Mt Tsurugatoya (1374m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, June 4, 2022 [Monkeys & 4K video]

I wanted to do a hike along the Chuo line, because of its easy access from Tokyo and relatively high mountains, perfect for escaping the early summer heat. It seemed like a good time to do a hike I had planned next to Mt Honjagamaru, starting from Sasago station., a couple of stops from Otsuki. However, it was a little on the short side, a shame during the long days of June. Studying my hiking map, I saw that instead of ending back at the Chuo line, I could traverse to the next valley, south of Mt Takagawa. As an added bonus, I could finish at Yorimichi no Yu hot spring near Tsurushi station. The weather forecast was the same as the previous few weeks: sunny and warm, with relatively little humidity. I was looking forward to hiking a local mountain and enjoying a hot bath after a long ramble.

View towards Otsuki city

View of the Doshi mountains through the trees

It was a beautiful June day as I rode the limited express to Otsuki, where I changed to the local Chuo line, finally getting off at Sasago station at 10am. Before hitting the hiking trail, I checked out the nearby Sasaichi sake brewery. By 10h30, I was walking up a narrow road through the forest alongside a river. I soon reached the end of the road and continued on a hiking trail, up a beautiful river valley; I was astonished that I had never heard of this spot before. A little after 11am, the path suddenly turned left, zigzagging up the mountain side.

River valley at the start of the hike

Getting close to the top ridge

It was a steep climb, with a couple of flat bits at an electric pylon and a road crossing. At noon, I reached a shoulder and saw movement out of the corner of my eye: I had stumbled on a troop of monkeys. I had not known there were monkeys in this area and spent half and hour observing them. Unlike the Okutama ones, they seemed quite scared of me, and kept a good distance; only one, probably the alpha male, completely ignored me while sitting on a tree stump next to the path (I kept my distance from him). At 12h30, I finally reached a narrow ridgetop, where I turned left.

Walking the narrow ridgetop

View towards Mitsutoge

I followed an undulating path through low, bright green trees; I saw no-one and felt far from the world. Just before 1pm, I had a view through a break in the trees: to the west was Mitsutoge, and to the east, the Doshi mountains. I continued on my way, enjoying the peace and quiet of this little hiked trail, and 15 minutes later reached the summit of Mt Tsurugatoya (鶴ヶ鳥屋山 つるがとややま tsurugatoyayama). It was in the trees, so I moved on without a break. The trail headed down steeply, the rocky sections equipped with ropes; I soon emerged onto a road, but picked up the trail again, 50 meters on the right.

Few hikers on this trail

A deforested area half way down the mountain

Here, I had a sweeping view north and east, as the trees had been cut, and upon reaching the top of a knoll, I sat down on a stump for a late lunch. To the north there was Mt Takigo, and behind, its summit in the clouds, Mt Gangaharasuri; to the east Mt Iwadono, Mt Momokura , and Mt Takagawa, surrounding Otsuki city; further south, I spotted Mt Kuki, Mt Imakura, and the Tsuru Alps, beyond Tsuru city. The latter was my final destination and it seemed still quite far; on top of that, many low dark clouds had gathered in that direction, hiding the highest peaks of the Doshi mountains.

Mt Takigo on the other side of the Chuo line

Today’s lunch stump

After lunch, I continued down a winding trail through a lovely pine forest. At 3pm, I reached a road which I followed for about half an hour to the start of Chigasaka Highway (近ヶ坂往還), hidden behind an old person’s home. It was a pleasant trail, gently climbing through mixed forest, although the sections before and after the pass were overgrown with grass, making it hard to follow. A little before 4pm, I arrived at a crossing at Chigasaka Pass (近ヶ坂峠 662m). After enjoying its tranquil atmosphere, I went straight down the other side.

Walking down through the pine trees (left) Heading up to Chigasaka Pass (right)

Walking through the tall grass around Chigasaka pass

I descended a grassy gully surrounded by tall trees; this was one of the most beautiful forested areas I had ever seen in the Tokyo area. Around 4pm, I reached a small stream which I followed for a short while, before reaching a house and a road at the edge of the forest. From there, it took less than an hour to reach Yorimicho no Yu onsen, six hours and a half after setting out in the morning; after a satisfying soak, I boarded the Fujikyu line for Otsuki, where I transferred to the limited express for the one hour trip back to Shinjuku.

See the river valley and the monkeys of Mt Tsurugatoya

Mt Okuratakamaru (1781m) & Mt Hamaiba (1752m), Otsuki and Koshu Cities, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, May 28, 2022 [with 4K video]

I was looking for a relatively easy hike above 1500 meters ending at a hot spring, conditions dictated by the increasingly warm weather. I had walked most of the long ridge extending south from Daibosatsurei, but on examining my hiking map, I found a short, unexplored section. As an added bonus, it included one of the 12 beautiful Mt Fuji views of Otsuki. I could reach the start of the trail by taking the Chuo line to Kai-Yamato station and then a bus to Tenmoku hot spring; I could return to my starting point via a different trail further to the south. The weather was supposed to be sunny, warm and relatively dry. I was looking forward to enjoying the fine spring weather before the start of the rainy season, as well as getting a good view of Mt Fuji.

View of Mt Fuji near Mt Hamaiba

A ridge trail with plenty of views of Mt Fuji

It was a beautiful day as I rode the fully booked limited express to Otsuki where I changed to the local line for Kai-Yamato station. There, I squeezed onto an equally full bus for the ten-minute ride to Yamato Tenmoku Onsen; I was the only person to get off, the other passengers probably headed for the Daibosatsurei trailhead. I used a bench in front of the hot spring to get ready, and, at 10h30, set off along a narrow paved road through a green forest. One hour later, I reached the start of the trail for Yunosawa Pass (湯の沢峠).

