Kanhashu Viewpoint (771m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture, Monday, June 13, 2022

I wanted to do a half-day hike near Tokyo to escape the early summer heat and humidity. Poor weather had prevented me from going as planned on the weekend, but fortunately, I had an opportunity to go the Monday right after. I decided to visit a viewpoint in Oku-Musashi, which I had last visited about ten years ago. I could take the limited express “Laview” train to Nishi-Agano station; it made a special stop there during the spring and autumn. After reaching the highest point, I could descend via a different trail to “Kyuka Mura” where I could enjoy a hot spring bath; day trippers were only allowed on weekdays, so it was a good chance to drop by. Afterwards, I could use their free shuttle bus to get to Agano station on the Seibu-Chichibu line. The weather was supposed to cloudy and cool in the early morning, turning sunny and warm in the mid-morning. I hoped that I could reach the top before it got too hot, and was looking forwards to revisiting a favorite spot after several years.

Good visibility from the Kanhashu Viewpoint

Looking East towards the Kanto Plain

I was slightly disappointed to see that the sky was still completely overcast after arriving at the tiny Nishi-Agano station around 8h30. I walked a short way along the road to the trail entrance and surprised a black and white cat sitting in the tall grass nearby; it escaped into the forest before I could say “hi”. I followed the wide path, labeled as the “Panorama Route” on my map, up a green valley alongside a tiny brook.

An easy path to start the hike with

Although it was called the Panorama route, there were few views

At 9am, I reached an open space offering a view of the forested valley and neighbouring hills. The path narrowed and after a couple of switchbacks up a shoulder of the mountain side, entered the forest and started to climb more steeply; half an hour later, it merged with another path coming from the left and became level. I found this part of the hike very pleasant, as sunshine was now filtering through the trees and the birds had started to sing.

Mt Fuji, barely visible from Takayama

Out of the forest and through the flowers

At 10am, I reached a road with a viewpoint and was excited to spot Mt Fuji in the distance. After admiring its still snowy cap, I picked up the next part of the path less than a hundred meters away, opposite a signpost for Takayama (高山), a place I would return to later; I was now on the well-trodden Kanto Fureai no Michi. After crossing the road a second time, the trail finally emerged from the forest and passed through some Kalmia bushes (カルミア) covered in white flowers.

View south towards Okutama, and lost in the clouds, Tanzawa

The Musashi hills fading into Musashi

I hoped this was the last climb of the day as the sun was shining directly above and it was starting to feel quite warm. At 10h30, I was relieved to reach the Kanhashu viewpoint (関八州見晴台 かんはっしゅうみはらしだい kanhasshuu-miharashidai), which translates as the Kanto 8 provinces lookout and refers to its historical role. There was an open shelter and a number of trees providing some welcome shade. I took a break on a bench to enjoy the view and a late breakfast.

A better view of Mt Fuji from the highest point of the hike

One of the few paths with a view in Oku-Musashi

The view was better than I had remembered: to the west, the Oku-musashi hills melted into the Kanto plain; to the south, they merged with the Okutama mountains; Mt Fuji was visible behind the long flat summit of Mt Bonomine; closer by were the Hanno Alps on the other side of the Agano valley; supposedly, Mt Akagi and the peaks of Oku-Nikko could be seen on the north side, but today they were lost in the haze. At 11h30, I made my way back to Takayama and Takayama-Fudoson Temple (高山不動尊), just off the main road.

View of Oku-Musashi between Takayama and the Takayama-Fudoson Temple

The main building of Takayama-Fudoson Temple

I was astounded to see such a magnificent structure in the middle of the forest; it’s these kind of moments that make hiking in Japan so rewarding. I returned to the road and soon rejoined the hiking trail again, leading back into the forest. After a few minutes, I reached a junction where I turned right. The path was level for a while, providing me with some relaxing rambling, but then proceeded to rush straight down the mountain, ending at a lovely stream.

