Tanbara Highland (1200m), Numata City, Gunma Prefecture & Bear Sighting

I had been to Tanbara highland in May 2018, so I thought it would be the perfect place for some easy hiking during the rainy season. Since I had already been to the highest point, Mt Kanomata, this time I decided to take a different trail and skip this summit. This would make for a slightly shorter hike which was good, since this time I was driving there and back myself (it’s also possible to get there by bus). My main concern was the temperature – would it already be too hot and humid to hike comfortably?

IMG_20200620_144654

Tanbara Lake, seen from ski slope, turned grassy field

I arrived at the Tanbara Center house 玉原センターハウス around 12h30. Contrary to my expectations, the air felt a little chilly and a few raindrops were falling; however, the sun was just coming out from behind the clouds. I set off the along the same trail as my previous hike, heading gently uphill through a beautiful beech forest and following a small bubbling stream. Just before arriving at the Tanbara camping ground, I turned left along the road towards the Lavender Park  in bloom from next month only. Now, however, the flowers were still closed, and the area was deserted.

IMG_20200620_130656

Hiking next to a small stream

IMG_20200620_134814

The Tanbara Lavender Park

I walked up one of the paths among the flowerbeds to a small observatory. It had a bell that one can ring to scare away any bears that may be lurking nearby. I gave it a good ring. After climbing down, I spotted a black shape out of the corner or my eye. It was about a hundred meters away on the edge of the ski slope (Tanbara is a ski resort in the winter months). Using the zoom of the camera, I was able to ascertain that this was in fact a bear cub. It seemed unperturbed by the noise of the bear bell, but a few seconds later it ran off into the forest. This was my fourth bear sighting, and it had been a while since the previous one, so this made my day.

IMG_20200620_140442

Bear cub above the Lavender Park (taken using 10x zoom on my camera)

IMG_20200620_132542

Tanbara is mainly known as a ski resort

I headed back down, and continued along the hiking trail up into a forested area between two lavender zones. Unfortunately, after a few minutes, the trail became so overgrown with bamboo grass that I had to give up . Even though it was indicated on the maps, it was obvious that the trail wasn’t much used, most people preferring the direct route to the summit. I decided to make my way back to the start of the hike, and turn right along the the bird-watching route 探鳥ルート so that I could at least reach the beech flats ブナ平, one of the highlights of the hike (I didn’t see any birds though).

IMG_20200620_163859

Tanbara Marsh, after descending from the beech flats

IMG_20200620_164022

The Iris flowers were in full bloom

Around 4pm, and somewhat behind schedule, I was finally walking on a level path among the beech trees. This is one of the rare places with a mostly flat trail high up in the mountains, so it’s perfect for beginners. Soon, I turned left, down the river source route 水源ルート, ending up at Tanbara Marsh 玉原湿原 around 4h30, another of the highlights of this hike. After crossing the marsh on wooden planks, I emerged onto a road (closed to traffic), and I was back at the parking lot just before 5pm. Even though I couldn’t do the hike exactly as I had planned, I was still able to hike for around 5 hours through beautiful nature in good weather. I was also relieved that the temperature and humidity had turned out to be perfect for hiking!

IMG_20200620_130513

Jogasaki Coast, Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Tuesday, February 11, 2020

This hike was unusual because I wasn’t hiking up and down mountains, but along a beautiful coastline. The suspended bridge on the Northern end is a popular sightseeing spot, however few people wander down the hiking trail that extends Southwards along the coast. It took me five hours at a leisurely pace to reach a second suspended bridge near the end of the trail. Although there are no mountains, there were many small ups and downs along the way, and lots of great views of the ragged coastline.


Halfway point of the jagged Jogasaki Coast

I took the Odoriko Limited Express from Tokyo station to Izu-Kogen (2 hours), and then hopped onto a local train to travel back one station to Jogasaki-Kaigan station. This small charming station was entirely made of wood and had a spacious comfortable waiting room. There was a small foot bath next to the platform, and a view of Sagami Bay and Oshima Island from the entrance. The famous early blooming cherry trees were still completely closed, but would be opening very soon.

