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.

null

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.

IMG_20200404_090507

Bus ride through the Akiyama river valley 

null

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.

null

Mt Ogi (Center) and Mt Momokura (right)

null

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.

null

Nice ridge walking around 1000m

null

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.

null

More and more pine trees along the path

null

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.

1

View from Tengu Rock

null

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.

null

Walking down the Ike-no-yama route

null

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.

null

Sakura lining the road at the of the hike

null

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.

IMG_20200215_102243

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.

IMG_20200215_135335

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

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 Nodake (543m) & Mt Yaeyama (531m), Uenohara City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Tuesday, December 24, 2019

This was a short hike – about 3 hours – I did along the Chuo line. I decided to add it for a couple of reasons. First the views, including Mt Fuji, were amazing. Second, the signs – in Japanese and English – were excellent, and made this an easy-to-follow hike. It had snowed in the area 3 days earlier, but it seemed that crampons wouldn’t be needed.

I took the train to Uenohara station, about an hour from Shinjuku, from where it was another hour of walking to the start of the trail. In reality it takes a bit longer, but I was able to catch a bus midway. The buses in the area are infrequent and hard to figure out so I was lucky to catch one near a bus stop. It’s another ten minutes from the last stop to the start of the trail.

Start of the hiking trail

Beautiful forest just around the corner

I started up the hiking trail just past 10am, and in less than ten minutes, I reached a viewpoint where I could see Mt Fuji. After taking a few pictures, I turned around, and saw that the path was covered in snow! However, I happened to be there at the same time as another hiker on his way down, and he assured me that there wasn’t much snow higher up.

Snow on the trail, but mostly on the North side

The path turned along the side of the mountain, and once it faced southwards, the snow did indeed disappear. It reappeared here and there further on, but it was never an issue. I was soon walking on the summit ridge, and after a couple of ups and downs, I reached the top of Mt Nodake 能岳 before 11am. The view of the Katsura river valley below with Mt Fuji in the background was outstanding.

View from the top of Mt Nodake

Closeup of Mt Fuji

After a quick bite, I set off again. It took me only ten minutes to reach the top of Mt Yaeyama 八重山. There was a small arbour, but the view was somewhat obstructed by trees. I started walking down, and less than ten minutes later I came to another arbour and lookout point. Here, the view was top notch; arguably one of the best in the Tokyo area. From left to right, I could see the Tanzawa mountains, Mt Fuji, Mitsutoge, Mt Ogiyama and Mt Gongen.

View to the West of Mt Ogiyama and Mt Gongen

View from the Mt Yaeyama observatory

I left the viewpoint at 11h30. There are several paths down the mountain, but they all meet up lower down; some were closed due to typhoon damage. Once I reached the base of the mountain, the path followed a stream through the forest. At times, the sunlight filtering through the trees was magical. Very soon, I reached a road, and it took me another 45 minutes to get back to Uenohara station.

Magical forest at the end of the hike

NEXT UP: Mt Bukka (Tanzawa Mountains) in 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 Iwadono (634m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Sunday December 8, 2019

Hiking from the Chuo Line 中央線

I’d been through Otsuki so many times, on my way to either the Mt Fuji Five lakes area, or Kofu city, and each time I saw this rocky hill jutting up behind the city. Since it’s not a very big mountain, I did it as a morning hike, returning to Tokyo around noon. At the moment, two out of the three hiking trails are closed, these closures predate typhoon Hagibis, but it’s still possible to hike up via the back of the mountain. After reaching the highest point, it’s possible to continue along the ridge westwards for another hour, and finally walk back to Otsuki station forming a loop; since it’s a popular hike, there are warning signs and maps about this right outside the station, and along the approach to the trailhead.

Autumn colours still on display in December

I used the convenient and comfortable Chuo line limited express to get to Otsuki station, only one hour from Shinjuku. It took me another hour to reach the start of the trail – Hatagura tozanguchi 畑倉登山口, just opposite a driving school. Although I had to walk on the road, there were good views of Katsura river (which later becomes Sagami river), Mt Momokura and Mt Gongen. The crisp autumn weather made all the surrounding mountains clearly visible. After crossing the river, I turned around, and I saw the snowy top of Mt Fuji rising behind Otsuki city.

