Mt Takadate (301m), Mashiko Town, Tochigi Prefecture, Saturday, March 4, 2023

Hiking the Kanto Fureai no Michi


I wanted to explore some more of the Kanto Fureai no Michi since winter is the best season for walking these low-altitude trails. I found another promising section between Motegi Town and the Ogodo Alps that included a 1300-year old temple, a summit view, and a 20-meter high Observation Tower. It started from Mashiko station on the Moka line, requiring two transfers to get there from Central Tokyo: the first one at Oyama station on the Utsunomiya line and the second one at Shimodate station on the Mito line; for the return from Nanai, the next station on the line, I could take a bus directly to Utsunomiya station. Blue skies were forecast for the whole day, and so I was looking forward to a relaxing walk through the countryside and getting some nice views of Tochigi prefecture.

Hiking between Gongen Daira and Mashiko no Mori

View towards Nikko from the Mashiko no Mori Observation Tower

Some Japanese trains stations are quite ordinary and some are unique; Mashiko station belonged to the latter category with its soaring twin towers. I was one of the few passengers who got off there at 10am. Since today’s hike was on the short side, I enjoyed a cup of coffee at an outdoor table in front of the Mashiko Sightseeing Association. At 11am, I set off along the busy Mashiko Main Street; following the signs for the Fureai no Michi, I soon turned right onto a quiet country lane.

Saimyoji Temple Main Building

A peaceful temple on the mountain side

Soon I had views of today’s mountain on the left side, its low, rounded summit gently rising above the level rice fields. At 12h30, I reached Saimyoji Temple (西明寺) and the start of the hiking trail. I was the sole visitor and could fully enjoy the peaceful surroundings. Less than half an hour later, I reached the Gongen Daira (権現平), a grassy area with benches and a small concrete observation platform. It wasn’t the highest point, but had a view on the west side, so I sat on a bench and had an early lunch.

Approaching Gongen Daira (left) Descending from Gongen Daira (right)

View West from the Gongen Daira Observation Platform

The flat Kanto plain stretched away ahead of me, with the Nikko mountains faintly visible in the background; just a few weeks ago, I had been hiking the Fureai no Michi trail on the opposite side. After a short break, I moved on, and after a little climbing, arrived at the true summit of Mt Takadate (高館山 たかだてやま takadateyama), a Tochigi 100-famous mountain. It was completely in the trees so without delay, I continued along a trail down the other side of the mountain. After crossing a bridge over a road, I arrived at the Mashiko Forest Observation Tower.

Easy to walk trails through the forest

Mashiko no Mori Observation Tower (right) Walking to Nanai Station

I had a 360° panoramic view from the top of this wooden construction: to the south was Mt Takadate and Mt Amamaki; on the east and north sides, I could see the low hills of the Abukuma Plateau surrounding Motegi town; looking west, I had a wide view of the Kanto Plain and the mountains of Oku-Nikko. After enjoying the views, I made my way through the Mashiko forest, passing the Ajisai Suspension Bridge and ending at Suda pond. I then followed various lanes and roads, reaching Mashiko Pan Bakery at 3h3o.

View North Towards Motegi Station

Looking back at Mt Takadate

I was back on a pleasant hiking trail through the forest, a few minutes past the bakery. Just before 4pm, I emerged onto a road again, leading past Entsuji Temple (円通寺). From there, it was a short walk to Nanai station, which looked very utilitarian, the complete opposite of this morning’s station. I was surprised to discover that the Nanai-Eki-Mae (“front of Eki Station”) bus stop was actually 10 minutes away on foot. Fortunately, I arrived with time to spare and easily made it on time for the return bus at 4h30.

Ajisai Suspension Bridge in Mashiko no Mori

Walking in Mashiko no Mori Forest

I was once again surprised by how enjoyable it was to hike along the Fureai no Michi even though it doesn’t exclusively follow hiking trails. I passed many interesting sights along the way so it really felt like I was discovering the area. Since I took my time, the hike ended up taking about five hours which I felt was ideal considering that there was little up and down.