IMG_20200211_095911

Oshima Island from Jogasaki-Kaigan station

Kadowaki Suspension Bridge with Oshima island in the background

I walked 20 minutes to the Boranaya restaurant, which is right next to the start of the Northern end of the trail. Across the bay, I had good views of Futo Hot spring, the next stop after Jogasaki-Kaigan. In the far distance, I could make out the faint outline of the Boso peninsula. It took me less than 30 minutes to reach the wobbly Kadowaki Suspended Bridge 門脇つり橋 (48 meters long and 23 meters high). A little further was the Kadowaki Lighthouse 門脇埼灯台 (25 meters high). I climbed the narrow spiral staircase to the observation floor (17 meters high), but since it was indoors, I couldn’t get any good photos through the glass.

Spectacular rocks near the Kadowaki Suspension Bridge

Grey cliffs and blue sea

It was already past 11am, so I quickly started hiking South along the coastal trail, leaving the sightseers behind. It was a warm sunny winter day; to my left was the dark blue sea sending its foamy waves roaring and crashing onto the ragged coastline; to the left were the mountains of central Izu, under the shadow of thick grey clouds. There were few other hikers, and most of the time I had the trail to myself.

The sparkling sea in the morning

Dark clouds got the upperhand in the afternoon

According to my map, the trail should take about 4 hours. However, every rocky promontory had a small path, branching off the main trail, going to its very tip. Since it would have taken too much time to explore them all, I had to decide which ones would yield the best views, and which ones to skip. I had just started down one such small path, when I was rewarded with a glimpse of a squirrel scampering through the trees. Walking another one, I spotted a couple of adventurous rock climbers on a secluded cliff. There were other climbers in several spots along the way, and I was reminded that the Jogasaki Coast 城ヶ崎海岸 was a popular place for this activity. A lot of these paths went close to the edge of cliffs, so I had to be careful, since unlike the rock climbers, I had nothing to protect myself from a fall!

This squirrel posed for a few seconds so I could take its picture

Climber nearing the top of the cliff

The trail was very well maintained. Fallen trees, no doubt from last year’s powerful typhoons, had been sawn through and removed from the path. There were frequent excellent Japanese / English signposts along the way, as well as information signboards on the various local sights, like the jagged Igaigaine いがいが根 rock formation. The main thing I learned was that the rugged coastline was created from lava flow when nearby Mt Omuro erupted long ago. When exploring the rocky terrain off the trail, I had to be careful not to trip and fall on the sharp lava rock!

Most of the time, the trail was easy to walk

Fallen trees have been removed from the trail

Around noon I passed by Renchaku-ji temple, and was lucky to finally see some early blooming cherry trees. At 2h30, I reached the Tajima no Taki observation platform, from where I could see quite a unique sight: a waterfall over the sea. A little further away, I could see a rock bridge with waves washing through it from both sides, and meeting at the center with a thunderous crash (see video below).

Pink cherry blossoms with a background of blue sky

The rock bridge surrounded by frothy waves

Along the trail there were many beautiful pine trees, possibly Japanese red pine. They were especially prominent along the second half, soaring high in the sky above. According to Wikipedia, they can grow up to 35 meters in height!

Many pine trees along the trail

Walking among the tall pine trees

A few minutes later I reached the Hashidate Suspension bridge 橋立吊橋 (60 meters long and 18 meters high). The trail ends just a little further at a small fishing village. I retraced my steps to the river above the waterfall, and followed it to a parking area and Izu-Kogen station, less than thirty minutes away.

The Hashidate Suspension Bridge

Mt Mihara on Oshima island, an active volcano that last erupted in 1986

One constant throughout the hike was the view of Oshima Island directly opposite and only 20 km away. Some of the other Tokyo islands (Toshima and Ni-jima) were faintly visible further to the South. I could even make out the outline of Kozu-jima about 75 km away. As the day progressed, and the sun moved further west, the details of Mihara volcano on Oshima island became more clearly visible, and I was reminded of my trip there in 2018.

