Mt Atago (653m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture [Fureai no Michi]

I was looking for a new hike in the Oku-Musashi area (meaning “Deep Tokyo” but actually in Saitama). I decided to explore a ridgeline west of Mt Warabi and south of Mt Izu, following the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” for most of the way, and including a minor peak and a couple of temples along the way. Since it was a short hike, with frequent buses to the start of the hike and frequent trains from the end, I could leave later than usual. The forecast announced cloudy with some sun around lunchtime; temperatures were predicted to be cool for the season – perfect for some low altitude hiking at the end of spring. I was looking forward to walking through beautiful nature close to Tokyo just before the start of the rainy season.

View of the Oku-Musashi mountains from Nenogongen Tenryu-ji Temple

Mt Buko at the very end of the valley

I arrived at Hanno station around 10h30 under grey skies and transferred to a Seibu bus, full of hikers headed for Mt Bonomine. I got off at the following stop and at 11am I was walking up the mountain side through a dark forest. Twenty minutes later I reached a clearing with a view northwards: at the end of the valley I could make out Mt Komochi and Mt Buko. After fifteen more minutes I reached a pass, from where it was a pleasant stroll on a level path to the moss-covered Taka-dera temple (高寺 490m).

Pleasant walking through the hills of Saitama Prefecture

The moss-covered roof of Taka-dera visible through the trees

I was intrigued by a pair of wooden totem poles representing buffalo-headed humans playing flutes: I had never seen anything like it before. I continued along the easy to follow and easy to walk Fureai no Michi trail. The path rose slightly before becoming level again. At 12h30 I reached another pass. Here the trail left the mountain side and followed the ridgeline. I climbed a path crisscrossed with roots and then walked down a log staircase. At 1pm, I was at the top of Mt Atago (愛宕山), completely surrounded by trees and slightly off the main trail.

Totem pole of Taka-dera (left) and guardian demon of Tenryu-ji (right)

Easy hiking along the mountain side

A little further, I reached an amazing viewpoint of the valley, through which the Seibu-Chichibu line passes. There was even an unoccupied bench, and the clouds had started to melt away, so I decided to stop for lunch. To the north, I could see the observatory at the top of Mt Maru and Dodaira; opposite was the Oku-Musashi Green line; looking south I thought I could spot Mt Hiwada. After a peaceful lunch, I continued to Nenogongen Tenryu-ji Temple (子ノ権現天龍寺 520m) just a few minutes away. There was another viewpoint above the temple and next to the bell, with the Kanto plain spreading eastwards.

The perfect place for a lunch break

Looking east towards the Kanto plain

I walked out of the temple complex past two guardian demons and a huge cedar tree and after a short trot on the road, reached the trail for Nishi-Agano station. I descended through beautiful forest and then followed a small babbling brook at the bottom of the valley. At 3pm, I reached some houses and a paved road; it took another thirty minutes through pleasant countryside to reach the station. I was just on time for the local train, which I rode for a short while before switching to the Laview Limited express at 4pm for the short and comfortable ride back to Tokyo.

Enjoy the sights and sounds of the Saitama section of the Fureai no Michi

Jomine Park (498m) & Sanbaseki Gorge, Kamikawa Town & Fujioka City, Saitama & Gunma Prefectures

As I was looking for a way to continue my exploration of western Gunma, I found a section of the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” surrounded by four previously climbed peaks: Mt Jomine, Mt Mikabo, Mt Sakura and Mt Yokogai. The highlights were a viewpoint of Kanna lake and a river gorge; on the downside, the route followed paved roads instead of hiking paths. I wasn’t worried about access, since I had traveled to the area before. It would be a short hike, so I could leave later than usual. Although most of the hike would be inside Saitama, except the river gorge, I would be arriving and leaving via Gunma. The weather was supposed to be fine all day, and although I wouldn’t be summiting any mountains, I was hoping to get some good views along a hidden valley close to Tokyo.

Hiking the Kanto Fureai no Michi 関東ふれあいの道

Kanna lake and Shimokubo dam from Jomine Park

I had only a few minutes to transfer to the bus after arriving at Shinmachi station around 10h30. I got off one hour later, a couple of stops before the dam and the lake, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I could see Jomine park and the dam straight ahead, so I got my bearings easily. After getting ready, I used my phone GPS to find my way to the bottom of the river valley. I crossed the bright red Tosenkyo bridge (登仙橋), also crossing into Saitama prefecture at the same time, and walked up the road opposite, alongside a small river.