IMG_20191208_114213

The hike follows the ridge from right to left

From the start of the hiking path, it took me just half an hour to reach the top of Mt Iwadono 岩殿山. It used to be the site of a castle, Iwadonojo 岩殿城 but there isn’t much left now. I was rewarded with an amazing aerial view of Otsuki town with Mt Fuji in the background. On the left, were the Doshi mountains, and on the right, were the Misaka Mountains. I was standing on top of the rocky face of the mountain, with nothing but a low fence and some bushes separating me from a hundred meter drop. My arrival at the top coincided with that of a rather large group, and I was asked to take their photo. One of the group members very kindly offered me some sweets in exchange. After they had moved on, I enjoyed an early lunch.

Spectacular view from the top of Mt Iwadono

Fortunately, my hike wasn’t over yet. From the summit, I continued along the ridge, first heading down for a short while before climbing again. I soon reached a fork where I had 2 choices – the forest path or the rock climbing path. Unfortunately, the group I had encountered at the summit, were now busy making their way up the rock climbing path – there was no way to get around them. Since I was on a schedule, I took the less exciting forest option. However, the paths merged soon after, and I found myself ahead of the large group, so in the end it was a blessing in disguise.

Last good view of Mt Fuji

I had some more excellent views of the valley below, and Mt Fuji, while hiking along a narrow, rocky ridge. I had imagined that this would be an easy hike, but it turned out to be quite exciting. It took me less than an hour to reach the top of the next summit, Mt Tenjin 天神山, surrounded by trees. A few minutes later, I reached an impressive rocky face called Chigo-otoshi 稚児落とし. The hiking path took me above it, where I had some more great views of the area. Standing on top of the highest boulder, I took in the last views of today’s hike. From there, the path descended steeply through forest to Asari 浅利 at the bottom of the valley, and it was another 30-minute walk along the road back to Otsuki station, which I reached just before noon, nearly four hours after setting out. I was glad to find a mountain that hadn’t been too affected by last year’s powerful typhoons. Apart from one fallen tree, the trail and the surrounding forest seemed in good shape. Hopefully the other trails will reopen sometime in the future.

Chigo-otoshi at the end of the hike – no safety fence here!

NEXT UP: Mt Hagaba in Tochigi Prefecture

Mt Sanpobun (1422m) & Panoramadai (1300m), Fujikawaguchiko Town, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, November 30, 2019

Hiking in the Fuji Five Lakes Area

This is one of my favourite areas to hike in the late autumn and early winter since the views of Mt Fuji are so beautiful. Also, since April 2019, there is a direct limited express between Shinjuku and Kawaguchiko that I really wanted to try. It’s the same deal as the Chuo line limited express – all seats are reserved only. However, for the Fuji train, there were no seats to be had on the day itself, and I had to stand most of the way. Although it’s convenient, I probably won’t be using this train again.

View of Mt Fuji from Yamadaya Hotel

I got off at Fuji station, boarded the bus for Motosu lake, and got off at Yamadaya Hotel next to Shoji lake. The view of Mt Fuji rising from behind the lake was stunning. Originally I wanted to hike all the way to Mt Ou and end at lake Saiko, but considering the fresh layer of snow that covered the higher reaches of the mountain, I decided to shorten the hike, and make a loop back to my starting point. The fact that the Yamadaya hotel also allowed day-trippers to use their hot spring bath was also a factor in that decision.

Already hiking in the snow in November

I started up the hiking path quite late in the day – at 11h15. I had hiked up this path once before in February 2013 in the snow, and there was snow again this time. I met many people coming down – apparently this is a popular hike. I reached Panoramadai パノラマ大 one hour later, and had an early lunch. Six years ago I continued down to lake Motosu on the other side. This time, I retraced my steps to follow the ridgeline Northwards. There were less people, and the path went up and down more steeply. Fortunately, the snow layer was thin, but I had to be careful not to slip on the descending parts. I was glad I had chosen the shorter hike and that I didn’t have to rush!

