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

 

Mt Myoho (1332m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture

The starting point for this hike was Mitsumine Shrine, a place I had visited a few times before, but had never really taken the time to explore. Since today’s hike was relatively short, I first took some time to check out the Mitsumine visitor center, one of the starting points for visiting the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. It was a pleasant surprise – I found the displays of mounted animals and the model relief of the area particularly interesting.

View of Mt Wanakura (also known at Mt Shiroishi and climbed in 2018) from Mitsumine Shrine

After spending nearly an hour at the visitor center, I hurriedly set off along the hiking path up Mt Kumotori. The autumn colours were at their peak, and since it was a weekday, I had them mostly to myself. Very soon I reached the turnoff for today’s mountain, located on a small ridge branching left off the main ridgeline. In less than an hour, I reached the small shrine at the top of Mt Myoho 妙法山, from where I got some great views of Oku-Chichibu, with Mt Ryokami in the center.

View of the jagged peak of Mt Ryokami from the summit

After lunch, I headed back to the shrine, and since it was still early in the day, I took some time to check out the shrine grounds – it was beautiful with all the autumn colours. At the back, there was a spectacular view of the mountain I had just climbed as well as Chichibu city.

Good views from the trail heading down from Mt Mitsumine shrine

Afterwards, I located the hiking path leading down the mountain. Although there were a number of people at the shrine, no one seemed interested in hiking down, so once again, I had the path entirely to myself. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to hike all the way down to the train station, and the path ended up on the road, from where I caught an express bus back to Seibu-Chichibu station.

Mt Mino (587m), Minano Town, Saitama Prefecture (Utsukushii no Yama)

This was another short hike, about one hour up and one hour down, less than two hours by train from Tokyo. Once again, by studying the Chichibu hiking map, I found a way to extend it, through Eastern Chichibu and ending at Yorii station; I hoped it would make a great station to station hike. Also, the trails I had picked followed the Kanto Fureai no Michi for nearly the entire way, so I was almost certain that the path would be well signposted and easy to walk.

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Hiking up Utsukushii no yama or “Beautiful Mountain”

I got off the train at Oyahana station on the Chichibu line around 9 am on a beautiful spring morning. The walk up through the new green forest was one of the easiest I had ever done; it’s also possible to drive up. At the top of Mt Mino 蓑山 (Minoyama) there was a small observation tower with a 360 degree view. The view to the East of the nearby mountains of Higashi Chichibu was better than the view to the West of the much further Oku-Chichibu mountains, lost in the late morning haze. By the way, this mountain’s name means “straw raincoat”, but it’s also known as Utsukushii no Yama, or “Beautiful Mountain”.

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View of Eastern Chichibu from the summit of Mt Mino

After taking in the view, I started down on the opposite side. I saw no one on the way down; I even surprised some Japanese pheasants or “hiji”, which flew away in fright as I approached. I arrived at Asama Jinja Shrine around noon. The local priest was very friendly and offered me some cold tea, very welcome on this warm day. After reaching the base of the mountain, I crossed a busy road, walked up a smaller one with fields on either side, and arrived at the Chichibu Highland Farm or Chichibu Kogen Bokujo around 2pm. There, I had some of the best views of the hike.

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Hiking the seven peaks of outer Chichibu

The next part of the hike was quite easy, as it followed the wide ridgeline to the North. I passed by the minor peaks of Mt Atago 愛宕山 (Atagoyama) 655m and Mt Misuzu 皇鈴山 (Misuzuyama) 679m. A little beyond that last peak, I got some great views of the Kanto Plain to the East. By the way, this trail is known as the “Outer Chichibu 7 Peaks Traverse” (外秩父七峰縦走 – it is currently closed due to typhoon damage).

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View West from the Chichibu Highland Farm

At 4pm, I arrived at Mt Kamabuse 釜伏山 (Kamabuseyama) 582m, a short roundtrip off the main trail. Here, I left the Fureai no Michi, which went left towards Nagatoro, and headed right, along a road, the most direct route down the mountain. I reached Yorii station a little before 6pm, after nine hours of hiking, but not too exhausted since the hike consisted mostly of gentle slopes and flat ridges.