Straight ahead and at the top of the mountain, Jomine park

Looking downstream (left) and upstream (right) from Tosenkyo Bridge

I soon spotted a small path next to the river and immediately switched to it so that I could better enjoy the sight and sound of the rushing water. I was now walking inside Tobagawa river park (鳥羽川河川公園). At 1pm, I rejoined the road, which climbed steeply and away from the river. Half an hour later, I reached a junction: straight ahead the road continued to the top of Mt Jomine, 4km away and 500m higher; however, I took a sharp turn to the right, along a gently rising, almost flat road.

A pleasant stroll through Tobagawa river park

Yellow iris next to Toba river

I now had my first good view of the day: looking east, I could make out the top of Mt Yokogai which I had climbed just one month ago; huge cumulus clouds were crowding the sky to the south, and although rain was forecasted closer to Tokyo, the surrounding mountains were still in the sun. At 2pm I arrived at Jomine Park (城峰公園) and had lunch at the observatory overlooking Kanna lake (神流湖) to the north. Beyond it, I could see the rounded top of Mt Sakura.

The only hiking path on this “hike”

Cloudy weather to the south over Chichibu

After lunch, I made a quick tour of the park and found another less impressive viewpoint on the other side, and at 3pm, I headed down a wide road leading to the dam. After only a few minutes, I reached a shortcut following a log staircase overgrown with grass; it was the first and only hiking path of the day. Less than 10 minutes later, I was back on the road. At 4pm, I was on the pedestrian road that ran along the top of Shimokubo dam (下久保ダム).

The blue-green water of Kanna lake

Kanna lake, a hidden gem

This was the second highlight of the day: looking west, I could see Kanna lake sparkling under the afternoon sun; turning around, I could see the impressive ravine through which flowed the Kanna river. After walking up and down the dam, I headed down into the deep valley on a road closed to traffic; 15 minutes later, I was at the entrance of the Sanbaseki Gorge (三波石峡). Although the riverside path is no longer in use, I could approach the river via four small paths situated at regular intervals along a road.

Looking down at the river gorge from the lake dam

Solar panels getting the sun at the end of the hike

Each riverside spot was like straight out of a fairytale: at the first two, the clear water rushed through huge boulders, 48 of which have names; at the last two, the light-green water flowed lazily under grey cliffs. The sinking sun shone down the valley through the leaves and onto the water; a slight breeze blew occasionally, its coolness welcome on a warm day. I took a short break at the third spot and enjoyed this magical secluded place.

Kanna river in the late afternoon sun

A magical spot along the Sanbaseki Gorge

It was now past 5pm and my bus was due in half an hour. I continued along the road at a fast pace and soon arrived back at the red bridge which I had crossed five hours ago. Huge grey clouds had now spread above, and it seemed like it could rain at any moment. I quickly climbed out of the valley back to the bus stop. One hour later I was at Shinmachi station, from where it was a 90 minute train ride back to Tokyo.

Mt Yokogai (593m), Honjo City, Saitama Prefecture, April 2021

I wanted to visit Chichibu as I hadn’t been there since Mt Jomine last December. Looking through my guidebook, I found a four-hour hike along a ridge in northern Saitama, above a valley that used to be a secret Christian hideout during Tokugawa times. I could access it via train or by bus; I chose to go by train, allowing me to leave later, and then return by bus in the mid-afternoon. The weather for the next day was supposed to be sunny but windy, not much of a concern in the warmer spring days. I was looking forward to visiting this “hidden valley” and seeing the views on the border between Saitama and Gunma prefectures.

Looking down at Onishi town from the summit

I arrived at Nogami station before 10am under light blue skies. After walking for thirty minutes along paved roads surrounded by light green hills, I reached a forest road up a small river valley which soon turned into a small hiking path. Just past 10am, I emerged onto a small road on the ridgetop where I was greeted by strong gusts of wind. I quickly continued down the other side and reached a clearing full of tree stumps – a good place to sit down for a late breakfast.

The forest road at the start of the hike

A good place for a break

Opposite, I had a view of the today’s mountain, barely distinguable from the other minor peaks along the ridge. It was less windy here and I could hear many different birds singing nearby. I set off again and soon reached the road at the bottom of the valley. I turned right and followed the Koyama river downstream. I stopped by Hanaogi (花扇), a small confectionery shop, to buy some “manju“, buns filled with sweet-tasting red bean paste.

On the right side under the big cloud, Mt Yokogai

Start of the hiking trail for Mt Yokogai

As the noon chime echoed across the valley, I crossed a bridge and turned left onto a road heading up. At 12h30 I was back on a hiking trail up another river valley through a cedar forest. This time, the river was dry; instead of the noise of water, I could hear the noise of the wind blowing through the treetops. It took only a few minutes to reach the ridgetop, where I took a short path off the main trail to a huge sacred rock called “Gongen Iwa” (権現岩 ごんげんいわ).

