Mt Buko (1304m), Yokoze Town, Saitama Prefecture, Saturday, March 5, 2022

I had climbed Mt Buko over ten years ago on a hazy June day and wanted to do it again on a clearer day. This time, I would take a taxi from Seibu-Chichibu station to the trail entrance and make a loop; this way, I could shorten the hiking time, because I needed to walk over an hour to Yokoze station at the end. Although the forecast for the next day was sunny and warm, I knew some snow and ice would be left above 1000m, so I packed my light crampons just in case. I was looking forward to revisiting this mountain and getting some great views of Chichibu from the summit.

Mt Buko, taken on my 2009 hike

View from the top observatory

It felt like early spring as I stepped off the Laview Limited Express at Seibu-Chichibu station. After buying some supplies, I hopped into a taxi for short ride to “ichi-no-torii” (一ノ鳥居). By 11am, I was walking up a steep paved road next to a river; I remembered this as the toughest part of my 2009 hike. Many people were already coming down, having enjoyed the early morning view. I soon reached some log steps marking the start of the trail. I passed several interesting sights on the way: the partially frozen “fudo-taki” waterfall (“fudo” means motionless); a delicate wooden bridge for only one person at a time; a pile of white limestone rocks taken from the summit; a giant cedar tree, its crown too high to see. I was walking alone through the forest and was stunned by the silence, since the other side is forever noisy because of the mining.

Some snow on the way up (left) and down (right)

Chichibu city stretching from south to north

At noon, I was treading on snow. Fortunately, the slope never became steep enough to justify putting on crampons. The long log staircase from my previous climb had disappeared, replaced by a switchback path. Half an hour later I reached the summit shrine, bathed in sun and surrounded by trees. I made my way to the observatory on the north side, a little higher up, and the official summit of Mt Buko 武甲山 ぶこうさん bukou-san), a two-hundred famous mountain of Japan. I was almost by myself, which was lucky since the top area was narrower than I had remembered. It hadn’t rained for a while so the sky wasn’t as clear as I had hoped, but I had a good view of the Minano Alps, Mt Mino, Mt Ogiri, Mt Dodaira and Mt Maru.

Looking back at the sunny descent to Shirajikubo

Back into the sun and out of the snow

I was most impressed by the bird’s-eye view of Chichibu city, stretching south to north along the Arakawa river. It was 12h30 so I had lunch standing up, since I couldn’t find a spot to sit. At 1pm, I headed back to the shrine and down a steep trail on the south side; I was relived it was in the sun and snow-free. Pine trees on both sides made it feel like a different mountain. I soon arrived at Shirajikubo (シラジクボ), the start of the climb up Mt Komochi. Here, I turned left onto a trail hugging the east slope. It was in the shade and covered by snow, but since it was mostly level, crampons weren’t needed. I had fun walking in the snow for a while; soon I was back in the sun and walking on solid ground. After an hour of descending through the forest, I was back at the “torii“, the shinto gate at the mountain base. As I walked to the station, I passed several impressive factory buildings, working hard on a Saturday. At a little past 4pm, I boarded the limited express for the 80 minute ride back to Tokyo.

Enjoy the bird’s-eye view from the top of Mt Buko

Kotohira Hills (highest point 398m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, Wednesday, February 23, 2022

I needed a short hike to get back in shape after a five-week break. I had done part of this trail several years ago, after visiting Chichibu’s famous “shibazakura” (carpet cherry blossom). The surrounding forest, wedged between the terraces of Mt Buko’s northern face and the populated Arakawa valley, was unexpectedly green and peaceful. This was the perfect opportunity to return and walk the entire length of these hills from my hiking guidebook. I would use the Laview limited express, and then the local Chichibu line to get to Kagemori station. I would end up at Seibu-Chichibu station, so I just had to time my arrival with the hourly train back to Tokyo. The weather was supposed to be cold and sunny. I hoped I would get some sun and views through the trees on a cold, clear winter day.