Watch a video of the Mt Takadate Hike

See a slideshow of some pictures of the Mt Takadate Hike

Mt Otadaki (338m), Mt Hanzo (502m) & Mt Fuji (338m), Utsunomiya City, Sunday, February 26, 2023

I was looking for a low-elevation hike close to Tokyo, suitable for a cold winter day. Looking at my hiking maps, I found 3 minor peaks in a hilly area northwest of Utsunomiya city, between Mt Kogashi and the Utsunomiya Alps. It was up and down the same way, except for the last part, where I could return via a different path. I could take the Utsunomiya line to Utsunomiya and from there, ride a bus to a stop a short distance on foot from the trailhead; for the return, I could catch a different bus back to Utsunomiya. Since there was a hot spring nearby, I could enjoy a hot bath before heading back. I was looking forward to a relaxing hike at the edge of the Kanto plain.

View South of Utsunomiya City and Mt Tsukuba from near the top of Mt Otadaki

View North towards Mt Takahara (left) and the Utsunomiya Alps (right)

It was a cold, beautiful day as I arrived at the trailhead just before 1am. After a short climb through the forest, I arrived at an impressive rock pillar. After a little bit of scrambling through a rocky section, fitted with a rope for safety, I was standing on Mt Otadaki (男抱山 おただきやま otadaki-yama). From the narrow summit, I had a 360° panoramic view: directly in front was the Kanto Plain, Utsunomiya City and Mt Tsubasa; turning around, I could see the Utsunomiya Alps, snow-capped Mt Takahara, as well as the highest point of today’s hike.

Start of the trail (left) Rock pillar near Mt Otadaki (right)

From left to right: Mt Amabiki, Mt Kaba, Mt Tsukuba

I was amazed by how quickly I could reach this spectacular viewpoint. After a short break, I carefully made my way down the other side of the rocky top. I followed the narrow trail till a junction, where I took the right branch downhill, and then continued along the mostly level trail through quiet, sunlit forest. Soon the path started to climb again, and around 2h30, passed by a huge rock, called Oiwa (大岩), standing firmly in the middle of the trees.

Mt Haguro (left) and Mt Hanzo (right)

View East towards the mountains of Ibaraki

I was surprised by how easy the final climb was, along a gentle sloping forest road through the cedars. Before I knew it, I was on top of Mt Hanzo (半蔵山 はんぞうさん hanzosan), completely in the trees. I decided to continue a few minutes to Hanzo Rock (半蔵岩) where I was rewarded with a grandiose view of the Nikko mountains to the north, half hidden by mysterious misty veils. It was nearly 3pm, so I sat down for a late lunch.

View south of the Kanto Plain

Hiking through the forest to Mt Hanzo

I felt extremely cold all of a sudden, as the wind started blowing from the north. I quickly retraced by steps to the summit and headed down the same way. Less than an hour later, I was back at the previous junction and took the trail on the right, up a short rocky section equipped with rope. At 4pm, I reached the top of Mt Fuji 富士山 ふじさん fujizan), from where I had a view of Mt Tsubasa to the southeast and Mt Kogashi to the west.

View of the Oku-Nikko mountains from Hanzo Rock

Mt Nantai (left), Mt Omanago (center) and Mt Nyoho (right)

It was a peaceful spot and I wanted to spend more time, but it was getting late and I needed to head down. The trail passed by several viewpoints on the west side before reaching the bottom of the valley and merging again with the start of the hike. At 4h30m I arrived at Tadaomi Onsen, just a few minutes from the trail entrance. After a relaxing hot spring bath , I walked to the nearby Romantic Village to catch a bus back to Utsunomiya station.

View of Mt Tsukuba from Mt Fuji (of Utsunomiya)

View South on the way down from Mt Fuji (Of Utsunomiya)

This was a relatively short hike, more than half of which was along the same trail, but the easy access, various viewpoints, beautiful forest with few hikers, and a convenient hot spring at the end made it totally worthwhile.