Start of the trail for Yunosawa Pass

Looking back at Mt Kuro, further north along the ridge

I was soon heading up one of the most beautiful river valleys I had ever walked, made especially beautiful by the sunshine filtering through the new green of spring; few hikers, several river crossings and some fallen trees along the path made it quite adventurous as well. I could hear the croaking of toads, hiding under the mud, and the song of birds, hiding in the trees. A little before 1pm, I reached Yunosawa Pass, which had a parking area and a restroom. At a T-junction, I took the right branch and soon reached a grassy ridgeline.

Looking forward towards Mt Okuratakamaru

Getting close to the summit

I had a great view of the snowy peaks of the South Alps, from Mt Kaikoma to Mt Hijiri. It was a short, relaxing stroll to Mt Okuratakamaru (大蔵高丸 おおくらたかまる ootakumaru), also a 100 famous mountain of Kanto and Yamanashi; the name uses “maru” meaning round, instead of “yama“, and indeed, the summit was round and almost featureless. However, as promised, it had a stunning view of Mt Fuji, its crater rim still snowy white. I also had a view of the South Alps, and the Chuo line valley on the opposite side. It was 1h30, so I found a place to sit down for lunch; half an hour later, I continued on my way.

Mt Fuji still had its snowy cap

View southeast towards the Chuo line

The trail was easy to hike and easy to follow; I had excellent views in all directions. Huge cumulus clouds passed overhead and made me worry slightly about a sudden downpour. At 2h30, I reached Mt Hamaiba (ハマイバ丸 はまいばまる hamaibamaru), another “round” summit. Although this summit was mostly in the trees, Mt Fuji could be seen through a gap on the south side. After admiring Japan’s most famous mountain, I set off again. The path started to descend, and one hour later, reached Komeshoi Pass (米背負峠). There, I turned right, down another river valley.

Heading down from Komeshoi pass

The road back to Tenmoku onsen

This valley was just as beautiful as the one I had ascended, the rushing water sparkling under the mid-afternoon sun. At 4pm, I emerged onto a road, which I followed off the mountain; the road twisted and turned, giving me good views of the green hills of Yamanashi. After passing through a dark tunnel, I reached the main road, and at 5pm, I was back at Tenmoku Onsen. After a refreshing bath, I caught the bus for Kai-Yamato station, then boarded the train for Otsuki, and finally switched to the limited express for the one hour comfortable ride back to Shinjuku.

See the river and Fuji views on the Mt Okuratakamaru hike in 4K

Mitsutoge (1785m), Fuji-Kawaguchi & Nishi-Katsura Towns, Yamanashi Prefecture, Friday, December 10, 2021 [Snow hike]

I had been thinking about visiting the Fuji Five Lakes area again. Having heard on the news that it had snowed there, I decided to make it my next destination, as it would be a great opportunity to do some snow walking close to Tokyo. Also, I could use the Fuji Excursion limited express from Shinjuku, which hadn’t existed on my last visit 5 years ago. From the station, I could catch a bus to the trail entrance. Reaching an elevation of 1230m, it’s one of the highest bus lines near Tokyo that is open all year round. After climbing to the summit, I would go down the opposite side to Mitsutoge station on the Fujikyu line. I was a little unsure about the weather forecast: it was supposed to be sunny, despite the presence of high-altitude clouds. However, I was mainly concerned about the amount of snow and ice on the trail. I packed my light crampons and planned alternatives, feeling excited about seeing the first snow scenes of the season.

Hiking inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

View of Mt Fuji from the Mitsutoge lodge

A popular rock climbing spot

I travelled to Kawaguchiko under gloomy, grey skies, and felt certain I would be hiking inside freezing cold clouds. However, once I was on the bus, the clouds parted, the sun started shining and Mt Fuji appeared. At 10h30 I started hiking from “Mitsutoge Tozan Guchi” (三つ峠登山口), first on a road next to a mountain stream, then on a forest road, winding gently up the mountain side.

Finally, snow!

Just a little further on to the highest point

I saw the first traces of the recent snowfall thirty minutes later, and one hour after setting off, I could feel the satisfying crunch of snow underfoot. It was melting quickly but enough was left to create the hoped for winter landscape. Patches of blue were spreading above as the weather continued to improve. I passed a handful of hikers, and even a couple of jeeps (see video), probably fetching supplies for the lodges before the busy weekend.

Looking south towards the Tenshi mountains

The Mikasa mountains with the Japanese Alps behind

At noon, I had a glorious view of snowy Fuji outside the Mitsutoge Lodge. I had an early lunch and then continued to the highest point, Mt Kaiun (開運山 meaning “better fortune”), above an impressive rocky face. This part truly felt like a snow hike, but thanks to steps placed on the steep slope, I didn’t need to take my crampons out. At 12h30 I was on top of Mitsutoge (三ッ峠 みつとうげ), a 200-famous mountain of Japan. Despite the name, “three passes”, it has three summits rather than mountain passes.

Time to head down down – on the right is Yatsutagake

The southern ridge of Mitsutoge

I had arguably one of the best views of the entire area, the visibility being excellent despite high clouds veiling the sun. Ancient volcanoes surrounded the younger Fuji-san: Mt Hakone, Mt Amagi, Mt Ashitaka and Yatsugatake. The snowy peaks of the Japanese Alps stretched across the western horizon. I could see all the main mountain ranges: Doshi, Tanzawa, Tenshi, Misaka, and Chichibu. Only the north side was blocked by trees and a radio tower; to the northeast, Tokyo was covered in a grey smog.