In the center, Mt Jomine

Sunny hiking near the top

I found a sunny spot out of the wind to snack on a “manju“. I then made my way back to the main trail and followed the ridge northwards. I soon reached an area clear of trees with a view of Mt Jomine to the south. Next I arrived at another viewpoint to the west from where I could see Onishi town and Mt Sakura; but I wasn’t at the highest point yet, and a few more minutes brought me to the top of Mt Yokogai (横隈山 よこがいさん yokogai-san). Straight ahead, I could see Mt Akagi, Mt Haruna, and even the snow-capped peak of Mt Asama.

First viewpoint just south of the summit

Lake Kanna between Saitama and Gunma

I enjoyed a quiet lunch before heading back the same way. It was only 2h30 and I was ahead of schedule. At the junction for Gongen Rock, I continued straight on an up and down path taking me past a view point of Kanna lake and ending at a paved road. From there, it was easy walk down to the bus stop at the bottom of the valley. I had an hour before the 4h30 bus so I went and bought some more “manju“. At Minano station, I caught the Chichibu line for Kumagaya and then transferred to the Shonan-Shinjuku line for the one hour trip back to Tokyo.

See the sights and hear the sounds of Mt Yokogai

Miyazawa Lake Loop and the Kaji Hills, Hanno and Iruma Cities, Saitama Prefecture

A few years ago, I did several short hikes in the Hanno area. There was a couple of loose ends left over, so I decided to combine them into a day hike. At that time, the Moomin Valley park was being built, so the loop around Miyazawa lake was closed. The park opened in 2019, and it’s once again possible to walk around the lake. I had done some cycling close to the Kaji hills, but I had never hiked them. Thanks to the new theme park, there was a frequent bus service from Hanno station and I decided to use it rather than walk through the city from the train station to the lake. The weather forecast was good once again, and I was looking forward to doing some hiking close to home.

View of Hanno city and the Oku-Musashi mountains

The Tanzawa mountains

I arrived at Hanno station under blue skies and transferred to the bus for Metsa Village, next to the Moomin theme park. By 10am, I was standing above the dark blue surface of Miyazawa lake (宮沢湖). There was a bitter cold wind, and I was glad I wasn’t hiking higher up today. In the distance, I could see the summits of Mt Odake and Mt Gozen, barely visible above the trees. The hiking path, known as the Oku-Musashi Nature Walk (奥武蔵自然歩道), soon entered the forest and moved away from the lake shore. After a short climb and a short descent, I arrived at a T-Junction, where I turned left up a gentle slope.

Mt Gozen (left) and Mt Odake (right)

Protection from stray golf balls

I was now walking alongside a golf course, and for a short while the trail went through a kind of tunnel that prevented stray golf balls from striking passerby’s. At 11am, I reached Koma pass (高麗峠 177m). I was now surrounded by forest on both sides the trail; some trees had name tags which I found quite useful. Half an hour later, I arrived at Fujimi Pass (富士見峠), where, as the name suggests, I had a view of Mt Fuji. After a short break, I set off again. A few minutes later, I passed an open space called Hohoemi-Oka (ほほえみ丘 meaning smile hills), a good place for a picnic in warmer weather.

Mt Fuji (left) and Mt Izu (right) at Fujimi Pass

Walking through the forest close to the city

So far the path had been mostly flat, but from now it turned hilly. The steeper sections were fitted with steps so it remained a rather relaxing hike. At 12h15, I was back at my starting point, and shortly afterwards I was sitting on the bus for Hanno station. There, I transferred to the Seibu line for the short ride to Bushi station. Once outside the station, I quickly found the signs for the Kaji hills hiking trail (鍛冶丘ハイキングコース). At 1pm, I was walking on the northern branch of the hiking trail, on a narrow paved road through the woods. Very soon, I arrived at a viewpoint, where I could see Hanno city through a break in the trees.

Hiking around Miyazawa lake

Hiking the Kaji Hills

It took another thirty minutes of gentle climbing to get to the Sakurayama Viewpoint (桜山展望台 さくらやまてんぼうだい sakurayama-tenbodai), a twenty-meter high structure at the highest point of the Kaji hills (180m). At the top, I had a panoramic view of the Tokyo metropolis and the surrounding mountains. Looking east, I could see the Shinjuku skyscraper district, as well as the Tokyo Skytree (about 40km away); directly south were the Tanzawa mountains; the Okutama and Chichibu mountains stretched across the western side with Mt Fuji in the center; to the north, I had a view of the Oku-Musashi hills, with the flat top of Mt Dodaira just visible in the back; finally, I could just make out the outline of Mt Akagi, 80km away.