Mt Omuro (580m) Crater Walk

Before heading back to Tokyo, I decided to make a quick visit to Mt Omuro 大室山 (580m), a short bus ride from the station, and the reason the Jogasaki coast exists in the first place. It has a perfect conical shape and is visible from nearly everywhere on the Izu Plateau. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to hike to the top. I rode the chairlift up and walked around the top crater in twenty minutes. There was a spectacular 360 degree panorama of the entire area. I could see Mt Fuji (60 km away), the Hakone mountains, the Tanzawa mountains, the Miura peninsula, Sagami and Tokyo B\bays, the whole Izu-Kogen, the Tokyo Islands and Mt Amagi.

After taking the chairlift back down just before closing, and catching the last bus back, I stopped by Izukogen no Yu Onsen. After a relaxing hot spring bath, I hopped onto the Odoriko limited express headed for Tokyo.

Mt Fuji, Hakone, Tanzawa

Mt Fuji, clear of clouds in the late afternoon

Watch the crashing waves along the Jogasaki Coast

NEXT UP: Mt Sengen in Hakone, Kanagawa

Mt Kinubari (122m) & Mt Omaru (157m), Kamakura and Yokohama Cities, Kanagawa Prefecture, Saturday, December 21, 2019

 

IMG_20191221_115651

 

Kamakura area is a great place for hiking, especially during the colder months. The trails are easy to walk, the surrounding nature is lush even in winter, and it’s just one hour from Tokyo by train. My previous visit was in February last year, when I hiked the Miura Alps. Since then, typhoon Hagibis had wrecked several of the trails in the area, and I was concerned whether I could complete my hike as planned. Fortunately, the path I had chosen was open from start to finish. On the other hand, the very popular Ten-en hiking trail 天園ハイキングコース, which I had done a few years earlier, was closed due to fallen trees. It’s supposed to reopen in June.

The Ten-en hiking trail is closed…

Since most hiking trails around Kamakura are quite short, I had to cobble together 3 of them to get a full day of hiking (about 6 hours). I arrived at Kamakura station around 10am, and walked to Hokokuji Temple 報国寺. It’s also possible to get there by bus. There is a beautiful bamboo forest inside, but I skipped it since I had been there before and it was getting late. I found the entrance of the hiking trail a few meters further up the street. It was already 11am and I was finally ready to start hiking!

A well-hidden hiking trail…

Almost immediately, I went from a suburban neighbourhood to thick forest – the transition always amazes me. After a short climb, the path became level for a while, before reaching a park bordering a suburban community on the border between Zushi and Kamakura cities. Even though it was a Saturday, the park was nearly deserted, probably due to the overcast weather, despite the sunny forecast.

Surrounded by nature only ten minutes from the start of the trail

The hiking trail resumed at the end of the park. After some up-and-down over a couple of minor peaks, I reached the top of Mt Kinubari 衣張山 just before noon. It’s a low mountain, but since it’s right next to the ocean, the view was quite spectacular. I could see the Miura Peninsula stretching away to the South, and Kamakura City opposite Sagami Bay to the West.

Miura Peninsula near the top of Mt Kinubari

Shortly after, a group of a about a dozens hikers arrived. They were on some kind of guided tour – I had encountered the same thing when hiking the Miura Alps. It seems like guided hikes are quite popular in the Kamakura / Zushi area. I finished my early lunch and took off quickly. The trail heading down was short and enjoyable, but there were many fallen trees lower down. It’s not often that I see multiple fallen trees blocking the trail…in succession. Hopefully the trail will get cleared up in the future.

Evidence of the destructive power of typhoons on the way down

The trail soon ended a short way from my starting point of Hokokuji Temple. From there, I walked along roads to the start of a minor trail leading to the Ten-en hiking course, which I would cross but not follow. Kamakura is pleasant and laid-back, and thus a nice city to stroll through – there are plenty of sights to check out. On the way, I decided I had enough time to pay a short visit to Sugimoto-dera Temple. According to the sign at the entrance, it was founded in the 8th century and is the oldest temple in Kamakura. It was a quick visit (costs 200 yen) but I was able to get some nice views and pictures. After that, I walked past Kamakura-gu shrine, turned left at Tsugen Bridge, then continued past Yofukuji ruins without visiting either since it was getting late. After 1pm, I was hiking on a trail and surrounded by nature again. It’s possible to skip Mt Kinubari and walk directly from Kamakura station (about 30 min)

View from the highest reaches of Sugimoto temple

First, the path followed a dramatic narrow gorge along a small stream, then climbed through some nice forest that still had some red and orange. Some steps brought me to the highest point: the intersection with the now-closed Ten-en hiking trail. It was 1h30, and I could hear many people talking and having lunch at the rest area just above, so I skipped it and continued in the direction of Kanazawa-Hakkei station 金沢八景 (not the final destination), through a short but beautiful bamboo forest. The trail was mostly level and thus easy to walk. It’s probably one of the flattest hikes I’ve ever done in the Kanto area. There was a fallen tree here and there, but it wasn’t too troublesome to get around. I was amazed that there were so few people hiking this great trail, but then it was a cold cloudy winter day.

