Mt Myogi Chukan Path, Annaka City, Gunma Prefecture

Even though Mt Myogi 1104m (妙義山 myougisan) is a two hundred famous mountain , I didn’t actually climb to the top (I thought about it though). The reason being that despite its relatively low altitude, this is a dangerous and difficult mountain to climb. I used to think that you could walk up every mountain in Japan, chains and ladders being placed in the dangerous parts, and also Mt Tsurugi (in the Northern Alps) was the most difficult mountain to climb in Japan. However, this title probably belongs to Mt Myogi. All the trails to the summit are marked with dotted lines, meaning “experts only” with multiple danger signs and worrying comments added into the mix (“50m chimney – a lot of people have died here”).

I ended up doing the scenic and safe tour along of the base of the mountain – not only were the views fantastic, but it also included some exciting parts that weren’t dangerous – as long as you’re sure-footed. Finally, Mt Myogi is one of the 3 sacred mountains of Gunma prefecture (the other two being Mt Akagi and Mt Haruna). There are shrines at the start, Myogi Jinja, and at the end of the hike, Nakanotake Jinja.

Hiking in Western Gunma 西上州

As of October 2020, the section of the Chukan trail between Azumaya 四阿 and Nakanotake Shrine 中之嶽神社 is closed due to rockfall and trail damage that occurred in April 2020 (the section starting just before the staircase described in this post). No reopening date has been set yet. Please check the Gunma prefecture website for future updates. 

HOW TO GET THERE: I had been putting off going to Mt Myogi for years, since I had always thought it was hard to get to. I first saw this mountain while staying overnight with friends in Tomioka; it seemed an exciting climb because of its rugged peaks, but at the same time it seemed really remote. So I was surprised when it took around 2 hours from Ikebukuro station to get to the closest station, Matsuida, on the Shin-Etsu line, a couple of stop before Yokokawa (transfer in Takasaki). The view from the station exit was stunning – there were no surrounding mountains and Mt Myougi seemed quite close. I could also see a snow covered Mt Asama just behind it. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo, thinking I would get a better view on the hike, but never did.

There is no bus from the station to the start of the hiking trail. You could walk along the road or take a taxi to Myougi shrine (one hour / 4 km). On the other hand, a taxi takes about 10 minutes and costs about 1400 yen. I’m not really sure about the exact price, since I was able to share the taxi with 3 other hikers, and we split the fare – I paid only 400 yen. One thing I can say for sure is that demand exceeds supply; there were more hikers than available taxis, and I had to wait for a taxi to complete the round-trip before I could get a ride. I still managed to be at the start of the trail just before 10 am – two hours and a half after leaving Ikebukuro station.

There is a bus running from Joshu-tomioka station on the Joshin Dentetsu line, south of Mt Myogi, but not only does it take longer to reach that station by train, the bus also takes forty minutes, basically adding one hour to the travel time, so I wouldn’t recommend going this way.

Ask for a hiking plan for the Mt Myogi Chukan path

THE ROUTE: From the taxi drop off point, I headed up the street on the right to the Myogi shrine and to the start of the hiking trail beyond it. In some respects the base of this mountain is similar to Mt Tsukuba – many people visit it to see the shrine and pray. My original plan was to walk the Chukan path (中間道 meaning the middle path) along the base of the mountain. However I wanted to add on a loop that would take me close to the easternmost summit and where I could get some good views (according to my map). Since I had planned to return by taxi, for once I had no concerns about having to hurry to catch a bus at the end of the hike, except maybe getting off the mountain trail before it gets pitch black (after 5pm in this season).

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Sugi and Momiji (Cedar tree and Maple tree)

Mt Haruna, lots to explore

Mt Haruna, one of Gunma’s sacred mountains

Once I was past the Shrine grounds, I left the bulk of the sightseers behind me. I soon saw beautiful momiji (maple leaf tree) showing off beautiful autumn colours. Although the “Koyo” season had already ended on the higher parts of the mountain, it was now in full swing around the base. The path soon started to climb. I propelled myself up the steeper inclines with the aid of the chains lining the path. At this stage, it wasn’t really dangerous, one could easily walk up, but using the chains made it easier on the legs (as long as one has gloves).

