Mt Omuro (1587m) & Mt Kanyudo (1418m), Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

These mountains are located in the Western half of the Tanzawa mountains, and harder to access than those in the Eastern half like Mt Tanzawa and Mt Oyama. I  rode the bus from Shin-Matsuda station for over an hour, past Tanzawa lake, all the way to the last stop, the Nishi-Tanzawa Visitor Center 西丹沢ビジターセンター, a great starting or ending point for hikes in the area. It was the second week of November, which was rather late in the season; the autumn colours had already crept down the mountain sides into the valley. I was told by the staff at the visitor center to start heading down by 1pm at the latest, to avoid getting caught in the dark.

Hiking in the Tanzawa Mountains

丹沢山地

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Omuro

 

In the back hidden in the clouds is Mt Fuji

I set off at 10am under blue skies. The first part of the hike was along a small road that followed the river valley past a couple of camping sites. At the first junction, I headed right – I would be descending via the left junction. Here I finally entered the hiking trail proper, also part of the Tokai Nature Trail 東海自然歩道. I followed a narrow valley alongside a rocky river. Looking up, I could admire autumn colours in all directions. After an hour of climbing, I reached a pass, an Emergency hut, and the first views. However by now, grey clouds had rolled in hiding the ridgelines.

The brilliant red of the “momiji” tree

Climbing up through a “koyo” tunnel

I still needed another hour an hour of tough climbing to reach the summit of Mt Omuro (大室山 oomuroyama), a 100-famous mountain of Yamanashi and the 3rd highest peak of the Tanzawa mountains. Here, the trees were already bare of leaves, a strong hint that winter was just around the corner. I was now mostly above the clouds that had gathered on the Southern side, with just a few milky strands of mist left. I had great views North of Doshi Valley and the Doshi Sankai mountains. Since it was nearly 1pm, I had a quick lunch, and made my way Westwards along the ridgeline to the next peak Mt Kanyudo (加入道山 kanyuudouyama).

Mist and leafless trees near the summit

Doshi valley and Doshi mountains

There was another emergency hut here, but fortunately I still had enough time to descend safely.  Soon, I was walking on a wooden path alongside a beautiful mountain stream with a carpet of colourful fallen leaves on both sides. Suddenly the path and the stream parted ways. A few minutes later, I caught a glimpse of an impressive waterfall to my right. By now the clouds had disappeared and the blue skies were back. The sun had already disappeared behind the mountain ridge behind me. I emerged into a river valley with rocky banks, which I crossed several times on small wooden bridges, and finally got back to the visitor center by 4pm.

Easy walking on the way down

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Omuro

 

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 Kintoki (1212m), Minami-Ashigara City, Kanagawa & Shizuoka Prefectures

This 300-famous mountain jutting out of the Northern tip of the Hakone outer crater, is one of the easiest, and most popular, climbs in the area. I first found out about it from my Kanto hiking book, and realised that I had already seen its pointy top from the train while traveling by train along the Shonan coast. The main attraction seemed to be the unobstructed view of Mt Fuji from the top, but would Japan’s famous volcano be clear of clouds the day of my hike? and with how many other hikers would I have to share the summit with?

Hiking in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Kintoki

 

I took a bus from Hakone-Yumoto station bound for Gotemba, but got off around 9am at the entrance of Kintoki Shrine 金時神社 about 30 minutes later (it’s before the tunnel that passes under the outer crater). The bus was fairly empty, slightly unusual for Hakone. However the parking lot next to the shrine was nearly full. These were the days when the highway toll was a flat fee of 1000 yen on weekends, a kind of stimulus put in place after the Lehman shock (as it is called here). The first part of the hike was fairly easy; it took one hour along a winding trail to reach the top of the rim.  There were some nice views of the outer crater, with Mt Mikuni above lake Ashi directly opposite, and Mt Koma to its left.

My best shot of Mt Fuji 

Turning left, it took another 20 minutes of steep climbing to reach the top of Mt Kintoki 金時山 (kintokiyama or kintokizan). The trees on this section were small, rather like big bushes, and bare of leaves since it was the middle of December. As expected, the top was packed with people and nearly all benches were taken. It seemed to be a popular place to have lunch while enjoying the view of majestic Fuji. Today, the giant was wrapped in grey clouds,  with only its white top showing itself.  It wasn’t the best view I had ever had, but it was still impressive.

Another hiker gazing at Mt Koma, the highest point of Hakone

I found a spot to sit for lunch. In all directions it was mostly blue skies, and I had a great view of the impressive Hakone crater with the Suruga Bay in the background. This was undoubtedly one of the best views of the Kanto area within close reach of Tokyo. After lunch, I went back down the same way but instead of going back to the shrine, I followed the rim a little further East. The path was lined with tall bamboo grass on both sides, but it wasn’t high enough to block out the view of Mt Myojin ahead. At Yagurasawa Pass 矢倉沢峠, I turned right and headed down. The trail was steep this time, and I had to be careful not to slip. Half an hour later, I was back on the road.