The Doshi mountains with Tanzawa in the background

Mt Kura with Mt Shakushi directly behind

By 1pm the sun had completely vanished; thankfully it was a windless day and it wasn’t as cold as I had expected. I retraced my steps to the lodge and, since it was still early, I made a roundtrip to Mt Kinashi (木無山 1732m), another of the three summits. Although the name means “without trees”, they were inconveniently blocking the view; only Mt Fuji was visible directly south. By now, it was nearly 2pm and time to head down.

Reaching the base of the cliffs

High-altitude clouds masking the sun

It soon became clear I wouldn’t need my crampons at all today. I descended safely, thanks to a series of steps and a walkway, and reached the base of the cliffs. It’s a popular rock climbing spot and a couple of people were practicing their skills. All traces of snow were now gone, but it was thrilling to walk under the cliff face. At first, the path was mostly level, as it went round to the east side, but eventually it started to zigzag into the valley .

Mt Fuji in the afternoon shade

Last sun rays of the day

I could still see Mt Fuji through gaps in the trees, its eastern side now in the shade. The sun made a final appearance, shining briefly through the leafless trees, before disappearing for good behind a ridge at 3pm. Shortly after, I reached a paved road at the trail entrance. I dropped by Mitsutoge Green Center to take a hot bath before continuing to the nearby Mitsutoge station. At 5pm, I boarded a local trail for Otsuki, where I transferred to the Chuo limited express for the one-hour ride to Tokyo.

See the snowy views of Mitsutoge

Mt Tana (1171m), Yamanashi City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, 6 November, 2021

I wanted to do one last hiking trip in the low mountainous area between Yamanashi and Kofu cities before the end of the year. Looking through my guidebook, I found a suitable loop hike with Mt Fuji views. I could reach the start of the trail by taxi from Yamanashi station and then walk back at the end. I was worried about getting a seat on the train so I decided to reserve it beforehand online. The clear sunny weather was supposed to continue for a few more days and the autumn colours would still be at their peak. I was looking forward to a pleasant hike above the Kofu valley.

View from the summit of Mt Tana

Late afternoon above the Kofu valley

After an uneventful ride on the Chuo limited express under sunny blue skies, I caught a taxi outside Yamanashi-shi station at 10am. Fifteen minutes later, I was standing outside Hottarakashi onsen, a hot spring featured in the manga Yuru Camp. Since today’s hike was on the short side, I took a few minutes to check it out. I discovered that there were two outdoor baths, each with its own entrance: a small one facing Mt Fuji and a large one facing the Kofu valley. From a viewing area next to the bath entrance, I got a glimpse of Japan’s most famous mountain in its brand new winter coat.

View from Hottarakashi hot spring

Mt Fuji in its winter coat

At 10h30, I finally set off along a level forest road passing above the Hottarakashi Camping Ground. The surrounding forest had been cut down so I had some good views south of the Misaka mountains surrounding Mt Fuji, now in the clouds. Half an hour later, I reached the official entrance of the trail through bright yellow “suzuki” grass dancing in the wind. A few minutes later I was walking up the mountain side through dark forest and soon reached a fork: left was the “kasane-ishi” trail (重ね石コース meaning rock pile trail) and right was the “yama-no-kami” trail (山の神コース meaning mountain god trail), both leading to the summit.

The Mikasa mountains

Entrance to the trail through Japanese pampas grass

I took the left branch and made my way up a steep slope, assisted by ropes tied between the trees. At times the path disappeared under a carpet of leaves, so I was glad for the ropes showing the way even, though I didn’t always need to use them. It was the tail end of the autumn leaves season and from time to time the wind blew through the trees, causing dead leaves to tumble gently to the ground. I eventually arrived at “kasane-ishi” marked by a large boulder. From there, the path became less steep and followed a ridge sprinkled with rocks of various sizes. This rocky section was easier to navigate than the one on nearby Mt Kabuto and the ropes clearly showed the way.

Despite the rocks, the path was easy to follow

It was the perfect time for autumn leaves

After another steep section, I reached the nearly flat summit ridge and at 12h15 I was standing on the highest point of Mt Tana (棚山 たなやま tana-yama), meaning shelf mountain, probably referring to its elongated, horizontal summit. Looking west, I could see the South Alps already covered in snow: looking east, I had a view of the massive bulk of Daibosatsurei and the ridgeline stretching south; the other directions were blocked by trees. I was the only person there and, in-between gusts of wind, it was very peaceful. After a leisurely one-hour lunch in the sun, I walked back a few meters to the junction with the mountain god trail.

Walking the summit ridge

The long ridge stretching south from Daibosatsurei

The path leading down was even steeper than the one up and I was glad that I had followed the guidebook’s recommendation to go up the other half. Fortunately, I could count on the ropes to steady myself. Half an hour later, I reached the bottom of a gloomy valley and soon after I was back at the trail junction from where I would follow the same route back. At 2pm, I was back under the sun walking along the forest road, the views in the afternoon sun somewhat different from the morning, although Mt Fuji was still nowhere to be seen.

