Mt Ryokami (1723m), Ogano Town, Saitama Prefecture, Tuesday, May 5 2015 [Hatcho Ridge Route]

***Free Digital Map Available***

I had first climbed this mountain in early December 2009; I went up the Hinata-oya route on a beautiful autumn day and enjoyed some great views from the peak. In May 2014, I was invited by a friend to climb it again using the Shiroisazu route. We obtained permission in advance to use this trail, as it goes through private land; however, this time the weather was poor, and we turned back before reaching the exposed, rocky summit. I decided to give it another try the following year, but I wanted to try a different route. Looking at my map, I saw that by walking two hours along a small road, I could traverse from Hatcho Pass to Hinata-oya. The weather was supposed to be good all day, perfect for a long hike along a rocky ridgeline. It would be a success as long as I managed to catch the last bus back from Hinata-oya. I was looking forward to reaching the top for a second time and getting some great views of the Oku-chichibu area.

Hiking in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park

秩父多摩甲斐国立公園

Download a map of the Mt Ryokami hike

This map was developed for Japanwilds with the Hokkaido Cartographer

Find more Japan hiking maps on Avenza

The Hatcho Ridge in Spring

View from Higashi-dake

On a sunny spring morning, I rode the limited express from Ikebukuro to Seibu-Chichibu station, where I switched to the bus for Nakatsugawa. I got off a few stops before the end of the line and, after passing through a short tunnel, followed a road up a green valley next to a small river. Directly ahead, I could see rocky cliffs forming the summit of Mt Akaiwa (赤岩岳).

The ruins of the Nichitsu mine village

Mt Akaiwa from the approach to Hatcho pass

An hour after setting out, I passed the spooky, abandoned houses of the Nichitsu mine village (日窒鉱山), one of the many “haikyo” or urban ruin spots in Japan. I had heard about it before and was glad I had an opportunity to check it out in person. I found the start of the trail at a bend in the road and, just past noon, reached the top of Hactcho pass (八丁峠) and the start of the Hatcho Ridge route (八丁尾根コース).

First views from Hatcho ridge

The big dip between the Nishi and Higashi peaks

Before long, I was getting some fantastic views: northwards, I could see Nishi-joshu, the mountainous area of western Gunma; southwards I was looking at the highest peaks of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park; to the west was Yatsugatake, still covered in snow; straight ahead lay the impressive Hatcho ridgeline, leading to the summit. At 1h30, I reached the top of Nishi-dake (西岳 1613m).

Looking north towards the Nishi-Joshu area of Gunma

The steep climb up Nishi-dake, the rocky sections fitted with chains

From here, the trail made an huge dip and then rose again, passing numerous steep rocky sections, fitted with chains for safety. Since it was a long hike, I tried to keep a good pace and was lucky that there were few people on the same route that day. A little before 2h30, I reached the top of Higashi-dake (東岳 1660m), only slightly higher than the previous peak, but demanding quite an effort.

Northwest, Yatsugatake and Asamayama visible in the distance

Looking back at the route hiked so far

Looking north, was like seeing the view from a plane: I could look down on the the rocky summit ridge of Mt Futago half a kilometer below; looking east was the pyramid top of Mt Buko, with Chichibu city spread out at its feet; looking up was blue sky, not a cloud in sight. Even though the elevation was only half of the highest peaks of the Japanese Alps, it felt like alpine trekking, an impression reinforced by the steep rocky slopes covered in pine trees.

A bird’s eye view from the top of Higashi-dake

The striking shape of Mt Daikigi

I took a break on the single bench placed on the narrow summit, and enjoyed the view of the nearby, pillar-shaped Daikigi (大キギ). I soon set off again, and at 3pm, I was standing on the top of Mt Ryokami (両神山 りょうかみさん ryokami-san), a 100 famous mountain of Japan. I was happy to be standing on the top again, and with better weather than the first time round.

