Karikomi Lake, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, Sunday, July 21, 2019

The very long rainy season had put a premature end to the first half of the 2019 hiking season…but I was determined to get one more hike in before the hot and busy (for me) summer arrived – my next chance would probably not be till September. Since I was a little out of shape, I chose a short and easy one in Nikko, hoping that the overcast skies, and voting for the national elections, would keep the crowds away. I was looking forward to visiting the Oku-Nikko area since I hadn’t been there since my climb of Mt Nyoho two years ago.

Lake Karikomi and Mt Taro in the background

I took advantage of the more expensive, but direct Tobu Nikko line train – being able to sit and sleep during the 2 hour trip was definitely worth the express surcharge. In Nikko there was a light drizzle. I didn’t fancy walking in the rain but I couldn’t turn back now. Going up “Irozaka slope”, the bus was enveloped in thick mist. Fortunately, once we emerged at Chuzenji lake, we were above the mist and I could see the lake and mountain sides – the sky overhead was overcast and the peaks were in the cloud though.

Today’s hike was through green mossy forest

I got off at the very last stop, Yumoto-onsen. This small, somewhat run-down, onsen town town seemed totally deserted, 11am on a Sunday morning. Was the town in decline or was my timing bad, I wondered to myself. I made my way to the start of the hiking path behind the town, also the source of it’s hot springs. There is a wooden observation path, and two small pools of bubbling water – not the most exciting tourist attraction but it’s always cool to see hot water coming out of the ground.

See the hot spring water bubbling up and hear the birds chirping near Karikomi lake

The path climbed for a few minutes, then crossed a road, before heading along the side of small forested valley. Despite being at 1500m, the air felt unpleasantly heavy – very different from my previous hike 2 weeks earlier, and one thousand meters lower. It took me less than an hour to reach a pass, where I took a short break. Afterwards, the hiking was mostly level and along a broad easy-to-walk path. I took off my bear bell so that I could enjoy the intense chirping of birds.

A signpost in the forest

After some descending along wooden staircases through a thick moss covered forest, I arrived at Karikomi Lake 刈り込み湖 just before one o’clock. After checking out the view and having a quick lunch, I set off along the path through beautiful forest, passing another small lake, and finally arriving in a wide grassy valley. Since I needed to catch the 3pm bus from the Astoria Hotel I couldn’t linger and I powered up the mountainside opposite and over another pass, with Mt Taro on my left, a 300 famous mountain that I have yet to climb.

A grassy field suddenly appeared

A hidden valley in the middle of the Nikko National Park

From there it was a quick and easy thirty minute descent to the hotel – I had to overtake a very big group of elementary school children on the way. I made the bus but had to forego the onsen, otherwise I would miss the last express train back, and that would mean getting to Tokyo really late. By the way, this place would have snagged fourth place on my list of places to go when it’s hot and humid, except that the traveling time is too long for a daytrip – seven hours for only four hours of hiking.

On the shore of Karikomi Lake

Mt Hamaishi (707m), Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Sunday June 16, 2019

I was itching to head somewhere new. A place I hadn’t explored yet. June is the best time of the year to head faraway since the days are long. I decided to head South to Shizuoka prefecture, since it had rained all day the day before and therefore there were bound to be good views of Mt Fuji. It was also the location of a good station to station hike I had recently found in my Shizuoka prefecture hiking guide book. I used the Tokaido line to go all the way to Atami, where I changed to a local line for the final part of the trip to Yui station, halfway between Numazu and Shizuoka cities.

Yui, 3 hours from Tokyo station, is apparently the capital of Sakura Ebi or Sakura Shrimp fishing in Japan. It also used to be on the Tokaido, the ancient pathway that linked Tokyo and Kyoto. I had one small problem after stepping out of the train station just after ten thirty: it was a lot hotter than I had expected. The sun was pounding down from above. Normally I wouldn’t attempt a hike from sea level in June, but the last few days had been unseasonably cool so I thought I could risk it.