See a video of the Mt Otadaki, Mt Hanzo and Mt Fuji hike

Sakura Pass (268m), Tochigi City, Tochigi Prefecture, Saturday, January 21, 2023

I passed by this spot while hiking Mt Ohira and Mt Teruishi in 2017, and was impressed by its wild beauty at the edge of the Ashio mountains. Since it’s also the intersection with the Fureai no Michi, I felt sure I would return one day. The trail had been damaged during the powerful typhoons of 2019, but was now open again. I had done the previous section of the Fureai no Michi, while hiking Mt Karasawa and Mt Suwa in 2018, so I decided to take a bus from Iwafune station on the Ryomo line, to a stop close to Murahi Shrine, at the end of that hike. From there, I planned to walk to Tochigi station, 15 km away. I was looking forward to revisiting the area after several years via a new route, and hoping to see some plum blossoms and other winter flowers along the way.

Hiking the Fureai no Michi ふれあいの道

View of the mountains of Tochigi and Gunma from Sakura Pass

The weather was sunny but very cold at 9am, as I waited for the minibus outside Iwafune station. It took nearly an hour to reach a bus stop in the middle of the fields, from where I walked up a road running through a golf course, eventually merging with the Fureai no Michi. At 10h30, I reached the top of a hill and continued along the road down the other side, reaching the head of a valley soon after.

Start of the valley leading to Sakura Pass

I was delighted by the surrounding bucolic landscape, and tried to imagine what it would look like in spring. A little after 11am, after passing some early plum blossoms, I reached a trail near a series of small lakes. First, it rose gradually through the cedars, then more steeply up some wooden log steps through the bamboo grass, before arriving at the intersection at Sakura Pass (桜峠 さくらとうげ sakura-toge). Turning around, I could see Mt Suwa in the foreground, with Mt Akagi rising behind, its highest peaks covered in snow.

Climbing towards the pass (left) Descending from the pass (right)

I followed a pleasant path through the woods down the other side of the pass, arriving at Seisuiji Temple just before 1230, its many suisen (daffodils) and robai (Japanese Allspice) swaying in the wind that had started to blow; to the right, the Kanto plain stretched southwards. The next section was mostly level, through the forest at the base of Mt Teruishi. A little after 1pm, I reached Daichuji Temple, towering cedar trees lining the approach to the main building.

Final steps before reaching Sakura Pass

Snow on Mt Akagi in the background

I now headed up a steep, rocky path near the back of the temple, a shortcut, as the Fureai no Michi made a loop via Ohirashita station. Half an hour later, I reached Ohirasan Shrine. I had been here before when I climbed Mt Ohira, so I soon moved on. A little further, I arrived at another part of the shrine I hadn’t been to before, from where I had a view of Mt Kogashi, Mt Takahara and Tochigi city on the east side.

Level trail between Seisuiji and Daichuji Temples

Towering cedars at Daichuji Temple

I was once again walking on a quiet path, back on the Fureai no Michi, heading down the forested mountain side. A little before 3pm, I reached the western edge of Tochigi city. I noticed a soba shop along the way and decided to check it out since it was still early. I was glad I did, since it had a terrace so I could enjoy my meal, a generous serving of soba noodle and a giant, crunchy Kakiage, with a view of Mt Tsubasa and the Ogodo Alps in the east.

Looking through the gate into the main compound of Daichuji Temple

Walking up to Ohira-jinja (left) Walking down from Ohira-jinja (right)

I was also lucky to see a picture taken by the owner just this morning of the sun rising directly behind the highest point, that happens just once a year (“Diamond Tsubasa”). At 4pm, I set off again and after crossing Nagano river, reached Kinchaku Park, also known as Mt Kinchaku (80m). From the top, I had a view of Mt Nantai and Mt Nyoho on the north side, Mt Tsubasa on the east side, and Mt Ohira, against the setting sun, on the south side.