Some minor obstacles on the way…

IMG_20191221_151658

…but mostly easy hiking

The path was now running alongside and above a huge cemetery. Later on, it passed above another suburban community. I could get occasional glimpses of both through the trees. On a clear sunny day I suppose you could see all the way to Yokohama city to the North. There were good information boards (with English) along the way, showing the extent of the local hiking trails: they connect several community woods, a nature sanctuary, and even a small zoo. There is also a pond in the middle of the forest, but trails leading to it were currently closed due to typhoon damage. I will certainly return in the future to hike more in the area since it’s so close to Tokyo. I couldn’t decide what was more amazing: that the city had penetrated nature so deeply, or whether nature had survived the invasion of the city.

Hiking a narrow green ridge…

IMG_20191221_145914

…at the edge of the city

I was now following the signs for Kanazawa Bunko 金沢文庫 (not the final destination either). At 2h30, I reached the Sekiyaoku viewpoint 関谷奥見晴台. There were some benches but not much of a view on this grey day. I had the rest of my lunch and moved on. At last, I was following signs for Konandai station 港南台, the end point of my hike. A little before 3pm, I reached the turn-off for a long staircase leading to the top of Mt Omaru 大丸山, the highest point of Yokohama city. There was a view to the South of Tokyo Bay and the Eastern end of the Miura Alps.

 

IMG_20191221_144517

Staircase to the top – one of the few climbs on the hike

I was starting to feel cold and since the sun was showing no sign of appearing, I didn’t linger. It took me another hour to reach Isshindo Plaza いっしんどう広場, a wide area where several trails intersect. Apparently you can see Mt Fuji from the West side in good weather. However the hiking trail wasn’t finished yet. It took me another fifteen minutes along a dirt trail through the countryside to get back to the busy city roads. There were some good views of the hills of Kamakura to the East. I finally reached Konandai station on the Negishi line station around 4h30, a short train ride from Yokohama and central Tokyo.

Looking back towards Kamakura on a gloomy day

 

IMG_20191221_115619

NEXT UP: Mt Yaeyama in Yamanashi

Mt Hodo (497m), Nagatoro Town, Saitama Prefecture

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 the up and down nature of the course.

20150412_144557

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.

20150412_113236

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.

20150412_121537

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.

20150412_132708b

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.

20150412_141853

The Nagatoro area of Chichibu

Rafting and boating on the Arakawa River

Riding the Chichibu Railway

DSC09212

Mt Nango (610m), Mt Maku (626m) and Mt Shiro (563m), Yugawara Town, Kanagawa Prefecture

I felt like it was time to try something different, something special to Japan; I wanted to do a hike next to the ocean. I found one such hike in my hiking book, but it seemed a bit short, so I combined it with a couple of nearby peaks. Although the elevation of these three mountains was relatively low, they seemed quite impressive when seen from the sea-side town of Yugawara, famous for its plum blossoms and hot springs. The area is also known for rock climbing, although today’s purpose was purely hiking.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Tokyo or Shinagawa station, catch the Tokaido line to Atami;  Yugawara is the stop before. Depending on the type of train you catch, it takes between 60 and 90 minutes, direct or with changes. This is not a line I take often so it was a pleasant change with lots of views of the sea (sit on the left when heading out). From the station there are frequent buses to “Kaiya” which is the last stop. I was the sole person on the bus for the last portion of the trip, and on the first part of the hike.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Nango, Mt Maku, Mt Shiro

THE ROUTE: The bus stops in front of a temple, but the hiking trail doesn’t go through it. There wasn’t anybody around to ask, but I found a sign for the hiking trail along the road that continues up the mountain to the left of the temple. The signposting was particularly poor on this hike, and some route-finding was needed (this was nearly ten years ago so things may have changed). I followed the road as it curved to the right and then back to the left again, with many minor roads branching off it. I eventually reached a sign pointing straight up a very steep slope; it must of had an inclination of 45 degrees; I cannot imagine driving up here with ice or snow, although I guess that it rarely happens in this area (it felt pretty balmy for December).