Welcome to the town of Sakura Ebi

I set out as quickly, hoping to gain altitude and some coolness as soon as possible. The hike is well signposted, and soon I found myself walking up a narrow road with great views of Suruga Bay behind me. Mt Fuji was still in the clouds. After a little more than an hour a reach a flat area with some fields, toilets and a signboard. Shortly after, I spotted a hiking trail going straight up the mountainside. Although, it wasn’t mentioned in my guide book, I was glad for the opportunity to leave the road.

First good views East towards Izu one hour after setting out

The trail had suffered a bit from the recent rains but climbed steadily through the forest. Eventually I emerged into an open area with great views of Suruga Bay, Izu peninsula, and Mt Fuji, slowly emerging from the clouds. After a short break, I set off again. Instead of climbing the path started to follow the contour of the mountainside – the surrounding vegetation reminded me very much of hiking on the Izu peninsula opposite, also part of Shizuoka prefecture.

Beautiful views North towards Numazu City

Just when I was starting to worry that I was on the wrong path, I saw a signpost that confirmed that I was on the right trail. The summit was just a short way away. The vegetation started to thin and finally I reached a bald grassy hill, behind which I could just make out the top of Mt Fuji, clear of clouds! I rushed the final few meters and snapped a few photos before clouds rolled in and covered Fuji’s summit from view. The summit of Mt Hamaishi 浜石岳 is famous for its great views and I wasn’t disappointed. I could see from left to right, Shizuoka city, the Southern part of the Southern Alps, Mt Fuji, Mt Ashitaka, Hakone, and the Izu peninsula. I probably say this often, but it was one of the best views I had ever seen in Japan, especially on a day trip from Tokyo.

The majestic beauty of Mt Fuji from the top of Mt Hamaishi

After nearly an hour, I was able to drag myself away from the amazing views. I had to head back down to the signpost I had seen earlier. I decided to run since I was behind schedule, and nearly stepped on a large snake! Fortunately the snake jumped out of the way and retreated into the bushes. I wasn’t sure whether it was poisonous or not, but I was a lot more cautious from that point forward. At the signpost I had passed earlier, my path continued straight, following a different way down, Southwards. The forest I was walking through reminded me somewhat of the Southern Alps, not surprising in fact, since, looking at a map, Mt Hamaishi sits at the very end of the end of the Southern Alps (not sure whether it’s geographically part of it).

Blue sky and clouds reflected in Tachibana Pond

Soon I reached a signpost for Tachibana Pond, a short way from the main trail. It was amazing to see such a beautiful pond in the middle of the forest. After tearing myself away from the second great view of the day, I continued down the mountain. This incredibly beautiful part of the hike took two and a half hours, and I saw absolutely no one. At one point I crossed a spooky bamboo forest – even though it wasn’t a windy day, the bamboo trees swished and swayed as if I were in the midst of a storm. Finally I popped out at the Satta Pass viewpoint, just above the ocean. From there, it was another 45 minutes of fast walking back to the station, that would get me back to Tokyo.

Spooky bamboo trail

Check out the snake that was crossing the trail just below Mt Hamaishi

Enjoy the sounds of the bamboo forest swaying in the wind

Mt Mitsumine (1122m), Minakami Town, Gunma Prefecture, Monday April 29, 2019

A Kanto hundred famous mountain, this one has been on my list for a long time. For some odd reason, this hike isn’t featured in any of my hiking books, nor on any of my hiking maps. Fortunately I was able to find access information, and a basic hiking map online. It’s possible to do this as a station to station hike starting from Gokan station but the connection to the Joetsu line isn’t very good in the early morning hours. Since the return is via the Jomo Kogen shinkansen station, I decided instead to use the Tokyo wide pass during golden week, and start and finish there.