View of the Kanto plain from Ohira-jinja Shrine

View of Mt Nantai from Mt Kinchaku

The sky was lit up in orange when I finally reached Tochigi station around 5pm. There, I boarded a Tobu limited express for the one hour ride back to Tokyo. With a total time of 7 hours, this was one the longest hikes I had done in a while, although it was mostly level, with two relatively short climbs. This was one of the better sections of the Fureai no Michi, as roughly half was along hiking trails, with several viewpoints and interesting shrines and temples along the way.

See the video of the Sakura Pass hike

See a slideshow of more pictures of the Sakura Pass hike

Mt Akayuki (620m), Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture [Forest Fire]

Ashikaga is another area, just a dozen kilometers southeast of Kiryu, that is suitable for winter hiking. Here again, I had exhausted all the suggestions from my guidebook, but I was able to find a section of the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” nearby that would make a good hike. Starting several kilometers north of the city, it was the continuation of the hike I had done up Mt Gyodo in February 2018. There were no peaks on this route, and probably few views, but it ended at a shrine and an interesting rock formation. It seemed a little short, but after examining Google Maps, I discovered a hiking trail that led to Mt Akayuki which I had climbed in November 2018. From there, I could descend to Matsuda town and a bus stop. On my previous trip, I had missed out on that last part, so I was excited at the prospect of climbing this summit a second time.

Looking north, the mountains of Tochigi

I rode the comfortable Ryomo limited express to Ashikaga City, arriving there before 9am. The weather was sunny and I had good views of Mt Akagi to the north. As I boarded the bus, the driver told me that a certain hiking area was prohibited and pointed to a red sign at the front of the bus. Fortunately for me, it concerned Mt Ryogai (両崖山), the peak before Mt Gyodo, and a few kilometers away from my starting point. The fire, which had started just the day before, continued to burn for 3 weeks, unfortunately for the people of Ashikaga, and hikers and lovers of nature in general. From the bus, I could see smoke rising from the ridgeline; a helicopter flew by, releasing water from above.

In the center, smoke from the Ashikaga forest fire

Another helicopter carrying a load of water flew directly over me shortly after I got off the bus (see video). I walked up the narrow road and reached the start of the hiking trail just before 10am. At first, it followed a dirt road through the bottom of a small valley, before suddenly turning right up the mountain side. A few minutes later, I was walking north along a low wide ridge through the forest. The wind was blowing hard today and the cypress trees were swaying above me; I was worried about the fire, thinking it would be hard to put it out in such conditions. At 10h30 I reached the road at Umauchi Pass (馬打ち峠 meaning “hit the horse”).

Sunny conditions all day long

The signboard at the pass said that in ancient times you had to whip your horse to get it up the steep slope. I needed no such encouragement, but finding a bench at this spot, I sat down for a late breakfast. From now, the path gradually went up, but as I had expected, there were few views; at the same time, I was glad that the trees blocked out the cold wind. Half an hour later, I reached a nameless summit with a picnic table. Looking through the trees, I could see Matsuda town stretching south along the valley. After a short break, I continued down the other side, soon arriving at another road crossing.

A great place to hike in the winter

The path now climbed more steeply, but since the steepest sections had log staircases, it remained easy to hike. Thirty minutes later, I reached an area free of trees, and turning around, I had a good view southwards of the ridge I had walked so far. Beyond, I could still see smoke rising from the forest fire (see video). Facing east, I could look down on the Nagusa river valley. The path descended again and very soon I reached the Nagusa Itsukushima Shrine (名草厳島神社). A few minutes later, I reached the Nagusa Megalith Group (名草巨石群), several mossy boulders in the middle of a forest of towering cedar trees. This was also the end of the Fureai no Michi.