Looking north towards the Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park

Dusk on Mt Tana (right)

I was surprised to see no other hikers on the mountain since it was an easy hike near a popular camping site. At 2h30, I was back at the Hottakarashi hot spring. It seemed crowded so I continued down the road to the less busy Puku Puku Onsen. Although I couldn’t see Mt Fuji, I had a great view of the mountains lining the eastern half of the Kofu valley from the outdoor bath. At 4pm, I walked down through Fuefukigawa Fruit Farm and arrived at Yamanashi-shi station just before 5pm. Since I had bought my ticket online after my hot spring bath, I just had to board the next limited express for the ninety minute ride back to Tokyo.

See the falling leaves on Mt Tana

Mt Kabuto (913m), Fuefuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, October 10, 2021

I had done many hikes in Yamanashi, but I had never been to the hills between Yamanashi and Kofu cities. My hiking guide had two suggestions for that area, but, after studying my map, I ended up choosing another mountain in-between, because it was shorter and easier to access. I would take a taxi from Yamanashi-shi station to the start of the trail, and after a loop hike, return on foot via a road to a hot spring, and Kasugaicho station on the local Chuo line. Although the trail went through a rocky area, it didn’t seem to present any major difficulties. I was more concerned about spiders and their webs blocking the way, a recurring headache when hiking under 1000 meters in September and October. The weather was supposed to be cloudy at first with sun in the afternoon, and since there was a viewpoint near the top, I hoped I could get to see the mountains of Yamanashi as well as Mt Fuji.

View south from the rocky area

The weather was gloomy and cloudy as I rode the limited express out of Shinjuku. It didn’t seem like I would get any views today, as white mist spilled out of the valleys on both sides of the Chuo line. I asked the taxi driver to drop me off at “Nageshi Somen“, close to the start of the trail, and less than ten minutes away. As I got ready for the hike, I felt that despite the overcast weather, I was lucky that the temperature felt just right for hiking.

Statue near my taxi drop-off point

An easy to walk path at the start of the hike

After walking along a dirt road for twenty minutes, I arrived at a fireworks store and the start of the hiking trail. I was soon walking on a flat wide path through pleasant forest next to a small river. It took another 20 minutes to reach the start of the “rocky area” trail (岩場コース iwaba-kosu). After a short climb up the side of the mountain, I reached the the rocks and cliffs on the east side of the mountain. I took a break to observe some people practice their rock climbing skills on a huge boulder (see video).

Cairn along the first part of the “rocky area” trail

Walking between the rocks on the east side of the mountain

I reached the first viewpoint of the day as the noon chime echoed through the wide valley below. Directly below, I could see the Kasugai golf course and, on the other side of the valley, the foothills of the Misaka mountains, their peaks lost in the low clouds. I was now halfway up the “rocky area” trail and I had fun scrambling between and over rocks of various sizes, using fixed chains to pull myself up when necessary. I could also relax since there were no webs spun across this section of the trail.

Kasugai golf course and the Misaka mountains

My lunch view – somewhere to the right is Mt Fuji

I soon reached a gently sloping ridgeline, and by 12h30 I was standing on top of Mt Kabuto (兜山 kabuto-yama), meaning helmet mountain because of its rounded shape. The summit, a hundred famous mountain of Yamanashi, was completely in the trees, but after walking south along a short path, I arrived at a bench with a view through a break in the trees, a good place for lunch. The weather hadn’t really improved, and although I was supposed to be able to see Mt Fuji, just 30 kilometers away behind Mt Oni and Mt Settou, all I could make out was a white wall. After lunch, I made my way back to the summit and followed the trail west through the forest.

A rocky narrow ridge near the highest point of the hike

View on the way down at the edge of a deforested area

I walked along a rock strewn ridge, slowly rising to an altitude above 1000 meters, the back of the helmet perhaps; for the first time this season, the air felt chilly. The path then suddenly dropped down the back of the “helmet”, and as the temperature went back to comfortable, I had to start dodging spiderwebs again. Luckily for me, each time I stepped into one, its maker was on the higher half, just above the top of my cap. I turned left into a valley and was now walking through the beautiful “Kabuto-yama no Mori” (the Mt Kabuto forest). I was the only hiker around and I was constantly spooked by falling acorns. At 2pm, I reached a forest road between a deforested area and Umezawa river, the same one I had followed earlier in the day.

Looking back at Mt Kabuto

View from the road between the golf course and the vineyards

I walked at a leisurely pace to the parking lot near the start of the “rocky area” trail, completing the loop. I then continued on a paved road, with the river below on the left and a golf course on my right. Looking back, I could see the helmet-shaped summit of Mt Kabuto. Ahead, I had a bird’s eye view of Kofu valley. The weather was finally improving and patches of blue sky were visible above. After a steep descent through some vineyards, I arrived at the Iwashita hot spring inside a building dating from 1888. It was just past 3pm, so I had time for a quick dip, before walking to the nearby train station. I rode one stop and switched to the limited express for the eighty minute ride back to Shinjuku.

Hiking over “Helmet mountain”

Tsuru Alps, Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture, December 2020

There are many “arupusu” (from Alps) hiking trails in Japan. It may seem exaggerated to call a chain of low mountains after the European mountain range, but the name is supposed to reflect the up-and-down nature of the path. The Tsuru Alps Hiking Trail (都留アルプスハイキングコース) was completed in September 2017, and connects Tsurushi and Higashi-Katsura stations on the Fujikyu railway line. Originally, I had wanted to finish at the hot spring near Tsurushi station, but the website recommended starting from there. So I decided to do it that way, and walk back to Tsurushi station since it wasn’t a long hike. On the way back, I could check out some local sights. Initially, I had hoped to take the Fuji Excursion limited express all the way there and back, but it didn’t stop at either station, so I had to change at Otsuki station. The weather forecast called for a sunny day, and I was looking forward to getting a better view of Mt Fuji than I had on my Hakone hike.