Viewpoint along the Kaji Hills hiking trail

The Sakurayama viewpoint

Once I had enough of the views, I climbed down to the base of the tower, and walked back to Bushi station, via the south course. By 3pm I was back on the road, and from there it was a 15 minute walk back to the station. Both hikes were quite short, two hours each, and could be done separately; however, combined they formed a satisfying outing which included forest walking and views of Mt Fuji, and some of the mountain ranges surrounding the Kanto plain. Less than an hour later, I was again surrounded by the buildings of Tokyo.

See the view from the top of the Sakurayama Observatory

Mt Iwatakeishi (793m), Mt Kuro (842m) & Mt Onita (505m), Ome and Hanno Cities, Tokyo and Saitama Prefectures, January 2021

I was looking for some more “Kanto no Fureai trails” close to Tokyo. I found a promising section in the Okutama area and decided to combine it with a couple of nearby mountains, forming a zigzag hike, straddling Tokyo and Saitama prefectures. My main concern was whether I would have enough time to complete what seemed like an ambitious hike. The last section followed local trails that weren’t shown on my hiking map, and I was hoping they would be easy to follow. I had been to the area many times before, so I was familiar with the way there and back. The weather forecast was good, and I was looking forward to my first multi-prefecture hike in a while.

Hiking in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park

Looking east towards Tokyo

I arrived at Kawai station at 9h30 on a sunny winter day. I quickly made my way down to the Ome-Kaido road to catch the bus scheduled to arrive in a few minutes. I got off before the other passengers headed for Bonomine, and followed the signs, first through the village, and then along a paved forest road, which later became a dirt road. At 10h30, just when I was starting to think that I would be walking on this road all the way to the top, I spotted the hiking trail leading off to the right and up the mountain side.

The low, hilly area of Oku-Mukashi

The path to Mt Takamizu

The trail went up a small valley through a gloomy, dark forest. Suddenly, it veered left, leaving the valley and hugging the sunny mountain side. It took me another twenty minutes to reach Nasaka pass (名坂峠). Today’s hike was along the ridge to the left, but, I decided to first do a short round trip to the peak on the right. At 11am, I was standing on the top of Mt Iwatakeishi (岩茸石山 いわたけいしやま iwatakeishi-yama), a Kanto hundred famous mountain I had climbed once before in the spring a few years ago. There were so many people at the top it was hard to find a place to sit down!

On the left, Mt Kawanori

The ridge leading down from Mt Kuro towards Kosawa pass

The view was a lot better than I remembered. To the east was the summit of Mt Takamizu; looking north, I could see the mountains of Oku-Musashi; eastwards was Mt Kawanori and Mt Honita. I walked south along the summit ridge to another viewpoint, where I could see right through the middle of the Okutama mountains all the way to Daibosatsurei and the long ridge leading away from it to the south. After having a late breakfast, I made my way back to the pass and started the long climb along the ridge, part of the Fureai no Michi, leaving the crowds behind me.

In the back, Daibosatsurei

This is still inside Tokyo Prefecture

There were almost no other hikers along this section and it was very peaceful. It was also quite warm, and felt like March rather than January. After about an hour, I reached a viewpoint above a cliff from where I could see Mt Mitake and its shrine to the south; behind and on the right was Mt Odake; Mt Fuji, further behind, was hidden by the clouds. I reached the lonely but sunny top of Mt Kuro (黒山くろやま kuroyama meaning black mountain). There was no view but there was a bench in the sun so I sat down and had some lunch. I decided to skip Bonomine, which I had climbed several times before, and head down another ridge; it formed a sharp angle with the one I had just come up, like a bent elbow.

Looking towards Mt Mitake

A good place for a break

Here the trail became more difficult to follow; I was no longer following the Fureai no Michi, and the signposts were less frequent. At one point, I passed a group of lumberjacks just as the tree they had been cutting crashed to the ground (I was at a safe distance). Just afterwards, I crossed a forest road where a group of hunters was getting ready. They had a loud barking dog, but fortunately it was locked inside a cage. I started to walk faster to put some distance between myself and the hunt. Suddenly, I was no longer on the path. Using Google Maps, I saw that the ridge curved northwards around this point. I retraced my steps and quickly found the trail again.

The sunny top of Mt Kuro

Still sunny through the leafless trees

I could hear the noise of barking getting ever closer. The hunting dog eventually caught up and overtook me. Having seemed quite agressive earlier on, it showed no interest in me. Later on, it passed me again on its way back, having failed to find anything hunt-worthy (see video). On the left side, I had some glimpses of the Iruma valley. Around 2h30, the path started to descend steeply and I saw some towering cedar trees. This section was very beautiful and I was glad it was protected since it was part of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park. At 3pm I reached Kosawa Pass (小沢峠). It was later than I had planned and I needed to quicken the pace if I wanted to be able to climb today’s last mountain before dark.

