Mt Sengen (804m), Chisuji and Hiryu Waterfalls, Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, April 2021

I felt it was time to visit Hakone again since I wanted to redo last year’s river hike in the new green of spring. I was also hoping to see more water flow through Hiryu waterfall. Studying my Hakone map, I saw that I could start with another waterfall nearby, climb Mt Sengen via a different route, and then walk down the river and past the waterfall, effectively doing a shorter version of the original hike in reverse. I could easily extend it by walking some more of the old Hakone highway. An added bonus was that I could get to the trail entrance using the Hakone Tozan Railway, the steepest railway in Japan featuring three switchbacks. On the return, I could take one of the frequent buses crisscrossing the area. The weather was supposed to be sunny again but chilly for the season, ideal conditions for a spring hike.

Hiking inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park


The upper section of Hiryu waterfall, the highlight of the hike

After a smooth ride with the Romance Car Limited Express, I arrived at Hakone-Yumoto station a little after 10am. As with my last few hikes, the sky was a disappointing white instead of the expected blue. I transferred to the colourful Hakone Tozan Railway for the eventful ride up. The mountain sides were peppered with Mountain Cherry trees (“yamazakura“) in full bloom. Announcements in Japanese and English noted the various highlights along the way. At 11am, I got off at Kowakidani (523m), two stops before the end station of Gora.

The white thread-like falling water of Chisuji waterfall

Looking downstream from the bridge near the start of the hike

A ten-minute walk brought me to the start of the hiking trail and Chisuji waterfall (千条の滝 chisujinotaki). Thin white threads of water tumbled into a small pond, reminding me of the pitter-patter of rainfall; I took a short break to listen to the soothing sounds. At 11h30, I crossed a wooden bridge and started up the hiking path through the forest, leaving the river behind. The surrounding mountains shielded the noise of traffic and birdsong reverberated among the bright green leaves; I could really feel that I was hiking inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.

Views of the the Futago (twin) mountains of central Hakone

Hiking up to Kowakidani junction (left) Hiking up to Takanosu (right)

Through a break in the cedar trees, I had my first views of the day; I could see the small rounded hills, the heart of Hakone, dotted here and there with white “yamazakura“. A few minutes later, I reached the ridgeline, rejoining the last year’s hike. Although the hike continued to the right, I first turned left for the twenty-minute round-trip to Mt Sengen, along a path lined with Tsubaki trees, their flowers just past their prime. There was no view, but several cherry trees were still in full bloom, making it a nice place for a break. I then retraced my steps and walked up the other side to the ruins of Takanosu castle.

Easy walking under the cherry blossoms

Walking through the light new green of spring

I was glad to see that the next part of the trail had been completely fixed, and was now easier to walk. At 1h30, I reached Hiryu waterfall (飛龍の滝 hiryunotaki). This time, a lot more water was flowing through the jumble of rocks and boulders. I discovered another viewpoint on the other side that I had completely missed last time. I could fully feel the arrival of spring while walking down the narrow mountain path, surrounded by the bright green leaves on all sides and with the sound of the rushing river below. At 2pm, I reached Hatajuku where I caught a bus for Moto-Hakone.

The weather improved in the afternoon

Perfect weather at Ashi Lake

By now, the weather had improved and I arrived at Lake Ashi under a cloudless sky. Looking up at Mt Koma, I could see the ropeway going up the mountain. However, I was headed back down, along the old Hakone Highway. Even in dry, sunny weather, it was tough to walk on the wide uneven cobblestones, and it was with some relief that I arrived at the Amazake Teahouse at 4pm. After a snack of mochi and green tea, I caught the bus back to Hakone-Yumoto station, where I transferred to the Romance Car for the 90 minute ride back to Shinjuku.

See and hear the waterfalls of Hakone

Kirifuri River, Mt Bishamon (586m) and Mt Chausu (517m), Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, April 2021

I had been planning on hiking these two mountains for a while, but since the hike itself was under 3 hours, I was putting it off till I found a good way to extend it. Examining my hiking map, I saw that I could take a bus to Kirifuri Highland, and then walk down, above Kurifuri river; I could then connect to the main hike via a thirty minute walk on paved roads. This would double the length of the hike, and would justify the time and expense of traveling all the way to Nikko. An added bonus was that my route would take me past several waterfalls. I had been to Kirifuri Kogen before, so I knew exactly how to get there; for the return, I would walk to the train station, just 20 minutes from the end of the trail. The weather was supposed to be sunny, and I was looking forward to seeing this year’s new green, as well as lower-altitude mountain flowers, normally in full bloom around this time of the year.

