Mt Takagawa (976m) & the Yamanashi Prefectural Maglev Exhibition Center, Thursday, December 23, 2021

I had climbed this mountain once before, about ten years ago. I remembered it mainly as an easy to reach peak with a spectacular view of Mt Fuji. On the other hand, the top had been packed with other hikers, making it difficult to get good pictures of Japan’s most famous volcano. I had a rare weekday off and, with the forecast looking good, decided to give it another shot. Studying my map, I counted seven trails leading to the summit; previously, I had gone up from Kasei station and then down to Otsuki; this time, I would start from Hatsukari station and aim to end at Takanokura station, crossing the mountain from west to east. I noticed that the Maglev Exhibition Center was located near the end of my planned route, so I decided to drop by if time allowed. I was looking forward to an easy station to station hike and getting some good, unobstructed views of snowy Fuji.

View of Mt Fuji from the summit of Mt Takagawa

I rode the Chuo line limited express for a short hour to Otsuki station, where I changed to a local train to reach Hatsukari, one station away. The weather was as forecast, and the outline of Mt Takigo, opposite the station on the north side, was clearly visible against the blue sky. I set off just after 11am, first through the town, then along a forest road. By now the sun had risen high enough in the sky to shine through the trees on the northwest side, and despite the cold temperature, it felt pleasant walking through the forest.

A mostly sunny hike to the top

First view of Fuji

Thirty minutes after setting off, I reached a trail on the left; the forest road continued along the valley, eventually turning into the “sawa” trail, but I was keen to get on a proper trail as soon as possible. In no time, I was making my way up a steep ridge and had to stop to take off a layer of clothing. I soon arrived at a fork, and with little hesitation, left the slope for a more relaxing level path, following the contour of the mountain. Fifteen minutes later, the path merged with the “sawa” trail, climbing out of the valley to the left.

On the right, Mitsutoge, where I was just 2 weeks before

Looking at the Doshi mountains

The trail doubled back and was now completely in the sun. Through the leafless trees, I had my first glimpse of Mt Fuji, its white summit rising above a ridgeline. After another fifteen minutes, I passed the top of the steep ridge I left earlier. The path turned around again and rose gently through bamboo grass and a sparse forest. A little before 1pm, I reached the top of Mt Takagawa (高川山 たかがわやま takagawa-yama), a 100 famous mountain of Yamanashi.

The Maglev tracks can be seen at the bottom of the valley, on the right

Still some sun on the way down

As I had hoped, I was the only person there to enjoy the views. I was also lucky with the weather, since on top of the blue skies, I couldn’t feel the slightest breeze. Looking south, I could see Mt Fuji, at the end of the corridor linking Otsuki with the Fuji Five Lake Area. To its right was Mitsutoge, and to its left was Mt Kurami and Mt Shakushi. Peering down on the west side, I could see the straight Maglev tracks crossing the flat valley bottom. Above the trees on the north and west sides, I could make out Mt Gangaharasuri and the northernmost peaks of the South Alps.

The Yamanashi prefecture diorama

Kofu city and its castle

After having lunch and enjoying the fantastic views, I was ready to head down by 2pm. First, I followed a path along the north ridge, and then turned right onto a path going down the mountain in a series of zigzags. The path dipped in and out of the sun, and less than an hour later, reached a paved road. At 3pm, I was at the entrance of the Maglev Exhibition Center. I found the huge diorama of Yamanashi very interesting, as well as the demonstration of the levitation principle (see video). I also discovered they had a free shuttle bus which took me directly to Otsuki station, where I boarded the limited express for the short trip back to Tokyo.

See a demonstration of the Maglev system

Mt Takakusa (501m) & Mankanho (470m), Yaizu & Shizuoka Cities, Shizuoka Prefecture, Sunday, December 19, 2021

I hadn’t been to Shizuoka since March, so I felt I should make at least one more trip before the year end, especially since the clear December skies would be ideal for seeing Mt Fuji and the Pacific ocean. I found a suitable hike in my guidebook, through a small mountainous area next to the sea and south of Mt Hamaishi and Satta Pass. I could get to the start of the trail by riding the shinkansen to Shizuoka station, and then change to the Tokaido line for a few stops; finally a bus would get me to the base of the mountains. Afterwards, I could catch another bus directly back to Shizuoka station: thanks to the bullet train, this hike could be done as a daytrip. The weather was supposed to be good, although windy, and I was looking forward to exploring a new area and getting some views of snow-capped Fuji.

Looking back at Yaizu city on the way up

View of Shizuoka city and Mt Fuji from the Korean Rock

I arrived at Yaizu station a little after 9am on a cold but cloudless day. I was pity I had no time to use the hot spring footbath outside the station before the bus arrived. At 10 am, I got off at the entrance for Rinsoin Temple (林叟院), the start of two trails up the mountain. I chose the “Sakamoto B trail” (坂本Bコース), since it went up the sunny mountain side, whereas the A trail followed a paved road along the valley bottom. The breeze was blowing, but thanks to the sun and the low altitude, it didn’t feel too cold; I was surprised, however, to see some autumn leaves still hanging on to the branches.

Hiking under the winter sun on the way up

Yellow Suzuki and blue Suruga

Less than an hour later, I had my first views of the day: directly below was Yaizu city, filling the wide, flat coastal area; beyond was Suruga bay, sparkling under the winter sun; looking west, I could see the foothills of the South Alps across the bay; finally, turning eastwards, I could make out the outline of Izu peninsula. The path headed straight up through low vegetation, quickly gaining more altitude and repeatedly crossing a switchback road. Shortly after merging with another, more popular trail, I reached the top of Mt Takakusa (高草山 たかくさやま takakusa-yama meaning “tall grass”), a 100 famous mountain of Shizuoka.