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The park at the top of Mt Mino has many cherry blossom trees

Koinobori at Chichibu Highland Farm

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Mt Hodo (497m), Nagatoro Town, Saitama Prefecture

At first, I wasn’t too excited about climbing this peak in the Chichibu area. It was a short hike accessible via a ropeway, so the trails and summit were bound to be crowded. However, it was a station to station hike and easily accessible from Ikebukuro via a direct train. I was also curious to see the views from the summit. By studying my hiking map, I saw that I could lengthen the hike by starting from Nogami station and following the Nagatoro Alps hiking trail (長瀞アルプス) so called because of the up and down nature of the course.

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View from near the end of the hike

Since the direct train ended at Nagatoro station, one stop before Nogami, I had to walk a few kilometers along back roads to reach the start of the trail. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise since Spring was in full swing; there were many cherry blossom trees in full bloom, including a couple of cherry blossom tunnels, as well as all sorts of other colourful flowers. I had good views of the Arakawa river gorge, and even saw people doing kayaking and rafting. I took so much time taking photos that I arrived at the start of the hiking trail around 11h30, two full hours after getting off the train.

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Start of the Nagatoro Alps

The trail was straightforward and much easier to walk than the name would suggest. I saw few people as the trail headed Southwards while slowly rising. It was mostly in the forest and there were few views. After about an hour, I reached a short flat section along a forest road, followed by a series of log staircases heading straight up. This marked the final ascent, and at 1pm I was standing on the wide flat top of Mt Hodo 宝登山 hodosan. By the way, the name can be read as “Treasure Climb”. I found a free spot on one of the benches next to a big group, and settled down for lunch; later on one of the members kindly offered me some freshly brewed coffee.

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An easy and relaxing hike up Mt Hodo

The views were better than expected, even though the blue skies from the morning had been replaced by a thick white blanket. From East to West, I could see Mt Jomine, Mt Ryokami, Mt Hapu, Mt Buko and Mt Mino. At 2pm, I set off again. The top of the Hodosan Ropeway was a few minutes away, and from there it was possible to walk down along a wide dirt road that switched back and forth so that it never got too steep. This part of the hike was a pleasant surprise: there were great views of the Arakawa valley, and the side of the mountain had many cherry blossoms, all the way down to the bottom of the valley.

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View South of Chichibu City and Mt Buko

It took me less than an hour to reach the base of the ropeway and a road. A little further on, I arrived at a small park filled with cherry blossom trees, with in the middle a small mountain called Mt Notsuchi (209m) 野土山. I reached my starting point of Nagatoro station after 3pm, six hours after setting off, just in time to catch the direct train back to Ikebukuro. It turned out to be a very satisfying hike, and I look forward to returning one day in a different season.

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The Nagatoro area of Chichibu

Rafting and boating on the Arakawa River

Riding the Chichibu Railway

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Mt Kanetsukido (330m), Yorii Town, Saitama Prefecture

There were two good reasons for climbing this mountain: it was a kanto hundred famous mountain, and it was less than two hours from Tokyo. On the flip side, it was only a two hour hike. By looking at my Chichibu hiking map, I saw that I could extend it by following the ridge to the Southwest, above the Arakawa river valley.  I was curious whether it would make a satisfactory hike with good views.

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Today’s hike follows this ridge

I arrived at Yorii station at 9am, and from there walked about 30 minutes through the town to the start of the trail. The trail climbed gently through the forest, and was easy to walk, except just for the steep staircase below the summit. I reached the top of Mt Kanetsukido 鐘撞堂山 (Kanetsukido-zan) around 11am. The name means “bell tower”, and it was easy to understand why since there was a great view of the Kanto plan; apparently it’s a good spot for seeing the sunrise. I could also make out Mt Haruna, the top snow-covered crater of Mt Asama, as well as the other mountains from today’s hike.

