Mt Hashimoto (321m) & Yugate (290m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture

I was looking for an easy and short station to station hike nearby Tokyo to help me get back into hiking mode after a two-month forced break. I thought it would be too hot and uncomfortable to hike in the low hills of Oku-Musashi 奥武蔵 in the month of June. Also, I had hiked these trails three times previously, so I thought it might not be so interesting. Finally, I had no idea whether the trail would be open and properly maintained. In the end, I couldn’t come up with a better idea, and since the train ride was just over an hour, I decided to just go for it.

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Looking towards Chichibu

After getting off the train at Higashi-Agano station 東吾野 a little after 10am, it took me less than 5 minutes to reach the start of the hiking trail, behind Agana Shrine 吾野神社. This is surely one of the most convenient hiking trails in the area! the trail immediately starting climbing through beautiful forest. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the trail was well-maintained and the signposts were relatively new; often they were entirely in English. As I moved along the trail, I was amazed at how different the surrounding vegetation looked. Previously, I had seen the light green of early spring, the colours of Autumn, and the snowy whiteness of Winter. This time, I was treated to the lush dark green of summer. The forest was still relatively insect-free and the humidity was average; contrary to my expectations, the conditions were nearly ideal. All my concerns has been washed away minutes after starting the hike!

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Start of the hiking trail for Yugate

After less than an hour, I reached the top of Mt Hashimoto 橋本山 (はしもとやま) where I had a good view of the Chichibu mountains to the West. After a late breakfast, I set off again, and reached the tiny village of Yugate ユガテ at noon. Yugate is made up of a handful of houses and fields situated on a small plateau among the hills. There is a nice grassy field on one side, with a couple of benches in the shade – the perfect place for a lunch break. Today however, it was too early for lunch, and the benches were already occupied by groups of hikers. I moved on quickly, reached a fork, and headed along the right branch. I had planned to do a circle hike centered on Yugate, so I would be returning via the left branch later in the day.

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Easy to hike trail through the forest

The next section was highly enjoyable: for 40 minutes, the narrow trail followed the side of the mountain through silent forest, crossed a couple of small streams, before climbing to the Oku-Musashi Green Line Road. I saw and heard no one during this time. The area between the station and this road is part of the Nishikawa Forestry Area 西川林業地, and I suppose special care is taken to its maintenance. I had now reached Kitamukijizo 北向地蔵. Instead of following the top of the ridge towards the left, I decided to make a longer loop by descending to the lake on Moroyama Town side of the mountain. The forest here was less beautiful, but the descent was pleasant, and at one point there was a view of the Kanto Plain to the East.

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Yugate, a good place for a break

I reached the edge of Kamakita lake 鎌北湖 just after 1pm, and I was shocked to see that it had been entirely drained for construction work. By now, it was getting pretty hot, and it would have been refreshing to walk alongside a body of water. Instead it was a dusty pit filled with noisy excavators. I wasn’t sure what the purpose was, but apparently it would be completed by April next year.  I quickly made my way around the side of the lake. I was walking on an asphalt road now, and I was starting to feel pretty hot. At 2pm, I turned left onto a gently climbing path up the side of the mountain, bringing me under the welcome shade of the forest.

 

Construction work on Kamakita Lake

After a short climb, I was back on top of the ridge. I noticed that several of the Japanese-only signs had the English names scribbled on them, and I couldn’t help wondering who had added them. I now made my way back down to Yugate. This time the benches were empty, but I wanted to catch an early train back (and I already had eaten my lunch) so after a quick sit down, I moved on. I followed the trail I had come up in the morning, but skipped the summit of Mt Hashimoto by following the “Woman’s Slope” 女坂 that went around the other side. I took an alternative path at the very end and finished at Fukutokuji Temple 福徳寺 from where it was a ten minute walk back to the Higashi-Agano station, arriving there at 3h30.

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The crossroads of Yugate

This hike is probably one of the best kept secrets of the Tokyo area. Even though, there are no famous shrines or great views, it’s easy to reach and ideal for those who want to do some peaceful “nature bathing”. However, it’s best to wait till that lake is filled up again!