DSC07059
View of Shoji lake and Mt Ou in February 2013

DSC07071
View of Mt Fuji and Aokigahara forest in February 2013

There was a great view of Mt Fuji and Shoji lake, a few meters to the right of the path, just before Shoji pass – I nearly missed it even though it was marked on my map. After that, the path climbed steadily. I reached an area with a small shrine that seemed like the top but wasn’t. It took another five minutes along a level path to reach the true summit of Mt Sanpobun 三方分山. It was surrounded by trees, but there was a nice view of Mt Fuji on the South side.

 

IMG_20191130_132712b
The best view of the hike was near Shoji Pass

IMG_20191130_141126
View from the top of Mt Sanpobun

It was past 2pm and time to head down. On the way, I had some good views of the ridge leading up to Mt Ou – hopefully I can hike it another time. The whole mountainous area spreading North-East, and bound by the Fujikyuko and Chuo lines, is known as the Misaka mountain range. One hour later, I emerged from the forest near the base of the lake. There was an interesting shrine with a couple of very large cedar trees. According to the sign, they were 1200 years old, 10 meters in circumference, and 40m high! A short walk brought me back to my starting point where I was able to take a nice bath with a good view of Mt Fuji in the late afternoon light.

Next up: Mt Iwadono in Yamanashi Prefecture

Mt Minobu (1153m), Minobu Town, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, November 16, 2019

Hiking in the Minobu Mountains 身延山地

This is another mountain that was on my must-climb list for ages, in an area relatively close to Tokyo that I had never been to before, between Mt Fuji and the Southern Alps. There is also a ropeway to the summit – I didn’t use it, but it’s nice to have the option. Finally, the temple area at the base of the mountain is the last resting place of the founder of Nichiren Buddhism – less interesting to me, but worth noting.

IMG_20191116_104900

Above: Summit framed between cedar trees and temple buildings

Below: Significantly less snow on the Western side of Mt Fuji

I rode the Chuo line to Kofu, then changed to the Fujikawa Limited Express to Minobu station, arriving just past 9h30. I hopped onto the bus for the short ride to Minobusan at the base of the mountain. A short walk up the main street brought me to San-Mon 三門, one of the three famous gates of Kanto, according to the information board. It was certainly one of the most impressive gates I’d ever seen. Beyond, was also one of the longest stone staircases I’d ever climbed – a good warm-up for the hike ahead. At the top, I took time to check out the temple area before heading up the narrow paved road to the right of the ropeway, a little after 11am.

(Top Left) San-Mon Gate (Top Right) Kuonji Temple (Bottom Left) Bell Tower (Bottom Right) Random temple building inside the forest

I followed the paved road as it zigzagged up through the forest. There were few views through the cedar trees, almost no signs for the hiking trail, and no people. Occasionally, I could hear buddhist chants drifting up from below. Half an hour later, I emerged onto a shoulder, clear of trees – there was a small temple complex and a view of the summit. The paved road continued into the cool shade of the forest; its condition started to deteriorate, before completely giving up turning into a dirt road. Here, I passed a few hikers (and a dog), but it seemed that the majority of visitors preferred the ropeway. Just before 1pm, I had my first glimpses of Mt Fuji through the trees. A few minutes later, I reached the top of the ropeway, and a fantastic view of Mt Fuji and the Fuji river valley heading Southwards.

(Above) Summit of Mt Fuji behind the Tenshi Mountains (Below) Fuji River flowing into Shizuoka Prefecture

After snapping some pictures, I walked past the summit temple to the other side, where there was the summit marker for Mt Minobu 身延山. I was able to enjoy a great close-up view of the Southern Alps, with the Arakawa-zansan on the left, and the Shirane-zansan on the right, with fresh layers of snow each. Further right was Yatsugatake, in the clouds, and the Oku-Chichibu Mountains, free of clouds. I also had a good view of Mt Shichimen and Mt Fujimi, two mountains I hope to climb next year. Just past the latter was Mt Kushigata which I climbed in June this year.