View of the mountains of eastern Tochigi

I reached Nikko station at 9h30 under unexpectedly grey skies and caught the bus for Kirifuri (霧降 meaning “falling mist”). I arrived about twenty minutes later, and true to its name, I found myself standing in the midst of thick mist. I retreated to the warmth of the restaurant house where I had a coffee while I got ready for hiking. My weather app stubbornly persisted that it was sunny outside, and I was hoping that by delaying my departure by a few minutes, the weather would miraculously improve.

The mist was starting to lift – time to leave!

Still winter in the mountains above Nikko

The mist had started to lift slightly when I finally set off at 10h30; I could see Nikko city, faintly visible at the bottom of the valley 700 meters below. At 1200m, it was still winter: the grass was yellow and the trees bare of leaves. I made my way down the steep trail, but before reaching the bridge over the Kirifuri river (霧降川), I turned right onto a overgrown and hard to follow path, in need of some urgent maintenance; thanks to the diagonal trail makers attached to trees at regular intervals, I could find my way down through the forest.

Looking back towards Kirifuri Highland

Finally some sun!

The trail veered from Kirifuri river and at 11h30, I reached one of its tributaries. There was no bridge and I had to cross by stepping on stones. I spotted a bone-white antler next to the water (see video) – now if I could just spot its owner…The weather was improving gradually. Looking up, patches of blue sky were appearing overhead; looking right, I could see Kirifuri Highland free of mist; straight ahead, there were green buds uncurling on the tree branches; looking down, I could see dogtooth violets (片栗 カタクリ) covering the ground. At 12h30, I arrived at Choji waterfall (丁字滝), the first of today’s 3 waterfalls.

Water rushing down Choji waterfall

Close up of Choji waterfall (left) and Kirifuri falls from afar

I was lucky that it had rained the night before; the waterfall was at its full power and I spent some time admiring the falling water. It took another hour to reach Kirifuri falls along an easier to follow trail. On the way, I spotted another pheasant; this one ran away quickly but I still got a short video. I had been to Kirifuri falls before but this time I had a nice surprise – although the trees were still bare, rhododendron (シャクナゲ) were growing here and there among the leafless trees. After checking out the falls from the viewing platform, I continued my hike.

Kirifuri river below the Kirifuri falls

The clear waters of Tokoname

The trail had become hard to follow again and signposts were sparse; at times I used Google Maps to check that I was heading in the right direction. At 2h30 I emerged onto a forest road right next to the river. Around a bend, I arrived at the last waterfall of the day, Ryuzu waterfall (竜頭の滝). The river felt wild and beautiful here. I sat down on some rocks for a late lunch listening to the roar of the water below. Ten more minutes of walking brought me to a place called Tokoname (床滑 meaning “slippery floor”), famous for its transparent waters; I could indeed see the rocky brown riverbed clearly. The dirt road left the forest and turned into a paved road, alongside which several varieties of cherry trees, as well as a magnolia tree, were in full bloom. Despite earlier efforts by the sun, the sky remained overcast.

View to the east with the sun in the west

Mt Takahara with Kinugawa Onsen below it on the left

At 4pm, I was finally at the entrance of the hiking trail for today’s mountain. A short climb through a cedar forest brought me to the top ridge, and after some easy walking, I was at the base of the steep summit, covered in rhododendron. At 4h30, I was standing on the summit of Mt Bishamon (毘沙門山 びしゃもんやま bishamonyama named after the guardian god of Buddhism). The cloudy cover had started to break up; I had a great view to the east, enhanced by the afternoon sun in the west. Northeast, I could see Mt Takahara, a two-hundred famous mountain of Japan, with the Kinugawa hot spring resort nestled at its feet; southeast was the craggy top of Mt Kogashi.

The interplay of clouds, blue sky and the sun

Last view of the day of Imaichi City

It was nearly 5pm and I had to hurry to get down before dark. After some up and down through the darkening forest, I soon reached the top of Mt Chausu (茶臼山 ちゃうすやま chausuyama). There was no view so I continued without stopping. At 5h30, I reached a viewpoint of Imaichi city. I was impressed by how developed the valley along the Tobu line was. I saw the express train heading for the capital – hopefully I would be on the next one. Looking north, I enjoyed a spectacle of light and cloud above the Oku-Nikko mountains. I reached the end of the trail at the bottom of a steep staircase. Shortly after 6pm, I caught the local train at Daiyamuko station, and after just one stop, transferred to the Kegon Limited Express for the 90 minute trip back to Tokyo.

