If you want to have spectacular views of Mt Fuji, I recommend hiking the peaks surrounding Japan’s most famous volcano in December or January, when the weather is clear, and the most mountains are still snow-free. Considering the time and effort it takes to get to the area, it would be a shame to miss out on the spectacular views, which are some of the best in Japan.
Ridgewalking involves some ups and downs
The start of the trail is next to Iyashi no Sato いやしの里 near Lake Saiko, about forty minutes away by bus from Kawaguchiko station (it can take longer due to traffic). It takes one hour along an unused road to reach the entrance of the hiking trail, and from there it’s another hour of steep climbing to the top of Mt Ou 王ヶ岳 (“King mountain”). The reward for this effort is a wide view of Mt Fuji with Aokigahara Forest spread out at its feet.
The Tenshi Mountains to the South
Following the trail to the right, the next part is an enjoyable hike along a narrow ridgeline, past Mt Kagikake (1589) 鍵掛山, and all the way to Mt Oni 鬼ヶ岳 (“Demon mountain”) about two hours away. It’s best to factor in more time for this part since there are many spectacular views on the way: Mt Fuji, the Misaka mountains, the Tenshi Mountains, the Minami Alps, Yatsugatake, the Kofu valley, Oku-Chichibu mountains, and Kawaguchiko city with its lake.
Minami Alps (left), Yatsugatake (right) and Mt Kasuga (front right)
From the summit, the path back down is to the right (South) towards Mt Settou (1710m) 雪頭ヶ岳 (not to be confused with nearby Mt Settou 節刀ヶ岳). After this last peak and final views, the trail heads steeply down the mountain through the forest, and ends back at Iyashi no Sato 90 minutes later, where one can catch a bus back to Kawaguchiko station.
I had first climbed this mountain in early December 2009; I went up the Hinata-oya route on a beautiful autumn day and enjoyed some great views from the peak. In May 2014, I was invited by a friend to climb it again using the Shiroisazu route. We obtained permission in advance to use this trail, as it goes through private land; however, this time the weather was poor, and we turned back before reaching the exposed, rocky summit. I decided to give it another try the following year, but I wanted to try a different route. Looking at my map, I saw that by walking two hours along a small road, I could traverse from Hatcho Pass to Hinata-oya. The weather was supposed to be good all day, perfect for a long hike along a rocky ridgeline. It would be a success as long as I managed to catch the last bus back from Hinata-oya. I was looking forward to reaching the top for a second time and getting some great views of the Oku-chichibu area.
On a sunny spring morning, I rode the limited express from Ikebukuro to Seibu-Chichibu station, where I switched to the bus for Nakatsugawa. I got off a few stops before the end of the line and, after passing through a short tunnel, followed a road up a green valley next to a small river. Directly ahead, I could see rocky cliffs forming the summit of Mt Akaiwa (赤岩岳).
The ruins of the Nichitsu mine village
Mt Akaiwa from the approach to Hatcho pass
An hour after setting out, I passed the spooky, abandoned houses of the Nichitsu mine village (日窒鉱山), one of the many “haikyo” or urban ruin spots in Japan. I had heard about it before and was glad I had an opportunity to check it out in person. I found the start of the trail at a bend in the road and, just past noon, reached the top of Hactcho pass (八丁峠) and the start of the Hatcho Ridge route (八丁尾根コース).
First views from Hatcho ridge
The big dip between the Nishi and Higashi peaks
Before long, I was getting some fantastic views: northwards, I could see Nishi-joshu, the mountainous area of western Gunma; southwards I was looking at the highest peaks of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park; to the west was Yatsugatake, still covered in snow; straight ahead lay the impressive Hatcho ridgeline, leading to the summit. At 1h30, I reached the top of Nishi-dake (西岳 1613m).
Looking north towards the Nishi-Joshu area of Gunma
The steep climb up Nishi-dake, the rocky sections fitted with chains
From here, the trail made an huge dip and then rose again, passing numerous steep rocky sections, fitted with chains for safety. Since it was a long hike, I tried to keep a good pace and was lucky that there were few people on the same route that day. A little before 2h30, I reached the top of Higashi-dake (東岳 1660m), only slightly higher than the previous peak, but demanding quite an effort.
Northwest, Yatsugatake and Asamayama visible in the distance
Looking back at the route hiked so far
Looking north, was like seeing the view from a plane: I could look down on the the rocky summit ridge of Mt Futago half a kilometer below; looking east was the pyramid top of Mt Buko, with Chichibu city spread out at its feet; looking up was blue sky, not a cloud in sight. Even though the elevation was only half of the highest peaks of the Japanese Alps, it felt like alpine trekking, an impression reinforced by the steep rocky slopes covered in pine trees.