Mt Hakuun

Mt Hakuun, so close yet inaccessible

The Southern part of the Myougi range

The Southern part of the Myogi range

At one point I reached a huge boulder with chains that supposedly had a viewpoint on top. Thanks to my long legs and arms, I clambered to the top in a matter of seconds. I was standing next to a big-sized “big” Chinese character. The view was great, since it was a blue sky day. In front of me stretched the Kanto plain. To the south was a mass of peaks forming the Northern part of the Chichibu mountains. To the north, I could clearly see the massive bulks of Mt Haruna and Mt Akagi. In the far distance I could make out the snow covered peaks of Mt Hotaka, Mt Tanigawa and various other peaks of the Joshinetsu-Kogen National Park. Winter had definitely arrived to that part of Japan. And of course, just behind me, was one of the steep and rocky peaks of Mt Myogi, Mt Hakuun.

Autumn Colours galore

Autumn Colours galore

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Believe it or not, there is a ridge route following the top

I had to wait a little to clamber down again since the the rock was currently being tackled by a rather cautious hiker. Finally, I was able to get back onto the hiking trail. Very soon I reached a junction where one route continued straight to the summit, and the other, heading left, went down again, and connected with the Chuukan path. I decided to check out the summit trail before taking it.

Within minutes I was scrambling over rocks again and holding on to chains, but nothing I hadn’t done a hundred times before on other mountains. Finally a reached some steps leading to a ladder, at the top of which was a cave. I ventured inside and discovered a small shrine. On the other hand, there was no more path, just a wall of vertical rock. I retraced my steps, and managed to pick up the trail again to the right of the steps, beyond a towering cedar tree. I wasn’t surprised I had missed it since it wasn’t a path but a steep rocky incline with a chains and some footholds. Now I’ve done a few of these before but none quite as long or as steep. I pulled myself up halfway, but I didn’t feel all that safe – a fall would result in more than a few bruises – so I decided end my little reconnaissance there, and get on with the main hike.

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The craggy peaks of Mt Myogi

Past the trail junction, there was another passage with chains, as well as some sunny viewpoints. I stopped at one of them to have lunch. Eventually I joined up with the Chuukan path. It was a very pleasant up and down path (more up than down). There were some truly fantastic autumn colours along the way, and I couldn’t believe how few people there were. Later on, I read on the internet that thousands of people were on Mount Takao the same day.

After a while I reached a series of steps taking me very close to the top of one of Mt Myogi’s peaks. I didn’t expect the trail to go that high, perhaps 1000m, but it was hard to tell from the map. At this point the skies had clouded over a little, but the views were still above average. I was now walking along the base of a cliff. At times the path was carved inside the cliff, like a cave, forcing to walk bent over. This was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the hike!

The long staircase

The long staircase

The low overhang

The low overhang

Later on, I arrived at a viewpoint, reached by a series of rocky up and downs fitted with chains. There were more people here since this spot is closer to the other end of the Myogi range, where there is a shrine and a car park. While waiting for my turn to go down the chains, I took lots of photos of the mountains stretching away to the south. There was one especially that caught my eye – Mt Arafune. It had a very long flat top like a table, quite an intriguing sight.

Lots of hiking possibilities

Lots of hiking possibilities

On the right, Mt Arafune or tabletop mountain as I call it

On the right, the flat top of Mt Arafune 

At the end of the path, I was also able to enjoy a great view of Mt Myogi to the North. The sun had come out again, and the whole range was bathed in a late afternoon sunlight, perfect for taking pictures. Once I was satisfied, I headed back to the main path, went down some more, under a rocky bridge, through a picnic spot and then up to another viewpoint, where I could check out the rocky crags I had clambered over just a few minutes before.

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The northern part of the Myougi range

Not an easy path

Not an easy path

The sun was slowly, but surely, heading for the horizon. I continued my descent, and quickly reached Nakanotake shrine. It was nice to start and end the hike at a shrine. I passed through quickly and got back on the road for the last part of the hike. It took me another hour to get back to my morning starting point. Along the road there were excellent views of some of Mt Myogi and surrounding mountains. The blue skies had returned, so even though the sun had already set it was still light.

Typical Myougi landscape

Typical Myougi landscape

Mt Kondou the other main Myougi peak

Mt Kondou the other main Myogi peak

Soon I entered a hiking path going down through a forest, a shortcut since the road make a big loop Eastwards. Very soon I was back on the road. I finally arrived at the turn-off for Momiji no Yu, a very conveniently located hot spring. After a nice hot bath, I called for a taxi; the return leg was more expensive, about 2300 yen, but since it had me almost nothing on the way there, I didn’t mind at all.

CONCLUSION: A medium-level hike with some thrills and great views,  suitable for non-experienced hikers, and especially beautiful in the autumn. If it weren’t for the taxi ride there and back, and some road-walking, it would be the perfect hike!

As of October 2020, the section of the Chukan trail between Azumaya 四阿 and Nakanotake Shrine 中之嶽神社 is closed due to rockfall and trail damage that occurred in April 2020 (the section starting just before the staircase described in this post). No reopening date has been set yet. Please check the Gunma prefecture website for future updates. 