See the waterfalls of Kirifuri river

Mt Ashitaka (1504m), Numazu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, March 2021

It was my third trip to this multi-peak mountain just south of Mt Fuji, and my first trip of the year to Shizuoka. This time, I planned to climb a secondary peak after which this ancient volcano is named. To get to the start of the trail, I would use the same bus I had taken at the end of my hike on Mt Ihai. From the summit, I would walk all the way down to the base of the mountain on Suruga Bay, and then walk along paved roads to a bus stop. To do this as a day trip, I needed to take the shinkansen there and back; it seemed worth it, since the weather was supposed to be quite good the next day. I was hoping to see plenty of “Sakura” and also get a glimpse of Mt Fuji.

A view of “floating Fuji” on the way down

It took less than an hour to travel the 100 kilometers between Tokyo and Mishima stations. I rode the bus all the way to Momozawa Onsen (桃沢温泉), the last stop. It had been sunny when I left in the morning, but now the sky was overcast. I started hiking at 10am inside a river park following the Momozawa river up the mountain valley. The path crossed the rushing river over several suspended bridges and went through a barbeque area with several cherry blossom trees in full bloom.

A nice place for a BBQ

All too soon I reached the end of the park and the lovely river walk. I then followed a narrow paved road for a short while to the start of the hiking trail and the Ashitaka Water Shrine, which I decided to check out quickly. It was interesting to see a shrine right next to a river. The sun had come out of the clouds and there was a slight breeze. The combination of sun, wind and water, as well as the new green of the surrounding vegetation was enchanting. At 11h30, I finally started hiking up a steep mountain trail.

Waterfall at the end of the park

It was a brand new path not shown on my map. I soon reached the ridgetop, completely in the trees, where I turned right along a flatter section. At 12h30, I emerged onto a level forest road, which I followed for a hundred meters. I then left it to follow a smaller path up the side of the mountain. This area was cleared of trees; looking back, I had a view of Hakone to the east. I reentered the forest and was now walking next to a dry riverbed. I saw some “Mitsumata” flowers in full bloom, the petals facing down, making them hard to photograph.

Walking the ridgetop among the trees

It took me an hour of climbing through a dark forest to reach a windy pass with a view west of Suruga Bay. I took a short break before heading up the round summit on the left. Ten minutes later I was standing at the top of Mt Ashitaka (愛鷹山 あしたかやま ashitakayama). Turning around, I could see the snowy summit of Mt Fuji, playing hide and seek in the clouds. I could also see the two highest peaks of this volcanic complex, Mt Echizen and Mt Ihai. I explored the tree-covered summit and found a small shrine.

View of Mt Fuji from the top of Mt Ashitaka

After lunch and a short rest, I started to head down on the other side. It was nearly 3pm and I had to make good time if I wanted to catch my bus. The path was mostly in the trees, but I got another view of Mt Fuji, now free of clouds, and later on, a view of the entire Hakone area. On this side, the trail had suffered from erosion and at times was hard to walk on. I saw another interesting flower, the Japanese Andromeda, growing from a tree. The air was filled with birdsong and it felt like spring had finally arrived.

The Hakone mountains behind Susono city

Suddenly, I spotted a pheasant next to the path. I had seen these birds before but they usually fly away. This one, however, was in ho hurry to get away. I soon found out why: behind some bushes was a brown chick, almost as big as the mother (see video). I left them in peace and continued on my way. It was 4pm and I was out of the forest, walking along the tea fields for which Shizuoka is famous. Soon I reached the Ashitaka 600 Golf Club from where I had a hazy view of the Numazu Alps with the Izu peninsula in the background.

Mother pheasant trying to lead me away from her chick

I walked down a steep road, stray white golf balls littering each side, and passed under some superb cherry blossom trees in full bloom. The sky was cloudy again but the temperature was still comfortable. Using Google Maps, I walked thirty minutes to the bus stop inside the Fujitsu Numazu Plant. As I stood all alone inside the empty parking lot, I really wondered whether a bus would come to pick me up on a Saturday afternoon. However, it arrived right on schedule and dropped me off at Numazu station, for a short train ride to Mishima and my shinkansen ride back to Tokyo.

See the sights of Mt Ashitaka

Mt Taro (1165m) and Mt Kokuzo (1077m), Ueda City, Nagano Prefecture

I had seen these two mountains before on previous hiking trips to Nagano since the shinkansen passes through a tunnel under them. Although they aren’t as high or as beautiful as other mountains in the area, they are on a ridge jutting into the Chikuma river valley and the summit views are apparently quite spectacular. I could get to the start of the hike by taking a taxi from the station, and then walk back from the end of the trail. I decided to stick to the route recommended by my guidebook, moderate in time and difficulty. The forecast was good, and I was hoping to get a view of the Japanese North Alps covered in snow.