The tail end of the South Alps

Mt Hanazawa (foreground) and the Izu peninsula

The view was half-blocked by the trees covering most of the summit, but at least Mt Fuji was visible to the north, a cloud parked on its head. Since it was noon, I sat on a bench for an early lunch. Half an hour later, I set off again down a narrow path heading north. I saw almost no one and enjoyed the solitude of the surrounding forest. Through gaps in the trees, I could see the ocean speckled with the white foamy tips of the breaking waves. After several ups and downs, I arrived at Kurakake pass (鞍掛峠), where I crossed a road and continued along the trail on the other side.

A narrow but easy to walk trail through the forest

Looking back at Mt Takakusa (on the left)

I was now on a path steadily rising through a thick forest. I passed many people and assumed I would soon be arriving at the highlight of the hike. It took half an hour to reach the edge of the forest with a view of what I had hiked so far. Soon after, I arrived at the wide flat summit of Mankanho (満観峰 まんかんほう). The name means “satisfying view”, and indeed, I had no complaints: I could see Shizuoka city spreading out at the foot of Mt Fuji, with the Minobu mountains on the left, and Mt Ashitaka on the right; on the opposite side, I could see the southernmost part of the South Alps, many of its peaks new to me. It was now 1h30, so I found an empty bench and had the rest of my lunch.

View of Mt Fuji from Mankanho

View of the South Alps from Mankanho

I was the last person to leave the summit at 2pm, following a path northwards back into the forest. After a short while, I reached the top of Mariko-Fuji (450m 丸子富士), a minor peak, cone-shaped like its namesake. It was entirely in the trees, but had a well-used visitor’s book, so I left a short message before continuing. Soon after, I arrived at “koyodai” (紅葉台 meaning “autumn colours pedestal”), a rocky prominence in the forest with a single maple tree on top, its bright orange leaves swaying in the wind. Next, I passed by a tiny tea field, probably producing some special kind of tea due needing this remote location. At 3h30, I was finally standing on top of the Korean Rock (韓国岩), a natural platform jutting out from the mountainside.

The final view of the day from the Korean Rock

Looking back at Mt Hanazawa

I had a close-up view of Shizuoka city with Mt Fuji rising above. The sun was sinking below the ridgeline behind me, and half the city was already in the shade; I had to hurry if I wanted to make it down before dark. Almost immediately, I encountered an unexpected fork in the trail. I decided to go left on the “Zelkova route” (けやきコース) descending in a steep zigzag. At the top of some fields, I had my final view of the day; although the low-lying city was now completely in the shadows, the surrounding mountains were still bathed in soft yellow light. A few minutes later I reached a temple and the end of the hiking trail. After a short bus ride to Shizuoka station, I jumped onto one of the frequent bullet trains for the one-hour ride back to Tokyo.

See what it feels like to hike Mt Takakusa

Mitsutoge (1785m), Fuji-Kawaguchi & Nishi-Katsura Towns, Yamanashi Prefecture, Friday, December 10, 2021 [Snow hike]

I had been thinking about visiting the Fuji Five Lakes area again. Having heard on the news that it had snowed there, I decided to make it my next destination, as it would be a great opportunity to do some snow walking close to Tokyo. Also, I could use the Fuji Excursion limited express from Shinjuku, which hadn’t existed on my last visit 5 years ago. From the station, I could catch a bus to the trail entrance. Reaching an elevation of 1230m, it’s one of the highest bus lines near Tokyo that is open all year round. After climbing to the summit, I would go down the opposite side to Mitsutoge station on the Fujikyu line. I was a little unsure about the weather forecast: it was supposed to be sunny, despite the presence of high-altitude clouds. However, I was mainly concerned about the amount of snow and ice on the trail. I packed my light crampons and planned alternatives, feeling excited about seeing the first snow scenes of the season.

Hiking inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

View of Mt Fuji from the Mitsutoge lodge

A popular rock climbing spot

I travelled to Kawaguchiko under gloomy, grey skies, and felt certain I would be hiking inside freezing cold clouds. However, once I was on the bus, the clouds parted, the sun started shining and Mt Fuji appeared. At 10h30 I started hiking from “Mitsutoge Tozan Guchi” (三つ峠登山口), first on a road next to a mountain stream, then on a forest road, winding gently up the mountain side.

Finally, snow!

Just a little further on to the highest point

I saw the first traces of the recent snowfall thirty minutes later, and one hour after setting off, I could feel the satisfying crunch of snow underfoot. It was melting quickly but enough was left to create the hoped for winter landscape. Patches of blue were spreading above as the weather continued to improve. I passed a handful of hikers, and even a couple of jeeps (see video), probably fetching supplies for the lodges before the busy weekend.

Looking south towards the Tenshi mountains

The Mikasa mountains with the Japanese Alps behind

At noon, I had a glorious view of snowy Fuji outside the Mitsutoge Lodge. I had an early lunch and then continued to the highest point, Mt Kaiun (開運山 meaning “better fortune”), above an impressive rocky face. This part truly felt like a snow hike, but thanks to steps placed on the steep slope, I didn’t need to take my crampons out. At 12h30 I was on top of Mitsutoge (三ッ峠 みつとうげ), a 200-famous mountain of Japan. Despite the name, “three passes”, it has three summits rather than mountain passes.

Time to head down down – on the right is Yatsutagake

The southern ridge of Mitsutoge

I had arguably one of the best views of the entire area, the visibility being excellent despite high clouds veiling the sun. Ancient volcanoes surrounded the younger Fuji-san: Mt Hakone, Mt Amagi, Mt Ashitaka and Yatsugatake. The snowy peaks of the Japanese Alps stretched across the western horizon. I could see all the main mountain ranges: Doshi, Tanzawa, Tenshi, Misaka, and Chichibu. Only the north side was blocked by trees and a radio tower; to the northeast, Tokyo was covered in a grey smog.