Mountain Mikans

Japanese citrus fruit or mikan

A cape jutting into Sagami bay

Manazuru peninsula jutting into Sagami bay

Soon I was walking among the mikan trees with their bright orange fruit. I was getting pretty views of Yugawara town, Sagami bay and the surrounding mountains. I couldn’t see any more signs, but I decided to stick to the main road, a tough proposition since the other roads that branched off seemed to be the same width (wide enough for a small car). Instinct served me well, for shortly after entering a forest section, I found another wooden signpost for the summit. Unfortunately this sign was placed a few meters before another junction. I hesitated for a couple of minutes, and then continued in the most plausible direction which was straight ahead.

Towards Izu

Looking South to Izu

Mt Maku, I think

Near the top of Mt Nango

Since I was going up the side of a steep mountain, taking the wrong way could have big consequences. Fortunately, as I reached the top of the ridge, I came upon a third and better sign marking the start of a proper hiking trail. The surrounding landscape had become quite fascinating, not because of its beauty, but because of the sense of abandonment. This area had enjoyed a boom a few decades ago, but was now in decline, and there were a lot of ruined buildings making it a little spooky.

Now I was following a proper hiking path along the ridge. The views were hidden by the surrounding vegetation, lucky in a way, since it had become considerably windy. I was skirting a golf course, surrounded by an electric fence to keep trespassers (or hikers) out. I then reached a road, and after following it for a few minutes, I came to a hiking path on the left heading to the top of Mt Nango (南郷山 nangosan)about ten minutes away. There were some nice views of the coastline a few meters below the summit, better than from the summit itself. Here I met some other hikers, as it usually happens at the tops of mountains, and was easily able to get someone to take my photo.

Mountain scape near the coast

Mountain scenery near the coast

A great forest path

Easy walking through the forest

After a short rest, I set out again for summit number two and the highest point of the hike. Here the signposting let me down again. At the first intersection, there were no signs for my mountain, only a sign going straight to a temple, and a one pointing for the road that running between the two mountains. I had to cross the road at one point, but according to my map, not before passing by a small lake. So I decided to continue straight ahead. This turned out to be wrong, and I was soon forced to retrace my steps. Back at the junction, I took the second path towards the road (now going right). This was a pretty trail, zigzagging down through a pine wood before reaching a flat wooded area, where I crossed what must have been the other path leading down from Mt Nango.

The path to Mt Maku

The path to Mt Maku

Nearing the top

Getting close to the top of Mt Maku

Here I turned right and continued walking through some more delightful forest. I finally spotted the lake that I had been aiming for. It was a small and lonely lake hidden in the middle of the forest. Just beyond it was the road which I crossed in order to re-enter the woods on the other side. This part was really pleasant and made me want to bring other people here.

After a few minutes I reached the path heading for the summit. It took me another fifteen minutes of gentle climbing to reach Mt Maku (幕山 makuyama). From there I could see the ocean and the surrounding mountains. There weren’t any benches so I sat on the ground to have lunch. Since my view while sitting was obscured by bamboo grass, and the wind was terribly strong, probably due to the proximity of the sea, I decided not to linger.

Nice ocean views

Nice ocean views

Enjoying the soft autumn sunshine

Enjoying the soft autumn sunshine

Heading down, I mistakenly turned onto a path circling the summit. Once I realized this, I cut back through the woods and got back on the correct path. I was soon facing south and had some nice views of Sagami bay. I passed a group who had taken my photo on the summit, and left them behind me scratching their heads, since I had left ahead of them.

Eventually I got to the base of the mountain and got to see its famous rock climbing cliffs. There were a few people practising their skill in the good weather. It was interesting to note that they place mattresses underneath in case they fall. That’s Japanese safety for you. This is where the famous Yugawara plum trees are located (just bare branches at this time of the year).

