll need to clamber over the gate barring access to the Mt Fuji climbing trail. It’s pretty easy, there is a gap on the side – don’t let the “no climbing” sign deter you.

 

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Mt Hoei’s crater

 

At the 6th station, turn right and just follow the signs for Mt Hoei. The first part is mostly flat and above the treeline. In less than 20 minutes. you will be inside a semicircular bowl – Hoei’s crater (Mt Hoei was formed during the last eruption of Mt Fuji at the start of the 18th century). From here it’s an hour zigzag till the rim. Then turn right – the last ten minutes are straight and flat. If the weather is clear you’ll get some great views. Turn around and you should also be able to see the summit of Mt Fuji looking tantalizingly near (it isn’t).

 

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Looking back towards the summit of Mt Fuji from the top of Mt Hoei

 

Afterwards, the easiest option is the go back the way you came – no zigzagging needed here, just go straight down. It should take a little over an hour. If you want to do something longer, and that isn’t a loop, go down the other side of Hoei’s crater (turn right at the sign) and after a few minutes you’ll reach the big sand run “osunabashiri” 大砂走 that goes all way down to Gotemba guchi gogome (fifth station) 御殿場口五合目 where you can catch a bus down to Gotemba station. Map time for this part says 75 minutes but you should be able to do it much faster if you run down through the sand – give it a try!

 

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The Hoei’s crater path intersection

 

Another option is to head down the mountain at the first intersection you reach after passing the crater. This will take you down the mountain through beautiful forest. It should take a couple of hours to reach the road, where a bus stop is never too far away. This is a more adventurous route – there are many other paths criss-crossing the side of the mountain – so I definitely recommend having a map of the mountain if you choose this option. And of course check all the bus timetables in advance. You can also reach the Gotemba fifth station but I think the sand run is by far the better route.

 

Nishisuzuka 西臼塚 to Gotemba gogome (5th station) 御殿場五合目

 

This is perhaps the only route that involves some uphill. It is also the lowest of all the hikes, starting at around 1200m and finishing at 1450m – most of the course is in the forest. Finally it is the most difficult to follow, so I definitely recommend having a good map. Here you’ll need to get off the bus much sooner – at the Nishisuzuka 西臼塚 parking lot, about 45 minutes from Shin-Fuji 新富士 station.

Take the path leading into the forest on your left. The path is in a pretty bad state – the center part has kind of collapsed so the first five or ten minute is hard-going but it will soon get better. In less than 20 minutes you’ll reach an intersection – go right. The original path loops around back to the road. Soon after, turn right, and you’ll find yourself climbing straight up the side of the mountain…for almost an hour to 90 minutes depending on how fit you are. You’ll cross a forest road one third of the way up.

 

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Forest trail on the lower reaches of Mt Fuji

 

Finally you’ll emerge into a parking area on the road that goes all the way up to the fifth station. You have reached 1600m. If you want to cut out the climbing bit (and shorten the hike considerably), you can get off at the next next bus stop (Takabachi 高鉢) – you’ll need to walk back along the road for twenty minutes to read the parking. Take a break, and the continue along the road on the opposite side of the road.

This is arguably the most best part of the hike. It’s mostly flat, there are relatively few people, and the surrounding forest is beautiful. This is the Takabachi Course 高鉢コース. Keep straight at the next intersection, and after that always take the higher path. After about a couple of hours, you should a point that is around the height of the second station, and which is called “goten niwa shita” 御殿庭下. This is the high point of the hike, nearly 2000m – the surrounding vegetation, mostly pine, screams alpine, a far cry from the forested parts at the start of the hike.

 

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Hiking on side of Mt Fuji – what a pleasure!

 

If you have energy to spare you could continue straight up to Mt Hoei and the Fujinomiya fifth station (see above hike). Otherwise, turn left here, go straight for a bit and then head down at the next intersection. In under an hour you’ll get to another intersection – looking at the map you’ll see that this side of the mountain literally has a web of trails. Both paths will take you to the Gotemba 5th station – the one I did and describe here is the higher one.

 

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Mt Futago comes into view

 

This path will take you between two small protuberances on Fuji’s side – Futatsuzuka     二ッ塚 (1929m) to the left, and Mt Futago (twin mountain) 双子山 1804m  to the right – if the weather is still clear you could quickly run up and check out the view from the top of Mt Futago. It should take about an hour to reach the Gotemba 5th station and a bus stop, at the bottom of the sand run. This final section of the hike, in contrast with the initial part, offers lots of good views since it crosses an ancient lava flow and so is mostly rocky with few trees. You’ll get some excellent views of Mt Ashitaka 愛鷹山 1504m, a two-hundred famous mountain, just South of Mt Fuji.