A bird’s eye view from the top of Higashi-dake
The striking shape of Mt Daikigi
I took a break on the single bench placed on the narrow summit, and enjoyed the view of the nearby, pillar-shaped Daikigi (大キギ). I soon set off again, and at 3pm, I was standing on the top of Mt Ryokami (両神山 りょうかみさん ryokami-san), a 100 famous mountain of Japan. I was happy to be standing on the top again, and with better weather than the first time round.
On the left, the mountains of Okutama
Westward view from the top of Mt Ryokami
From the summit, I now had great views to the south, including the massive Mt Wanakura; in the opposite direction, I could see the faint outline of Mt Asama, 50 kilometers away; much closer to me was the long ridgeline that had taken nearly 3 hours to traverse. I wanted to enjoy the views some more but I had to move on right away if I wanted to catch my bus.
It was the perfect weather for this hike
A photo of the private shiroisazu route from the previous year
I descended the mountain at a swift pace along the familiar route and arrived at the bus stop a little after 5pm, just as the valley was being engulfed in shadows. I sat down on the bus seat, tired but relieved, and got off at the nearby Yakushi no yu hot spring for a quick bath. Refreshed, I then caught the last bus for Seibu-Chichibu station where I hopped on the limited express for the 80 minute ride back to Ikebukuro.
This was another short hike, about one hour up and one hour down, less than two hours by train from Tokyo. Once again, by studying the Chichibu hiking map, I found a way to extend it, through Eastern Chichibu and ending at Yorii station; I hoped it would make a great station to station hike. Also, the trails I had picked followed the Kanto Fureai no Michi for nearly the entire way, so I was almost certain that the path would be well signposted and easy to walk.
Hiking up Utsukushii no yama or “Beautiful Mountain”
I got off the train at Oyahana station on the Chichibu line around 9 am on a beautiful spring morning. The walk up through the new green forest was one of the easiest I had ever done; it’s also possible to drive up. At the top of Mt Mino 蓑山 (Minoyama) there was a small observation tower with a 360 degree view. The view to the East of the nearby mountains of Higashi Chichibu was better than the view to the West of the much further Oku-Chichibu mountains, lost in the late morning haze. By the way, this mountain’s name means “straw raincoat”, but it’s also known as Utsukushii no Yama, or “Beautiful Mountain”.
View of Eastern Chichibu from the summit of Mt Mino
After taking in the view, I started down on the opposite side. I saw no one on the way down; I even surprised some Japanese pheasants or “hiji”, which flew away in fright as I approached. I arrived at Asama Jinja Shrine around noon. The local priest was very friendly and offered me some cold tea, very welcome on this warm day. After reaching the base of the mountain, I crossed a busy road, walked up a smaller one with fields on either side, and arrived at the Chichibu Highland Farm or Chichibu Kogen Bokujo around 2pm. There, I had some of the best views of the hike.
Hiking the seven peaks of outer Chichibu
The next part of the hike was quite easy, as it followed the wide ridgeline to the North. I passed by the minor peaks of Mt Atago 愛宕山 (Atagoyama) 655m and Mt Misuzu 皇鈴山 (Misuzuyama) 679m. A little beyond that last peak, I got some great views of the Kanto Plain to the East. By the way, this trail is known as the “Outer Chichibu 7 Peaks Traverse” (外秩父七峰縦走 – it is currently closed due to typhoon damage).
View West from the Chichibu Highland Farm
At 4pm, I arrived at Mt Kamabuse 釜伏山 (Kamabuseyama) 582m, a short roundtrip off the main trail. Here, I left the Fureai no Michi, which went left towards Nagatoro, and headed right, along a road, the most direct route down the mountain. I reached Yorii station a little before 6pm, after nine hours of hiking, but not too exhausted since the hike consisted mostly of gentle slopes and flat ridges.
The park at the top of Mt Mino has many cherry blossom trees
At first, I wasn’t too excited about climbing this peak in the Chichibu area. It was a short hike accessible via a ropeway, so the trails and summit were bound to be crowded. However, it was a station to station hike and easily accessible from Ikebukuro via a direct train. I was also curious to see the views from the summit. By studying my hiking map, I saw that I could lengthen the hike by starting from Nogami station and following the Nagatoro Alps hiking trail (長瀞アルプス) so called because of its up and down nature.