The Doshi mountains with Tanzawa in the background

Mt Kura with Mt Shakushi directly behind

By 1pm the sun had completely vanished; thankfully it was a windless day and it wasn’t as cold as I had expected. I retraced my steps to the lodge and, since it was still early, I made a roundtrip to Mt Kinashi (木無山 1732m), another of the three summits. Although the name means “without trees”, they were inconveniently blocking the view; only Mt Fuji was visible directly south. By now, it was nearly 2pm and time to head down.

Reaching the base of the cliffs

High-altitude clouds masking the sun

It soon became clear I wouldn’t need my crampons at all today. I descended safely, thanks to a series of steps and a walkway, and reached the base of the cliffs. It’s a popular rock climbing spot and a couple of people were practicing their skills. All traces of snow were now gone, but it was thrilling to walk under the cliff face. At first, the path was mostly level, as it went round to the east side, but eventually it started to zigzag into the valley .

Mt Fuji in the afternoon shade

Last sun rays of the day

I could still see Mt Fuji through gaps in the trees, its eastern side now in the shade. The sun made a final appearance, shining briefly through the leafless trees, before disappearing for good behind a ridge at 3pm. Shortly after, I reached a paved road at the trail entrance. I dropped by Mitsutoge Green Center to take a hot bath before continuing to the nearby Mitsutoge station. At 5pm, I boarded a local trail for Otsuki, where I transferred to the Chuo limited express for the one-hour ride to Tokyo.

See the snowy views of Mitsutoge

Mt Myojo (924m) & Mt Myojin (1169m), Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, Sunday, November 28, 2021

This was a hike that I had done over ten years ago but in reverse. Back then, the visibility hadn’t been so good, so I wanted to redo it in clearer weather. I had climbed Mt Myojin one year earlier, but I was hoping that this time the wind wouldn’t be so cold and Mt Fuji would have its winter coat. I would also be able to ride the Hakone Tozan railway, for the second time this year, to Gora station, near the start of the trail. I would finish at Daiyuzan Saijoji Temple, from where it’s a short bus ride to Daiyuzan station. The weather was supposed to be sunny all day, meaning I could look forward to some great views inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.

Hiking inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

View of Mt Fuji from Daimonji-Yaki

View of Mt Fuji from the top of Mt Myojin

The day was clear and sunny and I could see Mt Fuji while riding the Romance car limited express to Hakone-Yumoto. I arrived a little before 9h30, just in time for the transfer to the Hakone Tozan railway. As the train made its way up the valley via a series of switchbacks, I was able to admire the autumn trees dotting the mountainsides. After getting off at Gora station around 10am, I headed down a series of staircases to a bridge over the Haya river, and then followed a road up the other side of the valley to the start of the hiking trail.

Autumn leaves next to Haya river

Gora and Mt Hakone

It was a windless day and it felt pleasantly warm in the late autumn sun. I started climbing at 11am up a zigzag trail. Half an hour later, I reached Hakone Daimonji Yaki (箱根大文字焼き meaning “big burning character”) where I got a wide view of the valley below. Directly ahead was Mt Hakone and the smoking Owakudani; on the right side, to the west, I could see white-capped Mt Fuji, completely clear of clouds. It took another twenty minutes to reach the top ridge, and a few minutes later, at noon, I was standing on the top of Mt Myojo (明星ヶ岳 みょうじょうがたけ myoujougatake meaning “Morning star”). It didn’t feel like a summit and the trees blocked the view in all directions.

Mt Fuji and its winter cap

Walking between the bamboo grass

I continued without a break along the ridge heading west, towards Fuji, and downhill, through a tunnel of bamboo grass. Eventually, I reached a flatter section from where I could see the climb towards Mt Myojin. I passed many hikers on the way, and I was glad to see other people enjoying the perfect weather and the great views. The visibility was excellent and, looking East, I could see Oshima and other Tokyo islands. At 1h30, I reached the top of Mt Myojin (明神ヶ岳 みょうじんがたけ myoujingatake), a Kanto 100-famous mountain. It wasn’t as cold as last time but it was more crowded; this time the visibility was so good that I could even see the snowy peaks of the Minami Alps, nearly 100 kilometers away. I kept my lunch break short, and set off again before 2pm.

The fumes of Owakudani

Sagami bay and the Shonan coast

I met no other hikers on the gentle descent to Saijoji Temple. The path followed an area cleared of the trees because of a disused chairlift, which enabled me to have good views of the Tanzawa mountains and Sagami bay to the north. Lower down, I could still see some yellow and orange Japanese maple leaves. Although I was now outside the National Park boundaries, the trail went through beautiful forest. At 3h30, I arrived at the Saijoji temple complex in the midst of giant cedar trees.

Looking north towards Tokyo

Pleasant hiking on the way down

Since the sun had already dipped behind the mountains, I decided to skip a visit of the temple grounds and head directly to the Only You hot spring resort (a play on words: “you” sounds like the Japanese word “yu” for hot water”). After a relaxing hot bath, I took the free shuttle bus to the nearby Daiyuzan station. There, I rode a local train to Odawara station and then transferred to the limited express for the one hour trip back to Tokyo.

See the views between Mt Myojo and Mt Myojin

Mt Hinata (1660m) & Ojira River Valley, Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Tuesday, November 23, 2021

This is a mountain that I’ve wanted to climb since I saw it from the top of Mt Amagoi last year; although it’s quite a bit lower, its white summit caught my eye. I found out that by taking a bus from Nirasaki sation on the Chuo line, I could get quite close to the start of the hiking trail and could use the same bus for the return. The trail seemed straightforward: up and down the same way, without any steep sections. The weather was supposed to be sunny but cold. If I had enough time, I would also try to visit the nearby Ojiragawa ravine. Although the autumn colours would be past their peak, I was looking forward to doing a new hike in the Minami Alps.