On the left, the Minano Alps, on the right, Higashi-Chichibu

I was surprised to see snow on the ground after exiting the last tunnel on the Seibu-Chichibu line. I knew the trail could be done without crampons, but I wanted to keep my feet dry. Around 10h30, I boarded the colourful Chichibu line and saw no more snow on the way to Kagemori (影森), the next station. At 11am, after walking on a road for a while, I reached Daien Temple (大淵寺), temple number 27 on the Chichibu Pilgrimage (Chichibu-fudasho); behind it was the start of the Kotohira Hiking Trail (琴平ハイキングコース).

The colourful design of the Chichibu line train

Some sun trickling through

From the start, I had to navigate some icy sections. As the path climbed out of the valley, sunshine started to filter down and all traces of snow vanished. Through a break in the trees, I observed the train make its way back along the valley (see video). I soon arrived at Gokoku Kannon (護国観音), a statue of the Buddhist deity of compassion, with a wide view of the mountains on the Saitama-Gunma border; on the left, I could see the huge bulk of Mt Ryokami; in the center were the Minano Alps; on the right lay Mt Hodo with snowy Akagi faintly visible in the background.

View of the mountains along the border of Saitama and Gunma

Kannon statue (left), a narrow and sunny ridge (right)

I followed the trail up and down a narrow ridge, mostly in the sun thanks to the winter trees ; on the right, loomed the terraced north side of Mt Buko. At noon, I arrived at a small temple, part of Temple 26 of the Chichibu-fudasho, located at the base of a staircase on the left. It was nicknamed “Mini-Kiyomizu-dera” because it was on top of wooden stilts. After a short climb, I came upon a statue of Buddha, and nearby, the “Monk’s Meditation Rock”, from where I had another good view to the north. The path then suddenly ended at a small wooden structure at the top of a cliff.

Visible through the trees, the terraced northern face of Mt Buko

The path was mostly snow-free

After stepping onto the wooden platform, I spotted a ladder on the other side, enabling me to get down the cliff and resume my hike. Half an hour later, I found a sunny, grassy spot with a view of Mt Buko, so I decided to take a break for lunch. I continued again at 1pm, and soon had a view of Mt Ryokami to the west through the bare branches. A little later, I passed the highest point of the Kotohira Hills (琴平丘陵 ことひらきゅうりょう kotohira-kyuuryou), completely in the trees, and apart from a triangulation point, totally featureless.

A steep slope up (left) a steep staircase down (right)

The pyramidal north face of Mt Buko, used for rock mining

The path now descended through dark forest, this section familiar from my previous visit, and at 1h30, emerged onto a forest road next to a stream. For the next half an hour, I walked along a mostly flat, straight path before reaching Hitsujiyama Park; in addition to the “carpet sakura”, it also has regular cherry blossoms trees, although the buds were still firmly closed. A little after 2pm, I was back at Seibu-Chichibu station where I boarded the next limited express for the 80-minute ride back to Tokyo.

See the Chichibu line travel along the Arakawa river valley

Mt Mino (587m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, Thursday, November 11, 2021 [Monkeys]

I had already climbed this mountain a few years ago, but I wanted to return on a crisp autumn day hoping to get better views. I also wanted to explore the park covering the mostly flat summit area. Finally, I was looking forward to catching the last autumn leaves of the season. Although this mountain is easily accessible by train, I decided to go by car as it would allow me to visit another sightseeing spot on the same day.

View from the one of the summit observation platforms

It was a perfect autumn day as I rode the Laview limited express to Chichibu station, where I switched to a rented car. It was a short drive to the parking lot below Minoyama Park, and an even shorter stroll to the highest point of Mt Mino (蓑山 みのやま minoyama). It’s also known as “Utsukushi no Yama” (美の山) meaning “beautiful mountain”, perhaps referring to its round, regular shape, or perhaps to the springtime views, when the many cherry trees are in full bloom.

The hills of Eastern Chichibu

The broken summit of Mt Ryokami

I checked out the view from each of the 3 observation platforms facing south-west, west and east. West, I could see the wide Chichibu valley surrounded by the Oku-Chichibu mountains and flanked by the triangular summit of Mt Buko on the left, and the jagged top of Mt Ryokami on the right. East, I could see the low mountains of Higashi-Chichibu with Chichibu Highland Farm directly opposite, and in the distance, Mt Akagi and Mt Nantai.