View from near the end of the hike
Since the direct train ended at Nagatoro station, one stop before Nogami, I had to walk a few kilometers along back roads to reach the start of the trail. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise since Spring was in full swing; there were many cherry blossom trees in full bloom, including a couple of cherry blossom tunnels, as well as all sorts of other colourful flowers. I had good views of the Arakawa river gorge, and even saw people doing kayaking and rafting. I took so much time taking photos that I arrived at the start of the hiking trail around 11h30, two full hours after getting off the train.
Start of the Nagatoro Alps
The trail was straightforward and much easier to walk than the name would suggest. I saw few people as the trail headed Southwards while slowly rising. It was mostly in the forest and there were few views. After about an hour, I reached a short flat section along a forest road, followed by a series of log staircases heading straight up. This marked the final ascent, and at 1pm I was standing on the wide flat top of Mt Hodo 宝登山 hodosan. By the way, the name can be read as “Treasure Climb”. I found a free spot on one of the benches next to a big group, and settled down for lunch; later on one of the members kindly offered me some freshly brewed coffee.
An easy and relaxing hike up Mt Hodo
The views were better than expected, even though the blue skies from the morning had been replaced by a thick white blanket. From East to West, I could see Mt Jomine, Mt Ryokami, Mt Hapu, Mt Buko and Mt Mino. At 2pm, I set off again. The top of the Hodosan Ropeway was a few minutes away, and from there it was possible to walk down along a wide dirt road that switched back and forth so that it never got too steep. This part of the hike was a pleasant surprise: there were great views of the Arakawa valley, and the side of the mountain had many cherry blossoms, all the way down to the bottom of the valley.
View South of Chichibu City and Mt Buko
It took me less than an hour to reach the base of the ropeway and a road. A little further on, I arrived at a small park filled with cherry blossom trees, with in the middle a small mountain called Mt Notsuchi (209m) 野土山. I reached my starting point of Nagatoro station after 3pm, six hours after setting off, just in time to catch the direct train back to Ikebukuro. It turned out to be a very satisfying hike, and I look forward to returning one day in a different season.
There were two good reasons for climbing this mountain: it was a kanto hundred famous mountain, and it was less than two hours from Tokyo. On the flip side, it was only a two hour hike. By looking at my Chichibu hiking map, I saw that I could extend it by following the ridge to the Southwest, above the Arakawa river valley. I was curious whether it would make a satisfactory hike with good views.
Today’s hike follows this ridge
I arrived at Yorii station at 9am, and from there walked about 30 minutes through the town to the start of the trail. The trail climbed gently through the forest, and was easy to walk, except just for the steep staircase below the summit. I reached the top of Mt Kanetsukido 鐘撞堂山 (Kanetsukido-zan) around 11am. The name means “bell tower”, and it was easy to understand why since there was a great view of the Kanto plan; apparently it’s a good spot for seeing the sunrise. I could also make out Mt Haruna, the top snow-covered crater of Mt Asama, as well as the other mountains from today’s hike.
Staircase before Mt Kanetsukido (left) and the one after (right)
To reach the next mountain, I had to hike back down the other side, cross a road, and walk up again. Another staircase took me to the top of the ridge; there was an arbour, but not much of a view. After that, the trail followed the ridge Westwards. Flat bits alternated with some ups and down, but overall it was an easy to follow trail. I reached the summit of Mt Jinmi 陣見山 (Jinmiyama) 531m, and a small TV antenna, at noon.
A lot of the trail was like this: flat, easy walking
I quickly moved on. Half an hour later, I had some good views Southwards of the Arakawa river valley through the trees. The trail merged with a forest road for a while, and at 1h40, I reached the top of Mt Amagoi 雨乞山 (Amagoi-yama) 510m, no doubt the highlight of the hike. I didn’t expect such breathtaking views of the Arakawa river valley and the surrounding mountains. It was also a a jump-off spot for paragliding, although nothing was happening during my visit. By the way, the mountain name can translate as “praying for rain”; fortunately, there were no rain clouds in sight!
The best view of the hike from Mt Amagoi: the Arakawa river valley
After admiring the views, I set off again. The path continued to be really easy to hike, with few steep or narrow sections. At 3pm, I reached the summit of Mt Fudo 不動山 (Fudou-yama) 549m, meaning steadfast. There was another excellent viewpoint here, especially since around now the sun was behind my back. I could see Nagatoro town, Mt Buko, Mt Haruna and Mt Asama.