View of the northern half of the Japanese North Alps

Looking southeast up the Chikuma river valley

I couldn’t have hoped for better weather as I got off the bullet train at Ueda station at 9:30. A short taxi ride brought me to the start of the trail entrance, next to where the highway enters a tunnel under the mountain. At 10am, I started up the mountain side; as the noise of the cars faded away, I was able to enjoy the silence of the forest, the trees at the very end of winter still bare of leaves. Just before 11am, I passed under a huge stone shinto gate, marking the entrance to the shrine located near the summit. Half an hour later, I reached a big bright red shinto gate below the shrine itself.

Easy hiking near Ueda city

The flat top of Utsukushigahara

After walking up some steps, I had my first big view of the day. Half a kilometer below, Ueda city stretched away southeast along the floor of the Chikuma river valley; Mt Tateshina with its rounded top rose behind it; the flat plateau of Utsukushigahara, still topped with snow, lay directly south; looking west, I could see roughly half of the snow-capped peaks of the North Alps, the other half being cut off by the trees; Mt Fuji, 125 km away, and the peaks of the South Alps could be faintly seen beyond the Yatsugatake range.

Views of the Japanese North Alps

I got on my stomach and wriggled through the miniature shinto gate in from of the main shrine building; the taxi driver had told me that it brings luck! After a few more minutes of climbing, I arrived at the highest point of Mt Taro (太郎山 たろうやま tarouyama). The view was similar, but I could now see the entire North Alps, from Mt Hotaka to Mt Shirouma. It was past noon so I sat down for an early lunch on the grassy top. Around 1pm I set off again along a pleasant undulating ridge trail. Many trees were labeled by name, but since they were still bare of leaves, they all looked alike!

Hiking between Mt Taro and Mt Kokuzo

Looking northwest down the Chikuma river valley

I passed by some more spectacular viewpoints of Ueda city; looking north, I could also see Mt Azuma and the peaks of Togakushi highland. At one point, I was able to observe cars moving along the highway as they exited the tunnel on the other side of the mountain. It took me an hour and half to reach the top of Mt Kokuzo (虚空蔵山 こくうぞうやま kokuuzouyama). By now, the sun had moved west and thin clouds had appeared to the south, radically changing the views. With the sun directly above, the southern part of the North Alps with the pointed tip of Mt Yari in the center, resembled a painting.

Heading down in the afternoon

Gentler slopes near the base of the mountain

After enjoying the warm sun for a while, I started to go down just before 3pm. It took me only a few minutes to reach a rocky viewpoint directly above Ueda city; it felt like I was looking down from inside a plane. The next part of the trail became quite steep and was lined with ropes; soon I reached gentler slopes through a pine forest near the base of the mountain. At 4pm I arrived at Zama shrine and the end of the hiking trail; this is also where the shinkansen enters a tunnel under the mountain. I followed the road back to Ueda station where I jumped on the shinkansen for the one hour ride back to Tokyo.

Mt Tsukui-Shiro (375m) and Mt Amagoi (429m), Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

I found this mountain in my Kanagawa guidebook; apparently, the view from the top was quite spectacular, despite its low altitude. The hike itself was relatively short, under two hours, but once again the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” came to my rescue. I had the choice of extending my hike to the north towards Mt Takao, or south. In the end, I chose the latter since it included less road walking. This time, I would be hiking only 40 kilometers from Tokyo, just a short bus ride away from the last stop on the Shinjuku subway line. On the other hand, I wondered how immersed in nature I would be, so close to the big city. The weather was supposed to be sunny all day, and I was looking forward to climbing a new mountain at the edge of Tokyo.

View of Tsukui lake from the top of Mt Shiro

I arrived at Motohashi station under blue skies around 8:30. About an hour later, the bus dropped me off on a busy prefectural road. I crossed to the other side via a pedestrian bridge and entered the Lake Tsukui Shiroyama Park (津久井湖城山公園). Almost immediately, I was walking on a wooden walkway surrounded by trees at the bottom of a small valley – quite an impressive transition! After one hundred meters, I turned right up a small path leading to the Mt Jubei viewpoint (十兵衛山展望台). Looking south beyond Sagami river, I could see the high-rise buildings of Atsugi city. There was a bench, so I sat down for some breakfast under the warm morning sun. At 10am, I set off again.

Hiking inside Shiroyama park

The Mt Jubei viewpoint

I was now walking along the “man’s slope” (男坂). At first, it was relatively easy but it soon turned surprisingly steep and narrow; occasionally, I steadied myself with the chains lining the left side of the path, while catching glimpses of Tsukui lake through the trees to the right. I never thought I would have such a tough climb so close to Tokyo! It took me nearly half an hour to reach the junction with the woman’s slope, from where it was just a few minutes of gentle climbing to reach Takauchi-Ba (鷹射場 meaning “hawk launching spot”). Looking east, I could see the skyscrapers of Shinjuku, as well as the Tokyo Sky Tree. To the south, I could make out the buildings of Yokohama, and the hills of the Boso peninsula behind.