A glimpse of “Holiday Village” (on the left)

Crossing the Koma river

After crossing a rickety bridge, I emerged into a narrow, sunny valley at around 12h30. I noticed a small house on the right, meaning I was getting near the end of today’s walk. However, it took another half hour of small ups and downs, a couple more bridges and road crossings, to finally arrive at Kyuka Mura Hot Spring (休暇村 meaning Holiday Village), nestled in a bend of the Koma river. After an enjoyable hot bath, I hopped on the shuttle bus for Agano, where I boarded the local line to Hanno, and then transferred to the limited express for the forty-minute ride back to Tokyo.

See the views from the Kanhashu viewpoint (in 4K)

Mt Tsurugatoya (1374m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, June 4, 2022 [Monkeys & 4K video]

I wanted to do a hike along the Chuo line, because of its easy access from Tokyo and relatively high mountains, perfect for escaping the early summer heat. It seemed like a good time to do a hike I had planned next to Mt Honjagamaru, starting from Sasago station., a couple of stops from Otsuki. However, it was a little on the short side, a shame during the long days of June. Studying my hiking map, I saw that instead of ending back at the Chuo line, I could traverse to the next valley, south of Mt Takagawa. As an added bonus, I could finish at Yorimichi no Yu hot spring near Tsurushi station. The weather forecast was the same as the previous few weeks: sunny and warm, with relatively little humidity. I was looking forward to hiking a local mountain and enjoying a hot bath after a long ramble.

View towards Otsuki city

View of the Doshi mountains through the trees

It was a beautiful June day as I rode the limited express to Otsuki, where I changed to the local Chuo line, finally getting off at Sasago station at 10am. Before hitting the hiking trail, I checked out the nearby Sasaichi sake brewery. By 10h30, I was walking up a narrow road through the forest alongside a river. I soon reached the end of the road and continued on a hiking trail, up a beautiful river valley; I was astonished that I had never heard of this spot before. A little after 11am, the path suddenly turned left, zigzagging up the mountain side.

River valley at the start of the hike

Getting close to the top ridge

It was a steep climb, with a couple of flat bits at an electric pylon and a road crossing. At noon, I reached a shoulder and saw movement out of the corner of my eye: I had stumbled on a troop of monkeys. I had not known there were monkeys in this area and spent half and hour observing them. Unlike the Okutama ones, they seemed quite scared of me, and kept a good distance; only one, probably the alpha male, completely ignored me while sitting on a tree stump next to the path (I kept my distance from him). At 12h30, I finally reached a narrow ridgetop, where I turned left.

Walking the narrow ridgetop

View towards Mitsutoge

I followed an undulating path through low, bright green trees; I saw no-one and felt far from the world. Just before 1pm, I had a view through a break in the trees: to the west was Mitsutoge, and to the east, the Doshi mountains. I continued on my way, enjoying the peace and quiet of this little hiked trail, and 15 minutes later reached the summit of Mt Tsurugatoya (鶴ヶ鳥屋山 つるがとややま tsurugatoyayama). It was in the trees, so I moved on without a break. The trail headed down steeply, the rocky sections equipped with ropes; I soon emerged onto a road, but picked up the trail again, 50 meters on the right.

Few hikers on this trail

A deforested area half way down the mountain

Here, I had a sweeping view north and east, as the trees had been cut, and upon reaching the top of a knoll, I sat down on a stump for a late lunch. To the north there was Mt Takigo, and behind, its summit in the clouds, Mt Gangaharasuri; to the east Mt Iwadono, Mt Momokura , and Mt Takagawa, surrounding Otsuki city; further south, I spotted Mt Kuki, Mt Imakura, and the Tsuru Alps, beyond Tsuru city. The latter was my final destination and it seemed still quite far; on top of that, many low dark clouds had gathered in that direction, hiding the highest peaks of the Doshi mountains.

Mt Takigo on the other side of the Chuo line

Today’s lunch stump

After lunch, I continued down a winding trail through a lovely pine forest. At 3pm, I reached a road which I followed for about half an hour to the start of Chigasaka Highway (近ヶ坂往還), hidden behind an old person’s home. It was a pleasant trail, gently climbing through mixed forest, although the sections before and after the pass were overgrown with grass, making it hard to follow. A little before 4pm, I arrived at a crossing at Chigasaka Pass (近ヶ坂峠 662m). After enjoying its tranquil atmosphere, I went straight down the other side.