Mt Ushibuse (491m), Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture, Monday, February 24, 2020

Hiking the Kanto Fureai no Michi 関東ふれあいの道

It was my first time to do a full hike along the Kanto Fureai No Michi, also known as the Metropolitan Area Trail, following section four of the Gunma portion. I chose it because it seemed to mostly follow a hiking path through the mountains. Also, it was in an area I had never been to before, but that I had seen many times while taking the train to Takasaki.

Castle-shaped Observatory near the summit

In Takasaki station, I transferred to the Hachiko line, a small railway running parallel to the Chichibu mountains, all the way to Hachioji. A sign told me that it was leaving from track 3, located between tracks 2 and 4. That seemed obvious, but it also indicated that it shared the same platform, seemingly impossible. However before I could inquire, I spotted track 3 starting at the end of the platform, and it was with relief that I boarded the train. It’s never easy to handle these complicated train situations first thing in the morning!

The Hachiko line platform

The plum blossoms were out

I got off at Gunma-Fujioka station just a few stops away, and waited half an hour for the mini-bus that would take me to the Kami-Kashima bus stop. I was of course the only passenger. The bus headed West following the Ayu river. I got off shortly after 9am, and found myself standing next to the road in a narrow valley under blue skies. It was hard to believe that I had l left the heart of Tokyo only a couple of hours earlier. I quickly located the start of the trail, and made my way up the side of the valley. I passed plum blossom trees, solar panels, and slightly startled locals. Turning around, I saw the rounded peak of Mt Mikabo, which I climbed in 2016. Soon, I was walking along a dirt road through the forest, and I reached Konashi Pass 小梨峠 (584m) just before 10h30.


First views of Mt Haruna past Konashi Pass

At the very right, Mt Shirasuna, which I climbed last year in October

From there it was a long walk downhill into the valley on the other side. At the bottom of the wide valley was the Joshin Dentetsu line, which connects Takasaki with Shimonita, and Tomioka city. This part was very peaceful, and had some good views of Mt Asama, Mt Haruna and Mt Akagi. In the background were the snowy peaks of the Joshin-Estu. There was some trail damage here, probably due to last year’s typhoons, minor at first, but more significant lower down. At one point, I had to clamber over some boulders and fallen trees. I hope that it will eventually get cleared up. As I walked down the valley, the forest road turned from dirt to paved, and ran parallel to a stream, and at 11h30 I emerged onto an asphalt road.

Good hiking trail past around Konashi Pass

No so good trail lower down

I followed the road for a while, before turning left onto a tiny hiking path, up a small forested hill. All too soon I reached another road leading down the other side, through what seemed like an abandoned hamlet. Just after the road started climbing again, I heard a crashing noise coming from the forest to my left. While I was trying to process what it could be, a stag with fully-grown antlers crossed the road a few meters ahead of me. For a few seconds, I remained rooted in place; I had only seen a stag close up once before, while hiking in the Koshu Alps a few years ago. I continued up the road, slowly gaining altitude, and spotted a small hiking path on the left. I decided to check it out quickly. It led me to a bench and a fantastic lookout point. The trail continued down to the base of the mountain. I decided to stop and have some lunch. Afterwards, I retraced my steps, and found that the hiking trail continued straight up the mountain. I decided to leave the road for a while, since I would meet up with it again near the top.

View of Mt Asama

Direct hiking path to the summit

It was a pleasant hike along a sunny ridge. Through the bare trees, I could see the pass I had walked down earlier. The silence was broken by three successive gunshots, and I hoped they weren’t aimed at the stag I had seen earlier. At 13h30, I reached the top of Mt Ushibuse 牛伏山, a Gunma hundred famous mountain. Although the name means “cow sitting on the ground”, I couldn’t see any bovians nearby. There was a small shrine with a bell, a rest house and an NHK antenna. I gave the bell a ring, and then proceeded to the observatory at the top of a Japanese castle replica a few minutes away. I had great views of the Northern part of the Kanto plain and surrounding mountains. Behind, was the were the Oku-Chichibu mountains. Inside the castle were interesting pictures of birds of prey taken in the area.