The white rocks of Mt Hinata

Mt Amagoi, climbed in June 2020

After a comfortable ride on the Chuo line limited express, I arrived at Nirasaki station around 8h30. I was the sole passenger on the bus and got off at the Hakushu roadside station (白州道の駅) a little before 9h30. I walked along a straight road heading towards the Minami Alps at a right angle, and noticed that snow had fallen on the highest peaks. I finally reached the start of the hiking trail around 10h30.

Some autumn leaves could still be seen at the start of the trail

The trees near the upper part of the trail were completely bare

Most of the leaves had already fallen and the path was a patchwork of colors. The lower part of the trail had many intersections but the way to the top was always clearly signposted; the higher part zigged-zagged up the mountain side through a forest of bare larch trees. At noon, I had a view of Mt Fuji to the east through the bare branches. Although it was a sunny day, the wind felt bitterly cold, and I took a short break to add a layer of clothing.

Mt Yatsugatake with the first snow of the season

A beautiful but cold day

At 12h30, I reached a level section within the forest. At the edge of the trees on the west side, I found the summit marker for Mt Hinata (日向山 ひなたやま hinata-yama meaning facing the sun), a Yamanashi 100 famous mountain. Directly ahead I could see the long ridge leading to the summit of Mt Amagoi. North was the extensive bulk of Yatsugatake with a fresh layer of snow, its highest peaks hidden in the clouds. Walking south along the sandy summit, I could admire the dramatic rocky peak of Mt Kaikoma, popping in and out of the clouds.

Mt Kaikoma, one of the highest peaks of the South Alps

The summit has a good view of Mt Fuji

I walked as far as I dared along the ridge before turning back. On the east side, I could see the elongated profile of Mt Hou, as well as Mt Fuji in its winter cap. The sandy summit was buffeted by strong gusts of icy wind forcing me to retreat into the cover of the trees. After a quick lunch, I started to head down at 1h30. It soon felt much warmer and I could remove a layer of clothing. I walked down the same way and reached the base of the mountain before 3pm.

The pool at the base of Jinja waterfall

The beautiful green waters of Ojiragawa river

It was still early so I had time to quickly check out Ojiragawa Keikoku (尾白川渓谷 ojiragawa-keikoku). I went to Jinja waterfall (神蛇滝) and back. I was impressed by the green colour of the pool at its base. The trail continued further up the valley, and I hope one day to hike it in its entirety. On the way back to the bus stop, I dropped by Ojira no yu hot spring at 4pm for a quick hot bath. Once bacl at Nirasaki station, I boarded the limited express for the two-hour trip back to Tokyo.

See the sands of Mt Hinata and the turbulent waters of the Ojira river

Mt Tana (1171m), Yamanashi City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, 6 November, 2021

I wanted to do one last hiking trip in the low mountainous area between Yamanashi and Kofu cities before the end of the year. Looking through my guidebook, I found a suitable loop hike with Mt Fuji views. I could reach the start of the trail by taxi from Yamanashi station and then walk back at the end. I was worried about getting a seat on the train so I decided to reserve it beforehand online. The clear sunny weather was supposed to continue for a few more days and the autumn colours would still be at their peak. I was looking forward to a pleasant hike above the Kofu valley.

View from the summit of Mt Tana

Late afternoon above the Kofu valley

After an uneventful ride on the Chuo limited express under sunny blue skies, I caught a taxi outside Yamanashi-shi station at 10am. Fifteen minutes later, I was standing outside Hottarakashi onsen, a hot spring featured in the manga Yuru Camp. Since today’s hike was on the short side, I took a few minutes to check it out. I discovered that there were two outdoor baths, each with its own entrance: a small one facing Mt Fuji and a large one facing the Kofu valley. From a viewing area next to the bath entrance, I got a glimpse of Japan’s most famous mountain in its brand new winter coat.

View from Hottarakashi hot spring

Mt Fuji in its winter coat

At 10h30, I finally set off along a level forest road passing above the Hottarakashi Camping Ground. The surrounding forest had been cut down so I had some good views south of the Misaka mountains surrounding Mt Fuji, now in the clouds. Half an hour later, I reached the official entrance of the trail through bright yellow “suzuki” grass dancing in the wind. A few minutes later I was walking up the mountain side through dark forest and soon reached a fork: left was the “kasane-ishi” trail (重ね石コース meaning rock pile trail) and right was the “yama-no-kami” trail (山の神コース meaning mountain god trail), both leading to the summit.

The Mikasa mountains

Entrance to the trail through Japanese pampas grass

I took the left branch and made my way up a steep slope, assisted by ropes tied between the trees. At times the path disappeared under a carpet of leaves, so I was glad for the ropes showing the way even, though I didn’t always need to use them. It was the tail end of the autumn leaves season and from time to time the wind blew through the trees, causing dead leaves to tumble gently to the ground. I eventually arrived at “kasane-ishi” marked by a large boulder. From there, the path became less steep and followed a ridge sprinkled with rocks of various sizes. This rocky section was easier to navigate than the one on nearby Mt Kabuto and the ropes clearly showed the way.

Despite the rocks, the path was easy to follow

It was the perfect time for autumn leaves

After another steep section, I reached the nearly flat summit ridge and at 12h15 I was standing on the highest point of Mt Tana (棚山 たなやま tana-yama), meaning shelf mountain, probably referring to its elongated, horizontal summit. Looking west, I could see the South Alps already covered in snow: looking east, I had a view of the massive bulk of Daibosatsurei and the ridgeline stretching south; the other directions were blocked by trees. I was the only person there and, in-between gusts of wind, it was very peaceful. After a leisurely one-hour lunch in the sun, I walked back a few meters to the junction with the mountain god trail.