A good view of Mt Akagi from the North

Mt Mitsumine 三峰山 is a rectangular shaped mountain bordered by cliffs on the Eastern side. From Jomo Kogen station it looks like a ship. The official start of the trail is the parking area near Kawachi Shrine. I was surprised to see crowds of people at the shrine – they seemed to be celebrating some event. Just above is a jump-off point for paragliding. I’ve seen quite of few of these in Japan, but for the first time I got there while people were actually jumping off!

The jump-off spot for paragliders

I sat down for an early lunch and watched while these brave people jumped off one after the other, with Mt Akagi, Mt Komochi, Mt Onoko and Mt Haruna in the background. I was joined by a group of children. They weren’t as patient as me, and one of them yelled “hurry up” (hayaku) while the paraglider was waiting to jump! Finally the last one had jumped and I continued on my way. I was now on top part of the “rectangle” so it was mostly pleasant forest walking on a level path.

Some nice and easy flat-walking

At one point I reached a fork in the road and I had to make a choice: continue straight or make a detour via a couple of lakes or “numa”. I decided to check out the lakes since I wasn’t pressed for time. I wasn’t disappointed since the lakes were quite pretty. I was surprised to see some quite large fish swimming in the second one.

After returning to the main path, I found myself walking quite close to steep cliffs on my right side. There were occasional views of Mt Hotaka still covered in snow. The path bent left, then right, and after short climb a reached the highest point with a great view of the snow-covered Tanigawa range directly to the North. My map showed a path leading from the summit down to Jomo Kogen station.  This was Kanto hundred best #90.

Mt Hotaka still wearing its winter coat

Unfortunately it wasn’t a real path, and soon I was walking down the mountainside from yellow bit of rope to yellow bit of rope (used here instead of the usual pink ribbons). It was fairly hard to follow and I can’t recommend this to inexperienced hikers in Japan (if you don’t get the pink ribbon reference…) It seems most people do this hike by car and do a round trip to the summit. Plus, the weather had changed from sunny to overcast and I started to worry that it would soon start to rain.

It was still sakura season in Gunma

Eventually I emerged onto a forest road which soon turned into a road. On the way, I heard loud croaking noises coming from some water puddles – it was full of rather large-sized frogs. Unfortunately they were very shy and quickly hid under the mud. The end of the hike followed the road all the way back to Jomo Kogen station. Before heading back to Tokyo, I made a brief detour to Echigo-Yuzawa station where I could take advantage of the hot spring bath inside the station.

Watch a paraglider jump into the void!

 

Toad or frog? I couldn’t tell

Mt Yokote (2307m) & Mt Shiga (2037m), Yamanouchi Town, Nagano Prefecture

I did this hike with my mother who was visiting Japan for a couple of weeks. Since it was quite far from Tokyo, we rented a car in Takasaki, and spent the night in a traditional Japanese inn, or “ryokan”, in Kusatsu Onsen. The next morning was sunny, but by the time we had made our way all the way up to Yugama Lake 湯釜 the clouds had rolled in. We admired the light blue colour of the crater lake, but gave up on climbing Mt Kusatsu-Shirane. I had climbed it before in the clouds, and had little interest in doing it again in similar conditions.

A beautiful crater lake

We drove on to Yokoteyama Ropeway which took us to the top of Mt Yokote 横手山. We got some nice views of Shiga Highland 志賀高原. Fortunately, the Nagano side was still free of clouds. We finally arrived at Kumanoyu (meaning the bear’s bath) where we left the car. We were now firmly inside Nagano prefecture. Another short ropeway took up to the start of the hike. Luckily, the weather was holding up. The first part was quite level. At one point the path went through some very high bamboo, higher than our heads, and I was worried about bears. So I reached into my bag to retrieve my bear bell only to realise that I had left it in the car!