 

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Good views of Mt Ashitaka

 

 

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Mt Settou (1736m), Mt Junigadake (1683m) Kawaguchiko Town, Yamanashi Prefecture

I had already hiked parts of the Misaka mountains – the mountainous area between Mt Fuji and the Oku-Chichibu mountains (for example Mt Ou to Mt Oni). However, I had never hiked the central part, between Kawaguchi and Saiko lakes. I decided to approach from Ashigawa valley on the North side, and finish at lake Saiko, on the South side. I took the Chuo line to Isawa Onsen station, and then the bus to the farmer’s market in Ashigawa 芦川. I had a very good impression of the place since they offered me free tea while I got ready for my hike!

Kawaguchiko City surrounded by nature

I started out after 10am, and walked along the road for about 20 minutes to the start of the trail, which then went straight up the side of the mountain, through trees completely bare of leaves. I reached Oishi pass (1515m) 大石峠 around noon. I had been there once before when hiking from Mt Kuro further to the East. This time I turned right and continued Westards along the ridge.

Kofu valley and beyond the Oku-chichibu mountains

The hiking path went up and down a wide ridge through beautiful evergreen forest. I had occasional views of Mt Fuji to my left, lake Kawaguchi behind me, and the Ashigawa valley to my right. I soon reached the top of Mt Settou 節刀ヶ岳 the third highest mountain along the ridge, after Mt Mitsumine and Mt Oni. From there I could see all the way to the Southern Alps, and the Kofu valley.

Against the sun, looking back towards Minobu

After admiring the view, I started to head down towards Saiko lake. Soon, I had to negotiate a slightly tricky bit involving some rocks and chains. After that, I arrived at the top of Mt Junigadake 十二ヶ岳 which translates simply as “Peak 12”, from where I had some more great views of Mt Fuji ahead of me. I now had two options. The path to the left was an exciting ridge including suspended bridges. Alternatively, I could head straight down to Izumi no Yu, a hot spring on the side of Saiko Lake. Since it was already 3pm, I decided to head down, and leave the exciting ridge for another hike.

Mt Ou (1623m) & Mt Oni (1738m), Fuji-kawaguchiko City, Yamanashi Prefecture

 

If you want to have spectacular views of Mt Fuji, I recommend hiking the peaks surrounding Japan’s most famous volcano in December or January, when the weather is clear, and the most mountains are still snow-free. Considering the time and effort it takes to get to the area, it would be a shame to miss out on the spectacular views, which are some of the best in Japan.

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Ridgewalking involves some ups and downs

The start of the trail is next to Iyashi no Sato いやしの里 near Lake Saiko, about forty minutes away by bus from Kawaguchiko station (it can take longer due to traffic). It takes one hour along an unused road to reach the entrance of the hiking trail, and from there it’s another hour of steep climbing to the top of Mt Ou 王ヶ岳 (“King mountain”). The reward for this effort is a wide view of Mt Fuji with Aokigahara Forest spread out at its feet.

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The Tenshi Mountains to the South

Following the trail to the right, the next part is an enjoyable hike along a narrow ridgeline, past Mt Kagikake (1589) 鍵掛山, and all the way to Mt Oni 鬼ヶ岳 (“Demon mountain”) about two hours away. It’s best to factor in more time for this part since there are many spectacular views on the way: Mt Fuji, the Misaka mountains, the Tenshi Mountains, the Minami Alps, Yatsugatake, the Kofu valley, Oku-Chichibu mountains, and Kawaguchiko city with its lake.

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Minami Alps (left), Yatsugatake (right) and Mt Kasuga (front right)

From the summit, the path back down is to the right (South) towards Mt Settou (1710m) 雪頭ヶ岳 (not to be confused with nearby Mt Settou 節刀ヶ岳). After this last peak and final views, the trail heads steeply down the mountain through the forest, and ends back at Iyashi no Sato 90 minutes later, where one can catch a bus back to Kawaguchiko station.

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Kawaguchi City with Mt Juni in front

Mt Kurami (1256m), Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture

This was my first day hike of 2015, and since it was during the Japanese New Year or “shogatsu“, I wanted to have some good views of Mt Fuji, do a station to station hike (buses run on special schedules during that time), and, if it wasn’t too much to ask, end the hike at a nice onsen. I want all hikes to be good hikes, but the first one of the year should be special.

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The city of Kawaguchiko at the base of Mt Fuji

I took a train to Mitsutoge station: I hadn’t been there since I first climbed Mt Mitsutoge several years before, and I had completely forgotten that there was a fantastic view of Mt Fuji from just outside the station. This time, however, I was climbing a mountain on the other side of the railway line. The trail started next to Yaku Shrine, 15 minutes from the station. However, I accidentally went down another trail that was level instead of going up. Once I realised my mistake, I cut through the forest up the side of the mountain to reconnect with the correct trail.