Itsukushima Shrine and one of the boulders of the Nagusa Megalith Group

I continued along a paved road as it zigzagged up the mountain. It took 20 minutes to reach a log staircase and the entrance to the hiking trail. Here the path was narrower, with more ups and downs. At one point, I had some good views to the north, although I couldn’t recognise any of the mountains. At 2pm, I reached the turnoff for the terrible path I had taken 2 years earlier. There was now a sign prohibiting entry because of the many fallen trees blocking the path. A few minutes later, I reached the top of Mt Akayuki (赤雪山 あかゆきやま akayukiyama meaning red snow). I sat down on a bench for a short break, facing the view to the east through a break in the trees.

View of the hills of Southern Tochigi

I admired the low hilly area of southern Tochigi while munching on my last onigiri. I then went down as fast as I could and arrived at a road next to Matsuda lake in just twenty minutes. Walking past the dam, I saw a bright red fire engine and a group of fire fighters spreading a bag used for transporting water. As I was walking down the road towards the bus stop, a helicopter flew by overhead; a few minutes later, it flew back with its load of water (see video). It seemed like the efforts to put out the fire were still continuing. I reached the bus stop at 3pm, and by 4pm, I was sitting comfortably again on the Ryomo limited express headed back to Tokyo.

See the view from the top of Mt Akayuki and video of the Ashikaga forest fire

Mt Mae-Kesamaru (1878m), Midori Town, Gunma & Tochigi Prefectures

I climbed the highest peak of this mountain two years ago in June, the “back peak”. I had planned to climb the lower “front peak” last year but it kept on getting postponed. At just 100 km from Tokyo, it’s closer than many other peaks I’ve easily climbed as day trips. However, the trail entrance is a two-hour drive from the closest city. Apart from the long drive, the hike itself seemed straightforward, going up and down the same way. The front and back peaks used to be connected by a trail, but over time it has “weathered” and it’s now officially closed. The weather was supposed to be good, but since I would be hiking inside the Nikko National Park, I knew the weather could be changeable. For the effort of going to the same mountain, I was hoping I would get a different view from last time.

Hiking in the Ashio Mountains 足尾山地

The Southern section of the Nikko National Park

I arrived at Maebashi station around 8h30 and was on the road by 9am. Once I arrived in the Watarase river valley, there were fewer cars and I enjoyed the drive. Just before Sori station, I turned left up a narrow mountain road. The road was in rather bad condition, with potholes, fallen rocks and branches on the road, and I had to drive really slowly till the parking lot next to the trail entrance (elevation 1200m). It was 11am and there were three ladies enjoying a break at the resthouse. I asked them whether they had just come down the mountain; they told me they were volunteers who cleaned the parking toilet. They offered me some snacks, and then drove off.

Turning around, Mt Akagi

A nice ridge walk, not easy to find in the area

Twenty minutes later, I started up the staircase at the start of the hike. After a short climb, the path leveled as it followed a narrow ridge. The thick forest blocked out the sunlight, and the trail was faint and hard to follow. I was soon back in the sun after one side of the ridge became a grassy slope, giving me a great profile view of today’s mountain. Turning around, I saw Mt Akagi where I was hiking less than two months ago. As I climbed, the grassy slope got steeper and steeper, but soon I was back in the forest and on a level track.

The Ashio mountains, beautiful and hard to reach

From left to right: Mt Sukai, Mt Nikko-Shirane and Mt Koshin

A little past noon, I reached a wooden lookout tower and a marker for the Kanto Fureai no Michi. The tower was disappointing as the view was mostly blocked by trees – not really surprising since it was built 25 years ago. However I was alarmed to see lots of big dark clouds gathering on the other side of the ridge; there was no time to dawdle. Luckily the next section was mostly flat. At a clearing I passed the turnoff for the emergency hut; there were many rock cairns, and it felt a bit spooky. Further on, there was another clearing filled with rock cairns. It was odd to see so many of them since the trail was well below the tree limit and there was no risk of getting lost.