Walking through Minoyama Park

A beautiful day at the end of the autumn season

It took less than an hour of easy hiking to complete the loop of Minoyama Park. Along the way, I came across another observation deck on the north side with a good view of Mt Happu, as well as a maple tree with fiery red autumn leaves. At 12h30, I was back at the parking lot. I drove the winding road down to the bottom of the valley and dropped by Miyabi An (みやび庵) for a tasty soba lunch. Next, I decided to check out the nearby Urayama dam (浦山ダム) and Chichibusakura lake.

Chichibusakura lake from Urayama Dam

View of Mt Jomine from Urayama Dam

I spotted movement in the trees next to the road after getting out of the car at the dam parking. Peering into the forest I saw a troupe of Japanese macaques foraging for food. I was excited to see monkeys not having encountered any for a long time and spent some time observing them (see video). After a quick tour of the dam, I drove back a short way to Jurin’s Geo coffee shop for a quick break around 3pm, before heading back to Chichibu station and the eighty-minute ride by limited express train back to Tokyo.

See the views from Mt Mino and the monkeys of Chichibu

This is the 200th blog post on Hiking Around Tokyo

Mt Kozuke (448m) & Nosubari Viewpoint (634m), Ogose Town, Saitama Prefecture

Looking at my hiking map, I found another unexplored corner of “Oku-Musashi”: by connecting various local trails, I could make a loop in a hidden valley beyond the Seibu-Chichibu train line and the “Green Line” road. I would take the Tobu line to Ogose station, from where it was a short bus ride to the start of the hike, and return via the same way. It was a short hike so I could leave Tokyo mid-morning and still catch the last bus back around 5pm. The weather was unseasonably hot, and I was worried how comfortable I would be hiking at a low altitude; however, the skies would be mostly clear of clouds, so I could count on some good views.

Lunch with a view from Moroto no Kuruwa

A peek through the trees below the summit of Mt Kozuke

It was a short ride to Ogose, so I was comfortable even though, for once, I wasn’t on a limited express train. At 11am, I set off under a very hot sun. The first part of the hike was along a road next to a mountain stream. Along the way I stopped at a “Garden Terrace”, a kind of flower garden you can visit for free. It was officially closed at this time of the year, but the owner invited me in for some coffee and a piece of homemade cheesecake on their terrace in the middle of the garden. I was touched by their welcoming attitude, and after a friendly chat, I continued on my way.

View from near the start of the Shiroyama hiking trail

The hills of Tokigawa Town are also rich in hiking possibilities

After an hour of easy road walking, I reached the start of the Shiroyama hiking trail (城山ハイキング). From this point, I started waving a stick in front of me to clear the spiderwebs. Despite this, I still managed to walk into several cobwebs, luckily devoid of spiders each time. After some switchback climbing through thick forest, I reached the top of Mt Kozuke (小築山 こづけやま kozukeyama) around 1pm. The summit was in the trees so I soon moved on. The next section was through mixed forest with occasional views. I stopped for lunch at a place called “Moroto no Kuruwa” (もろとの郭) since I could sit down on a log and enjoy a view of Ogose to the west.

An easy to follow trail through the forest

View towards Saitama from the Nosubari viewpoint

After lunch, I found myself on a gently rising path through dark forest. At 2pm, the trail started to climb steeply and very soon I reached Hananoki pass (花の木峠 683m) on the Odaira ridge (大平尾根), the highest point of the hike and just below the “Green Line”. The hiking path then exited onto a road and twenty minutes later I arrived at the Nosubari observatory (野末張見晴台). I had an excellent view of the Kanto plain and the eastern reaches of the Oku-Musashi hills. In the late afternoon, the sky was hazy so I couldn’t make out the skyscrapers of Tokyo. After a short break, I rejoined the trail just beyond the road and resumed my descent.