View of the Chichibu mountains from Mt Fudo
It was 3h30 and time to start heading down. The last part of the hike took me past an interesting religious site, with many small wooden swords all over the place, something I had never seen before. On the most recent map, this path has become dotted, so I am not sure whether it can still be used. The last part was along a road, and I reached Nogami station around 5h30pm. I was quite pleased that I managed to turn a two-hour hike into eight-hour one, and I was satisfied with all the great views along the way.
Wooden Swords at the mysterious religious site on the way down
This is a good mountain to climb in the spring and the autumn, especially when the days are shorter as this isn’t a long hike. Since the Kanto Fureai no Michi passes by the summit, some sections are guaranteed to be easy to walk. Finally, there is a 360 degree view of the Chichibu mountains from the top, so it’s worth doing this one in clear weather.
Endless mountains from the top of the observation tower
The bus from Minano station on the Chichibu railway takes about half an hour to get to the start of the Fureai no Michi. From the bus stop, the trail follows the road for a bit, before turning right, and heading up the mountain side through thick forest. The steeper parts of the climb are made easier by several log staircases. It should take less than two hours to reach the observation tower at the top of Mt Jomine 城峰, a Kanto Hyakumeizan. Among the dozens of mountains, it should be easy to pick out the massive craggy top of Mt Ryokami on the West side.
Log staircase barely visible under the snow in the middle of January
Walking down fifteen minutes, the trail leads to Jomine Shrine, where there is another good view Westwards. It should take another hour down the Omotesando trail to reach the trailhead, along a narrow forested valley. From there it’s another 90 minute walk along the road to the nearest bus stop. The road follows a river past charming countryside dwellings. The bus goes all the way to Seibu-Chichibu station with it’s onsen, food hall, sake shop and direct train connection to Tokyo.
At the very right, the craggy bulk of Mt Ryokami
I did this hike on a snowy winter day, so I made another trip on a sunny Spring day to see the view. I drove to the top, something I don’t recommend since the road is long and narrow; fortunately, I didn’t meet any other cars going up or down. I returned a third time, once again climbing via the Fureai no Michi, but this time going down the South Ridge trail (南尾根コース). This was a more interesting and adventurous way to descend the mountain, the narrow trail following the ridgeline through the forest. I ended up on the road same road as on the first hike, but less than half the distance from the bus stop.
The observation tower which seems to double as a telecommunication antenna
This was my first day hike of 2015, and since it was during the Japanese New Year or “shogatsu“, I wanted to have some good views of Mt Fuji, do a station to station hike (buses run on special schedules during that time), and, if it wasn’t too much to ask, end the hike at a nice onsen. I want all hikes to be good hikes, but the first one of the year should be special.
The city of Kawaguchiko at the base of Mt Fuji
I took a train to Mitsutoge station: I hadn’t been there since I first climbed Mt Mitsutoge several years before, and I had completely forgotten that there was a fantastic view of Mt Fuji from just outside the station. This time, however, I was climbing a mountain on the other side of the railway line. The trail started next to Yaku Shrine, 15 minutes from the station. However, I accidentally went down another trail that was level instead of going up. Once I realised my mistake, I cut through the forest up the side of the mountain to reconnect with the correct trail.
The Kawaguchi toll road snaking down the valley
I soon started getting some good views up and down the valley connecting Kawaguchiko and Otsuki cities. It was a fairly relaxing climb, the only steep bit came at the end, going up the small pyramidal summit. I reached the top of Mt Kurami (Kuramiyama 倉見山) after about 90 minutes, around noon. There was an excellent view of Mt Fuji, resplendissant in its winter coat. I could also see Mt Mitsutoge, the cliffs below the summit area making it look like an impregnable fortress. Looking North, I could spot the peaks of the Oku-Chichibu mountains. Looking South, I could gaze on the vast urban sprawl of Kawaguchiko City. On this clear sunny day, the snowy peaks of the Minami Alps were clearly visible.
Easy hiking on the way down
The descent, through a beautiful pine forest, took another ninety minutes. The trail was very easy to walk, and offered many good views along the way. It often felt like I was flying above the small houses in the valley below. The sun was now slightly behind Mt Fuji, so the side facing me was in the shadows, less good for taking photos. I reached the bottom of the valley just past 3pm. I then walked another 30 minutes to Yoshinoike Onsen 葭之池温泉 for a quick hot spring bath, before taking the train from the nearby station back to Tokyo.
Mt Fuji view from Mitsutoge station (using camera zoom)