(Above) Mt Shichimen (Below) Mt Fujimi, two other peaks of the Minobu Mountains

After a short standing lunch – there were no benches – I started walking down. I was supposed to head down the other side of the ridge I had come up, but instead, I seemed to be going down the backside of the mountain. I was the only person hiking down, so there was no one to ask. After triple-checking my map, I decided I was on the right path after all. I was on a paved road again, but I didn’t mind since there were now some good views through a mix of trees. Facing the massive peaks of the South Alps, I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.

Soon I arrived at a temple manned by a solitary monk. There was an information board with a good map which I studied for a while. The monk hovered nearby. It seemed like he was eager for some conversation but didn’t dare, or wasn’t allowed to initiate it. I noticed Minobu Hot Spring written in English on the map so I asked: “are there any hot springs for day-trippers in Minobu?” “I don’t think so,” he replied. “Do you have to stay here all day?” I asked. “I Yes, but I go back down at nightfall.” He then pointed out the tip of Mt Fuji, above the ridgeline of the mountain behind me. Having run out of questions, I thanked him, snapped a few pictures, and continued along my way.

Beautiful autumn colours in the afternoon light on the way down

The path had now turned nearly 180 degrees, and was finally heading the correct way. I soon reached a magical spot, called “senbon-sugi” 千本杉, meaning one thousand cedar trees (in reality just 260 according to the sign). I’ve seen many cedar trees in Japan – I’ve even seen the Yakusugi on Yakushima – but I thought these were really impressive. They went straight up to amazing heights – I estimated over 40 meters, but according to the signboard, some of them topped 60 meters. I spent some time gazing and photographing these awesome trees.

The Japanese Cedar (scientific name: Cryptomeria), also known as the Japanese Redwood, is related to the American Redwood or Sequoia

I finally managed to pull myself away, and continued to head down along the road, still paved. It was now 3pm and I had to speed up if I wanted to get down before dark. There were some good views of Mt Shichimen to the right, with the sun slowly dipping below the ridgeline. I soon reached a viewpoint of the valley below and the turnoff for a hiking trail – finally! The path took me straight down the side of the mountain, cutting across the forest road several times. At one point, I had an excellent view of Minobusan town, and the temple complex perched above. I could again hear the buddhist chants drifting up below, creating a special atmosphere unique to Japan. I hurried on, finally reaching the base of the mountain and Minobu town around 4pm, in the time to catch the bus back to the station. As I was told by the lone monk on the mountain, there were no hot springs for day-trippers anywhere in Minobu. However the town does have a very beautiful five o’clock chime (see Video below) which played while I was waiting for my train back to Tokyo.

Minobusan town and the temple where I started my hike five hours earlier

See the views and listen to the sounds of Minobu

rpt

NEXT UP: Mt Sanpobun (Fuji Five Lakes) in Yamanashi

 

Mt Ihai (1458m), Susono City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Sunday, October 27, 2019

Hiking on Mt Ashitaka 愛鷹山

This wasn’t my first visit to Mt Ashitaka – I had already climbed the highest peak, Mt Gozen (1504m), in December 2013. I had taken the most direct route up, then headed Northeast to Mt Kuro (1086m), before ending up on the Eastern side of the mountain. The close-up views of snow-capped Fuji were absolutely stunning. However, Mt Ashitaka, a 200-famous mountain, is quite a huge mountain with more peaks to climb and ridges to hike, and I had been meaning to return for a while. As usual, logistics held me up, but his year I discovered that there was limited express train that runs several times a day between Shinjuku and Gotemba – it’s also a very easy way to get to the Mt Fuji area – so I decided it was time to visit Shizuoka again.