Tough climbing up the man’s slope

A view of the Tokyo skyline

A few more minutes of hiking brought me to another good viewpoint, from where I could see the Tanzawa mountains to the south. Just above, and among the trees, there was the small Izuna Shrine (飯綱神社). At 11h30 I finally arrived at the top of Mt Tsukui-Shiroyama (津久井城山 つくいしろやま tsukuishriroyama). I sat down for lunch on a bench on the south side, enjoying a view of Mt Hiru framed by the trees. However, the best view of the day was to be had on the north side: west of Tsukui lake, I could see the long ridge culminating in Daibosatsurei with a dab of snow on the top. In the foreground was Mt Momokura and Mt Ogi. Through a break in the mountains, I could see Mt Kita-Okusenjo, the highest peak of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, still fully covered in snow.

Izuna shrine, half-way up the mountain

The Tanzawa mountains

There were several trails down and I decided to take the level “woman’s slope”, which wound around the mountain top. It was a good decision as it was easy to walk and went through some pretty forest – the best trail of the day so far. Fifteen minutes later, I reached a pedestrian road coming from the entrance of the park on the north side. Walking down it for a few minutes, I reached a nice viewpoint of the lake and the mountains of Yamanashi to the west. I then walked in the opposite direction, along a nice, wide wooden walkway. It was equipped with brooms and explanations on how to sweep the deck – an interesting way of making a labourious activity seem fun!

Sagami river heading into Yamanashi prefecture

The Oku-Chichibu mountains, topped with spring snow

I soon reached a good viewpoint of the Tanzawa area to the south. I could see Mt Bukka and Mt Takatori,which I had climbed about a year ago. I continued straight on past the end of the road, and along a small path leading out of the park and onto the same busy road I had left over 3 hours ago. This time, I used a staircase passing under it to get to the other side. After following a parallel but smaller road for about ten minutes, I reached the “Fureai no Michi” and the start of the hiking trail for the next mountain of the day. After a short climb through a forest, I reached a flat area of fields with goods views south of the mountain I had just come from. After crossing a village and some more fields, I reentered the forest and the hiking trail.

Easy walking down the woman’s slope

A good viewpoint at the base of the mountain

After some gentle climbing through a mixed forest, I reached the top of Mt Amagoi (雨乞山 あまごいやま amagoiyama meaning “pray for rain”) at 1h40. There was no view and nowhere to sit, so I continued down the other side without a break. Barely a few minutes later, I reached a junction and a bench. There was still no view but I sat down for a late lunch anyway. Although the trail continued along the ridge, I decided to follow the “Fureai no Michi” down the mountain and back into the valley. Once out of the forest and back on a paved road, I had finally had some good views; the green fields and the towering Tanzawa mountains in the background reminded me strongly of Switzerland.

Some more easy hiking along the Fureai no Michi

A glimpse of Switzerland in Kanagawa prefecture

Since it was only about 3h30, I decided to drop by a local sake brewery called Kubota Shuzo, better known for their Sagaminada brand. I was in luck – they were selling a new brew of sake made with Miyama Nishiki rice. After buying a couple of bottles, I hopped on the bus for Motohashi station where I transferred to the subway for Shinjuku, less than an hour away. Overall, I was quite impressed with the greenery and the views in Tokyo’s backyard (technically Kanagawa)…as well as the sake which tasted great!

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 Azuma (481m), Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture

I wanted to do another hike in the Kiryu area since its low hilly terrain is perfect for winter. I had already completed all the ones in my hiking book, but searching online, I noticed that a section of the “Kanto Fureai no Michi” went up a peak I had yet to climb, before going down the other side and ending at a nature center and a bus stop. It was a little on the short side, so I decided to extend it with a roundtrip to the next peak along the same ridge; the trail continued further for another 5 km to Mt Narukami, which I had climbed two years ago. If I walked that far, I probably wouldn’t make it down before dark, so I decided to keep that section for a longer day. I had been to Kiryu station before so I knew exactly how to get there. Since there was no bus to catch to the start of the trail, I could be flexible with my departure time, something which is much appreciated on cold winter mornings!

View of Kiryu city from the Kite’s Rock

I got to Kiryu station in under 2 hours on a sunny and windless day – ideal conditions for hiking. After a thirty minute walk through a residential neighbourhood, I reached the entrance of Azuma Park behind a temple, and the start of the hiking trail. Today’s mountain seemed popular with families, and many children were having fun climbing the steep, rocky “man’s slope” (男坂). The rocks formed a kind of natural staircase and it was easier to go up than it seemed at first.