Walking through the birch trees

Withered pine trees near the top

After some gently climbing, I reached the top of Mt Komaru 1676m (小丸山 komaruyama). The clouds had temporarily moved away, and I had an excellent view of the Ashio mountains (足尾山地) stretching northwards all the way to Mt Koshin, Mt Sukai and Mt Nikko-Shirane to the North. After a short break, I continued along the path, going down for a bit, and then past a very dodgy emergency yellow-coloured shelter – it would have to be a very big emergency for me to stay there! the path then climbed again, through a forest of white-barked birch trees. I soon reached the base of a very steep climb below the summit. Grabbing ropes, rocks and branches, I pulled myself up and up. It wasn’t dangerous, but it was quite a workout.

Below, a great hiking area closer to Tokyo

Stretching into the distance, the Kanto Plain

After the path flattened and started to curve around the round summit, I was rewarded with sweeping views to the West. I could see the low mountains of Southern Tochigi and Eastern Gunma, the Kanto plain and Mt Akagi. Since the Kanto plain is flat and wide, it felt like being on a plane. At 2pm I was standing on the top of Mt Mae-Kesamaru 1878m (前袈裟丸山 maekesamaruyama). The view from the summit marker was so-so, but moving through the trees towards the start of the closed trail for Mt Ato-Kesamaru, gave me a much better view. Straight ahead was the other Kesamaru mountain; to the right were the Ashio mountains and the Nikko National Park; to the left the mountains of Northern Gunma. Maybe it was due to climbing in a different season, but I felt that the views on this Kesamaru mountain were better.

Looking at “back Kesamaru” from “front Kesamaru”

Autumn is around the corner

I started down at 2h30. I was anxious to get to my car as soon as possible; I wanted to get back to Maebashi before dark. Also, since I was heading back the same way, I knew I was alone on the mountain. Actually, I was wrong; once I reached the grassy slope close the parking area, I saw, and heard, several deer jumping through the forest. After observing and listening to the deer, I moved on, and was back at my car less than 2 hours after leaving the top. It was still sunny; I was relieved that the weather had held all day. I drove back the same way, and got back to Maebashi station around 6h30 before it got completely dark. I caught the train for Takasaki, and then jumped on the direct train for Tokyo.

Mt Mae-Kesamaru in the late afternoon sun

Mt Kamakura (216m), Motegi Town, Tochigi Prefecture

This was another hike following the Kanto Fureai no Michi. This time I combined two short segments, so that I could start and end at a train station. The trail went through the countryside and low hills of Eastern Tochigi, near the border with Ibaraki, and about 20 kilometers North of Kasama city. I was hoping that I would be able to walk on forest paths, and that I would be able to enjoy a hike that didn’t take me up a mountain.


A secret spot in Tochigi Prefecture


Naka River near Shimono-o Bridge

Although I had planned to hike from train station to station, in the end I took a bus from Utsunomiya (Google Maps insisted it was quicker). I arrived at Motegi station, the last stop on the Moka railway, at 10am. I had never been to this corner of the Kanto area before; even though it was just 100km from the center of Tokyo, it felt like I had traveled to the other side of Japan. It was a beautiful blue sky day, and the temperature was on the warm side. I got ready and started walking around 10h30. I followed the distinctive Fureai no Michi signs to a river, which in turn led me to Shiroyama Park, located on top of a low hill.



View of Motegi town from Shiroyama Park

There was a small watchtower on one side, probably a reconstruction. From the top, I had a good view of Motegi town to the South, cut in two by the Sasaka river. In the distance I could make out the ridgeline of Mt Takamine. On the other side of the park were the foundations of Shiroyama Castle, as well as some weeping cherry blossom trees or “shidarezakura” in full bloom. The trail continued down the other side of the hill and onto a small road. At 11h30, I arrived at Arakashi Shrine. The path from the entrance “torii” and the shrine itself was lined with some impressive giant cedars.



Shidarezakura in full bloom

The next hour was mostly along small back roads. Walking on a road with little traffic is fine. However the longer you do this, the more you feel tired in your legs. There were some wide views, but like with forest roads, fewer surprises. The road took me all the way to the top of Mt Kamakura 鎌倉山, and despite its low elevation, there were good views on both sides of narrow forested valleys. There was a small shelter, so I sat down for lunch.