Trail *almost* blocked on the way down

The spider Red Spider Lily which flowers in the autumn

It took an another hour of quiet hiking down a peaceful valley shielded from noise to reach a paved road. Half an hour later I was back on the road I had taken in the morning, and soon after I was back at the bus stop. As I had some time before the bus, I decided to explore the nearby Umesono ume no Eki (うめしの 梅の駅) where I bought some craft sour made from local lemons and plums (I had it at home and it was great). Around 5pm, I caught the last bus back to Ogose station and by 5h30 I was sitting on the train for the short ride back to Tokyo.

Watch a video of hiking in Ogose (includes a spider and a caterpillar)

Caterpillar spotted just past the end of the hiking trail

Hanno Alps from Nenogongen Temple (510m) to Maezaka (425m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture

Since I was satisfied with the outcome of the previous hike along the Okumusashi Long Distance Trail, I decided to repeat the experience with another section. This time I would hike along the northern half of the Hanno Alps (I had done the southern part a few years ago). To get to the start of the hike, I would take the same bus as the previous two hikes, but get off a few stops further. I would then follow the most direct route up Mt Atago and head to the start of the trail behind the temple. I decided to end the hike at another bus stop instead of Agano train station, mainly because it was a line I had never used before – I just had to make sure that I didn’t miss the last bus. This time the weather was supposed to be perfect all day with summer-like temperatures. This would be another short hike, and I hoped that it wouldn’t be too hot in the afternoon for comfortable hiking in the hills of Tokyo.

Hiking the Okumusashi Long Trail 奥武蔵ロングトレイル

View of Agano from the Okumusashi Long Trail

I stepped off the bus just after noon under a blazing hot sun. I turned right onto a narrow road leading up a river valley and soon arrived at the start of the hiking trail. It didn’t seem much in use nowadays: the first part was the bed of small stream, and the next part was overgrown with ferns. However, halfway up the mountainside, I entered the cool shady forest, and the path became easier to follow. After an hour of effort, I had reached the top of the ridge. I was now back on the “Fureai no Michi” as well as the “Okumusashi Long Distance Trail”. From there it took a few more minutes to reach Mt Atago and Nenogongen temple.

Climbing Mt Atago via the most direct route

Since it was nearly 1pm, I decided to have lunch at the same spot as before. The view was even better this time but I couldn’t linger since it was already early afternoon. At 2pm I reached another viewpoint, at a parking lot. In the clear weather, I could see the skyscrapers of Tokyo and the Tokyo Skytree – unusual for this time of the day. I now was at the beginning of the Hanno Alps (飯能アルプス hannou arupusu). I followed a narrow trail down the mountainside and I noticed that I was no longer on the “Fureai no Michi”, as the trail became hard to follow with fewer signposts.

Lunch with a view

The trail rejoined the ridge top after hugging the side of the mountain for a short while. This was one of the best sections of the hike: I saw no one along the narrow ridgeline as it rose and dipped, twisted left and right through a mixed forest. The surrounding vegetation was sparse and bright green under the afternoon sun, the complete opposite of the previous hike through lush dark forest. At 3pm a steep slope, almost like a cliff, appeared on the left – a rope had been added to prevent accidents. Occasionally I had a glimpse of the Agano valley through the trees. At one point, I thought I could even make out the house of David Niehoff of Kanto Adventures on the Green line directly opposite.

The little patch of light green in the center is Kanto Adventures

Suddenly, the path descended steeply and the ropes came in handy here. A few minutes later, I popped out on a small lonely road. I followed it downhill for a couple of minutes before turning left onto another, mostly level, hiking path. This led to a crossroad at Maezaka (前坂): straight ahead was the second half of the Hanno Alps; downhill and to the left was Agano station; however, I turned right towards Nakato (中藤). For the first time today I encountered some serious spiders webs across the path; fortunately I was facing the sun, so I was able to dodge them in time. I soon reached another road next to a stream which I followed all the way to the bus stop at the bottom of the valley.