View of Tsurushi from the Tsuru Alps trail

I arrived in Otsuki at 8h30 and transferred to the Naruto-themed Fujikyu railway; I had seen the design before, but it was my first time to ride on it. It was a short ride to Tsurushi station, and by 9h30 I was ready to start hiking. I soon spotted the signs for the Tsurushi Alps, leading me past the hot spring, through the town and to the base of the mountains. The weather was good but cloudier than I had expected.

The Naruto-themed Fujikyu railway

First view towards the Oku-Chichibu mountains

I followed a narrow paved road as it climbed steeply via a series of zig-zags. At the top was a water reservoir and a view of Tsurushi town. I could also see Mt Takagawa, and behind, the mountains of Oku-Chichibu. A few meters to the right was a viewpoint of Mt Fuji. Unfortunately it was half covered in the clouds. Moreover, the uncovered side was almost devoid of snow, very unusual for this time of the year.

The Mt Fuji viewpoint

Walking in the sun on the Tsuru Alps

True to its name, the trail went up and down but was never too steep. At 10h30 I was at the top of Mt Ari (658m 蟻山 ありやま ariyama , meaning Mt Ant). There was a signal tower blocking some of the view, but Mt Fuji, still partly in the clouds, could still be seen straight ahead; on the left was Mt Mishotai, a 200-famous mountain. I continued down the other side, following a series of switchbacks. Next was a fairly level section passing over a couple of minor peaks completely surrounded by trees: Mt Shiraki (白木山 625m) and Mt Choanji (654m 長安寺山).

View from the top of Mt Ari

Easy walking along the Tsuru Alps

At 11am, I reached the panorama viewpoint. Mt Fuji was now completely lost in the clouds, but the view of the valley was impressive, even if completely urbanized. I sat down to have an early lunch. Seeing the cars move around town made me feel like I was flying in a plane (see video). At 11h30 I was ready to continue. After some downhill, I reached the Kajiya-Zaka aqueduct (鍛冶屋坂水路橋 also called ピーヤ for pier) which used to carry water for generating electricity during the Taisho era. A short climb brought me to the top of Mt Tenshin (天神山 580m).

Some rocks to create a mountain-like feel

The panorama viewpoint minus Mt Fuji

At noon, I arrived at a wide deforested area with sweeping views from north to south. I could see Mt Mitsutoge, a 200-famous mountain, and Daibosatsurei, a 100-famous mountain. I now entered a forested section, and eventually reached the highest point of the hike at 713m. Although not a summit, it was marked by a signboard. The path then descended all the way to the bottom of the valley, before climbing again via a dried up riverbed. It wasn’t a difficult hike, but it sure was a good workout!

View of Mt Mitsutoge from the deforested area

Looking north up the Tsurushi valley

At 1h30, I found a a nice sunny spot near the trail to finish my lunch. This section was almost entirely in the forest, and although the trees blocked the views, they also blocked the noise from the nearby highway. I was now walking through a forest of red pines, which reminded me of my hike on nearby Mt Kurami. After a few more up-and-downs, I arrived at Mt Kojo (古城山 583m), the final summit of the day. Right next to it was a small shrine called Sumiyoshi-Jinja (住吉神社).

The Tahara waterfall on the way back to Tsurushi station

View of the Tsurushi Alps from the top of Mt Katsu

After one last descent, I was back among the houses. It was now 2pm and I was right on schedule. While walking back to Tsurushi station I passed by Onan Pool (おなん淵), Soryu Gorge (蒼竜峡), and Tahara waterfall (田原の滝). The main road, called Fuji road (“fujimichi“), had a lot of traffic so I escaped to the side streets. My last stop for the day was Mt Katsu, the site of an old castle on a bend of the Katsura river. It was a short and easy climb to the top, and although there was no trace of the castle at the top, I had a good view of the Tsuru Alps on the opposite side of the valley.

Mt Nijuroku in the late afternoon light

Yorimichi no Yu hot spring near Tsurushi station

At 4pm, I finally reached the new hot spring facility of Yorimichi no Yu (より道の湯) inside a modern looking, square shaped building. Unlike the usual hot spring resorts, this one featured a bar with a wine menu, and a relaxation area with hammocks instead of massage chairs. After a refreshing bath, I got on the local train for Otsuki station, where I changed to the limited express for Shinjuku.

Ask for a hiking plan for the Tsuru Alps

Hiking the Tsuru Alps

Tokuwa River Valley, Yamanashi City, Yamanashi Prefecture, October 2020

I was looking for a good river walk and apparently the nearby Yamanashi prefecture had many of those. I had to give up my first two choices because the river trails were damaged during the massive typhoons of 2019. Fortunately, my third option, near the entrance to the trail for Mt Kentoku, seemed promising. It was a short hike, and although it was possible to go by bus, I chose to hire a car instead. That way, I could have lunch at a soba restaurant on the way there, and drop by a hot spring facility on the way back. The weather forecast was perfect: sunny and warm for this time of the year. However, I had to be careful not to start hiking too late, since the sun sets early at the end of October, and even earlier in the mountain valleys. I wanted to see the sunshine reflected on the water and the autumn leaves, at least for part of the hike. The only thing that made me uneasy was the possibility of crowds along the trail – how well known was this river valley among the hiking community?