Walking down through the pine trees (left) Heading up to Chigasaka Pass (right)

Walking through the tall grass around Chigasaka pass

I descended a grassy gully surrounded by tall trees; this was one of the most beautiful forested areas I had ever seen in the Tokyo area. Around 4pm, I reached a small stream which I followed for a short while, before reaching a house and a road at the edge of the forest. From there, it took less than an hour to reach Yorimicho no Yu onsen, six hours and a half after setting out in the morning; after a satisfying soak, I boarded the Fujikyu line for Otsuki, where I transferred to the limited express for the one hour trip back to Shinjuku.

See the river valley and the monkeys of Mt Tsurugatoya

Mt Okuratakamaru (1781m) & Mt Hamaiba (1752m), Otsuki and Koshu Cities, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, May 28, 2022 [with 4K video]

I was looking for a relatively easy hike above 1500 meters ending at a hot spring, conditions dictated by the increasingly warm weather. I had walked most of the long ridge extending south from Daibosatsurei, but on examining my hiking map, I found a short, unexplored section. As an added bonus, it included one of the 12 beautiful Mt Fuji views of Otsuki. I could reach the start of the trail by taking the Chuo line to Kai-Yamato station and then a bus to Tenmoku hot spring; I could return to my starting point via a different trail further to the south. The weather was supposed to be sunny, warm and relatively dry. I was looking forward to enjoying the fine spring weather before the start of the rainy season, as well as getting a good view of Mt Fuji.

View of Mt Fuji near Mt Hamaiba

A ridge trail with plenty of views of Mt Fuji

It was a beautiful day as I rode the fully booked limited express to Otsuki where I changed to the local line for Kai-Yamato station. There, I squeezed onto an equally full bus for the ten-minute ride to Yamato Tenmoku Onsen; I was the only person to get off, the other passengers probably headed for the Daibosatsurei trailhead. I used a bench in front of the hot spring to get ready, and, at 10h30, set off along a narrow paved road through a green forest. One hour later, I reached the start of the trail for Yunosawa Pass (湯の沢峠).

Start of the trail for Yunosawa Pass

Looking back at Mt Kuro, further north along the ridge

I was soon heading up one of the most beautiful river valleys I had ever walked, made especially beautiful by the sunshine filtering through the new green of spring; few hikers, several river crossings and some fallen trees along the path made it quite adventurous as well. I could hear the croaking of toads, hiding under the mud, and the song of birds, hiding in the trees. A little before 1pm, I reached Yunosawa Pass, which had a parking area and a restroom. At a T-junction, I took the right branch and soon reached a grassy ridgeline.

Looking forward towards Mt Okuratakamaru

Getting close to the summit

I had a great view of the snowy peaks of the South Alps, from Mt Kaikoma to Mt Hijiri. It was a short, relaxing stroll to Mt Okuratakamaru (大蔵高丸 おおくらたかまる ootakumaru), also a 100 famous mountain of Kanto and Yamanashi; the name uses “maru” meaning round, instead of “yama“, and indeed, the summit was round and almost featureless. However, as promised, it had a stunning view of Mt Fuji, its crater rim still snowy white. I also had a view of the South Alps, and the Chuo line valley on the opposite side. It was 1h30, so I found a place to sit down for lunch; half an hour later, I continued on my way.

Mt Fuji still had its snowy cap

View southeast towards the Chuo line

The trail was easy to hike and easy to follow; I had excellent views in all directions. Huge cumulus clouds passed overhead and made me worry slightly about a sudden downpour. At 2h30, I reached Mt Hamaiba (ハマイバ丸 はまいばまる hamaibamaru), another “round” summit. Although this summit was mostly in the trees, Mt Fuji could be seen through a gap on the south side. After admiring Japan’s most famous mountain, I set off again. The path started to descend, and one hour later, reached Komeshoi Pass (米背負峠). There, I turned right, down another river valley.