Suzuki grass, another sign of autumn

Although I was close to civilisation, I was completely surrounded by nature: it was very peaceful, the perfect place for a summer cottage. On the way, I passed some intriguing wood sculptures and while I was taking some photos a man came out to talk to me in good English. Apparently he had lived in many countries around the world, and the sculptures had been donated by his students. After our brief chat, I reached the bus stop a little after 4h30 with ten minutes to spare for the return bus. One hour later, I was comfortably seated on Laview limited express bound for Tokyo.

Mt Mine (548m), Mt Nobotto (436m) & Mt Shusuke (383m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture

After unexpectedly walking a part of the “Okumusashi Long Trail” on my previous hike, I decided to explore another section of this new long distance trail. I would access it the same way, by riding a bus from Hanno station and climbing to Takedera Temple; this time however, I would follow the ridgeline south instead of north; at the end, I would catch the same bus back, but closer to the station. My hiking map didn’t show any good trails along this route, so I was putting my trust in the “Okumusashi Long Trail”. Thanks to the many buses running from and to Hanno station, I could leave later in the day and finish anytime before nightfall. The weather forecast announced low clouds but no rain; I didn’t think there would be any viewpoints anyway, so I left for my hike in high spirits.

Hiking the Okumusashi Long Trail 奥武蔵ロングトレイル

Misty view from the Yahatazaka Pass

From Ikebukuro station, it took just ninety minutes to reach the bus stop near the start of the trail. It was already past noon and the weather was gloomier than I had expected; the surrounding mountains were cloaked in mist. I nearly walked into a spider web while visiting the restroom at the bus stop, it was already spider season again and I still had vivid memories of my spider-infested hike up Mt Kinjo last year. I grabbed a walking stick near the start of the trail so that I could wave back and forth to clear any webs in my way.

Temple bell of Teradera

The bell made a long resonating noise when struck

I soon arrived at the first viewpoint at the base of an electric pylon; I saw many flowers with white, fluffy seed heads, a sign that summer was ending soon. It took 30 minutes to reach Yahatazaka (八幡坂) at the top of ridge. I decided to make a short detour above Taketera Temple. It was a good idea since I soon came upon another viewpoint as well as the temple bell. The view was solid white, so I consoled myself by giving the bell a good gong (see video). After reaching the trail for Mt Atago, I headed back to Yahatazaka, passing Teradera on the way.

View from Yahatazaka Pass towards Yahatazaka

Following the pylons

I was finally walking south along the ridge. After some downhill, I reached Yahatazaka Pass (八幡坂峠 560m), another viewpoint at the base of a pylon, where I stopped for a quick lunch. The next part of the trail was perhaps the nicest part of the hike. It followed the pylons along a narrow clearing overgrown by ferns. I was all alone, except for a family of pheasants. It reminded me of walking the firebreaks in the Ardennes. Very soon, I reached a signpost for Mt Takinoiri (滝ノ入山 580m), the highest point of the hike, although it didn’t feel like a mountain summit.

Signs of the summer end: a seed head and a mushroom head

View south towards the hills of Okutama

After a quick descent and a flat bit through dark forest, I reached the final and best viewpoint of the day, Mt Mine (嶺 みね), at the base of another pylon. I could see the green rounded hills of Okutama stretching into the distance; I made a mental note to return on a day with better weather. The next part of the trail wasn’t marked on my map; I continued my hike feeling excited to be exploring a brand new path. I was soon walking through thick, beautiful forest; it almost felt like I was inside the nearby Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park.

Among the vegetation, there is a trail somewhere

Another obstacle to surmount

I arrived at a small road, but easily found the next part of the trail beyond. After hiking through some more lovely forest, I arrived at the summit of Mt Nobotto (登戸 のぼっと). There was no view, just some noisy crows, so I continued without a break. At 3h30, I reached the final summit of the day, Mt Shusuke (周助山 しゅすけやま shusuke-yama). No sooner had I set off again that I walked into a spider web; fortunately for me its owner was on the higher reaches. After dusting off the cobwebs, I headed down the mountain. Very soon I reached houses and a road, and at 4h15 I was sitting on the bus back to Hanno station where I caught the limited express back to Tokyo.

Listen to the sounds of the Okumusashi Long Trail

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.

Hiking the Fureai no Michi ふれあいの道

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 trail. 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