Walking the summit ridge

The long ridge stretching south from Daibosatsurei

The path leading down was even steeper than the one up and I was glad that I had followed the guidebook’s recommendation to go up the other half. Fortunately, I could count on the ropes to steady myself. Half an hour later, I reached the bottom of a gloomy valley and soon after I was back at the trail junction from where I would follow the same route back. At 2pm, I was back under the sun walking along the forest road, the views in the afternoon sun somewhat different from the morning, although Mt Fuji was still nowhere to be seen.

Looking north towards the Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park

Dusk on Mt Tana (right)

I was surprised to see no other hikers on the mountain since it was an easy hike near a popular camping site. At 2h30, I was back at the Hottakarashi hot spring. It seemed crowded so I continued down the road to the less busy Puku Puku Onsen. Although I couldn’t see Mt Fuji, I had a great view of the mountains lining the eastern half of the Kofu valley from the outdoor bath. At 4pm, I walked down through Fuefukigawa Fruit Farm and arrived at Yamanashi-shi station just before 5pm. Since I had bought my ticket online after my hot spring bath, I just had to board the next limited express for the ninety minute ride back to Tokyo.

See the falling leaves on Mt Tana

Mt Kabuto (913m), Fuefuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, October 10, 2021

I had done many hikes in Yamanashi, but I had never been to the hills between Yamanashi and Kofu cities. My hiking guide had two suggestions for that area, but, after studying my map, I ended up choosing another mountain in-between, because it was shorter and easier to access. I would take a taxi from Yamanashi-shi station to the start of the trail, and after a loop hike, return on foot via a road to a hot spring, and Kasugaicho station on the local Chuo line. Although the trail went through a rocky area, it didn’t seem to present any major difficulties. I was more concerned about spiders and their webs blocking the way, a recurring headache when hiking under 1000 meters in September and October. The weather was supposed to be cloudy at first with sun in the afternoon, and since there was a viewpoint near the top, I hoped I could get to see the mountains of Yamanashi as well as Mt Fuji.

View south from the rocky area

The weather was gloomy and cloudy as I rode the limited express out of Shinjuku. It didn’t seem like I would get any views today, as white mist spilled out of the valleys on both sides of the Chuo line. I asked the taxi driver to drop me off at “Nageshi Somen“, close to the start of the trail, and less than ten minutes away. As I got ready for the hike, I felt that despite the overcast weather, I was lucky that the temperature felt just right for hiking.

Statue near my taxi drop-off point

An easy to walk path at the start of the hike

After walking along a dirt road for twenty minutes, I arrived at a fireworks store and the start of the hiking trail. I was soon walking on a flat wide path through pleasant forest next to a small river. It took another 20 minutes to reach the start of the “rocky area” trail (岩場コース iwaba-kosu). After a short climb up the side of the mountain, I reached the the rocks and cliffs on the east side of the mountain. I took a break to observe some people practice their rock climbing skills on a huge boulder (see video).

Cairn along the first part of the “rocky area” trail

Walking between the rocks on the east side of the mountain

I reached the first viewpoint of the day as the noon chime echoed through the wide valley below. Directly below, I could see the Kasugai golf course and, on the other side of the valley, the foothills of the Misaka mountains, their peaks lost in the low clouds. I was now halfway up the “rocky area” course and I had fun scrambling between and over rocks of various sizes, using fixed chains to pull myself up when necessary. I could also relax since there were no webs spun across this section of the trail.

Kasugai golf course and the Misaka mountains

My lunch view – somewhere to the right is Mt Fuji

I soon reached a gently sloping ridgeline, and by 12h30 I was standing on top of Mt Kabuto (兜山 kabuto-yama), meaning helmet mountain because of its rounded shape. The summit, a hundred famous mountain of Yamanashi, was completely in the trees, but after walking south along a short path, I arrived at a bench with a view through a break in the trees, a good place for lunch. The weather hadn’t really improved, and although I was supposed to be able to see Mt Fuji, just 30 kilometers away behind Mt Oni and Mt Settou, all I could make out was a white wall. After lunch, I made my way back to the summit and followed the trail west through the forest.

A rocky narrow ridge near the highest point of the hike

View on the way down at the edge of a deforested area

I walked along a rock strewn ridge, slowly rising to an altitude above 1000 meters, the back of the helmet perhaps; for the first time this season, the air felt chilly. The path then suddenly dropped down the back of the “helmet”, and as the temperature went back to comfortable, I had to start dodging spiderwebs again. Luckily for me, each time I stepped into one, its maker was on the higher half, just above the top of my cap. I turned left into a valley and was now walking through the beautiful “Kabuto-yama no Mori” (the Mt Kabuto forest). I was the only hiker around and I was constantly spooked by falling acorns. At 2pm, I reached a forest road between a deforested area and Umezawa river, the same one I had followed earlier in the day.

Looking back at Mt Kabuto

View from the road between the golf course and the vineyards

I walked at a leisurely pace to the parking lot near the start of the “rocky area” trail, completing the loop. I then continued on a paved road, with the river below on the left and a golf course on my right. Looking back, I could see the helmet-shaped summit of Mt Kabuto. Ahead, I had a bird’s eye view of Kofu valley. The weather was finally improving and patches of blue sky were visible above. After a steep descent through some vineyards, I arrived at the Iwashita hot spring inside a building dating from 1888. It was just past 3pm, so I had time for a quick dip, before walking to the nearby train station. I rode one stop and switched to the limited express for the eighty minute ride back to Shinjuku.