Heading down from Komeshoi pass

The road back to Tenmoku onsen

This valley was just as beautiful as the one I had ascended, the rushing water sparkling under the mid-afternoon sun. At 4pm, I emerged onto a road, which I followed off the mountain; the road twisted and turned, giving me good views of the green hills of Yamanashi. After passing through a dark tunnel, I reached the main road, and at 5pm, I was back at Tenmoku Onsen. After a refreshing bath, I caught the bus for Kai-Yamato station, then boarded the train for Otsuki, and finally switched to the limited express for the one hour comfortable ride back to Shinjuku.

See the river and Fuji views on the Mt Okuratakamaru hike in 4K

Mt Otakatori (376m), Ogose Town, Saitama Prefecture, Sunday, May 22, 2022 [with 4K video]

I wanted to do a late afternoon hike close to Tokyo since the weather had suddenly become quite warm; I also wanted to try out the camera of my new smartphone. I chose a relatively low mountain I had climbed six years ago, which I could redo using different trails. I would take a train to Ogose in the early afternoon, have a soba lunch near the station, and finish the hike at a hot spring facility, newly opened since my previous visit; afterwards, I could use the onsen shuttle bus to return to Ogose. The weather was supposed to be sunny in the daytime and overcast in the evening. I was looking forward to doing another hike in the forests on the eastern edge of Oku-Musashi.

View from the top of Mt Otakatori

View form Nishiyama-Takatori

I arrived at Ogose station at 2pm, the hottest time of the day, and quickly made my way to Yoshiro (よしひろ), which I reached just at the end of the lunch time. After a satisfying soba meal, I walked another 15 minutes to the start of the trail inside the Go-Daison Azalea Park (五大尊つつじ公園). The flowering season was already over and the park was deserted. I found a small path through the forest, not on my map, but which led to a viewpoint of Ogose Town at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the World (世界無名戦士之墓), on the 2nd floor of a gleaming white monument.

Path to the tomb of the unknown soldier of the world

View from the monument of the unknown soldier

I had an excellent view of the Kanto plain thanks to the clear May weather, despite being less than 200 meters high. Behind the monument was the start of the trail up today’s mountain. It was about 4pm and the temperature was just right for some light hiking. After a short climb, I arrived at Nishiyama-Takatori (西山高取 271m), not a summit, but a shoulder on the mountain with a view east through the trees. It was also the intersection of several paths; after checking my map, I went south down some steps, before turning right at a T-junction.

Steps leading down from Nishiyama-Takatori

A trail mostly through the forest

I followed a pleasant level path through the green forest, stopping now and then to listen the sound of birds singing. I passed a group of white limestone rocks (白石様 shiraishi-sama) and a minor summit named Mt Nekko (根っ子山 324m), both completely in the trees. Around 5pm, I started to climb again, and after reaching a forested ridgeline, turned left. A few minutes later I was on the top of Mt Otakatori (大高取山 おおたかとりやま ootakatoriyama), where I had a view eastwards through a break in the trees. After a short break, I continued south along the summit ridge, reaching another minor peak, Mt Katsuragi (桂木山 367m) just before 5h30.

An easy to walk trail

Late afternoon on Mt Otakatori

The gloom was starting to gather, so I took the next path down, a shortcut according to a handwritten sign. I had passed some hikers earlier, but now I was all alone, except for a large animal I heard but never saw. The path became level and easy to walk, luckily, since visibility was dropping fast. Around 6pm, I passed another viewpoint on top of a hill, but not much to see under the grey clouds. A few minutes later I emerged onto a road inside O-Park Ogose ( オーパークおごせ). After a quick hot bath, I boarded the free shuttle bus for Ogose station where I caught the Tobu line for the one hour ride back to Ikebukuro.

See the green and hear the birds of Mt Otakatori in 4K

Kaburi Pass (508m) and Amagoi Hill (574m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture, Sunday, May 15, 2022

I wanted to hike in the hills close to Tokyo to enjoy the the new green of Spring. I had already done most of the trails in the Oku-Musashi area, but looking at my hiking map, I found two interesting trails I hadn’t done yet; between them, was a trail I had done more than ten years ago in the autumn, which I was happy to do again in a different season. I would take a train to Moroyama and from there a taxi to Kamakita lake; I would end at Kuroyama, from where I could catch a bus back to Ogose. Since the travel time was relatively short, I wouldn’t have to leave at the crack of dawn. Although there were no summits on the way, I hoped to get some good views from the “Green Road”. The weather was supposed to be mostly clear with pleasant temperatures. I was looking forward to exploring some new trails and enjoying a relaxing Spring hike.