View from the top of Mt Yokote

Soon the path started to climb. It was steep, with big rocks and protruding tree roots, making progress slow. The path slowly wound up the side of the mountain. We saw few people, and thankfully no bears. We reached the top of Mt Shiga 志賀山 just before 2 pm. A little way past the summit, there were some good views of Onuma-ike Lake below. The whole hike is inside the Joshin Etsu Kogen National Park and is very wild and beautiful.

The area of our hike – Mt Shiga is in the clouds on the right

We climbed down via a different path, spotting various small ponds on the way. Finally, after passing through a shinto gate or “torii”, we reached the base of the cone-shaped Mt Shiga. The next part involved walking along an elevated walkway through marshlands – much easier than the rocky path down the mountain! The final part back to the ropeway was along a wide and level path through the forest.

Onuma Lake in the middle of Shiga Highland

Since it was getting late, we decided not to take a bath at Kumanoyu, and leave right away. No sooner had we set off, that a dark shadow dashed across the road – it was a bear cub. It disappeared into the bushes opposite. We waited a bit for a mother bear, but she was nowhere to be seen. In any case the place certainly deserves its name!

Elevated walkway through the marshland 

On the way back, we stopped briefly for some photos at the marker for the highest national road in Japan at 2172m high. The drive down to Kusatsu onsen was through thick mist. We had a bath at the Sainokawara open-air bath, one of the biggest in Japan. After we were done, it started raining really hard, but we managed to get back to Takasaki safe and sound, a little after nightfall.

Hiking up and down Mt Shiga

Nikko-Shirane Ropeway & Goshiki-Numa Lake, Katashina Town, Gunma Prefecture

I did this hike with my mother who was visiting Japan for a couple of weeks. Since it was quite far from Tokyo, we spent the night at the Takasaki Dormy Inn Hotel, and the next morning, I drove to the Nikko-Shirane Ropeway. Even though it was a weekday, I was surprised by how few people there were, especially since it was the middle of the summer holidays. The place is mainly a ski resort in the winter so perhaps people aren’t aware that it also runs from June to October. I love ropeways and I keep on discovering new ones – it’s amazing how many there are in Japan!

Sun shining through the forest

At the top of the ropeway, inside Nikko National Park and nearly 2000m high, the visibility wasn’t the best, and the views were a little disappointing. At least it was cooler than down in the valley. The hike started out on a fairly level trail through beautiful forest. After an hour or so, we had to climb steeply for a short while to reach the edge of a pond. Here I was able to look up towards the top of Mt Nikko-Shirane. I had been hoping to get my revenge, since it was in clouds when I climbed it several years ago. However, the top was in the clouds again, and another ascent seemed pointless.

Midaga Pond near the top of Mt Nikko-Shirane

We continued a little further and reached the edge of a crater with at the bottom, the beautiful Goshiki-Numa lake 五色沼 (which means five-colour lake). Since we had enough time, I decided we could descend to the shore of the lake and climb back up again. Unfortunately the descent was steep and rocky, and we regretted it a bit.

The Goshiki-numa lake, inside Tochigi prefecture

After enjoying the peace and quiet of the lake, we made our way back up to the edge of the crater via a different path, and then walked back the way we had come. At the pond, we passed a group of noisy school children who had come up a different path. We headed back down the steep path to the forest below, and at the bottom we took another trail that looped back to the top of the ropeway.

View of Maru-numa lake from the ropeway

Check out the views of Nikko-Shirane

On the drive back to Takasaki we stopped at the very impressive Fukiware Waterfalls 吹割の滝 where we could walk along the river and the falls for a short way.

Where is all the water going?

Check out one of the famous waterfalls in Japan

Mt Jingasa (1486m), Mt Yakushi (1528m), Mt Debari (1475m) & Mt Miharashi (1458m), Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture

 

This hike follows the Western half of the caldera around Onuma lake 大沼 on Mt Akagi, passing several minor peaks opposite the highest point of this dormant volcano, Mt Kurobi 1828m (you can include it to make a longer hike). Mt Akagi is known as a hyakumeizan, and many people visit just to go up and down Mt Kurobi. However, like Mt Haruna closeby, there are many smaller mountains and hiking trails that are worth exploring (like Mt Suzu).