The rocky base of Mt Maku

The rocky base of Mt Maku

Rock Climbing part I

The rock climbing area

I was now following a paved road along the bottom of a valley. It was only 3pm, but the winter sun was already starting to dip below the surrounding ridges. I stopped to take photos of the beautiful colours of a maple tree and the shadows nearly overtook me. A little later I crossed a bridge, went straight another hundred meters,  turned left up another smaller road, and ten minutes later reached a small hiking trail. The paved road continues around Mt Maku, and joins up with the path I went up on the other side.

Orange Maple tree

Orange Maple tree

Short but nice river walk

Short but nice river walk

Here darkness overtook me as the path twisted and turned through thick forest. There were a few ropes and chains, but nothing challenging. It was tough to climb up a mountain again, but it was too soon to head back. After about 30 minutes I reached a small shrine under a small waterfall. Above it, there was a paved path lined with stone lanterns switching back and forth; it felt rather sacred. At this time, there was nobody else around.

Turn left here

Walking along the valley before climbing again

The holy path

The path to the shrine

I reached another road which I followed through a windy tunnel under the highest section of the ridge. On the other side, I emerged back into the sun. I followed the road one hundred meters to a lookout point and a bus stop. Behind the observation platform, I found the hiking trail again. It double backed towards the ridge and passed above the tunnel. This was an enjoyable section despite the strong wind, heading slightly downhill with occasional views of the adjacent ridges and the ocean.

Windy but nice view

In the sun again…

The Izu peninsula

The Izu peninsula

A short while later I reached the final summit of the day, Mt Shiro (城山 shiroyama). It was the lowest of the three peaks, but it had by far the best view, with places to sit down and no vegetation in the way (and toilets as well!). At this late hour, I had the summit to myself. To the South was the Izu peninsula, to the North was the Shonan coastline, and beyond, the Landmark Tower in Yokohama, to the west was Oshima Island. The most amazing thing about this summit was that it was right at the edge of the sea. I think it’s the first time I have stood about 500 meters directly above the coastline.

Ocean view

The coveted ocean view

Mt Maku ridge

Looking back at Mt Maku

I had to pull myself away from this great view only fifteen minutes after arriving, since I really needed to get down before dark. I headed down at a fast pace, the path being relatively easy to walk. There another good view of Oshima island on the way. Very soon I reached a paved road. My map showed that there were a couple of shortcuts so that you didn’t to walk so much on the road. However I got tricked on the second one, it led basically nowhere, and I had to climb five minutes back to the road.

When I got to the real short cut, I didn’t dare to take it so I jogged the wide bend of the road. Soon I started seeing signs of civilisation again: telephone wires, houses and cars. There were again no signs and more roads than were indicated on the map, but following my instinct I ended back at the station by dusk. I celebrated by taking a hot bath at an onsen with outdoor bath just five minutes down the road, on the top floor of the hotel.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Nango, Mt Maku, Mt Shiro

Final view of Ooshima

Final view of Ooshima

Mt Myogi Chukan Path, Annaka City, Gunma Prefecture

Even though Mt Myogi 1104m (妙義山 myougisan) is a two hundred famous mountain , I didn’t actually climb to the top (I thought about it though). The reason being that despite its relatively low altitude, this is a dangerous and difficult mountain to climb. I used to think that you could walk up every mountain in Japan, chains and ladders being placed in the dangerous parts, and also Mt Tsurugi (in the Northern Alps) was the most difficult mountain to climb in Japan. However, this title probably belongs to Mt Myogi. All the trails to the summit are marked with dotted lines, meaning “experts only” with multiple danger signs and worrying comments added into the mix (“50m chimney – a lot of people have died here”).

I ended up doing the scenic and safe tour along of the base of the mountain – not only were the views fantastic, but it also included some exciting parts that weren’t dangerous – as long as you’re sure-footed. Finally, Mt Myogi is one of the 3 sacred mountains of Gunma prefecture (the other two being Mt Akagi and Mt Haruna). There are shrines at the start, Myogi Jinja, and at the end of the hike, Nakanotake Jinja.