View of the Hachioji Hills from the top of Mt Azuma

Nice hiking north of Kiryu city

I soon had my first view of the day from the Kite’s Rock (トンビ岩). Eastwards and directly below, Kiryu city filled up all available flat space between hilly ridgelines. Directly south, the Hachioji Hills stretched west to east between the city and the Kanto plain. However, I couldn’t spot any Black Kites circling above the valley. After some more steep climbing, I arrived at the top of Mt Azuma (吾妻山 あづまやま azumayama), a little after noon.

The long ridge leading to Mt Senjin

Viewpoint near the highest point of the hike

It was unseasonably warm – a thermometer under the summit sign indicated 20°C! The views were similar to before and, after finding a place to sit, I had an early lunch. The summit was getting crowded, and I decided to set off again after twenty minutes. The trail followed the gentle ridge northwards through a mixed forest of pine and cedar. I had occasional views on both sides; to the east was the long ridge leading to Mt Senjn; to the west, I could make out the shape of Mt Akagi despite the midday haze. I had seen no other hikers since lunch, and it was very peaceful.

Less protection from the wind along this section

Looking west, Mt Akagi faintly visible on the right

An hour later, I passed the turn-off for the nature center. I continued up the ridge and was rewarded with a sweeping view to the south. I could see the forested ridge I had walked up, and beyond, the Kanto plain, a vast urban area, its many buildings reflecting the afternoon sun. Past this viewpoint, the trail entered a leafless forest; unimpeded, the cold winter wind now swept over the ridge. At 2pm, I was standing at the top of Mt Ogata (681m 大形山). My map promised a view to the south but it was completely obscured by trees, even without their leaves. However, I did get a glimpse of Mt Narukami on the North side.

Last view of the day from the Nature Observation Forest

Some easy hiking to finish the day

I walked back to the previous viewpoint where I sat down for a short break under the warm sun. By 3pm, I was on the path for the nature center, heading down and west; thirty minutes later I reached the Nature Observation Forest (自然観察の森). There were several paths through this forest, and since the bus wasn’t due for another hour, I tried to pick the longest one. I reached the bus stop at 4h30, a few minutes before the sun disappeared behind the mountains, and I was back at Kiryu station by 5pm, where I boarded a local train for the 2 hour ride back to Tokyo.

Mt Ogusu (241m), Yokotsuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture

I had climbed this mountain once before in 2014, hiking up and down the western side. This time, I wanted to cross over to the other side; I would go up the trail I had descended the previous time, as it is the better of the two. Hopefully, the trail on the other side would be just as nice. Since trains and buses run frequently this close to Tokyo, access would be straightforward. The weather was supposed to be good again, and I was also hoping for a glimpse of Mt Fuji across Sagami bay.

The peaks of Mt Hodai and Mt Miura-Fuji near the heel of the Miura peninsula

I rode the Shonan-Shinjuku line directly to the seaside resort of Zushi, where I caught one of the frequent buses heading south along the western coast of the Miura peninsula. I could already see Mt Fuji from the bus; after getting off, I backtracked for a few minutes to “Bonten no Hana” (梵天の鼻 meaning the Brahma’s nose), a rocky promontory from where I snapped some pictures of Japan’s most famous mountain. On its right, I could see the Tanzawa mountains, and to the left, the Hakone mountains.

Mt Fuji from the Brahma’s nose

Sun along the Maeda River Promenade

Before starting my hike, I had an early lunch at nearby Soba Okeya, so I only reached the Maeda River Promenade entrance (前田川遊歩道 maedagawa-yuhodo) at 1pm (also part of the Fureai no michi). It was a small river but enjoyable to walk along in the sunny winter weather, and I shared the trail with many locals. Twenty minutes later I reached the end of the promenade and the start of the hiking trail. First, it followed a long curving log staircase up the mountain side, then alternated between flat and climbing sections. The surrounding forest reminded me of hiking in Kamakura.

Start of the hiking trail up Mt Ogusu

One of the level sections of the trail

One hour later, I arrived at a tall white tower; it looked quite spectacular against the blue sky. From the top, I had good views of the entire Miura peninsula; directly west, Mt Fuji was still faintly visible; looking north, I could see the hills of the Miura Alps with the skyscrapers of Yokohama in the background. However this wasn’t the summit yet. It took another ten minutes to reach the the top of Mt Ogusu (大楠山 おおぐすやま oogusu-yama), the highest point of the Miura peninsula, and a hundred famous mountain of Kanto.

