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.

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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

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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 trail, 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…

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…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…

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…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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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View of Shoji lake and Mt Ou in February 2013
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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.

 

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The best view of the hike was near Shoji Pass
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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.

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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

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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

Mt Gongen (2715m) & Mt Amigasa (2524m), Hokuto City & Fujimi Town, Yamanashi & Nagano Prefectures, Thursday, October 23, 2019

Hiking on Mt Yatsugatake 八ヶ岳

I was hoping to climb one last big mountain in 2019, before the arrival of snow, and I had had my eye on the two Southernmost peaks in the Yatsugatake range for a while. Even though they are the closest to Tokyo, right between Yamanashi and Nagano, they’re challenging to climb as a day trip from Tokyo – Mt Tengu, further North, was possible thanks to the Hokuriku shinkansen. In the end, I decided to stay the night in Kofu and drive to the mountain; this way I could leave at dawn, and finish around sunset. I had to travel to Yamanashi and back by highway bus, since the trains weren’t running as usual due to damage by typhoon Hagibis. This was a blessing in disguise, since the bus costs half the price of the train, so I could recoup some of the cost of the hotel and the car.

Looking back at the pointy tip of Mt Gongen from Mitsugashira

On Thursday morning, the sky above Kofu city was foggy, but as I drove West along the highway, blue skies appeared overhead. As Yatsugatake came into sight, I got a shock: the top was white with snow! As I drew closer, I saw with relief that it was only the highest peak, Mt Aka (2899m), that was covered in snow, and today’s hike would be snow-free. I reached the Kannondaira parking lot (1560m) just before 8am – there were quite a few cars, even on a weekday. The first part of the hike, a gently rising trail through forest that was still green, was fairly easy. After half an hour, I reached a clearing with a good viewpoint of Mt Fuji sporting a brand new snow cap – a good place for breakfast.

Snow-capped Mt Fuji – the morning mists haven’t fully dissipated yet

The trail continued through thick forest, and after another half an hour I reached the turn-off for my first peak. A steep climb straight up the side of the mountain, with occasional views through the forest of the Kofu valley behind me, brought me to the bare and rocky top of Mt Amigasa 編笠山 at 10h30. The 360 degree view was one of the best I’ve ever seen while hiking.

From left to right I could see Mt Fuji, the Minami Alps, the Chuo Alps, Mt Ontake, Mt Norikura and the Kita Alps – all the highest were covered with snow. I could also see the entire Yatsugatake range stretching North, with in the center the matterhorn-like peak of Mt Aka. There were so many great pictures from this hike, that it was impossible to share them all here.

Today’s mountain is the highest point on the far right, but lower than Mt Aka in the center

After a quick bite, I set off downhill just after 11am, towards a saddle where the Seinen Hut was located, just 20 minutes away. The last part was full of giant boulders, and it took some time since I had to step carefully from boulder to boulder, following painted yellow arrows. After that, I was climbing again through forest. Suddenly, I was above the treeline at around 2600m; there was a sharp drop on my left, and an impressive rocky outcrop towering in front of me.

Fortunately, there was a switchback path on the right, with helpful chains in several places. It looped around the back, and led up to what I thought was the highest point. Noticing that there was no summit marker, I turned around – the true top was behind me, five minutes away and just a little higher. Looking left, I could the impressive “kiretto” or mountain ridge, leading to Mt Aka.

The “kiretto”, on the right, leading up to the highest point of the Yatsugatake

Originally I had planned to go up and down the same way. However, I had made good time climbing up, so I decided to take a different and longer route down. I hurried past another hut to the highest point of my hike, Mt Gongen 権現山 – in fact the highest mountain climbed in 2019. I couldn’t actually get to the very highest point since it consisted of a bunch of huge boulders, but I got as high as I felt safe doing, and had the rest of the lunch while enjoying the view of Mt Fuji in the distance. Since a boulder was in a way, I couldn’t get a perfect 360 degree view. The weather was still sunny, with almost no wind. Despite the high altitude, and proximity of the snowline 200m higher, I was perfectly fine wearing just a base layer. At one point a cargo plane, probably from the Japan Self-Defense Force, flew past the summit (see video at the end).

Perfect view of Mt Fuji from the top of Mt Gongen

I had to set off fairly quickly if I wanted to complete the hike before dark, around 5pm. First I headed down and back up again to Mitsugashira 三ツ頭 (2580m). Looking back, the view of snow-covered Mt Aka, wrapped in mist was breath-taking. By now, it was nearly 2pm and I needed at least a couple of hours to get back to my car, so I pulled myself away from the view, and descended into the forest. This was one of the nicest and easiest downhill hikes I’ve ever done. There were good views of my first peak, with orange larch trees around the base. One hour and a half later, I reached the Yatsugatake crossing path (“oudan hodo” 八ヶ岳横断歩道), part of a trail that circles the entire mountain range –  something to try one day. From there, it was another thirty minutes back to the parking area along a mostly level trail, although the last meters were steep uphill – pretty tough after what was nearly an 8 hour hike! Fortunately, there was a hot spring at the base of the mountain, so I could have a good soak before making the long trip back to Tokyo.