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The Kawaguchi toll road snaking down the valley

I soon started getting some good views up and down the valley connecting Kawaguchiko and Otsuki cities. It was a fairly relaxing climb, the only steep bit came at the end, going up the small pyramidal summit. I reached the top of Mt Kurami  (Kuramiyama 倉見山) after about 90 minutes, around noon. There was an excellent view of Mt Fuji, resplendissant in its winter coat. I could also see Mt Mitsutoge, the cliffs below the summit area making it look like an impregnable fortress. Looking North, I could spot the peaks of the Oku-Chichibu mountains. Looking South, I could gaze on the vast urban sprawl of Kawaguchiko City. On this clear sunny day, the snowy peaks of the Minami Alps were clearly visible.

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Easy hiking on the way down

The descent, through a beautiful pine forest, took another ninety minutes. The trail was very easy to walk, and offered many good views along the way. It often felt like I was flying above the small houses in the valley below. The sun was now slightly behind Mt Fuji, so the side facing me was in the shadows, less good for taking photos. I reached the bottom of the valley just past 3pm. I then walked another 30 minutes to Yoshinoike Onsen 葭之池温泉 for a quick hot spring bath, before taking the train from the nearby station back to Tokyo.

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 Mt Fuji view from Mitsutoge station (using camera zoom)

Mt Shakushi (1597m), Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Prefecture

The main reason to climb Mt Shakushi, a Yamanashi 100 famous mountain, is to enjoy the fantastic view of Mt Fuji from the summit; there are no mountains in-between, just fields and forest surrounding Oshino village below. The hike is mostly along a ridgeline, with several smaller peaks along the way. Although I was hiking in the middle of November, there were few autumn colours.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take the limited express for Kawaguchiko station, and get off one stop before the end at Mt Fuji / Fujisan station (used to be Fujiyoshida station till 2010). This convenient but pricey train will get you to Fujiyama in time for the bus for Oshino village. It’s also possible to take a combination of local trains, but the connection won’t be as good. I was the only person on the bus – I guess everyone else had gone to see the autumn colours around Kawaguchiko lake.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Shakushi

 

THE ROUTE: From the bus stop, I headed along a road with Mt Fuji to my back. After crossing a couple of small streams I started seeing signs for the entrance to the hiking  trail. Very soon I walking along a dirt road surrounded by beautiful forest; it felt very different from hiking trails closer to Tokyo, especially since there was no-one else around. Eventually I overtook a family of five who had come by car.

 

The sun was perfectly aligned above Mt Fuji

After climbing steadily for a while, I reached a pass where I turned left up the main ridge. I soon reached a rocky roped section, with a nice view of Mt Fuji to the side. After the obligatory snapshots, I continued towards the summit. After a while, I arrived at a junction, from where it was a short round-trip to another summit called Mt Shishidome 1632m 鹿留山 (shishidome-yama). Since there was no view, I decided to skip it and continue on my way. The path was now slightly downhill.

A good day for paragliding

Suddenly I came upon the perfect lunch spot – a lonely rock with a stunning view of Mt Fuji. Even though I was a short way from the summit, I decided to stop for lunch; the final part was mostly flat, and peaks can be surprisingly crowded even when there seems to be no one else on the mountain. Occasionally other hikers would stopped behind me to admire the view, but overall it was a very enjoyable lunch. Not only could I see Mt Fuji in front of me, but also the South Alps  (some of the highest peaks were already covered in snow) and lake Yamanaka. Eventually I managed to pull myself away from the view and reach the summit.

Mt Mitsutoge to the West

The top of Mt Shyakushi (杓子山 shakushi-yama) has a couple of benches, and interestingly enough, a bell to scare away bears. I was so busy taking photos of Mt Fuji, I completely forgot to ring it! I was glad I had already taken my lunch break – the sun was moving behind Mt Fuji, and the side facing me was slowly becoming a dark outline. It looked like the sun would set exactly behind the cone, a phenomenon called Diamond Fuji. Unfortunately, there was no way I could stay till sunset, even though it was nice and warm in the autumn sun.

View of Mt Fuji while descending

There wasn’t really any rush to go down, since I could walk to the onsen at the base of the mountain without having to catch a bus. After I started to head down, I passed a couple on the way to the top, showing that this mountain is small enough for a late afternoon hike. The descent was uneventful, except that at one point it got really steep and I slipped and fell. Luckily the trail was just dirt, no rocks, so no harm done. There were many open spaces where I could observe the dramatic outline of Mt Fuji with the sun behind it. There were also some fine views of Mt Mitsutoge to the right. I also passed a launching pad for paragliding that included a mini funicular to haul the material up. After a final switchback trail, I reached a paved road at the bottom of the mountain, and made my way to Fudoyu onsen. After a nice hot spring bath, I caught the empty bus back to Fujisan station.

CONCLUSION: A short hike that I recommend doing in autumn or winter when the weather is sunny in order to enjoy the views of Mt Fuji. An onsen within walking distance of the base of the mountain is a definite plus.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Shakushi