The white tower on the way to the summit

View towards Sagami bay from Mt Ogusu

There was another tower here, just as tall as the previous one but made of metal. From the top, I had an excellent view to the south of the flat boot-shaped extremity of the Miura peninsula. Westwards was Yokotsuka city and its port. Directly above, a black kite bird (“tobi” in Japanese) was circling in the sky. It was already past 3pm and time to head down. At first, I walked down a steep staircase at the bottom of which I turned sharply left and hugged the mountain side. At one point, I passed next to a golf course and through a tunnel made of a protective netting similar to the one near Miyazawa Lake.

The southern part of the Miura peninsula

The Miura Alps with Yokohama behind

Just past the golf course, I reached a fork in the trail. As I was confirming the way in my hiking book, I suddenly turned around, and saw a cat watching me from the path; halfway up a mountain was certainly an odd place for a cat to be. The trail now descended to the bottom of the valley through the forest. I was near the center of the Miura peninsula, and it was easy to forget that I was only 20 kilometers away from Yokohama. There were no other hikers here and I could enjoy the tranquility of nature. As when I had hiked the Rokoku pass, I was occasionally spooked by the many squirrels scampering up and down the tree branches (could be the reason for the cat).

Pleasant hiking on the Miura peninsula

Few hikers but a well-maintained trail

At 4pm, I reached the stream at the bottom of the valley. After crossing two small concrete bridges, I was back on a countryside road. A few minutes later, I was walking through the suburbs of Yokotsuka city; I spotted a few more cats, as well as many daffodils which flower at this time of the year. Thirty minutes later, I reached a bus stop on a busy road which cuts through the center of the peninsula. After a short ride, I was back at Zushi station where I boarded the Shonan-Shinjuku line for the one hour train ride back to Tokyo.

See the view from the highest point of the Miura peninsula

The Sengoku-Hara Kojiri Nature Trail and Ashi Lake West Shore Trail, Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture

This would be my third hiking trip to Hakone in the past year (8th overall). I enjoy going there because it’s close to Tokyo and has good public transport access. This time, instead of climbing one of the many peaks of this active volcano, I would walk along the west shore of Lake Ashi, and thus avoid snow and cold winds of the higher elevations. On the other hand, I would not get any Mt Fuji views, although I would still be able to see many of the mountains surrounding the twin calderas of Hakone. Since the lakeside trail would take less than 4 hours, I decided to start with a nature trail that went through the Sengoku plain. I didn’t need to look up the bus times since I would use the same bus as for my hike up Mt Myojin. The weather forecast good, but since Mt Hakone, the highest peak in the area, is a cloud magnet, it was always possible that the weather would turn cloudy.

Hiking in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

View of the Sengoku plain from the Sengoku-Hara Kojiri Trail

On the right, the highest point of the Hakone area

I rode the comfortable Romance car from Shinjuku and transferred to the Hakone Tozan bus at Odawara, arriving at Sengoku at 9h30. It took about 20 minutes to reach the start of the Sengoku-Hara Kojiri Nature Trail (仙石原湖自然歩道) connecting Sengoku with Ashi Lake. The trail took me to a bridge over Haya river, then followed it upstream for a short while. I found a nice sunny bench and sat down for a late breakfast. Looking south, I could see the pointed top of Mt Kintoki. The trail soon left the river and crossed a small road; I was now following a forest road at the edge of the plain and I had good views of the outer crater rim to the south, as well as Mt Hakone in the center.

Haya river with Mt Kintoki directly behind

Hiking the Sengoku-Hara Kojiri Nature Trail

The trail went in and out the woods. Although it was the middle of winter, there was little wind and it wasn’t too cold. At 12h15, I arrived at the Kojiri water gate (湖尻水門) at the northern end of Ashi lake. The water gate was unexpectedly picturesque, like something you might see in Europe. I settled down on one of the benches facing the lake, and despite the strong cold wind, had an early lunch, listening to the wavelets lap against the stony beach. The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds, and I was starting to get cold; soon I was back on the hiking trail.

Kojiri water gate with Mt Hakone behind

Hiking the Ashi Lake West Shore Trail

It was now completely overcast and I was hoping it wouldn’t start raining. I was now walking the Ashi Lake West Shore trail (芦の湖西岸歩道). Like the nature trail, it followed a forest road closed to traffic. There were few viewpoints, but I saw no other hikers and enjoyed some quiet and easy hiking. At one point, I observed a fairly big bird of prey making circles above the lake (see video). Half an hour later, the forest road suddenly narrowed and became a proper hiking trail. I spotted an unoccupied nest in a bush just next to the road, a testimony to how few people pass through here.