Although it’s called the red peak, today it was partly white

 

I believe this was a JIETAI plane flying past the summit

 

NEXT UP: Mt Ihai (Mt Ashitaka) in Shizuoka

Mt Shirasuna (2140m), Nakanojo Town, Gunma Prefecture, Thursday, October 10, 2019

Hiking in the Mikuni Mountains 三国山脈

This is another mountain that had been on my to-climb list for ages. One reason was access: buses to Nozori lake 野反湖 only ran on weekdays – strange since there is nothing there except a campsite. Another reason was that it seemed to be perpetually inside the clouds. It’s probably one of the rare mountains I’ve never been able to see, despite having made multiple trips to the area, the most recent about 3 weeks earlier.

Mt Shirasuna, cloud-free version

Three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do a weekday hike, and with perfect blue sky weather before the arrival of yet another typhoon, I decided to tackle this two-hundred famous mountain of Japan. Once I started planning in earnest, another issue arose – it couldn’t be done as a day trip using public transportation. I needed to stay the night at a hotel near Shin-Maebashi station to catch the first train for Naganohara-Kusatsuguchi station. Luckily, I was able to book a decent room the same evening.

The path down with Mt Asamayama in the background

The day of the hike, I caught the first outbound train on the Agatsuma line. For some reason, the train was full of high-school students, who all got off at the same station, apparently to go to Kusatsu onsen. There didn’t seem to be any accompanying teachers, but I guess it was some kind of school trip. I recognised some of them on the train back. After getting off the train, I got on a tiny bus with just one other person. It reminded me of the bus that I used for Mt Mikabo. The ride was very picturesque, through villages and along river valleys. It was part of Gunma that I had never visited before. After more than one hour, we reached a viewpoint over the lake – the driver kindly stopped there for a few seconds so that we could take in the view. In the early morning sun, the surface was a beautiful blue.

The beautiful blue of Nozori lake

The last bus back was at 3pm and I only had a short six hours to reach the top and come back. I had gotten ready on the bus, so after confirming the time of the last bus back with the driver, I left without delay. The start of the hike was through beautiful forest, mostly birch and silver fir trees, but not much in terms of autumn colours. I met no other hikers, not surprising on a weekday. 90 minutes later, I got my first views of the lake and the entire Asamayama range emerging from the morning mist. Later on, I had some good views of Mt Iwasuge 岩菅山, another two-hundred famous mountain I hope to climb someday. Before I knew it, I reached the top of Mt Doiwa 堂岩山 2051m, completely in the trees, just before 11am.

Misty Asamayama – I was hiking the peak on the right side the previous month

From the summit, there were some glimpses of mountains to the North through the trees. However, a few steps beyond, just as the path started descending, I got my first glorious view of the day. The weather was still perfect and I could see the path ahead all the way to my target mountain, as well as the mountains of the Joshinetsu-kogen National Park to the North.

To the South, I could even make out Mt Fuji popping up behind the mountains of Oku-chichibu. I also spotted other hikers climbing the mountain so I wasn’t alone. My original plan was to go up and down the same way. However, since I had progressed quickly, I decided to do a longer loop hike that would end at the other side of the lake (the viewpoint the driver paused at). I was now at the fork of the trail, so I would need to retrace my steps later on, something I didn’t mind doing since it was all views from here on.

Mt Fuji, barely visible 150km away

I lost time admiring and photographing the great views, so I had to hurry during the final climb, and I reached the top of Mt Shirasuna 白砂山 a little after noon. Since I wanted to do the longer route down, I had to pull myself away from the great 360 degree views only after thirty minutes. North was Mt Naeba, East, the Tanigawa range, with Mt Sukai in the distance behind, South, Mt Akagi and Mt Haruna, West, Mt Asama and Shirane-Kusatsu, with the North Alps visible behind. By the way, the hiking path continues all the way to Mt Mikuni, but it’s necessary to stay in a hut along the way.

The path continues…some day I might return to walk it

I hurried back and reached the fork for the loop hike at 1h30. From here I followed a wide and grassy path southwards – I tried to run a bit, but the terrain was uneven under the grass, so I had to be careful. There were good views to my left but the right side was blocked by trees. I was surprised that even on this less traveled hiking path the signage was fairly new and in English. Eventually the path bottomed out and I found myself climbing again. With some effort I reached the top of Mt Hachiken 1953m 八間山 with forty minutes to spare before the last bus back.