Mt Haruna in perfect weather

In the background, the Tanigawa mountain range

It was starting to get late, so I started to head down the mountain. The first part was along hiking trails and a second part along a road. At 3pm, I reached Yubata Onsen. I had hoped to take a hot spring bath there, but unfortunately they had a reservation-only system, and the bath was already reserved till 4pm. The owner let me wait on the balcony in case the person left early, but it was not to be. Originally I had planned to take a bus back to the station but since I had some extra time, I decided to walk all the way back following the Fureai no Michi. There were some good views of Mt Haruna and the surrounding countryside. I reached Maniwa station around sunset just after 5pm.

Hiking down Mt Ushibuse

 

Maniwa station just before sunset

NEXT UP: Sakurayama in Gunma

Mt Sekison (486m) & Mt Shinko (506m), Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture, Sunday, January 19, 2020

This was a short hike with easy access from Tokyo, perfect for the winter season. I took a train to Omata station on the Ryomo line, from where I walked about 45 minutes to the start of the trail, since there were no suitable buses in the morning. It was mostly straight ahead, with a view of today’s mountain: a long thin rocky ridge stretching Southwest to Northeast.

View of Mt Akagi from Omata station

The start of the trail was near a small shrine, and I set off quickly since it was already past 11am. There was a notice saying that one of the trails down nearby Mt Senjin was closed due to fallen trees – I had walked that down path in 2018 and it was indeed nearly impassable! The climb up was through nice forest. Soon, it became steep and rocky. Turning around, I got some nice views of the Hachioji Hills and Mt Asama. Northwards, I could see Mt Akagi with snow on the upper reaches.

Steep climbing near the top

These were the only views I would get during the hike. If I had known, I would have sat down on those rocks and had an early lunch there. Further on, I could only get fleeting glances through the bare branches of the trees, even though my guidebook promised good views. The climb ended at a small shrine, and a nice flat area with a bench. It was already occupied by a group, so I continued along a level path.

View of the Hachioji Hills halfway up the mountain

From this point the hike was fairly easy. I reached the top of Mt Sekison 石尊山, a combination of the characters for rock and respect, just after noon. Trees obstructed most of the view. Even though they were bare of leaves, it was impossible to take any good photos. I found a sunlit rock and sat down to have some lunch. It took me another thirty minutes along the summit ridge to reach the top of Mt Shinko 深高山, a combination of the characters for deep and high, another viewless summit.

View of Mt Akagi from the steep and rocky climb

I found another rock in the sun to sit on, and finished my lunch. From here, the trail went down steeply for a while, before becoming level again. Just before 2pm, I reached a crossroads above Inoko tunnel, very close to the end of the hike. There were two options for finishing the hike, to the left and the right, both about the same distance. I was headed right towards Matsuda, to the right, since there was a bus in about one hour. Since it was only 30 minutes away, I decided to check out the connecting trail for Mt Senjin which was straight ahead.

Mostly easy hiking on Mt Sekison

I hadn’t realised I could cross over to Mt Senjin, and I might have attempted it, if it had been earlier in the day. The path climbed steeply and I was hoping for some views. However, they didn’t materialise, and I finally turned back. Hopefully I can hike this trail in the future. I retraced my steps and took the path for Matsuda. At 2h30 I was out of the forest and on a road, and I reached the bus stop with time to spare. By the way, buses in the Ashikaga area costs a flat fee of 200 yen – a very good deal for hikers!

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Mt Asama with its winter coat

NEXT UP: Tengu Rock & Akaboko in Tokyo

Mt Nantai (654m), Daigo Town, Ibaraki Prefecture

This was a trip to a prefecture that I have recently come to appreciate as a great hiking destination. Most of its hikes are situated in the Abukuma Mountains 阿武隈山地. This was also my first time to take the Suigun line that connects Mito, the capital of Ibaraki, and Koriyama in Fukushima (I took it again this year). Finally it was a good station to station hike – I had to walk one hour along a road from Saigane station to reach the start of the trail, but the surrounding scenery was beautiful.