Ask for a hiking plan for the Mt Myogi Chukan path

Nearly full moon tonight

Nearly full moon tonight

Great views on the walk back as well

Great views on the walk back as well

Myougi #1

Mt Takanosu (1736m), Okutama town, Tokyo Prefecture

This isn’t a very famous mountain, but many people climb it since it’s one of the ways up Mt Kumotori, a hyakumeizan, as well as the highest summit in the Tokyo prefecture. It’s also inside the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. I left Tokyo (the city) under the sun, but arrived under clouds and drizzle – how the weather can change fast!

HOW TO GET THERE: The best way is to hop on the early morning direct train to Okutama from Shinjuku station, otherwise you will need to change trains at least twice. If possible, sit in the front carriage, since this will put you close to the station exit; then make sure be at the front of the line for the bus, since this will guarantee you a seat. The bus for Nippara, also the stop for this hike, departs right in front of the train station.

The bus stopped running all the way after the strong typhoons in 2019, so best to check beforehand whether service has been fully restored. 

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Takanosu

 

THE ROUTE: After getting off the bus, I quickly continued walking along the road through the village. I knew the way since I had been here earlier this year to visit the Nippara caves. Also I was on a tight schedule and I didn’t have time to dawdle. Since the mountains were shrouded in mist, for once I didn’t lose any time taking photos. I arrived at a sign pointing to a footpath going down to the left, leading into the forest, over the river at the bottom of the valley and up the other side. It was pretty, but also slightly spooky, since there was no one else.

The path led me to a river bed through a ravine – it was remarkably beautiful (but difficult to take in photo). The approaching sound of bells told me that some other hikers were right behind me, but I lost them quickly on a steep slope. It took me away from the riverbed, and to the start of a rocky outcrop jutting above the ravine I had just climbed. Another group of hikers returning from the top of this outcrop told me it took 15 minutes to reach.

Despite my tight schedule I decided to attempt it since I was making good time. The rocky outcrop was somewhat slippery because of the recent rain, and turned into a bit of a scramble at the end. However it was worth it – even though the surrounding peaks were hidden in the clouds, I could see down the valley and the Nippara village below. Trees were showing their autumn colours here and there. It was hard to believe I was still in Tokyo prefecture.

View from the rocky outcrop – yes this is Tokyo prefecture.

Fifteen minutes later I was back on the main trail, and set off at a fast pace to make up for the lost time. Soon I was surrounded by mist. This made the climb doubly hard because it was impossible to see the summit – every time I thought I was about to arrive, the mist gave way to more forest and more climbing. Everything around me was silent and it felt a bit gloomy.

Finally I reached the top of Mt Takanosu (鷹ノ巣山 takanosuyama). There were a lot of people, but still plenty of space to sit down and have lunch. As expected there was no view to reward my efforts – just a lot of uniform whiteness. I headed down at once after lunch. There was really no point in hanging around, and I wanted to get back on schedule so that I would have time to take a hot bath at the end, and catch the direct train back to Shinjuku.

I thought that the way down was much nicer than the way up – a nice wide grassy ridge similar to a fire barrier. The mist went from spooky to mysterious. Suddenly I came to a point where the ridge turned right and went steeply downhill. The hiking trail seemed to be heading the same way. I was afraid of going down the mountain too soon, so I started to consul my map. Another hiker who had also been checking his map at the same place, told me this must be the right way. He was quite convincing so I started to follow him, anxious not to lose any more time. The path levelled and all seemed well; it started climbing again, became faint and  then disappeared. We both stopped to look for it through the mist. Eventually I found it twenty meters to our right. We were on a minor summit and the main trail had gone round it. I said goodbye to the other hiker, and continued ahead at at a fast pace. Funny things like this happen all the time.

Soon I came close to another minor summit, Mt Mutsuishi 1478m (六ツ石山 mutsuishiyama). The name means six rock mountain. It was only 5 minutes to the top so I went up. The top was grassy with some trees but looking back I could see Mt Takanosu. Since the elevation of Okutama station is only 350m, I knew I still had a long way down, and I quickly set off again. Soon the weather cleared up a little, allowing some sun through. I slipped on some rocks on a steep slope, somehow spinning around 180 degrees and landing with my chest on a rock. It knocked the wind out of me, but otherwise no damage done. Lower down, I had to navigate a slippery muddy path through thick forest. At one point I slipped again. After that, I decided to leave the path and walk through the forest alongside it. This is one reason not to go hiking after a period of rain.