Hiking in Western Gunma 西上州

As of October 2020, the section of the Chukan trail between Azumaya 四阿 and Nakanotake Shrine 中之嶽神社 is closed due to rockfall and trail damage that occurred in April 2020 (the section starting just before the staircase described in this post). No reopening date has been set yet. Please check the Gunma prefecture website for future updates. 

HOW TO GET THERE: I had been putting off going to Mt Myogi for years, since I had always thought it was hard to get to. I first saw this mountain while staying overnight with friends in Tomioka; it seemed an exciting climb because of its rugged peaks, but at the same time it seemed really remote. So I was surprised when it took around 2 hours from Ikebukuro station to get to the closest station, Matsuida, on the Shin-Etsu line, a couple of stop before Yokokawa (transfer in Takasaki). The view from the station exit was stunning – there were no surrounding mountains and Mt Myougi seemed quite close. I could also see a snow covered Mt Asama just behind it. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo, thinking I would get a better view on the hike, but never did.

There is no bus from the station to the start of the hiking trail. You could walk along the road or take a taxi to Myougi shrine (one hour / 4 km). On the other hand, a taxi takes about 10 minutes and costs about 1400 yen. I’m not really sure about the exact price, since I was able to share the taxi with 3 other hikers, and we split the fare – I paid only 400 yen. One thing I can say for sure is that demand exceeds supply; there were more hikers than available taxis, and I had to wait for a taxi to complete the round-trip before I could get a ride. I still managed to be at the start of the trail just before 10 am – two hours and a half after leaving Ikebukuro station.

There is a bus running from Joshu-tomioka station on the Joshin Dentetsu line, south of Mt Myogi, but not only does it take longer to reach that station by train, the bus also takes forty minutes, basically adding one hour to the travel time, so I wouldn’t recommend going this way.

Ask for a hiking plan for the Mt Myogi Chukan path

THE ROUTE: From the taxi drop off point, I headed up the street on the right to the Myogi shrine and to the start of the hiking trail beyond it. In some respects the base of this mountain is similar to Mt Tsukuba – many people visit it to see the shrine and pray. My original plan was to walk the Chukan path (中間道 meaning the middle path) along the base of the mountain. However I wanted to add on a loop that would take me close to the easternmost summit and where I could get some good views (according to my map). Since I had planned to return by taxi, for once I had no concerns about having to hurry to catch a bus at the end of the hike, except maybe getting off the mountain trail before it gets pitch black (after 5pm in this season).

DSC05431

Sugi and Momiji (Cedar tree and Maple tree)

Mt Haruna, lots to explore

Mt Haruna, one of Gunma’s sacred mountains

Once I was past the Shrine grounds, I left the bulk of the sightseers behind me. I soon saw beautiful momiji (maple leaf tree) showing off beautiful autumn colours. Although the “Koyo” season had already ended on the higher parts of the mountain, it was now in full swing around the base. The path soon started to climb. I propelled myself up the steeper inclines with the aid of the chains lining the path. At this stage, it wasn’t really dangerous, one could easily walk up, but using the chains made it easier on the legs (as long as one has gloves).

Mt Hakuun

Mt Hakuun, so close yet inaccessible

The Southern part of the Myougi range

The Southern part of the Myogi range

At one point I reached a huge boulder with chains that supposedly had a viewpoint on top. Thanks to my long legs and arms, I clambered to the top in a matter of seconds. I was standing next to a big-sized “big” Chinese character. The view was great, since it was a blue sky day. In front of me stretched the Kanto plain. To the south was a mass of peaks forming the Northern part of the Chichibu mountains. To the north, I could clearly see the massive bulks of Mt Haruna and Mt Akagi. In the far distance I could make out the snow covered peaks of Mt Hotaka, Mt Tanigawa and various other peaks of the Joshinetsu-Kogen National Park. Winter had definitely arrived to that part of Japan. And of course, just behind me, was one of the steep and rocky peaks of Mt Myougi, Mt Hakuun.

Autumn Colours galore

Autumn Colours galore

DSC05546

Believe it or not, there is a ridge route following the top

I had to wait a little to clamber down again since the the rock was currently being tackled by a rather cautious hiker. Finally, I was able to get back onto the hiking trail. Very soon I reached a junction where one route continued straight to the summit, and the other, heading left, went down again, and connected with the Chuukan path. I decided to check out the summit trail before taking it.