Hiking in the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park

秩父多摩甲斐国立公園

One of the river’s many level stretches

…and some of the sudden drops!

I arrived in Kofu after a comfortable train ride on the Chuo line limited express, and used a rental car to drive 45 minutes to the parking lot near the entrance of the trail up Mt Kentoku (乾徳山). On the way, I dropped by Soba Maru (そば丸) for an early soba lunch. From the parking, it was a thirty minute-walk, first on a paved road, and then on a forest road, to Muso waterfall (夢窓の滝 meaning dream window waterfall), and the start of the hiking trail. I was immediately struck by the beauty of the river, one of the best I’ve ever hiked. First, there was no concrete road running next to it (something frequent here). Next, it seemed relatively unscathed by the 2019 typhoons. Finally, there were many excellent views as the river alternated between long flat stretches and sudden drops.

Sunlight reflected on the water surface

…and on the autumn leaves

I decided to have a closer look at the impressive Muso waterfall by walking down a short metal staircase leading to the river side. I had to be extra careful not to slip on the rocks – I didn’t want to get too close! After walking back up, I entered the Tokuwa River valley hiking trail (徳和渓谷コース tokuwa-keikoku kosu). For the first twenty minutes, the trail stayed close to the forest path, occasionally merging with it. Then it suddenly dipped, crossed the river over a wooden bridge, and went up the opposite side. I was pleasantly surprised by how well maintained the trail was and by the near total absence of other hikers. By now, it was nearly 2pm, so it was likely that most people had already come and gone (I had passed a few on the way). Luckily the river valley was still bathed in the autumn sunshine, and the interplay of golden leaves and sparkling water was dazzling.

The start of the hike had many viewpoints next to the river

One of the many small waterfalls dotting the valley

The river views kept on getting more and more spectacular. I was now hiking alongside the western branch of the upper Tokuwa river. I passed four small waterfalls, as the path climbed the rocky right bank via a series of wooden steps. According to my map, I was just inside the southern part of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. Around 2h20, I reached the highest point of the hike, around 1200m, near Yanagi waterfall (柳滝 meaning willow waterfall). The Tokuwa river continued further but here the path made a U-turn and headed back. I was walking on a level path following the mountain side; below on the right was the river, a white line snaking through the trees. After a few minutes, the trail descended sharply along a ridge, the river disappearing from sight but still heard. I soon arrived back at the wooden bridge, just after a double waterfall, and before the merging of the east and west branches of the river.

The rockier sections were equipped with wooden steps

Many close-up views thanks to the wooden walkways

It was almost 3pm and I was nearing the end of my short hike. I quickly walked back along the forest road, now in the shade, and arrived at my car at 3h30. By now, the entire valley was in the shadow; it was getting cold and nearly everyone had already left. I drove 15 minutes to Hayabusa onsen for a quick hot bath, and then back to Kofu station. As I settled down into my reserved seat for the train ride back to Tokyo, I felt satisfied that I had caught the sunshine and the autumn leaves, and that I hadn’t been caught up in any crowds while hiking this secret river valley.

Travel up and down the Tokuwa river valley

Mt Tennyo (1528m), Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture

Hiking on Yatsugatake 八ヶ岳

I found out about the Yatsugatake “ondanhodo (八ヶ岳横断歩道 meaning “crossing path”) hiking down Mt Gongen. Looking at my hiking map it seemed like a mostly level path following the contour of the mountain. However, I wasn’t sure how well-maintained the hiking path would be, seeing that it didn’t lead to one of the popular summits in the area. Also, I was curious whether there would be any good views along the way. I decided to start from Kiyosato 清里 station, and finish at Kai-Koizumi 甲斐小泉 station, not to be confused with Kai-Oizumi 甲斐大泉, one station away. According to my map, the hike would take over 8 hours, but hopefully it could be done in less.

Hiking through the cow pastures

I left Tokyo under grey skies, but I wasn’t worried, since sunny weather was forecasted for Yamanashi; indeed, as soon as I reached Kofu city, the clouds parted and the sun appeared. I was more concerned about the train back being full as well, and I made sure to book my return seat as soon as I got off at Kobuchizawa. I was using the Tokyo Wide Pass which had gone through an upgrade since the last time I had used it. The fancy card format was out, replaced by a ticket similar to a shinkansen ticket, that could be put through the automatic ticket gates. I could also use it to reserve my seat in a ticket machine (I had one of the station staff show me how).

Hiking on the slopes of Yatsugatake

The Kawamata river valley

The Koumi line was also full so I had to stand for the short but exciting ride; the train went up the side of the valley, reaching Kiyosato – altitude 1274 meters – where I got off at 10am; the next stop on the line is Nobeyama 野辺山, the highest train station in Japan at 1345 meters. The air was definitely cooler here, and the village reminded me of Switzerland. To get to the start of the “ondanhodo” trail, I had to walk alongside a busy road for 45 minutes. Then, it was another half an hour of gentle climbing through forest before a short descent led me to Kawamata River. I took a short break here and had a late breakfast, enjoying the warm sun and the sound of the water.