Hiking over “Helmet mountain”

Mt Tennyo (1528m), Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture

Hiking on Yatsugatake 八ヶ岳

I found out about the Yatsugatake “ondanhodo (八ヶ岳横断歩道 meaning “crossing path”) hiking down Mt Gongen. Looking at my hiking map it seemed like a mostly level path following the contour of the mountain. However, I wasn’t sure how well-maintained the hiking path would be, seeing that it didn’t lead to one of the popular summits in the area. Also, I was curious whether there would be any good views along the way. I decided to start from Kiyosato 清里 station, and finish at Kai-Koizumi 甲斐小泉 station, not to be confused with Kai-Oizumi 甲斐大泉, one station away. According to my map, the hike would take over 8 hours, but hopefully it could be done in less.

Hiking through the cow pastures

I left Tokyo under grey skies, but I wasn’t worried, since sunny weather was forecasted for Yamanashi; indeed, as soon as I reached Kofu city, the clouds parted and the sun appeared. I was more concerned about the train back being full as well, and I made sure to book my return seat as soon as I got off at Kobuchizawa. I was using the Tokyo Wide Pass which had gone through an upgrade since the last time I had used it. The fancy card format was out, replaced by a ticket similar to a shinkansen ticket, that could be put through the automatic ticket gates. I could also use it to reserve my seat in a ticket machine (I had one of the station staff show me how).

Hiking on the slopes of Yatsugatake

The Kawamata river valley

The Koumi line was also full so I had to stand for the short but exciting ride; the train went up the side of the valley, reaching Kiyosato – altitude 1274 meters – where I got off at 10am; the next stop on the line is Nobeyama 野辺山, the highest train station in Japan at 1345 meters. The air was definitely cooler here, and the village reminded me of Switzerland. To get to the start of the “ondanhodo” trail, I had to walk alongside a busy road for 45 minutes. Then, it was another half an hour of gentle climbing through forest before a short descent led me to Kawamata River. I took a short break here and had a late breakfast, enjoying the warm sun and the sound of the water.

The Oku-Chichibu mountains, in the clouds

Dragonfly taking a break on the top of a signpost

Setting off again, I soon reached wide pastures with a sweeping view of the Oku-Chichibu Mountains, and cows – it’s not often I get to see cows while hiking in Japan. It took me another hour to reach the top of Mt Tennyo (天女山 tennyosan meaning heavenly woman). The view, on the other hand, wasn’t so heavenly and didn’t detain me long. Since there is a bus route and a number of facilities in the area, there were many hikers. However, from then on I had the trail mostly to myself. After a few minutes of climbing I reached a sign for a viewpoint off the main trail. I decided to check it out, but ended up disappointed since trees blocked the view. Probably at one time in the past, it must have been quite spectacular. I retraced my steps, having lost five valuable minutes. The path continued to climb steadily with no end in sight. Since I wasn’t aiming to summit a peak, any meters gained would eventually have to be walked down. It was around this point, that the surrounding forest, a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, started to get really beautiful.

The Kofu valley with on the left Mt Mizugaki

The “ondanhodo” trail, a pleasant walk through the forest

Eventually I reached the highest point of today’s hike, 1791 meters according to my map, and after a short level bit, I started descending again. This pattern continued for the rest of the hike, although on a smaller scale, as the trail made its way along the natural folds of the mountain. It was tougher than I had imagined but the trail was well-maintained and enjoyable; there were frequent numbered signposts; It made me appreciate the size and complexity of the massive ancient volcano I was walking on. I saw no other hikers and it was very peaceful. There were few viewpoints; I passed another sign of an observatory up a path heading straight up, but decided to skip it since I was still behind (I found out later that there was indeed a view). 

The Minami Alps

Looking back at Yatsugatake

At 2h30, I reached a break in the trees with a nice view Eastwards of Kofu valley. I sat down on the side of the trail and had a late lunch. Mt Fuji was in the clouds with only a part of the summit – still free of snow – visible. Soon after lunch, I reached a detour sign; the trail had collapsed lower down. However, I was grateful for it, as it allowed to avoid one of the many “dips” in the path. At 4pm I reached Samisen Waterfall 三味線滝 (1550m). Here, I turned left, leaving the Yatsugatake “ondanhodo” path, and headed down. The trail soon turned into a narrow paved road with nice views of the South Alps in front, and (part of) Yatsugatake behind. After a good hour of road walking, I reached Kai-Koizumi station a little after 5pm, just in time for the local train back to Kobuchizawa, one stop away. After admiring the dusk view from the the top of Kobuchizawa station, I hopped on the limited express for the two-hour ride back to Tokyo.

Listen to the sounds of Yatsugatake

This section of the path across Yatsugatake turned out to be a beautiful and peaceful hike, even though all the ups and down made it tougher and longer than I had imagined. The second half of the hike had few views, but that’s to be expected when walking the side of the mountain. The trail continues all the way round Yatsugatake – I think this may have been one of the better bits, and the only one that can be done from station to station; I’ll find out by hiking more of it in the future! 

 

Mt Takahata (982m) & Mt Kuki (970m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture

I had climbed these two peaks before, but separately and via different routes. The trail along the connecting ridge was one of the few remaining ones for me to hike in the Doshi Sankai, the mountainous area between the Tanzawa and the Oku-Chichibu mountains. Although I was guaranteed good views from each summit, I was curious whether I would get more views along the way. According to my map, the total hiking time was nearly 7 hours, so I also wondered whether I would be able to do the full hike. Finally, since it wasn’t a popular trail, I was hoping it wouldn’t be too difficult to follow.