Looking back at Mt Doiwa (on the left) and Mt Shirasuna (on the right)

After a couple of minutes rest, I set off again, the final stretch down to the pass above the lake. At this stage I was running most of the way. The ridge seemed endless and I was greatly relieved when the lake and pass appeared to my right. I made to the bus stop with ten minutes to spare. The bus was actually a little late, but according to another passenger, the driver had waited for me for a few minutes before departing. It was the same driver as in the morning, and since I had asked about the last bus he had assumed I would be coming down the say way (that was my original plan) – how kind of him to wait for me!

NEXT UP: Mt Gongen in Kanagawa pref. (Tanzawa)

 

Mt Konara (1712m), Yamanashi City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, September 28, 2019

There are so many mountains in Yamanashi prefecture that I sometimes feel I won’t be able to climb them all. Today’s hike, mostly level and downhill, was perfect for my ankle that was still a bit painful. On top of that, the weather forecast called for high-altitude clouds – I needed something that would be well below that. Otome highland 乙女高原 at around 1500m and situated below Mt Kinpu seemed liked the perfect place, and I was lucky to get a seat the day before on the reservation-only bus for Odarumi pass.

Mt Fuji with a rocker’s hairstyle

A surprising thing happened on the way to the start of the trail. The bus, operated by Eiwa Kotsu, failed to show up at Enzan station. Despite the gloomy forecast, it was a beautiful sunny morning, and around 30 people were in line. Eventually, a replacement bus arrived 40 minutes late – I never found out what happened.

View from the top of Mt Konara (Mt Fuji on the right)

Luckily I wasn’t on a tight schedule, unlike those who were doing the roundtrip to Mt Kinpu. I was the only person who remained on the bus for the final segment along Otome lake to Yakeyama Pass 焼山峠 – everybody else had transferred to minibuses for Odarumi pass. I was finally ready to start at 10h45, a full hour behind schedule. In the meanwhile, the high-altitude clouds had rolled in.

The start of the trail felt a bit spooky

Shortly after starting out, I was feeling spiderwebs all over my arms and legs. However, I couldn’t see the offending web or find any trace of it on myself. Also, the path was several meters wide – a bit unsuitable for spinning a web. The feeling persisted, and I was starting to think that I was imagining it. Eventually I was able to spot some ultra-thin filaments attached to some leaves – can’t imagine what kind of insects the spider was hoping to catch. The feeling of walking through spider webs continued for the first hour of the hike.

Thin spider webs crossing the path

Cobwebs aside, this part was also some of the best hiking I had done recently. Even though Otome highland is just outside the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, I thought that the trail and the surrounding forest were especially beautiful. I saw just one person on the way to the summit, one hour away. The trail was easy to walk: wide, grassy and gently undulating. The total height gain was less than 200 meters, which is why I had chosen this hike, since steep inclines were bad for my ankle.

At one point the path split into a new and an old path. The new one went up a steep slope, whereas the old one continued level through the forest. I choose the latter one, since according to the map, they joined up again, and they did indeed after a few minutes, with almost no elevation gain – go figure.

New path but worn-out sign?

With very little effort, I reached the top of Mt Konara 小楢山, a mountain few people have heard of, and was greeted with some sunshine, a wide panorama, and a group of hikers having lunch. Luckily the top was quite spacious, and I found a quiet spot for my own lunch. I could see Mt Fuji, although the top was in the clouds and Kofu city. I could also make out Mt Kenashi, Mt Kuro, Mitsutoge and Daibosatsu Rei.

The top of Mt Konara, a good place for lunch

During lunch, I studied the rest of the trail in my guidebook. I realised that the rest of the trail was tougher than I had imagined – a succession of ups and downs with several rocky sections. Normally I would have thought “Perfect!” However, with my weak ankle, I wanted to avoid anything too adventurous. So I decided to take a different route down. Shortly past the summit, instead of continuing southwards, there are a couple of trails heading West. Their names translate roughly as “Missed Mother” and “Missed Father”. I took the latter since it allowed for a slightly longer hike.

After the summit the path gets narrower

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a difficult trail as well. In addition to being hard to see, making it necessary to search for the pink ribbons attached to the trees, it was steep, going directly down the side of the mountain. Luckily it wasn’t too long (about an hour), and I soon emerged onto a forest trail, not without a certain amount of relief. From there it was thirty minutes to the road, and another hour to the bus stop through Yamanashi Prefecture’s famous vineyards. It was the middle of the harvest season, and I was surrounded by beautiful ripe grapes on all sides – I was very tempted to pick some!

The sun tried valiantly to break through the cloud cover

Bus drive to the start of the trail

NEXT UP: Mt Shirasuna in Gunma Prefecture