View of the Hanno Alps from Kaburi Pass

Spider taking a break on an Iris

I rode the Tobu line under cloudy skies and arrived at Moroyama station a little past 10am. Since the bus to Kamakita lake wasn’t running on Sundays, I took a taxi instead and was ready to hike by 11am, just as the sun was coming out of the clouds. I was surprised at how much greener everything looked since my previous visit one month ago; rather than cherry blossoms, I got to enjoy many Irises (“shaga“) on the side of the road.

The sun breaking through the clouds

A pleasant path up to the “Green Line”

At a bend in the road, I spotted the trail entrance past a stream running through grassy area dotted with irises. I followed an easy to walk path through the forest, enjoying the sound of birds singing and reached a junction with a ridge trail running parallel to the Oku-Musashi Green Line (奥武蔵グリーンライン) just after 12h30. From there, I followed a mostly level road to Kaburi Pass (顔振峠) where I had a good view of the Hanno Alps on the other side of the valley.

An easy to walk trail through the forest

Hazy view of the Kanto plain from Amagoi Hill

I followed a small trail above the pass to a viewpoint of the Kanto plain on the east side; it was also the summit of Amagoi Hill (雨乞い塚 あまごいづか amagoizuka). It was 1h3o, so I sat down on a tree stump for a late lunch. The sun had gone back into the clouds and the view was hazy. I was the only person there and it was very peaceful. At 2pm, I continued my hike and walked along the road, past Kanto Adventures, to the start of the descent towards Kuroyama. Halfway down, I passed the eerie statue of En no Gyoja at the top of some rocks in a clearing. A little further, I spotted some deer escaping into the forest.

“En no Gyoja” statue on the way to Kuroyama waterfall

A small waterfall, not part of the Kuroyama 3 waterfalls

Shortly after 3h15, I reached a stream at the base of the mountain; it led me to the 3 waterfalls of Kuroyama (黒山三滝), Tengu-Taki (天狗滝), Medaki (女滝) and Odaki (男滝), from where it was a short walk down the road to the bus stop. On the way back, I stopped off at the Ume no Yu hot spring for a refreshing bath, and then caught then next (and last) bus for the short ride to Ogose station, from where it was a one hour ride on the Tobu line to Ikebukuro.

See the flowers and hear the birdsong on the Amagoi hill hike

Mt Arikasa (873m), Nakanojo Town, Gunma Prefecture, Sunday, May 8, 2022

I wanted to squeeze in one more hike before the end of Golden week after recovering from the three previous ones. I decided to visit Nakanojo in Gunma, as it was an area I was interested in exploring more. I found a three-hour loop in a booklet I picked up on my last visit; this mountain wasn’t in my guidebook, nor shown on any of my maps, so I had to rely on information online. I would ride the shinkansen to Takasaki, where I would transfer to the Agatsuma line. After getting off at Nakanojo, I could catch a bus for Sawatari Onsen, the last stop on the line. The hike itself went around a rocky, isolated peak, also a popular climbing area, with a short round-trip to the flat top on the south side. I was concerned about that part, as it included chains and ladders; I would have to proceed with caution going up, and even more on the way down. The weather was supposed to be clear and not too hot. I was looking forward to going to Nakanojo again and visiting a new hot spring town hidden in the mountains of Gunma.

View west from below “The Ladder”

Bus heading back to Nakanojo with Mt Arikasa in the background

It was a blue sky day as I rode the shinkansen, and then the local train, to Nakanojo. Around 10h30, I boarded a bus for Sawatari Onsen (沢渡温泉), my first time to ride this line. I got off at the last stop, just past the hot spring town, near a bridge over the Sawatori river. Straight ahead, I had a good view of today’s mountain, an isolated peak jutting straight up out of the green forest. As I got ready at the nearby Seseragi Park (せせらぎ公園), I wondered how the trail would get to the top of the rock. At 1130, I set off along a road, and half an hour later, just before another bridge over the river, I turned left onto a forest road.