Mostly hiking through forest at lower altitude

Approaching the last mountain of the day

The sun was already low on the horizon and I had to be careful not to miss the frequent twists and turns of the trail through the dark forest. It took me one hour and a lot of ups and downs to reach the top of Mt Onita (大仁田山 おおにたやま oonita-yama). There was a small gap through the trees on the east side through which I could see the flat Kanto plain. For some reason, one side of the summit sign was in English. I took a short break before heading down as fast as I could. It took me 20 minutes to reach the road and the bus stop. At 5h30 I was at Hanno station where I got the Limited Express train for Tokyo, relieved that I had managed to complete this long hike before sunset.

Check out the views from the top of Mt Iwatakeishi

Mt Jomine (1038), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, December 2020 [South Ridge Route]

I had visited this Kanto 100-famous mountain twice before, in the winter and in the spring. Although it was early December and the leaves had already fallen in the mountains, it was sunny and pleasant in the daytime – so in my mind this would count as an autumn trip. My plan was to ascend the same route as in 2015, but without snow this time, and then descend via the South Ridge route (南尾根コース). The previous time I had used the Omotesando route (表参道コース), so I was looking forward to hiking a new trail. I could see on the map that it had a viewpoint along the way, and ended further down the mountain than the other trail, although it was still a 40 minute walk on a paved road to the bus stop. One concern was that the bus to the start of the trail left rather late in the morning. Since the days were shorter now, I would probably have to wait for the return bus in the dark; luckily, there was an excellent hot spring at Seibu-Chichibu station to warm myself up at the end of the day.

Left back, Mt Ryokami, and right back, Mt Akaguna

The sky was worryingly overcast as I left Tokyo with the Seibu line. Fortunately, the clouds ended over Chichibu, and there was beautiful blue sky above the mountains on the Saitama-Gunma border. At Seibu-Chichibu station, I changed to the Chichibu line, and got off at Minano, four stations away, where I caught a mini-bus for the start of the trail. There was a group of hikers at the bus stop, and they graciously let me board first. They got off near Mt Happu, and I was alone for the last part of the ride, along a narrow winding road. I was surprised that a bus service was needed in such a remote area, but occasionally a clearing and a house appeared after a sharp bend. I got off at 11am, and walked up to the shelter above the road to get ready for hiking.

Following the Fureai no Michi up the mountain

Several large “jorogumo” spiders were hanging from the rafters, so I had to be careful not to disturb their webs with my head. At 11h30, I set off along the road, and soon spotted the turn-off for the Kanto Fureai no Michi, which I would follow to the pass just below the summit. I enjoyed the trail as it wound slowly up a narrow valley through beautiful and peaceful forest. I noticed that the signposts were worn-out and hard to read. Many years ago, the Fureai no Michi trails might have been quite popular. However, nowadays, interest had waned for some reason – perhaps hikers are more interested in reaching summits than walking long-distance trails. As far as I know, there is no published book on these trails.

Clouds over Higashi-Chichibu

I reached the first viewpoint of the day at 12h15, next to a white electric pylon. I could see the Chichibu valley to the south, and behind it, Mt Buko and the mountains of Higashi-Chichibu. Nearby was a bench, but it was too early to take a break. Along the way I passed a couple of junctions. Each time I took the left, level branch, avoiding the minor summits on the right, since I knew there was no view. It took me half an hour to reach the road at Isama pass (石間峠). Here I said goodbye to the Fureai no Michi. I would have liked to continue along it, but it now followed the road down to Kanna Lake in Gunma. Although it was closed to traffic, I preferred stick to dirt trails whenever possible.

The final steps before the summit

After hiking up a series of staircases, I reached the observation tower and the top of Mt Jomine (城峯山じょうみねさん jominesan) at 1pm. The Japanese name means “Castle Peak”, perhaps a reference to the rocky section further west along the top ridge. It seemed to double as a communication tower as there were several satellite dishes attached to it. Although the Saitama side was cloudy – no chance of seeing Mt Fuji – there was nothing but blue sky on the Gunma side. This is probably one of the best views in the area, and also one of the easiest to access.

The observation and communication tower

Looking at the view, I could recall many of my past climbs in the area: Mt Mikabo (climbed in 2016), Mt Inafukumi (2019), Mt Akaguma (not yet climbed), Mt Tetemiezu (2017), Mt Futago (2017) and Mt Ogura (2018). In the distance, I could also make out several 100 famous mountains of Japan: Mt Asama, Yatsugatake, Mt Ryokami, Mt Kobushi, and Mt Kumotori, its peak lost in the clouds. Despite the height of the tower, the the Kanto plain to the east was hidden by trees. As I was busy checking out the view and taking photos, I didn’t mind eating my lunch standing as there were no seats.