The Oku-Chichibu mountains, in the clouds

Dragonfly taking a break on the top of a signpost

Setting off again, I soon reached wide pastures with a sweeping view of the Oku-Chichibu Mountains, and cows – it’s not often I get to see cows while hiking in Japan. It took me another hour to reach the top of Mt Tennyo (天女山 tennyosan meaning heavenly woman). The view, on the other hand, wasn’t so heavenly and didn’t detain me long. Since there is a bus route and a number of facilities in the area, there were many hikers. However, from then on I had the trail mostly to myself. After a few minutes of climbing I reached a sign for a viewpoint off the main trail. I decided to check it out, but ended up disappointed since trees blocked the view. Probably at one time in the past, it must have been quite spectacular. I retraced my steps, having lost five valuable minutes. The path continued to climb steadily with no end in sight. Since I wasn’t aiming to summit a peak, any meters gained would eventually have to be walked down. It was around this point, that the surrounding forest, a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, started to get really beautiful.

The Kofu valley with on the left Mt Mizugaki

The “ondanhodo” trail, a pleasant walk through the forest

Eventually I reached the highest point of today’s hike, 1791 meters according to my map, and after a short level bit, I started descending again. This pattern continued for the rest of the hike, although on a smaller scale, as the trail made its way along the natural folds of the mountain. It was tougher than I had imagined but the trail was well-maintained and enjoyable; there were frequent numbered signposts; It made me appreciate the size and complexity of the massive ancient volcano I was walking on. I saw no other hikers and it was very peaceful. There were few viewpoints; I passed another sign of an observatory up a path heading straight up, but decided to skip it since I was still behind (I found out later that there was indeed a view). 

The Minami Alps

Looking back at Yatsugatake

At 2h30, I reached a break in the trees with a nice view Eastwards of Kofu valley. I sat down on the side of the trail and had a late lunch. Mt Fuji was in the clouds with only a part of the summit – still free of snow – visible. Soon after lunch, I reached a detour sign; the trail had collapsed lower down. However, I was grateful for it, as it allowed to avoid one of the many “dips” in the path. At 4pm I reached Samisen Waterfall 三味線滝 (1550m). Here, I turned left, leaving the Yatsugatake “ondanhodo” path, and headed down. The trail soon turned into a narrow paved road with nice views of the South Alps in front, and (part of) Yatsugatake behind. After a good hour of road walking, I reached Kai-Koizumi station a little after 5pm, just in time for the local train back to Kobuchizawa, one stop away. After admiring the dusk view from the the top of Kobuchizawa station, I hopped on the limited express for the two-hour ride back to Tokyo.

Listen to the sounds of Yatsugatake

This section of the path across Yatsugatake turned out to be a beautiful and peaceful hike, even though all the ups and down made it tougher and longer than I had imagined. The second half of the hike had few views, but that’s to be expected when walking the side of the mountain. The trail continues all the way round Yatsugatake – I think this may have been one of the better bits, and the only one that can be done from station to station; I’ll find out by hiking more of it in the future! 

 

Mt Konara (1712m), Yamanashi City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, September 28, 2019

There are so many mountains in Yamanashi prefecture that I sometimes feel I won’t be able to climb them all. Today’s hike, mostly level and downhill, was perfect for my ankle that was still a bit painful. On top of that, the weather forecast called for high-altitude clouds – I needed something that would be well below that. Otome highland 乙女高原 at around 1500m and situated below Mt Kinpu seemed liked the perfect place, and I was lucky to get a seat the day before on the reservation-only bus for Odarumi pass.

Mt Fuji with a rocker’s hairstyle

A surprising thing happened on the way to the start of the trail. The bus, operated by Eiwa Kotsu, failed to show up at Enzan station. Despite the gloomy forecast, it was a beautiful sunny morning, and around 30 people were in line. Eventually, a replacement bus arrived 40 minutes late – I never found out what happened.

View from the top of Mt Konara (Mt Fuji on the right)

Luckily I wasn’t on a tight schedule, unlike those who were doing the roundtrip to Mt Kinpu. I was the only person who remained on the bus for the final segment along Otome lake to Yakeyama Pass 焼山峠 – everybody else had transferred to minibuses for Odarumi pass. I was finally ready to start at 10h45, a full hour behind schedule. In the meanwhile, the high-altitude clouds had rolled in.

The start of the trail felt a bit spooky

Shortly after starting out, I was feeling spiderwebs all over my arms and legs. However, I couldn’t see the offending web or find any trace of it on myself. Also, the path was several meters wide – a bit unsuitable for spinning a web. The feeling persisted, and I was starting to think that I was imagining it. Eventually I was able to spot some ultra-thin filaments attached to some leaves – can’t imagine what kind of insects the spider was hoping to catch. The feeling of walking through spider webs continued for the first hour of the hike.

Thin spider webs crossing the path

Cobwebs aside, this part was also some of the best hiking I had done recently. Even though Otome highland is just outside the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, I thought that the trail and the surrounding forest were especially beautiful. I saw just one person on the way to the summit, one hour away. The trail was easy to walk: wide, grassy and gently undulating. The total height gain was less than 200 meters, which is why I had chosen this hike, since steep inclines were bad for my ankle.

At one point the path split into a new and an old path. The new one went up a steep slope, whereas the old one continued level through the forest. I choose the latter one, since according to the map, they joined up again, and they did indeed after a few minutes, with almost no elevation gain – go figure.

New path but worn-out sign?

With very little effort, I reached the top of Mt Konara 小楢山, a mountain few people have heard of, and was greeted with some sunshine, a wide panorama, and a group of hikers having lunch. Luckily the top was quite spacious, and I found a quiet spot for my own lunch. I could see Mt Fuji, although the top was in the clouds and Kofu city. I could also make out Mt Kenashi, Mt Kuro, Mitsutoge and Daibosatsu Rei.