Forest road leading to the West Entrance

Interesting rock formation in the middle of the forest

I had some more impressive views of today’s climb, after arriving at a fork in the road. I took the right branch for the West Entrance (西口), which I reached a little after noon. I followed the trail straight up the mountain side and soon reached an open shelter in the middle of the forest. I took a short break and then continued on my way. At 12h30, I reached a turnoff for a natural rock formation, resembling a dolmen, visible through the trees on the right. After circling it and peering through the gap in the middle, I resumed my climb.

The funny “Hahaha” sign (left) / Climbing “The Ladder” (right)

Start of the climb up “The Ladder”

The path turned right under some cliffs, the higher parts hidden by the green canopy of the trees ; here and there, I spotted chains used by rock climbers. At 1pm, I arrived at the East Entrance (東口) trail junction and the start of the roundtrip for the summit; I followed the path as it wound clockwise around the steep summit and passed a funny sign informing me that I was at an elevation of 888 meters, read as “Hahaha” in Japanese (ハハハ). Very soon, I was walking through a rocky area with views to the west through the trees; looking down, I realised I was at the edge of a cliff.

View south from the rocky outcrop

The very green East Entrance

I had also reached the chain and ladder section, called “The Ladder” (梯子); I climbed with care, but near the end I couldn’t advance while keeping three points of contact at all times; after some consideration, I finally found a way, and after fixing it in my mind for the return, continued with the ascent, now in a counter-clockwise direction. A few minutes later, I reached a rocky outcrop from where I had a view south of forested hills. Soon after, I arrived at the flat top of Mt Arikasa (有笠山 ありかさやま arikasayama), a Gunma 100 famous mountain. I couldn’t see anything through the trees, so I headed back almost at once; I got down “The Ladder” safely, and since it was 1h30, found a good place to sit for lunch, at a safe distance from the cliff edge. Afterwards, I continued along the trail, now heading downhill towards the East entrance.

The well-maintained “promenade” above Sawatari Onsen

View of Sawatari onsen, a secret hot spring resort in Gunma

As I passed under the cliffs, I could hear the voices of climbers echoing above. I walked along the forest road to the junction I had passed earlier in the day, and then made my way back to Seseragi Park. Since it was just past 3pm, I decided to follow a “promenade” (遊歩道), a short, well-maintained trail on the hillside above the hot spring resort. It took me past a small shrine surrounded by bright red Azalea, with good views of Mt Arikasa and Sawatari Onsen. At 4pm, I dropped by Ryumeikan (龍鳴館), for a quick hot bath before catching the bus back to Nakanojo. Once back in Takasaki, I rode the green car of the Shonan-Shinjuku line back to Tokyo, bringing to an end a series of successful golden week hikes.

See the views along the Mt Arikasa hike

Mt Tokko (1266m), Ueda City, Nagano Prefecture, Sunday, April 10, 2022

My last hike to the Ueda area had been less than 6 months ago, but I wanted to enjoy the views of Nagano again during the last clear days of early spring. I would climb a mountain south of Bessho Onsen, a famous hot spring resort, easily accessible from Tokyo by Shinkansen and local train; from the station, I could catch a local bus to the start of the trail. My guidebook recommended a five-hour loop hike combining two of the three trails on the mountain. On top of blue skies all day, the weather was supposed to be unseasonably warm, meaning that I could dress lightly. I was looking forward to getting views of the snow-covered North Alps, as well as enjoying a relaxing hot spring bath at the end.

View north from Daruma-iwa

Mt Tokko during plum blossom season

I didn’t see a single cloud in the sky on the 70-minute shinkansen ride to Ueda, where I switched to the Bessho line. Half an hour later, I got off at the charming Bessho Onsen station (別所温泉), the last stop on the line. Fresh off the platform, I was greeted by two ladies dressed in kimonos, who kindly directed me to the bus stop behind the station, marked by a bright red sign. A ten-minute ride on a light blue bus brought me to Chuuzenji Temple (中禅寺) at the foot of today’s mountain, and a ten-minute walk up a paved road led me to a fence with a gate, and the entrance of today’s hike.