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One of the 12 views of Mt Fuji in the Otsuki area

I took the local Chuo line to Uenohara, where I caught a nearly empty bus for Mushono 無生野. The fifty minute ride took me along some exciting, narrow roads through beautiful countryside, dotted here and there with cherry blossom trees in full bloom; it was like a magical hidden valley. After getting off at the last stop, I walked ten minutes on the road to get to the start of the hike, marked by a sign on the right. Past a fence for keeping wild animals out, the trail entered a thick forest of cypress trees. Here the path was hard to follow here, at one point entering a streambed for a few meters, but became easier once it started to climb. It was still winter in the mountains, and the path was sunny under the leafless trees.

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Bus ride through the Akiyama river valley 

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Climbing out of the valley towards the pass

At 10h30, I reached a pass, joining up with the path for Mt Kura. I didn’t have time to do the round trip to the top, but I had been there twice before. I turned left and a few minutes later I reached the top of Mt Tenjin (876m) 天神山. There was a great viewpoint of Mt Momokura and Mt Ogi on the other side of the valley to the North. After a few quick pictures, I continued on my way. The trail went up and down, and I soon reached the top of Mt Takahata 高畑山, meaning high field. On my last visit in June 2018, Mt Fuji was completely hidden. This time around I could see Japan’s most famous volcano, all but the very top free of clouds.

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Mt Ogi (Center) and Mt Momokura (right)

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Mt Fuji wearing one of its “cloud caps”

It was still early for lunch, so I moved on without a break. I passed by the minor summit of Mt Okuwa (980m) 大桑, with 3 different summit markers but no view, before descending to a road. While continuing down it, I came across a green snake. It was sunning itself in the middle of the road, but once it realised I was there, it slithered away into the bushes (see video at the end of the post). The road soon joined up with the road for Saruhashi, and went uphill for a bit before reaching a pass. Here the hiking trail reappeared on the left, heading slowly up the mountain.

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Nice ridge walking around 1000m

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This snake is most likely an Aodaisho or rat snake

At 12h30, I arrived at the top of Mt Takasazu (860m) 高指山. Despite the lack of view, I found a sunny log to sit on, so I decided it was a good place to have lunch. Afterwards, the trail went down for a bit, before climbing again, following a fence on the right side. The surrounding trees changed from deciduous to coniferous, giving the trail an alpine feel. I had glimpses through the trees of the valley leading to Tsurishi city to the South; at the bottom lies the Maglev line that is still in construction.

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More and more pine trees along the path

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The Misaka mountains with Mt Takagawa on the far right

After an hour and a half, I reached a viewpoint of Mt Fuji, called Fujimidaira 富士見平, but the volcano was becoming hard to appreciate in the afternoon haze. A few minutes later, I was standing on the flat top of Mt Kuki 九鬼山, meaning nine devil mountain. On one side, through the trees, was another view of Mt Fuji, the top part now firmly in the clouds. On the West side, there was a wide view of the Misaka mountains, including Mt Mitsutoge on the left side.

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View from Tengu Rock

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Mt Fuji making its final appearance of the day

I was only one hour away from the train station, and largely ahead of schedule, but as the summit was in the shade, I left soon after finishing my lunch. There were several routes down, and I decided to take the Ike-no-yama one. The first part was quite steep, but after a few minutes, I spotted a sign for Tengu-iwa 天狗岩 on the left. It promised a great view only minutes away. Since I had loads of time, I decided to check it out. It turned out to be a couple of boulders in a small opening on the side of the mountain. Standing on top of them, I had the best view of the day, looking down the valley leading to Kawaguchiko City. On the right was Mt Mitsutoge, and on the left was the ridgeline between Mt Imakura and Mt Nijuroka hiked in 2016. In the back, I could just about make out the shape of Mt Fuji.

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Walking down the Ike-no-yama route

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Lots of views on the way down

I returned to the trail and continued down the mountain. This was by far the most pleasant section of today’s hike. On top of the occasional views to the left, I also spotted some yamazakura or mountain sakura in bloom. I reached a sign for Mt Ikenoyama 638m 池の山, meaning pond mountain, even though there was no apparent summit. The road at the end of the hiking trail was lined with sakura in full bloom, making a nice end to what was a satisfying ramble through the mountains. The walk back along the road to the charming Tanokura station took ten minutes, and I arrived there just after 4pm. After arriving at Otsuki two stops further, I caught the limited express back to Tokyo.

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Sakura lining the road at the of the hike

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Although there were few views between the two peaks, I was relieved that the path was easy to follow with frequent signposts. One curious aspect of the hike was that there was often two or even three types of signposts at various points, all equally worn out. Overall I was glad that I was able to complete the hike nearly one hour under the map time, and being able to get to Tokyo before sunset.

Caution: Snake on the road!

 

Mt Byobu (948m) & Mt Sengen (804m), Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, Saturday, February 15, 2020

Hiking in the Hakone Mountains

My last visit to Hakone was in December 2014 when I hiked the mountains around Lake Ashi. The area is close to Tokyo, offers good hiking and sightseeing at the same time. However, like Mt Fuji and Nikko, it sits right on the tourist trail, so buses, and hot springs, are usually crowded. The recent, and unfortunate, drop in the number of tourists was a good chance to do some hiking there, as well as support the area. There was a hike in my “Mountains of Kanagawa” that I had been wanting to do for a while. However, it was a bit short (3 hours), so using my Hakone hiking map, I built a longer hike that would take me from Hakone Town on Lake Ashi, all the way down to Hakone-Yumoto station. There were few views, and no sun, so I wasn’t able to get many good pictures. Nevertheless it was a good ramble.