On the left, the mountains of Okutama

Westward view from the top of Mt Ryokami

From the summit, I now had great views to the south, including the massive Mt Wanakura; in the opposite direction, I could see the faint outline of Mt Asama, 50 kilometers away; much closer to me was the long ridgeline that had taken nearly 3 hours to traverse. I wanted to enjoy the views some more but I had to move on right away if I wanted to catch my bus.

It was the perfect weather for this hike

A photo of the private shiroisazu route from the previous year

I descended the mountain at a swift pace along the familiar route and arrived at the bus stop a little after 5pm, just as the valley was being engulfed in shadows. I sat down on the bus seat, tired but relieved, and got off at the nearby Yakushi no yu hot spring for a quick bath. Refreshed, I then caught the last bus for Seibu-Chichibu station where I hopped on the limited express for the 80 minute ride back to Ikebukuro.

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.

20150426_100306

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”.

20150426_105613

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.

20150426_153707

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).

20150426_140100

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.

20150426_101851

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

Koinobori at Chichibu Highland Farm

20150426_150631

 

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 its up and down nature.

20150412_144557

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.

20150412_113236

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.

20150412_121537

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.

20150412_132708b

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.

20150412_141853

The Nagatoro area of Chichibu

Rafting and boating on the Arakawa River

Riding the Chichibu Railway

DSC09212

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.

20150228_101132

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.

20150228_140855

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!

20150228_134616

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.

20150228_152233

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.

20150228_153510

Wooden Swords at the mysterious religious site on the way down

20150228_152142

 

 

 

Mt Jomine (1038), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, January 2015 [Omotesando Route]

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.

20160521_152103b

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.

20150117_115650

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.

20150117_125508

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 returned a third time, once again climbing via the Fureai no Michi, but this time going down the South Ridge trail (南尾根コース). This was a more interesting and adventurous way to descend the mountain, the narrow trail following the ridgeline through the forest. I ended up on the road same road as on the first hike, but less than half the distance from the bus stop.

20150117_122309

The observation tower which seems to double as a telecommunication antenna

Mt Izu (851m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture

Mt Izu is one of the main peaks of the Oku-Chichibu area and was mentioned in my Kanto hiking book. It took me about an hour and a half from Shomaru station on the Chichibu line to reach the rocky area just below the top. The final part was a scramble and there was a chain to assist hikers. It wasn’t dangerous, but I was surprised to discover such an exciting section in an area consisting of low mountains.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Izu

Climbing the “easy way” (left) and the “hard way” (right)

The summit of Mt Izu (伊豆ヶ岳 izugatake) was narrow and crammed with hikers, but I was able to find a small spot with a view to sit down and have lunch. On one side, there was a cliff with a group of people climbing up via a rope. From the top, I could see the green ridges of Oku-Musashi. At noon, I set off again in a Southward direction, hoping to stay ahead of all the other hikers.

Looking North towards Chichibu

The trail followed the narrow ridge as it curved Eastwards. There were few views and lots of ups and downs; however there were few other hikers, so it was quite peaceful. Two hours later I reached an intersection and an interesting temple with some panoramic views and lots of iris flowers. Here I took the middle path, and I soon emerged onto a road next to a beautiful stream. It took an hour to reach Agano station where I caught a train back to Tokyo.

Mt Warabi (1044m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture

For this hike I took a bus from Hanno Station to Nago, a few stops past Sawarabi no Yu. I crossed the bridge behind the bus stop, and followed the road for about twenty minutes to the entrance of the hiking trail. The path started to climb steeply up a forested valley, and very soon I had my first views of the green hills of Oku-Musashi.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Warabi

 

I reached the top of Mt Warabi  (蕨山 warabiyama) a little before noon., a couple of hours after setting off. I hadn’t expected it, but from the top I could see all the way to Tokyo. After lunch, I took a path heading Eastwards. It was possible to continue in the opposite direction towards Mt Arima, but today I didn’t have enough time.

The descent following a long and gently sloping ridge was very enjoyable. There were no other hikers and it was very peaceful. It took me another two hours to reach Sawarabi no Yu where I could enjoy a nice hot bath before hopping onto the bus back to Hanno.