Some sun filtering through the cedar trees on the way up

View east of Azuma-yama and Asama-yama

I spent a few minutes studying a beautiful and detailed hand-drawn map of the path to the top, displayed in front of the fence, before passing through it and heading into shady cool cedar forest. Although it was only 10h30, I was already feeling quite warm. I followed to a small stream and soon reached Fudo waterfall (不動滝). I left the stream behind, and after passing through a patch of camphor trees still bare of needles, made my way up a steep switchback path, some sections lined with rope to assist the unsteady hiker.

Mt Asama without its characteristic plume of smoke

The Japanese North Alps still in their winter coat

At 11h30, I had my first views of through the leafless trees; it felt odd to be in short sleeves surrounded by a winter landscape. A few minutes later, I reached the top of the ridge where I turned left. Pine trees were growing here and there and the air was filled with birdsong. After a short scramble, I arrived at Daruma Rock (だるま岩), an oval shaped rock, protruding from the mountain side like a pimple. Hidden behind was a rocky platform with a wide view of the valley. In the distance, I could see the white peaks of the North Alps, Togakushi highland, Mt Azuma, and Mt Asama, for once without its distinctive plume of smoke.

Mt Komayumi with the North Alps in the background

A solitary pine tree at the summit with Mt Tateshina on the far right

After enjoying the wide views, the best of the day, I set off again. I soon arrived at a junction, where I turned left, and after one last climb, reached the top of Mt Tokko (独鈷山 とっこさん tokko-san) just after noon. To the north, I had similar views as before; to the south, I could now see Mt Tateshina and the Utsukushi-ga-hara plateau. Even though I was over 1000 meters high, it still felt too hot to sit in the sun. Fortunately, a lone pine tree provided some shade, so I sat down for lunch. At 1pm, I made my way back to the junction, and followed the Miyazawa trail (宮沢コース) for a few meters, before taking the right branch for the Sawayamaike trail (沢山池コース).

Following the Sawayamaike Trail

Looking out on the southern side of Mt Tokko

This trail was surprisingly hard to follow; I frequently had to stop to look for strips of pink ribbons indicating the way. Occasionally, I passed white signposts stuck to trees, reassuring me that the narrow ridge I was following was indeed a hiking path. I had no views and saw no one as I followed the undulating ridge westwards. At 2pm, I turned right, down a narrow valley through which flowed a small stream. The path was still faint and in rather bad condition, forcing me to step carefully and continue to hunt for signs of the route.

Walking along the valley near the end of the hike

View of Joshinetsu-kogen from Shitakuike

About an hour later, I reached a deserted road at the end of the trail, which I then followed to the right. I was soon walking through the Nagano countryside in early spring mode, plum trees in full bloom. To my right, I had a side view of Mt Tokko, and I could appreciate the ridge I had followed after lunch. I stopped by Shitakuike pond (舌喰池) to admire the view of the mountains of Joshinetsu highland. Since it was only a couple of kilometers back to the station, I decided to walk, and was rewarded with seeing Japanese pheasants hunting for food next to the road (see video). I was back at the station with enough time for a hot bath at the modern Aisome no Yu (あいそめの湯) before my 4h30 train back to Ueda, where I caught the high-speed train for Tokyo.

See the sights and hear the sounds of Mt Tokko

Kotohira Hills (highest point 398m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, Wednesday, February 23, 2022

I needed a short hike to get back in shape after a five-week break. I had done part of this trail several years ago, after visiting Chichibu’s famous “shibazakura” (carpet cherry blossom). The surrounding forest, wedged between the terraces of Mt Buko’s northern face and the populated Arakawa valley, was unexpectedly green and peaceful. This was the perfect opportunity to return and walk the entire length of these hills from my hiking guidebook. I would use the Laview limited express, and then the local Chichibu line to get to Kagemori station. I would end up at Seibu-Chichibu station, so I just had to time my arrival with the hourly train back to Tokyo. The weather was supposed to be cold and sunny. I hoped I would get some sun and views through the trees on a cold, clear winter day.