View North from the the top of Mt Kamakura

Afterwards, I followed a small trail for a few minutes along the top ridge, past a tiny shrine, and arrived at a dramatic viewpoint. It showed a wide bend of the Naka river, famous for being the clearest river in the Kanto area. While I was taking pictures, I noticed a couple of birds of prey, flying in circles and using the air currents to gain altitude once they had drifted too low (see video at the end).

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Mt Kamakura Viewpoint

I couldn’t stay too long since today’s hike was about 25 kilometers. Also, there was a soba restaurant, on the other side of the river, that I wanted to drop by, even though I had just had lunch. I quickly followed a small path down the side of the small mountain. While crossing the bridge, I noticed a group of people kayaking down the river, something I might like to try one day.



Naka River as seen from the bridge

After a delicious meal of cold soba and tempura or “tenmorisoba” at Sobanosato Magino, I continued on my way at about 2h30. The next two hours were again mostly along small roads. They were interrupted by two short sections of lovely forest walking. Occasionally I had some good views of the surrounding hills. There were a couple of observation towers, but the views must have been better decades ago, when the trees weren’t so high.


One of the nicer sections of the hike

It was getting late, so I decided to skip the last part of the hike to Kaiishi Shrine, and head directly to the train station. I recrossed the Naka river, and followed the road till I reached the Ryumon falls 龍門の滝 just after sunset. After admiring the falls, I made my way to the nearby and appropriately named Taki station (meaning waterfall station) to wait for the local train for Utsunomiya, where I would hop on the shinkansen for Tokyo. In the end there was a little too much road walking for my taste, but I was happy that I was able to summit at least one mountain!



Ryumon falls and Sakura



Sunset on the Naka River

Birds in flight above Tochigi Prefecture

Mt Sekison (486m) & Mt Shinko (506m), Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture, Sunday, January 19, 2020

This was a short hike with easy access from Tokyo, perfect for the winter season. I took a train to Omata station on the Ryomo line, from where I walked about 45 minutes to the start of the trail, since there were no suitable buses in the morning. It was mostly straight ahead, with a view of today’s mountain: a long thin rocky ridge stretching Southwest to Northeast.

View of Mt Akagi from Omata station

The start of the trail was near a small shrine, and I set off quickly since it was already past 11am. There was a notice saying that one of the trails down nearby Mt Senjin was closed due to fallen trees – I had walked that down path in 2018 and it was indeed nearly impassable! The climb up was through nice forest. Soon, it became steep and rocky. Turning around, I got some nice views of the Hachioji Hills and Mt Asama. Northwards, I could see Mt Akagi with snow on the upper reaches.

Steep climbing near the top

These were the only views I would get during the hike. If I had known, I would have sat down on those rocks and had an early lunch there. Further on, I could only get fleeting glances through the bare branches of the trees, even though my guidebook promised good views. The climb ended at a small shrine, and a nice flat area with a bench. It was already occupied by a group, so I continued along a level path.

View of the Hachioji Hills halfway up the mountain

From this point the hike was fairly easy. I reached the top of Mt Sekison 石尊山, a combination of the characters for rock and respect, just after noon. Trees obstructed most of the view. Even though they were bare of leaves, it was impossible to take any good photos. I found a sunlit rock and sat down to have some lunch. It took me another thirty minutes along the summit ridge to reach the top of Mt Shinko 深高山, a combination of the characters for deep and high, another viewless summit.

View of Mt Akagi from the steep and rocky climb

I found another rock in the sun to sit on, and finished my lunch. From here, the trail went down steeply for a while, before becoming level again. Just before 2pm, I reached a crossroads above Inoko tunnel, very close to the end of the hike. There were two options for finishing the hike, to the left and the right, both about the same distance. I was headed right towards Matsuda, to the right, since there was a bus in about one hour. Since it was only 30 minutes away, I decided to check out the connecting trail for Mt Senjin which was straight ahead.