 

Mt Buko (1304m), Yokoze Town, Saitama Prefecture

This was one of the first mountains I climbed in Chichibu. I was intrigued by its pyramid-shaped top, spotted on my previous visits to the area. Could it be easily climbed? why was it two-thirds bare of trees despite being way below the treeline? I decided to go on a hot sunny day in the middle of June; in fact it was the day Michael Jackson passed away. The sky was hazy and the view from the top wasn’t great, so I have always been wanting to make another attempt in the cooler months.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Buko

 

Although technically a station to station hike, it’s an hour and a half walk along a paved road from Yokoze station, so getting a taxi to the trailhead is a good option, especially if you’re in a group (it might require prior reservation). I got off the train station at the very early time of 7am so I decided to go on foot. On the way, I got some dramatic views of today’s mountain. It soon became clear that the triangular treeless summit wasn’t natural, but formed through mining – ir was one big quarry. I passed by several factories that seemed to belong to a Hayao Miyazaki movie; they’re probably used to process the mined rock. Further on, the road started to climb, and a beautiful mountain stream appeared on the left side.

The Ghibli-like factories at the base of Mt Buko

I arrived at the “torii” marking the trail entrance at 8h45. It was flanked by a pair of dog or wolf guardians, something I don’t usually see. There are rumours that wolves still exist in Chichibu; perhaps this is where there used to live. Beyond was an extremely steep mossy concrete road heading straight up the mountain through dense cedar forest. Every time I consider redoing this hike, this part comes to mind. Thankfully it was soon over, and I was following a regular hiking path. Half an hour later I reached a waterfall called “fudotaki” 不動滝. Past it was a small log bridge crossing a narrow ravine, adding a little bit of a excitement to the day.

Wolf deity shrine statue

Another hour of hot and sweating climbing brought me to a log staircase that seemed to go on and on, but with some views to the South at the top. Fortunately most of the hike so far had been under the trees. From this point, it was a short walk to the highest point of Mt Buko 武甲山 (bukozan), the height of which seemed to be under a fierce debate judging from a very basic map I saw there – it had 3 different heights with one crossed out! I was surprised to see that the summit area was covered in forest. However, the North side was completely open, and was guarded by a low fence. As I walked up to it, I saw that I was standing at the top of a cliff. Far below was a flat area with tracks for vehicles; below that the forest reappeared. The mining seemed to be making its way from the top of the mountain to the bottom. So far it was one third down but I wonder how low they will go?

The log bridge hidden among the trees 

As I mentioned before, the views were hazy, but in clear weather, the view of the Chichibu valley must be amazing. I checked my phone, and was stunned by the news of Michael Jackson’s death. It was nearly noon and, despite the elevation, I was getting quite hot, so I decided to head down and take advantage of the tree shade. I enjoyed this section very much. The path was easy to walk and there good views through the trees. Since it was a weekday, mining was going on, and the mountain was rocked by a couple of explosions just past noon. Probably no risk to hikers, but I was glad to be on the opposite side.

A cool dipping spot (beware of snakes!)

After an hour of downhill, I reached a mountain stream with a small waterfall, next to which was a shallow basin of clear water. I couldn’t resist so I took off my shoes and waded in. After my dip, I spotted a snake nearby so in hindsight it probably wasn’t a good idea! The next part was another hour walking along a forest road. However, a pickup truck suddenly arrived behind me; the driver stopped and kindly offered to drive me to the station. I had this kind of experience more than once in Chichibu, and it speaks volumes of the kindness of its people. Since there were 2 people in the cab, I sat on the flatbed, and was able to enjoy the surrounding nature as we drove off the mountain. I reached the station by 4pm. It was still early, so I decided to take a hot bath before the two-hour train ride back to Ikebukuro.

Japanese rat snake (harmless) or Japanese pit viper (dangerous)?

The puzzle of Mt Buko was now solved to my satisfaction (also thanks to some online information). I have mixed thoughts about mining mountains, especially ones that are so prominent. Although it would be nicer to keep them in their natural shape, there is no denying that this one has become more recognisable and famous, thus attracting more hikers.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Buko

Check out the mountain stream with its double waterfall