On the left, the Minano Alps, on the right, Higashi-Chichibu

I was surprised to see snow on the ground after exiting the last tunnel on the Seibu-Chichibu line. I knew the trail could be done without crampons, but I wanted to keep my feet dry. Around 10h30, I boarded the colourful Chichibu line and saw no more snow on the way to Kagemori (影森), the next station. At 11am, after walking on a road for a while, I reached Daien Temple (大淵寺), temple number 27 on the Chichibu Pilgrimage (Chichibu-fudasho); behind it was the start of the Kotohira Hiking Trail (琴平ハイキングコース).

The colourful design of the Chichibu line train

Some sun trickling through

From the start, I had to navigate some icy sections. As the path climbed out of the valley, sunshine started to filter down and all traces of snow vanished. Through a break in the trees, I observed the train make its way back along the valley (see video). I soon arrived at Gokoku Kannon (護国観音), a statue of the Buddhist deity of compassion, with a wide view of the mountains on the Saitama-Gunma border; on the left, I could see the huge bulk of Mt Ryokami; in the center were the Minano Alps; on the right lay Mt Hodo with snowy Akagi faintly visible in the background.

View of the mountains along the border of Saitama and Gunma

Kannon statue (left), a narrow and sunny ridge (right)

I followed the trail up and down a narrow ridge, mostly in the sun thanks to the winter trees ; on the right, loomed the terraced north side of Mt Buko. At noon, I arrived at a small temple, part of Temple 26 of the Chichibu-fudasho, located at the base of a staircase on the left. It was nicknamed “Mini-Kiyomizu-dera” because it was on top of wooden stilts. After a short climb, I came upon a statue of Buddha, and nearby, the “Monk’s Meditation Rock”, from where I had another good view to the north. The path then suddenly ended at a small wooden structure at the top of a cliff.

Visible through the trees, the terraced northern face of Mt Buko

The path was mostly snow-free

After stepping onto the wooden platform, I spotted a ladder on the other side, enabling me to get down the cliff and resume my hike. Half an hour later, I found a sunny, grassy spot with a view of Mt Buko, so I decided to take a break for lunch. I continued again at 1pm, and soon had a view of Mt Ryokami to the west through the bare branches. A little later, I passed the highest point of the Kotohira Hills (琴平丘陵 ことひらきゅうりょう kotohira-kyuuryou), completely in the trees, and apart from a triangulation point, totally featureless.

A steep slope up (left) a steep staircase down (right)

The pyramidal north face of Mt Buko, used for rock mining

The path now descended through dark forest, this section familiar from my previous visit, and at 1h30, emerged onto a forest road next to a stream. For the next half an hour, I walked along a mostly flat, straight path before reaching Hitsujiyama Park; in addition to the “carpet sakura”, it also has regular cherry blossoms trees, although the buds were still firmly closed. A little after 2pm, I was back at Seibu-Chichibu station where I boarded the next limited express for the 80-minute ride back to Tokyo.

See the Chichibu line travel along the Arakawa river valley

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

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

Hiking inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

View of Mt Fuji from the Mitsutoge lodge

A popular rock climbing spot

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

Finally, snow!

Just a little further on to the highest point

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

Looking south towards the Tenshi mountains

The Mikasa mountains with the Japanese Alps behind

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

Time to head down down – on the right is Yatsutagake

The southern ridge of Mitsutoge

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

The Doshi mountains with Tanzawa in the background

Mt Kura with Mt Shakushi directly behind

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

Reaching the base of the cliffs

High-altitude clouds masking the sun

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

Mt Fuji in the afternoon shade

Last sun rays of the day

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

See the snowy views of Mitsutoge

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

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

Hiking inside the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

富士箱根伊豆国立公園

Download a map of the Mt Myojo and Mt Myojin hike

This map was developed for Japanwilds with the Hokkaido Cartographer

Find more Japan hiking maps on Avenza

View of Mt Fuji from Daimonji-Yaki

View of Mt Fuji from the top of Mt Myojin

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

Autumn leaves next to Haya river

Gora and Mt Hakone

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

Mt Fuji and its winter cap

Walking between the bamboo grass

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

The fumes of Owakudani

Sagami bay and the Shonan coast

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

Looking north towards Tokyo

Pleasant hiking on the way down

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

See the views between Mt Myojo and Mt Myojin