Eventually I reached gentler slopes, an easier to walk path and finally a paved road. I was probably just above the old Okutama road which I had walked this year in May. At the entrance of the hiking path, there was a sign that a bear had been spotted at this location a few weeks ago. For one’s state of mind, I find it better to know this after the hike, rather than before. After another 30 minutes I was back inside Okutama town. From past experience, I called the hot spring Moegi no yu, but they told me it was very crowded at the moment and I would have to wait to get inside. I decided to skip my hot bath so that I could catch the last direct train for Shinjuku. As a consolation, I treated myself to some local sake on the ride back.

CONCLUSION: A surprisingly good hike with some pleasant ridge walking ending at the station. Definitely worth another shot in better weather. The official name for the hike from the summit down to Okutama is the Ishione Ridge Walk (石尾根縦走路 ishione jusoro).

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Takanosu

Beware of bears

Mt Shakushi (1597m), Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Prefecture

The main reason to climb Mt Shakushi, a Yamanashi 100 famous mountain, is to enjoy the fantastic view of Mt Fuji from the summit; there are no mountains in-between, just fields and forest surrounding Oshino village below. The hike is mostly along a ridgeline, with several smaller peaks along the way. Although I was hiking in the middle of November, there were few autumn colours.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take the limited express for Kawaguchiko station, and get off one stop before the end at Mt Fuji / Fujisan station (used to be Fujiyoshida station till 2010). This convenient but pricey train will get you to Fujiyama in time for the bus for Oshino village. It’s also possible to take a combination of local trains, but the connection won’t be as good. I was the only person on the bus – I guess everyone else had gone to see the autumn colours around Kawaguchiko lake.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Shakushi

 

THE ROUTE: From the bus stop, I headed along a road with Mt Fuji to my back. After crossing a couple of small streams I started seeing signs for the entrance to the hiking  trail. Very soon I walking along a dirt road surrounded by beautiful forest; it felt very different from hiking trails closer to Tokyo, especially since there was no-one else around. Eventually I overtook a family of five who had come by car.

 

The sun was perfectly aligned above Mt Fuji

After climbing steadily for a while, I reached a pass where I turned left up the main ridge. I soon reached a rocky roped section, with a nice view of Mt Fuji to the side. After the obligatory snapshots, I continued towards the summit. After a while, I arrived at a junction, from where it was a short round-trip to another summit called Mt Shishidome 1632m 鹿留山 (shishidome-yama). Since there was no view, I decided to skip it and continue on my way. The path was now slightly downhill.

A good day for paragliding

Suddenly I came upon the perfect lunch spot – a lonely rock with a stunning view of Mt Fuji. Even though I was a short way from the summit, I decided to stop for lunch; the final part was mostly flat, and peaks can be surprisingly crowded even when there seems to be no one else on the mountain. Occasionally other hikers would stopped behind me to admire the view, but overall it was a very enjoyable lunch. Not only could I see Mt Fuji in front of me, but also the South Alps  (some of the highest peaks were already covered in snow) and lake Yamanaka. Eventually I managed to pull myself away from the view and reach the summit.

Mt Mitsutoge to the West

The top of Mt Shyakushi (杓子山 shakushi-yama) has a couple of benches, and interestingly enough, a bell to scare away bears. I was so busy taking photos of Mt Fuji, I completely forgot to ring it! I was glad I had already taken my lunch break – the sun was moving behind Mt Fuji, and the side facing me was slowly becoming a dark outline. It looked like the sun would set exactly behind the cone, a phenomenon called Diamond Fuji. Unfortunately, there was no way I could stay till sunset, even though it was nice and warm in the autumn sun.

View of Mt Fuji while descending

There wasn’t really any rush to go down, since I could walk to the onsen at the base of the mountain without having to catch a bus. After I started to head down, I passed a couple on the way to the top, showing that this mountain is small enough for a late afternoon hike. The descent was uneventful, except that at one point it got really steep and I slipped and fell. Luckily the trail was just dirt, no rocks, so no harm done. There were many open spaces where I could observe the dramatic outline of Mt Fuji with the sun behind it. There were also some fine views of Mt Mitsutoge to the right. I also passed a launching pad for paragliding that included a mini funicular to haul the material up. After a final switchback trail, I reached a paved road at the bottom of the mountain, and made my way to Fudoyu onsen. After a nice hot spring bath, I caught the empty bus back to Fujisan station.

CONCLUSION: A short hike that I recommend doing in autumn or winter when the weather is sunny in order to enjoy the views of Mt Fuji. An onsen within walking distance of the base of the mountain is a definite plus.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Shakushi