Shy Fuji on a grey day

I used the comfortable Romancecar from Shinjuku, but got off at Odawara, one stop before Hakone-Yumoto. Since most buses start from there, I thought I would have a better chance of getting a seat. To my surprise, the driver wouldn’t let me board till I told him my exact destination. I had memorised the kanji, but couldn’t recall how to say them, so I just said “Hakone”. The driver replied, in English, “Hakone is wide.” Suddenly the name popped into my head. “Sekisho-ato!” I blurted out; the driver acknowledged it as a valid bus stop, and I was finally allowed to board the completely empty bus.

Start of the trail among the bamboo bushes

The bus remained mostly empty, even after passing Hakone-Yumoto. I could see the usual line of sightseers at the bus stop, but for some mysterious reason they didn’t get on. The bus passed by the Yusaka trail 湯坂道, the starting point of the second part of today’s hike. As was established earlier, I got off at Sekisho-ato 関所跡, meaning “checkpoint ruins”, the start of the Hakone section of the Old Tokaido Road (more on that later), and popped into a nearby souvenir shop. On the other side, there was a view of Lake Ashi, with Mt Fuji partially hidden by Mt Mikuni.

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Steep climbing on Mt Byobu

At 10 o’clock I finally set off. I found the start of the trail indicated by a signpost near the bus stop. Very soon I reached some steps going straight up the mountain side. They were so steep that at one point it felt like a ladder would have been more appropriate. Thankfully it didn’t take long to reach the top of the ridge, after which it was pleasant stroll along a mostly level trail to the top of Mt Byobu 屛風山, part of the outer crater rim of Mt Hakone.

Walking through thick vegetation above Hakone Town

It was entirely surrounded by trees, so I didn’t linger, and followed the path down the other side. There were some glimpses of the surrounding mountains through the trees. Even though I was close to a major hot spring resort, I couldn’t see any buildings nor hear any noise. It felt like I was exploring a hidden valley. Less than thirty minutes later, I reached the Tokaido road, connecting Hakone-Yumoto with Hakone Town, and the Amazake-Chaya Teahouse. I decided to take a short break and have some of their famous non-alcoholic sweet sake with “chikara-mochi” meaning “power rice cake”. This was a welcome break, since I had forgotten half of my lunch at home.

Refueling with some sweet sake and power mochi

At noon, I was powered up and ready to continue hiking. I was now walking the Old Tokaido Road to Hatajuku 畑宿. I could have followed it all the way from Hakone Town, since it started near the bus stop I got off. However, it seemed that, apart from the historical aspect, it wouldn’t make for an interesting hike, so I preferred the detour through the mountains. The Tokaido used to connect Tokyo and Kyoto during the Edo period. Most of it has disappeared, but some sections have been restored along the Hakone part.

An ancient road dating back to the 17th century

It’s stone-paved, so it was easy to mentally travel back in time, and imagine what it must have been like to walk this road 400 years ago. However, it wasn’t easy to walk on the stones. At first it ran parallel to the modern Tokaido road, so the noise of cars was never far away. When the modern road made a series of switchbacks down the side of the mountain, the ancient one descended directly via a series of stone steps, at the end of which was a short section of road-walking.

A not so old staircase on the Old Tokaido Road

At one point there was a view of the Shonan coast and Odawara city below, probably quite spectacular on days with better visibility. Half an hour later, I reached Hatajuku, a center for traditional handicrafts, and left the Old Tokaido Road. It continues all the way down to Hakone-Yumoto, but I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you are into Historical reenactment.

Turn right here to return to the paved road

I walked up the Hakone Shindo Road for a few minutes till the start of the trail for the Hiryu falls 飛龍の滝 up the other side of the mountain. The first part was punishingly steep. The next part, following a rushing stream, was more level but surprisingly rocky at times, especially for regular sightseers who just wanted to see the falls, not experience a full-blown hike. I got to the observation platform base of the falls at 1h30, and was underwhelmed by what I observed. The water rushing down the rocky side of the mountains never really “fell”, but I figured it would look more impressive after a big rainfall. However, the picturesque Hiryu river made the climb worthwhile.

Hiryu river valley, just below the falls

The next part of the trail was badly damaged, probably due to last year’s typhoons. A little higher up were signs that the trail was being repaired, and the next part was a lot better. The trail climbed steadily through thick forest along steps built into the gentle slope. I was now all alone as most people turn back at the waterfalls.

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Trail after the waterfall

At 2pm, I reached the Yusaka hiking trail. To the left was the road I had taken earlier by bus. Turning around, I saw a sign on the trail I had just come up, reminding me that I was inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. I headed right along a wide path, doubling as a firebreak. I soon reached a table on top of a grassy mound. According to my map, this was the top of Mt Takanosu 鷹ノ巣山 (834m). There was no summit marker, but instead there was a sign saying this was the location of the ruins of Takanosu castle. A little further was a steep and short descent, followed by a gentle climb. I had some views of the Gora area of Hakone (cable car service should resume on March 20) and Mt Kintoki in the background (Mt Ashigara on some maps). Before I knew it, I was at the top of Mt Sengen 浅間山. There was another table, but no view.

A glimpse of Gora with Mt Kintoki in the background

The final section of the hike followed the firebreak along a ridge, all the way back down to Hakone-Yumoto. I am sure this would be a nice hike on a sunny spring or autumn day, but today under a grey sky and surrounded by leafless trees, it felt rather bleak. However it was quite warm for the time of the year, around 15 degrees, so it was odd walking in a winter landscape in spring-like temperatures. I reached the ruins of Yusaka castle a little before 4pm. Apart from a signboard there wasn’t much to see. A few minutes later, I popped out onto the main road next to a river. I had a hot spring bath at nearby Izumi, before walking the 5 minutes back to the train station, where I caught the Romancecar back to Tokyo.

NEXT UP: Mt Ushibuse in Gunma