Blue skies over Gunma

I managed to tear myself from the view at 2pm, and headed down the South Ridge course. The first part was quite steep and lined with ropes; afterwards, the trail became less steep, but remained narrow and adventurous; overall it was a lot more fun than the Omotesando trail. There were a couple of junctions without signposts, meaning that the branches would join up again; both times I took the right ones, as they seemed more interesting. There were a couple of openings through the trees to the south, but the superb westward view promised by my map never appeared. I had planned to take a break there – I hadn’t sat down once so far today – but that would have to be wait a bit longer as there were no other good spots.

Heading down the South Ridge trail

I saw no-one else on the trail and I was able to enjoy the quiet solitude of walking in the mountains. I finally popped out onto the road at 3h30. The valley was already in the shade and getting chilly. I made my way down to the river next to the road, and sat on a large rock for a late break. I had an hour and half till my bus so for once I could take my time. I spotted many spiders – I was amazed that they could survive the night in sub-zero temperatures. I strolled down the road, admiring the small houses of the Saitama countryside. I saw several huge “kaki” (Japanese persimmon trees). Although it’s the national fruit of Japan, I rarely see it growing in the wild. I reached the bus stop at 16h45, and after a short wait in the cold, I hopped on the empty bus for Seibu-Chichibu station and a hot bath.

Mt Kobushi (left) and Mt Ryokami (right)

Mt Ogura (front) and Yatsugatake (behind)

Mt Hashimoto (321m) & Yugate (290m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture

I was looking for an easy and short station to station hike nearby Tokyo to help me get back into hiking mode after a two-month forced break. I thought it would be too hot and uncomfortable to hike in the low hills of Oku-Musashi 奥武蔵 in the month of June. Also, I had hiked these trails three times previously, so I thought it might not be so interesting. Finally, I had no idea whether the trail would be open and properly maintained. In the end, I couldn’t come up with a better idea, and since the train ride was just over an hour, I decided to just go for it.

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Looking towards Chichibu

After getting off the train at Higashi-Agano station 東吾野 a little after 10am, it took me less than 5 minutes to reach the start of the hiking trail, behind Agana Shrine 吾野神社. This is surely one of the most convenient hiking trails in the area! the trail immediately starting climbing through beautiful forest. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the trail was well-maintained and the signposts were relatively new; often they were entirely in English. As I moved along the trail, I was amazed at how different the surrounding vegetation looked. Previously, I had seen the light green of early spring, the colours of Autumn, and the snowy whiteness of Winter. This time, I was treated to the lush dark green of summer. The forest was still relatively insect-free and the humidity was average; contrary to my expectations, the conditions were nearly ideal. All my concerns has been washed away minutes after starting the hike!

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Start of the hiking trail for Yugate

After less than an hour, I reached the top of Mt Hashimoto 橋本山 (はしもとやま) where I had a good view of the Chichibu mountains to the West. After a late breakfast, I set off again, and reached the tiny village of Yugate ユガテ at noon. Yugate is made up of a handful of houses and fields situated on a small plateau among the hills. There is a nice grassy field on one side, with a couple of benches in the shade – the perfect place for a lunch break. Today however, it was too early for lunch, and the benches were already occupied by groups of hikers. I moved on quickly, reached a fork, and headed along the right branch. I had planned to do a circle hike centered on Yugate, so I would be returning via the left branch later in the day.

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Easy to hike trail through the forest

The next section was highly enjoyable: for 40 minutes, the narrow trail followed the side of the mountain through silent forest, crossed a couple of small streams, before climbing to the Oku-Musashi Green Line Road. I saw and heard no one during this time. The area between the station and this road is part of the Nishikawa Forestry Area 西川林業地, and I suppose special care is taken to its maintenance. I had now reached Kitamukijizo 北向地蔵. Instead of following the top of the ridge towards the left, I decided to make a longer loop by descending to the lake on Moroyama Town side of the mountain. The forest here was less beautiful, but the descent was pleasant, and at one point there was a view of the Kanto Plain to the East.

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Yugate, a good place for a break

I reached the edge of Kamakita lake 鎌北湖 just after 1pm, and I was shocked to see that it had been entirely drained for construction work. By now, it was getting pretty hot, and it would have been refreshing to walk alongside a body of water. Instead it was a dusty pit filled with noisy excavators. I wasn’t sure what the purpose was, but apparently it would be completed by April next year.  I quickly made my way around the side of the lake. I was walking on an asphalt road now, and I was starting to feel pretty hot. At 2pm, I turned left onto a gently climbing path up the side of the mountain, bringing me under the welcome shade of the forest.