Within minutes I was scrambling over rocks again and holding on to chains, but nothing I hadn’t done a hundred times before on other mountains. Finally a reached some steps leading to a ladder, at the top of which was a cave. I ventured inside and discovered a small shrine. On the other hand, there was no more path, just a wall of vertical rock. I retraced my steps, and managed to pick up the trail again to the right of the steps, beyond a towering cedar tree. I wasn’t surprised I had missed it since it wasn’t a path but a steep rocky incline with a chains and some footholds. Now I’ve done a few of these before but none quite as long or as steep. I pulled myself up halfway, but I didn’t feel all that safe – a fall would result in more than a few bruises – so I decided end my little reconnaissance there, and get on with the main hike.

DSC05554

The craggy peaks of Mt Myogi

Past the trail junction, there was another passage with chains, as well as some sunny viewpoints. I stopped at one of them to have lunch. Eventually I joined up with the Chuukan path. It was a very pleasant up and down path (more up than down). There were some truly fantastic autumn colours along the way, and I couldn’t believe how few people there were. Later on, I read on the internet that thousands of people were on Mount Takao the same day.

After a while I reached a series of steps taking me very close to the top of one of Mt Myogi’s peaks. I didn’t expect the trail to go that high, perhaps 1000m, but it was hard to tell from the map. At this point the skies had clouded over a little, but the views were still above average. I was now walking along the base of a cliff. At times the path was carved inside the cliff, like a cave, forcing to walk bent over. This was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the hike!

The long staircase

The long staircase

The low overhang

The low overhang

Later on, I arrived at a viewpoint, reached by a series of rocky up and downs fitted with chains. There were more people here since this spot is closer to the other end of the Myogi range, where there is a shrine and a car park. While waiting for my turn to go down the chains, I took lots of photos of the mountains stretching away to the south. There was one especially that caught my eye – Mt Arafune. It had a very long flat top like a table, quite an intriguing sight.

Lots of hiking possibilities

Lots of hiking possibilities

On the right, Mt Arafune or tabletop mountain as I call it

On the right, the flat top of Mt Arafune 

At the end of the path, I was also able to enjoy a great view of Mt Myogi to the North. The sun had come out again, and the whole range was bathed in a late afternoon sunlight, perfect for taking pictures. Once I was satisfied, I headed back to the main path, went down some more, under a rocky bridge, through a picnic spot and then up to another viewpoint, where I could check out the rocky crags I had clambered over just a few minutes before.

DSC05661

The northern part of the Myougi range

Not an easy path

Not an easy path

The sun was slowly, but surely, heading for the horizon. I continued my descent, and quickly reached Nakanotake shrine. It was nice to start and end the hike at a shrine. I passed through quickly and got back on the road for the last part of the hike. It took me another hour to get back to my morning starting point. Along the road there were excellent views of some of Mt Myogi and surrounding mountains. The blue skies had returned, so even though the sun had already set it was still light.

Typical Myougi landscape

Typical Myougi landscape

Mt Kondou the other main Myougi peak

Mt Kondou the other main Myogi peak

Soon I entered a hiking path going down through a forest, a shortcut since the road make a big loop Eastwards. Very soon I was back on the road. I finally arrived at the turn-off for Momiji no Yu, a very conveniently located hot spring. After a nice hot bath, I called for a taxi; the return leg was more expensive, about 2300 yen, but since it had me almost nothing on the way there, I didn’t mind at all.

CONCLUSION: A medium-level hike with some thrills and great views,  suitable for non-experienced hikers, and especially beautiful in the autumn. If it weren’t for the taxi ride there and back, and some road-walking, it would be the perfect hike!

As of October 2020, the section of the Chukan trail between Azumaya 四阿 and Nakanotake Shrine 中之嶽神社 is closed due to rockfall and trail damage that occurred in April 2020 (the section starting just before the staircase described in this post). No reopening date has been set yet. Please check the Gunma prefecture website for future updates. 

Ask for a hiking plan for the Mt Myogi Chukan path

Nearly full moon tonight

Nearly full moon tonight

Great views on the walk back as well

Great views on the walk back as well

Myougi #1