The only clouds remaining in the afternoon were above Mt Koma

Good view from the west shore of Lake Ashi

Another hour of hiking brought me to an excellent viewpoint of Lake Ashi, Mt Hakone, Mt Koma and the Moto-Hakone port at the southern end of the lake. It was sunny again, except for the top of the Mt Koma ropeway, which was disappearing in and out of the clouds (see video). Suddenly, another “bird”, an artificial one, flew by overhead; probably a helicopter belonging to the Japanese self-defense force. I arrived at Hakonemachi at 3h30, completely deserted by this time, and caught the 4pm express bus for Hakone Yumoto. There I hopped on the romance car for the 90 minute trip back to Shinjuku.

Hiking the west side of Lake Ashi

Miyazawa Lake Loop and the Kaji Hills, Hanno and Iruma Cities, Saitama Prefecture

A few years ago, I did several short hikes in the Hanno area. There was a couple of loose ends left over, so I decided to combine them into a day hike. At that time, the Moomin Valley park was being built, so the loop around Miyazawa lake was closed. The park opened in 2019, and it’s once again possible to walk around the lake. I had done some cycling close to the Kaji hills, but I had never hiked them. Thanks to the new theme park, there was a frequent bus service from Hanno station and I decided to use it rather than walk through the city from the train station to the lake. The weather forecast was good once again, and I was looking forward to doing some hiking close to home.

View of Hanno city and the Oku-Musashi mountains

The Tanzawa mountains

I arrived at Hanno station under blue skies and transferred to the bus for Metsa Village, next to the Moomin theme park. By 10am, I was standing above the dark blue surface of Miyazawa lake (宮沢湖). There was a bitter cold wind, and I was glad I wasn’t hiking higher up today. In the distance, I could see the summits of Mt Odake and Mt Gozen, barely visible above the trees. The hiking path, known as the Oku-Musashi Nature Walk (奥武蔵自然歩道), soon entered the forest and moved away from the lake shore. After a short climb and a short descent, I arrived at a T-Junction, where I turned left up a gentle slope.

Mt Gozen (left) and Mt Odake (right)

Protection from stray golf balls

I was now walking alongside a golf course, and for a short while the trail went through a kind of tunnel that prevented stray golf balls from striking passerby’s. At 11am, I reached Koma pass (高麗峠 177m). I was now surrounded by forest on both sides the trail; some trees had name tags which I found quite useful. Half an hour later, I arrived at Fujimi Pass (富士見峠), where, as the name suggests, I had a view of Mt Fuji. After a short break, I set off again. A few minutes later, I passed an open space called Hohoemi-Oka (ほほえみ丘 meaning smile hills), a good place for a picnic in warmer weather.

Mt Fuji (left) and Mt Izu (right) at Fujimi Pass

Walking through the forest close to the city

So far the path had been mostly flat, but from now it turned hilly. The steeper sections were fitted with steps so it remained a rather relaxing hike. At 12h15, I was back at my starting point, and shortly afterwards I was sitting on the bus for Hanno station. There, I transferred to the Seibu line for the short ride to Bushi station. Once outside the station, I quickly found the signs for the Kaji hills hiking trail (鍛冶丘ハイキングコース). At 1pm, I was walking on the northern branch of the hiking trail, on a narrow paved road through the woods. Very soon, I arrived at a viewpoint, where I could see Hanno city through a break in the trees.

Hiking around Miyazawa lake

Hiking the Kaji Hills

It took another thirty minutes of gentle climbing to get to the Sakurayama Viewpoint (桜山展望台 さくらやまてんぼうだい sakurayama-tenbodai), a twenty-meter high structure at the highest point of the Kaji hills (180m). At the top, I had a panoramic view of the Tokyo metropolis and the surrounding mountains. Looking east, I could see the Shinjuku skyscraper district, as well as the Tokyo Skytree (about 40km away); directly south were the Tanzawa mountains; the Okutama and Chichibu mountains stretched across the western side with Mt Fuji in the center; to the north, I had a view of the Oku-Musashi hills, with the flat top of Mt Dodaira just visible in the back; finally, I could just make out the outline of Mt Akagi, 80km away.

Viewpoint along the Kaji Hills hiking trail

The Sakurayama viewpoint

Once I had enough of the views, I climbed down to the base of the tower, and walked back to Bushi station, via the south course. By 3pm I was back on the road, and from there it was a 15 minute walk back to the station. Both hikes were quite short, two hours each, and could be done separately; however, combined they formed a satisfying outing which included forest walking and views of Mt Fuji, and some of the mountain ranges surrounding the Kanto plain. Less than an hour later, I was again surrounded by the buildings of Tokyo.

See the view from the top of the Sakurayama Observatory