 

Construction work on Kamakita Lake

After a short climb, I was back on top of the ridge. I noticed that several of the Japanese-only signs had the English names scribbled on them, and I couldn’t help wondering who had added them. I now made my way back down to Yugate. This time the benches were empty, but I wanted to catch an early train back (and I already had eaten my lunch) so after a quick sit down, I moved on. I followed the trail I had come up in the morning, but skipped the summit of Mt Hashimoto by following the “Woman’s Slope” 女坂 that went around the other side. I took an alternative path at the very end and finished at Fukutokuji Temple 福徳寺 from where it was a ten minute walk back to the Higashi-Agano station, arriving there at 3h30.

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The crossroads of Yugate

This hike is probably one of the best kept secrets of the Tokyo area. Even though, there are no famous shrines or great views, it’s easy to reach and ideal for those who want to do some peaceful “nature bathing”. However, it’s best to wait till that lake is filled up again!

Toryu Valley & Mt Omine (1062m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, November 2019

 

Autumn colours along Toryu-Kei

In mid-November, I went on a day-trip to check out the autumn colours in the Oku-Chichibu area. It had been one month since the devastation brought by Typhoon Hagibis, also known as Typhoon #19, and there was a risk that some trails would be damaged or even closed. However, there are many great places to visit in the area, and I was confident I would find somewhere to walk among the autumn leaves.

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Sign reminding me that I was inside the Oku-Chichibu National Park

I drove from Seibu-Chichibu station, past Mitsumine-Guchi station, to Toryu Bridge 登竜橋 where I left the car. Past the bridge, it’s possible to walk along the Arakawa river in both directions. I first headed downstream; the path had been partly washed away in several places, and was also obstructed by several fallen trees. Since the path was a dead-end, I quickly gave up, walked back past the bridge, and followed the river upstream.

View from Toryu Bridge

First, I followed a gently climbing road past some ancient gravestones. After a few minutes there was a sign for a trail through the forest on the right. This led back down to the river, round a cliff on a wooden walkway, and finished at Ryumon Waterfall 竜門の滝. I retraced my steps to the start of the wooden walkway, and then followed another path further upstream, a few meters above the rushing river. There was a lot of damage here due to the typhoon. The trail was so washed away, that I soon gave up again. In conclusion, it’s impossible to hike along most of the Toryu valley at the moment. On the way back, I followed the road a little further, and it led to the start of the trail to Mistumine Shrine. Apparently, this trail is open and undamaged.

Entrance to the trail for Mitsumine Shrine

Afterwards, I drove another twenty minutes, past the turn-off for Mitsumine Shrine, all the way to the Irikawa river valley. I was going to leave the car at the Irikawa Camping Ground and explore the river upstream. However, the access road was closed due to typhoon damage, and it wasn’t possible to reach the start of the trail. I had to fallback on plan C: completely avoid river valleys, and drive to nearby Tochimoto Plaza 栃本広場 where I could hike Eastwards along a low ridge sandwiched between two lakes.

Beautiful autumn colours in “deep Chichibu”

This time I was lucky. The path was easy to hike with no damage at all; the autumn leaves were still at their peak. It took me about thirty minutes to reach the top of Mt Omine 大峰山 completely in by trees. Even the little viewing platform wasn’t high enough to see over them. The path continued along the ridge, but since it was now downhill through a thick cedar forest, and I had get back to the car, I decided not to go any further. Luckily, it was possible to take a slightly different path back, with occasional glimpses of Oku-Chichibu-Momiji lake through the trees.

Easy hiking through the forest

I drove a different way back, following a very picturesque road with good views towards Mt Wanakura. I got back to Seibu-Chichibu station before 4pm where I was able to enjoy a nice hot bath, and taste some local sake inside the station, before taking the brand new and futuristic looking Laview Limited Express train back to Tokyo. After the heavy rains and strong winds that hit the Kanto area last October,  I think that most hiking trails in Tokyo, Saitama and Tochigi prefecture are still hikable, except the ones following river valleys. Those ones may be closed for a while, but hopefully they’ll be restored sometime in the future.

View of Mt Wanakura in the late afternoon

Mt Sengen (299m) & Ranzan River Valley, Ogawamachi City, Saitama Prefecture, Saturday April 20, 2019

I had been to Mt Sengen in May 2016 as a half day hike, and to Ranzan in December 2016 as a short bike ride. Since then, the hiking trail has been lengthened to connect both areas so it seemed like a good idea to return to there. I believe that Ogawamachi town makes an excellent base for hiking due to its close location to Tokyo (70 minutes by direct train from Ikebukuro) and proximity to the Higashi-Chichibu mountain area.