Mostly easy hiking on Mt Sekison

I hadn’t realised I could cross over to Mt Senjin, and I might have attempted it, if it had been earlier in the day. The path climbed steeply and I was hoping for some views. However, they didn’t materialise, and I finally turned back. Hopefully I can hike this trail in the future. I retraced my steps and took the path for Matsuda. At 2h30 I was out of the forest and on a road, and I reached the bus stop with time to spare. By the way, buses in the Ashikaga area costs a flat fee of 200 yen – a very good deal for hikers!


Mt Asama with its winter coat

NEXT UP: Tengu Rock & Akaboko in Tokyo

Mt Hagaba (775m), Kanuma City, Tochigi Prefecture, Saturday, December 14, 2019

My last visit to this part of Tochigi was in December 2018. I was concerned about snow on the hiking trails in mid-December, so I chose a low mountain close to Kanuma station. The whole area has many mountains with lots of hiking trails, and so far I’ve only scratched the surface.

A hidden valley encircled by mountains

A short bus ride (the same one for Furumine Shrine) took me to the entrance of Choanji Temple 長安寺 a little before 9am. The start of the trail, to the right of the temple, had been washed away by typhoon Hagibis. Fortunately, wands with pink ribbons had been placed through the wreckage of fallen trees, allowing me to make my way to an undamaged forest road above, leading to a good view of the valley below.

It’s a scramble but the path is still climbable

I then left the forest road for a nice hiking trail taking me to the top of the ridge with even better views of the entire area. Westwards, I could see Kobugahara and Mt Yokone, which I had climbed last year. There was a power line that cut across the entire landscape; the pylons were placed at the top of each ridge, and the electrical wires spanned the valley in a spectacular manner.


Bringing electricity to all villages in the mountains

After taking in the views, I continued along the ridge and soon entered a cedar forest with few views. This part was fairly easy, with some slight ups and downs. Suddenly the path started to climb steeply; rocky sections appeared, with rope on the side to help pull yourself up. The air also got colder – I could feel that the top was close. I reached the summit of Mt Hagaba 羽賀場山 completely in the trees just before 12h30. I found a small opening facing Southeast, and sat down to have lunch, with a view of the hills of Southern Tochigi stretching away into the distance.

Looking back towards Kanuma

Since I had barely completed half of the hike, I couldn’t spend too much time at the top. After setting off again, the path started to descend quite steeply – too much in fact. I realised that I may have lost the trail. I retraced my steps. Suddenly I heard some voices to my right. The ridge on that side didn’t descend quite so much, so I found what seemed like a path and crossed over. Once I was off the steep slope, I was more confident I was on the right path. I then encountered a group of three hikers – the only people I saw on the entire hike, and the sources of the voices I had heard earlier.

As the hike progressed, the ridge got narrower

From this point, the path went up and down more steeply. There were more and more rocky sections – it was starting to turn into an exciting hike. At one high point I had a glimpse of the Nikko mountain range through the trees. After one final steep climb, I reached the top of Mt Otenki お天気 (777m) at 2pm. It was an unusual summit in that there were at least five different summit markers! A few meters beyond the summit, there was a magnificent view of Mt Nikko-Shirane, Mt Nantai and Mt Nyoho. To the left and right were countless other mountains and ridges, mostly snow-free.

The Nikko mountain range

I would have spent an hour gazing at the view, but according to my guidebook, another 90 minutes were needed for the descent, and my return bus was at 4pm. I reluctantly started going down at 2h30. The path was very steep. It split into two and I took the left path following the ridge (both paths take the same time). I reached the bottom of the valley as the sun was starting to get low, creating some nice effects in the forest.

Late afternoon sun filtering through the forest

I arrived back the road and the bus stop after only one hour, one of the rare times I’ve ended a hike way ahead of schedule. Unfortunately there wasn’t much to do in the neighborhood, but I was able to use the time to get ready for the two hour trip back to Tokyo.

Sunset on Mt Hagaba

NEXT UP: Mt Omaru in Kamakura, Kanagawa