Mt Fuji visible from behind the ridge leading up to Mt Ihai

After arriving at Gotemba station, I hopped onto a mostly empty bus for the short ride to the base of Mt Ashitaka. Despite the good forecast, the weather was pretty horrible, and the top of the mountain was hidden in the clouds. After getting off the bus, I couldn’t find any signs, but thanks to Google Maps, I eventually stumbled on a sign indicating the start of the trail. It pointed to a staircase going down, but no sooner had I stepped on it, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a spiderweb spread right across it…with a massive “jorogumo” (a kind of orb-weaver spider) in the center. Although they aren’t poisonous, I didn’t really want one on myself. There was no way around or under it, and rather than destroy the web, I choose to climb over the railing and lower myself onto the staircase lower down.

Today I got to see Mt Fuji wearing a baseball cap

At the bottom of the short staircase, I crossed a small stream and headed up into the forest on the other side. At 9h30, I was finally hiking. Almost immediately, I walked into another spiderweb – luckily it seemed to be spiderless. However, from that point onwards, I decided to arm myself with a small stick, and wave it in front of me as I marched on. The path followed a gently sloping ridge through cedar forest, with few signs to confirm that I was on the correct path. There was no one else, apart from a couple of deer that escaped into the forest. There was a section with many fallen trees, possibly caused by the recent typhoons. Most of this hike on the Eastern side of Mt Ashitaka is inside the Southern part of the Fuji section of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, although there weren’t any signs indicating this.

Cloudy day yet Mt Fuji was clear

Just before 11am, I got my first views of Mt Fuji on the West side. The weather had cleared up a bit but the top of Mt Fuji was still in the clouds – under a kind of baseball cap. The further I climbed, the more the ridge narrowed, and the more views I got. Soon, Mt Fuji was totally clear and I started to lose a lot of time taking photos. I also had some views of Hakone to the East The ridge went on and on, and after what seemed like a long time, I reached Mt Mae, connecting with a trail coming from the valley – there was no view, and the summit marker was half-broken. Beyond that, the path descended a bit and I was able to make out my target peak – it looked close, but it took me another hour to reach. Occasionally I could hear the roar of lions from the nearby Fuji Safari Park below.

Cloudy ridge on the Northern side of Mt Ashitaka

I arrived at the top of Mt Ihai 位牌 (meaning “mortuary tablet” although there were none at the top) at quarter to one, and very behind schedule. There were 2 other people at the top, about to head down. They kindly offered me some tasty “age-senbei” or fried rice crackers, which I enjoyed on the train ride back. From the top, looking Westwards, I could see Mt Fuji and Mt Gozen – according to the sign, the connecting ridge is quite dangerous. The weather was much better now – blue skies with swirls of mist floating by. Southwards, I could make out an impressive valley, but not much else since there were still a lot of clouds in that direction. Originally, I had been planning to hike towards Mt Ashitaka, the peak that gives the whole mountain its name, but I realised that there was no way I could catch the last bus back – at 3h35 – if I took this longer way. If I missed my bus, I faced another two hours of walking to Mishima station on paved roads. So this time, I took the shorter route down.

Swan cloud passing by

Even with this shorter route, I would barely make it to the bus stop on time. Very soon I reached an amazing viewpoint. Behind me, the top of Mt Fuji was visible from behind the ridge I had just climbed up, with a beautiful blue sky in the background. In front, the Hakone mountain range rose up from the valley in between. I had never seen Hakone from this angle – I was so fascinated that I stepped into some brambles, and I had to spend a few minutes putting bandaids on all the scratches (the weather was warm enough for shorts).

Hakone Panorama

I finally managed to pull myself away from the view and continue down the mountain. I really enjoyed this part of the hike, following a narrow forested ridge, and it was a shame I had to rush it. It took me ninety minutes to reach the viewpoint at Ikenodaira 池ノ平 (846m), where I could get a view of Numazu city, Suruga Bay and the Izu peninsula, although the visibility wasn’t the best at this time of the day. I snapped a few pictures and continued down. Very soon I reached a parking and a road, from where it was another thirty minutes to the bus stop, which I reached with ten minutes to spare. This time the bus was pretty full, but I was able to sit all the way to Mishima station, where I caught the shinkansen back to Tokyo.

Clouds on Mt Ashitaka

NEXT TIME: Mt Tengu (Mt Haruna) in Gunma