The hike starts from behind the Mt Sengen Miharashi no Oka Koen (view hill park) that is best reached by a short taxi ride (about 1200 yen) from the station. Otherwise it’s nearly a one hour hike. Before leaving, make sure to try a tofu donut from the small store opposite the station. The park has an observation tower with great views, and a roller slide.

View of Ogawamachi from Mt Sengen View Hill Park

The path to Mt Sengen 浅間山 follows the top ridge through beautiful forest with occasional views of Tsuki River on the left. The summit marker is reached soon after passing a jump off spot for paragliders. It’s a mostly flat place in the forest with an opening to the West. Afterwards the hike continues southwards with a number of small ups and downs. Along the way are the ruins of Aoyama castle – there isn’t much to see but you can imagine that a fine castle must have existed in such a good location.

Beautiful forest on the approach of Mt Sengen

The well-marked path first continues South, then bends to the East, passing several minor peaks along the way, eventually reaching Okura castle ruins. As before there isn’t much left to see, but there is a good lunch spot with log seats and an Eastward view, on top of the slight rise on the right side. Beyond that, the path gradually descends before reaching a road, where one needs to go left for the bridge over Tsuki river and the entrance path to the path for the Ranzan river valley.

Walking the path to Ranzan Keikoku

After crossing the bridge, there is a small trail that leads right down to the river on the right side. It’s worth heading over there since the views up and down the river are very pretty. However it’s a dead end so – the path to Ranzan is above, behind the parking area. It’s an easy-to-walk straight path that leads to the base of Mt Ohira, a short climb with a nice view. However it’s worth continuing straight along the path till reaching the river side – this is the highlight of the Ranzan river valley 嵐山渓谷. It’s a nice place to take a break.

A peaceful place to take a break

To finish the hike, take the path heading eastwards following the river downstream. Eventually it leads to a road – Musashi-Ranzan train station on the Tobu line is less than 30 minutes away. It’s also possible to catch a bus back (use Google maps).

 

See what it is like going down a roller slide with a view!

The Furthest Mountain, Mt Nanten (1483m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, Saturday November 25, 2017

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Hiking in the Chichibu Mountains 秩父山地

Less than 100km away from the capital as the bird flies and smack in the middle of the Oku-Chichibu mountains of Saitama prefecture, lies Mt Nanten 南天山 1483m. Despite its relative closeness, accessing the start of the trail requires patience and a desire to explore new places.

Last Saturday, I rose at 6h30, got a seat on the Seibu line Red arrow limited express leaving around 7h30 from Ikebukuro station, hurried to catch the transfer to the Chichibu railway in the Seibu-chichibu station and got off at the last station, Mitsumineguchi at about 9h15.

Unfortunately the bus connection wasn’t ideal and I had to potter around for 45 minutes for the bus for Nakatsugawa 中津川, also the last stop and one hour away, making my arrival time a little past 11am. However I wasn’t there yet. I still needed to walk 30 minutes along a road which eventually turned into a dirt road, till I finally got to the entrance of the mountain trail, leading up a small river valley cleaved into the side of the mountain.

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The path crossed a stream several times over narrow wooden bridges

After removing my inner layer, fixing my bear bell onto my bag and having a quick bite, I was officially ready to start up the mountain, a little before noon or nearly six hours after getting up. Fortunately, unlike my previous trip the week to Okutama the week before, the further I progressed the less people there were – just one other passenger on the bus who got off before the end. This was probably because the autumn leaves season was already over.

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First views of the highest peaks of the Okuchichibu Area

The valley I walked up following a small stream was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I could only imagine what it must look like in the spring or the autumn. There was a fair amount of stream crossing along fairly new wooden bridges and the path goes up and down the side of the valley, making for a good warmup. Halfway up the valley, I came upon the spectacular Hojirushi waterfall 法印の滝. Even if you don’t climb to the top, it is well worth walking 20 minutes to check it out.

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The Hojirushi waterfall along the Kamakura River

Twenty minutes further upstream, a zigzagging easy to walk path on the left takes you up to the top ridge where you progressively make your way to the highest point. The last part gets rather rocky and feels rather wild – hard to believe that you are in Saitama, especially when you reach the top and see nothing but mountains in all directions. Directly opposite one could see the massive bulk of Mt Ryokami and in the background Mt Asama already covered in snow,

I headed down a little after 2pm down another zig-zagging path and then joined up with the previous stream valley and legged it back to the road. I was able to take a quick bath before getting on the return bus a little after 4pm. This bus, the last one of the day, took me directly to Seibu Chichibu station in about 90 minutes where after a thirty minute wait, I got the next Red arrow limited express back to Ikebukuro, arriving at 8pm, taking me only a little less time than on the way there.

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The summit marker of Mt Nanten with Mt Ryokami in the background

Enjoy the contrast between the rushing water and the silent summit