Hiking on Mt Akagi 赤城山

HOW TO GET THERE: Take the train to Maebashi (I took the shinkansen to save time), then a bus to the Akagi visitor centre. Some guy was handing out brochures about Mt Akagi to every person on the bus and, after we departed, was giving explanations about Mt Akagi through a microphone nearly the whole way. Slightly annoying but I still managed to doze off eventually (this doesn’t happen every time though).

The bus was pretty full and everybody got off one stop before the end. This was the closest stop to the lake. However the start of the Mt Akagi hiking trail is between that stop and the visitor stop (the terminus), so it doesn’t really matter where you alight.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Akagi

 

THE ROUTE: It took about 30 minutes along the road from the visitor center to the Akagi campsite on the other side of the lake. The start of the hike was tricky to find – according to the map, the trail started before the camp site when actually it started from within, just behind the toilets. I had actually given up after walking up and down the road looking for any trace of a trail, and finally spotted it when I decided to go to the bathroom.

It was a nice signposted trail that quickly headed past a few holiday houses and then up the mountain. The lake is already at 1350m so there really wasn’t much climbing needed to get to the caldera ridge (around 1500m). The main trail went left, but I first walked about 50 meters to the right and got to a small rise called Mt Ashigara 1474m (足柄山) according to the map (there was no summit marker).

View from the summit of Mt Debari

I retraced my steps, circling the caldera counter-clockwise, and arrived at Mt Jingasa (陣笠山 jingasayama) with a summit marker and views of Mt Akagi. A little further on I reached the summit of Mt Yakushi (薬師山 yakushidake). There was really no one on the ridge which was amazing considering the amount of people on Mt Akagi. Afterwards, the path suddenly changed direction, heading over the ridge and down the other side. Mt Akagi has a jumble of peaks, and at times it can be a little disorientating. However very soon the path turned again into the right direction, and before I knew it I was on the top of Mt Debari (出張山 debariyama).

Mt Debari was the best summit by far with lots of places to sit, and some very nice views of Mt Kurobi and Lake Ono. After spending some time there I moved on and slowly started going down the caldera back to lake level. There were several paths going down to the left signposted to some nature house, but the correct path is straight ahead until a T junction. At this stage, I turned right towards the lake (the path heading down to the right is the Kanto Fureai no michi – see Mt Suzu above).

Mt Kurobi and Ono Lake

Eventually I reached the lake and walked along the road for about 20 minutes. With the sun in my back, it was a good place to take photos of Lake Ono. After passing some houses, I saw a sign for an observation platform going up a steep field on the right. After the steep climb the path became level, and after going through some forest, it took me to the treeless summit of Mt Miharashi (見晴山). There was an observation platform just a little down the path on the other side but the view was similar to the one observed earlier. The path continued a short way to the road from Maebashi.

View from the lake shore

On the other side of the road was the start of the trail for Mt Jizoh (1673m). I hiked it on a separate trip to Mt Akagi, but it makes a good extension if one has enough energy and time left. Today it was already late, so instead I followed a nice wide and mostly flat hiking path going around its base before connecting with the main road again. From there it was straight back to the bus stop. A few meters before the Akagi visitor centre 赤城公園ビジターセンター there was a nice wooden cottage that doubles as a restaurant. I popped in to get a snack, and was warmly welcomed.  I was invited to sit in front of the fire and offered hot tea.  A nice place to wait if there is some time before the bus leaves.

CONCLUSION: An easy but fun hike up and down some relatively obscure peaks with nice lake views, suitable for anyone who wants to get away from the crowds. The main drawback is that unless you climb Mt Akagi as well (or have your own car) you will have to walk along the road to reach the start of the hike.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Akagi

View from the lowest peak of today’s hike