Staircase before Mt Kanetsukido (left) and the one after (right)

To reach the next mountain, I had to hike back down the other side, cross a road, and walk up again. Another staircase took me to the top of the ridge; there was an arbour, but not much of a view. After that, the trail followed the ridge Westwards. Flat bits alternated with some ups and down, but overall it was an easy to follow trail. I reached the summit of Mt Jinmi 陣見山 (Jinmiyama) 531m, and a small TV antenna, at noon.

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A lot of the trail was like this: flat, easy walking

I quickly moved on. Half an hour later, I had some good views Southwards of the Arakawa river valley through the trees. The trail merged with a forest road for a while, and at 1h40, I reached the top of Mt Amagoi 雨乞山 (Amagoi-yama) 510m, no doubt the highlight of the hike. I didn’t expect such breathtaking views of the Arakawa river valley and the surrounding mountains. It was also a a jump-off spot for paragliding, although nothing was happening during my visit. By the way, the mountain name can translate as “praying for rain”; fortunately, there were no rain clouds in sight!

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The best view of the hike from Mt Amagoi: the Arakawa river valley

After admiring the views, I set off again. The path continued to be really easy to hike, with few steep or narrow sections. At 3pm, I reached the summit of Mt  Fudo 不動山 (Fudou-yama) 549m, meaning steadfast. There was another excellent viewpoint here, especially since around now the sun was behind my back. I could see Nagatoro town, Mt Buko, Mt Haruna and Mt Asama.

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View of the Chichibu mountains from Mt Fudo

It was 3h30 and time to start heading down. The last part of the hike took me past an interesting religious site, with many small wooden swords all over the place, something I had never seen before. On the most recent map, this path has become dotted, so I am not sure whether it can still be used. The last part was along a road, and I reached Nogami station around 5h30pm. I was quite pleased that I managed to turn a two-hour hike into eight-hour one, and I was satisfied with all the great views along the way.

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Wooden Swords at the mysterious religious site on the way down

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Mt Jomine (1038), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture

This is a good mountain to climb in the spring and the autumn, especially when the days are shorter as this isn’t a long hike. Since the Kanto Fureai no Michi passes by the summit, some sections are guaranteed to be easy to walk. Finally, there is a 360 degree view of the Chichibu mountains from the top, so it’s worth doing this one in clear weather.

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Endless mountains from the top of the observation tower 

The bus from Minano station on the Chichibu railway takes about half an hour to get to the start of the Fureai no Michi. From the bus stop, the trail follows the road for a bit, before turning right, and heading up the mountain side through thick forest. The steeper parts of the climb are made easier by several log staircases. It should take less than two hours to reach the observation tower at the top of Mt Jomine 城峰, a Kanto Hyakumeizan. Among the dozens of mountains, it should be easy to pick out the massive craggy top of Mt Ryokami on the West side.

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Log staircase barely visible under the snow in the middle of January

Walking down fifteen minutes, the trail leads to Jomine Shrine, where there is another good view Westwards. It should take another hour down the Omotesando trail to reach the trailhead, along a narrow forested valley. From there it’s another 90 minute walk along the road to the nearest bus stop. The road follows a river past charming countryside dwellings. The bus goes all the way to Seibu-Chichibu station with it’s onsen, food hall, sake shop and direct train connection to Tokyo.

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At the very right, the craggy bulk of Mt Ryokami

I did this hike on a snowy winter day, so I made another trip on a sunny Spring day to see the view. I drove to the top, something I don’t recommend since the road is long and narrow; fortunately, I didn’t meet any other cars going up or down. I plan to return a third time and take a different trail up, along a ridge parallel to the down trail described above. I would walk down the other side following the Fureai no Michi, and end at the Kanna River in Gunma where it’s possible to catch a bus back to Shinmachi station.

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The observation tower which seems to double as a telecommunication antenna