Mt Myojin, another great mountain to climb

Although it was a short hike, I didn’t mind since December days are also short. I definitely want to try my luck again to see Mt Fuji completely free of clouds from the top. One more good point about Hakone, is that there are many hot spring hotels. So after completing the hike in about four hours, I was able to have a nice hot soak before making my way back to Tokyo.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Kintoki

See the panoramic view from the top of Mt Kintoki

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

Purpose of this blog

I am an avid hiker. Maybe its because when I was a child my parents used to drag me and my brother on long tiring walks in the mountains most weekends. Or maybe I am seduced by the beautiful and complex shapes of mountains and the awe-inspiring vistas from their summits. Or maybe I am just a sucker for physical punishment and get off on pushing my body and my mind to its limits. Whatever the reason, I really enjoy walking up mountains and not just the famous ones. There are literally dozens of greats climbs within reach of Tokyo and, by steering clear of the aforementioned famous ones, you will not have to share them with half the population of Tokyo. The purpose of this blog is to document some of these hikes.

If a Standalone Kanji Looks Odd, Opt for the “ON” Reading

世界中を転戦する日本の選手達が一堂に会す”

From Baby Steps

While studying Japanese, one of the things I learned early on was that a kanji used by itself would use its “kun” reading, and two kanji used together would use their respective “on” readings. This is a rule with many exceptions. While reading manga, I discovered many two-kanji words that used their kun readings instead. These are so widespread that I think anybody who has studied Japanese would have come across many examples of this.

However, for a long while I wasn’t aware that the opposite could happen as well i.e. a kanji by itself could use the “on” reading, even though there was already a “kun” reading available. I have to admit that this revelation blew my mind. Not only could a word be expressed by a single kanji using the “kun” reading, and a compound using the “on” reading, but once more by a single kanji using the “on” reading (actually, many words can also be written using the katakana form of the English equivalent, so in theory that’s four ways to say the same thing).

The sentence at the top from the Baby Steps manga can roughly translate as “Japanese players competing around the world meet for a short time [at the all-Japan Tennis Tournament]“. The sentence uses 会す read かいす instead of the more usual 会う read あう. I guess the former sounds more formal for example in a narration. In this case, common 会 compounds such as 会議 and 集会 aren’t suitable. Another option would have been to use 集まる or the compound 集合. Here, 集 used by itself with its “on” reading means “a collection”, and so doesn’t fit the sentence.

I guess this means that Japanese, like most languages, has a certain amount of inbuilt redundancy, allowing it to express the same concepts several ways (as the English language has words of German and French origins). However for Japanese, it’s harder to make this connection since we are taught to read single kanji and compounds differently. But once we notice that the hiragana ending of the standalone kanji is different from the expected one (“す” and not “う”), or even missing, we can infer that we should use the “on” reading.

Finding the Odd One Out Among All That Hiragana

“服従するよりほかしかたがなかった”

This is a sentence taken from “The Promised Neverland“. The word at the head of the sentence is read ふくじゅう and means obedience or submission. A literal translation would give “There wasn’t any other way than to obey” although a more natural translation might be “I had to obey“, although the Japanese way makes it sound more resigned. as well as less direct.

What is interesting here is how “仕方” is how the author chose to write it in hiragana instead of kanji. Since Japanese sentences don’t use spaces between words, this makes it doubly difficult to read at a glance, even for a Japanese speaker (I did the test). This is where using the kanji would have been very helpful. This issue crops up quite often when reading manga aimed at younger audiences.

For example, at first glance Doraemon might seem a breeze but it’s a real headache, since it’s 90% kana, making it difficult to distinguish words from grammar. Kids don’t have trouble with it because they are familiar with the sounds of the words. On the other hand, manga targeting adults tend to overuse kanji, using them even for words that are typically written in kana (more on that in another post).

The trick is to be able to recognise common grammatical patterns  such as “なかった“(wasn’t) so one can quickly find the “odd word” out, hidden in the middle of all that hiragana. So when using manga as a study tool, handle these long blocks as road bumps and proceed a little more slowly – you might find something interesting.

Anki X Manga

This is some extra content, mostly unrelated to hiking. I have been studying Japanese for nearly half my life. A few years ago, I started to focus on improving my reading skills. I have always enjoyed reading manga, so I decided to use it to make Anki flashcards. First, I read purely for pleasure, quickly circling any new words with a pencil. Later on, I do a second pass, checking words with an online dictionary Finally, I type the sentence containing the word into a flashcard. This last part has several benefits. It helps me recall the meaning of the word, it allows me to see how the word is used within a sentence, and it reminds me of the scene in the manga.

Over the years, I have accumulated thousands of cards spanning dozens of manga. As the cards are spread out over days, months and even years, interesting combinations tend to pop up on a daily basis, revealing patterns that aren’t easy to notice using other study methods. Also by seeing the cards repeatedly, I became more aware of subtleties and nuances. Finally, forgetting a card after several months and having to relearn it, enabled to see nuances I had missed before. This is a space to share these observations, hoping it may help others studying Japanese.