The top of Mt Konara, a good place for lunch

During lunch, I studied the rest of the trail in my guidebook. I realised that the rest of the trail was tougher than I had imagined – a succession of ups and downs with several rocky sections. Normally I would have thought “Perfect!” However, with my weak ankle, I wanted to avoid anything too adventurous. So I decided to take a different route down. Shortly past the summit, instead of continuing southwards, there are a couple of trails heading West. Their names translate roughly as “Missed Mother” and “Missed Father”. I took the latter since it allowed for a slightly longer hike.

After the summit the path gets narrower

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a difficult trail as well. In addition to being hard to see, making it necessary to search for the pink ribbons attached to the trees, it was steep, going directly down the side of the mountain. Luckily it wasn’t too long (about an hour), and I soon emerged onto a forest trail, not without a certain amount of relief. From there it was thirty minutes to the road, and another hour to the bus stop through Yamanashi Prefecture’s famous vineyards. It was the middle of the harvest season, and I was surrounded by beautiful ripe grapes on all sides – I was very tempted to pick some!

The sun tried valiantly to break through the cloud cover

Bus drive to the start of the trail

NEXT UP: Mt Shirasuna in Gunma Prefecture

Yanagisawa Pass to Shirasawa Pass, Koshu City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, September 7 2019

Coincidentally, I ended up hiking in another national park, this time the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, the closest one to Tokyo. I took the limited express Chuo line all the way to Enzan – they updated this line to all reserved seating earlier this year, and I have to admit that so far it’s a positive change, since I’ve been able to get a seat every time, which wasn’t the case with the old system.

From Enzan station, I took a bus all the way up to Yanagisawa pass at nearly 1500m. After I got the bus I was able to see a good view of Mt Fuji, as well as some classic cars parked just behind the viewpoint. The last time I was there, I went East towards Mt Keikan and Daibosatsu Rei. This time I made my way first West, then North, along an easy to hike path through beautiful forest. I could hear deer but I couldn’t see them – I did see a toad though. Since there were no major peaks along the way, I saw almost no other hikers, and the weather was a lot better than I had expected – sun and clouds, but no mist.

Mt Fuji from Yanagisawa pass

I soon reached Yanagisawa no Tou 栁沢の頭 where there was another view, and a little further, I got to an even better viewpoint, Hanze no Tou ハンゼの頭 (1681m). I could see Mt Daibosatsu Rei, Mt Fuji, the Kofu valley and the entire range of the South Alps. Another hiker even pointed out the pointed peak of Mt Kinpu which I had completely missed. One of the best views in the area and almost completely deserted!

Mt Fuji with blue mountains in the foreground

After an enjoyable lunch, I continued along the long ridge that forms part of the backbone of the Koshu Alps, as the mountains of Yamanashi are called. I soon reached the Kasatori forest path – there was no signpost, but I instinctively turned left, and found the continuation of the hiking path a little further, just beyond the NTT antenna.

The South Alps – notice the pointy peak of Mt Shiomi in the middle

The path was flat and easy to hike, but as most paths in Japan, it didn’t last. I soon reached a steep downhill which took me to a construction site, a little surprising high up on the mountain. They were installing solar panels, something I’ve been seeing more and more on my hikes. Past the solar panels, I lost the path for a short while, but managed to get back on it soon enough. This is a trail that could certainly do with more signposting.

Clouds converging on Mt Daibosatsu Rei

Soon the path begun a series of steep uphills and downhills. I would love to recommend this hike to people who are looking for a not-so-challenging hike, but although the climbs and descents aren’t long, they were pretty steep! I got some nice views Eastwards of Mt Keikan and Daibosatsu Rei, as well as the triangular summit of Mt Kumotori further in the distance. In front of me was Mt Kasatori, and to the West was Mt Kobushi and Mt Kentoku. I had already hiked all these peaks and connecting ridges, so it was enjoyable to view them from a distance.

Looking back towards Tokyo

I was starting to wonder when I would arrive at Shirasawa pass 白沢峠 when I suddenly spotted a couple of people sitting in chairs in a clearing ahead. It was quite surreal since I hadn’t seen anybody for the past 3 hours. But here they were relaxing and smoking cigarettes in the middle of nowhere, as if they were at some campsite. There was also an abandoned vehicle in the middle of the clearing with a tree growing in the middle of it. I wasn’t too surprised to see it there, since I had seen photos of it while researching the hike.

It’s like something from a Ghibli movie!

There was a jumble of signs nearby and I couldn’t quite make out where I was, but surely not Shirasawa-toge! first I wasn’t at a pass; second there was no path heading down to the East. I asked the two people, not hikers, relaxing near the abandoned truck but they had no idea. The younger of the two vaguely gestured to the right saying that they had come up through the forest, but I couldn’t see a path. I decided to continue along the main trail.

Solar panels with Mt Kobushi in the background

I continued for nearly half an hour, during which the path went down a bit, and then started to climb again. It had turned into a wide and not so nice forest path. I was starting to wonder when I would get to the pass, when it suddenly hit me – the grassy area with the two guys and the car was the pass! I immediately turned around and started to run back. When I got back, the 2 guys had gone, and I found the path down to the bus stop – it was really faint and hard to see, but it was a proper trail.

Luckily it was easy to run and I sped down it as fast as I could. Soon I was following a mountain stream, and then I reached a dirt road, where I passed the two guys who were in fact motorcyclists. I half hiked and half ran, and finally reached the Koshu Kaido (which runs all the way from Tokyo) where I caught the bus (the same one as in the morning) back to Enzan station.

Japanese toad I spotted on the trail

Next up: Mt Mikuni in Gunma prefecture