One of the other peaks in the area

Once I started hiking in earnest, I got some really great views of the rocky summit of this Kanto 100 famous mountain. The weather was perfect, and the autumn colours were still at their peak. Soon I started climbing through some beautiful forest, and I reached the top of Mt Nantai 男体山 around 1h30. From the top, there was no doubt that this was the highest mountain in the area. To the south, I could see the shape of Mt Tsukuba in the distance.

At the very back, Mt Tsukuba and neighbouring mountains

After enjoying the bird’s eye views, I continued along the ridge. First down a steep slope, then along a pleasant mostly level path. It was so pleasant that I completely missed the turn-off down the mountain. After a while, I realised I was going in the wrong direction and retraced my steps to the junction which was properly signposted – I must have looked the other direction just when the sign came into view!

The prominent bulk of Mt Nantai

The downhill part to Kami-Ogawa station was through pleasant autumn forest, then along countryside back roads. Looking back, I got some more nice views of the rocky summit of the mountain I had just climbed. I reached the station in time for the infrequent train back to Mito city.

Mt Nemoto (1199m) & Mt Kumataka (1169m), Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture

This was my very first visit to Kiryu City – I returned a couple more times last year in the autumn. However I had hiked in the Ashio mountains 足尾山地 several times before. I was again the only person on the bus, and when I got off at the last stop, I was surprised that it cost only 200 yen – probably the cheapest bus ride I’ve ever done in Japan. I had to walk another thirty minutes along the road, but I didn’t mind since it followed the beautiful Kiryu river.

Kiryu river, one of the top 100 forested valleys in Japan

I reached the start of the trail around noon – there was a well-made sign in Japanese and English explaining that the Kiryu River had been selected as one of the top 100 forested valleys in Japan – I wasn’t aware that such a list even existed! There are two trails up the mountain – the one on the left follows a small mountain stream, and is an advanced course. I took the more direct trail going up the ridgeline. This trail had its share of fun, with rocky sections lined with ropes for safety – it’s not really dangerous, but it isn’t for beginners either.

The autumn colours made up for the gloomy weather

The autumn colours were still at their peak, and a little before 1h30, I reached the top of Mt Nemoto 根本山 (meaning “tree root”), a Gunma 100 famous mountain. There was no view, but there was a brand new sign. The weather had been sunny and cloudy all morning, but now it was completely overcast, with a cold wind. It felt like it might snow at any moment.

Mt Akagi, looking somber

I continued along the ridgeline, circling the source of the Kiryu river, clockwise. Soon, I was walking South along an easy trail, and I arrived at Mt Kumataka 熊鷹山 less than an hour later. There was a small observation tower with a 360° view of the surrounding mountains. I could make out Mt Koshin and Mt Kesamaru to the North, where there was some sun, and Mt Akagi under a dark cloud to the West. In the East, it seemed like it was raining.

Trees marching up the side of the mountain – blue skies returned at the end of the hike

After enjoying the view and before my hands froze, I started to head down the mountain. The hiking trail quickly became a forest road, and the sun came out again. Soon, I was walking next to the Kiryu river again under blue skies. I was back at the start of the trail before 4pm, and half an hour later I was riding the last bus back to Kiryu City.

Kiryu river, also one of the 100 top forested water sources

 

Mt Mino (587m), Minano Town, Saitama Prefecture (Utsukushii no Yama)

This was another short hike, about one hour up and one hour down, less than two hours by train from Tokyo. Once again, by studying the Chichibu hiking map, I found a way to extend it, through Eastern Chichibu and ending at Yorii station; I hoped it would make a great station to station hike. Also, the trails I had picked followed the Kanto Fureai no Michi for nearly the entire way, so I was almost certain that the path would be well signposted and easy to walk.

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Hiking up Utsukushii no yama or “Beautiful Mountain”

I got off the train at Oyahana station on the Chichibu line around 9 am on a beautiful spring morning. The walk up through the new green forest was one of the easiest I had ever done; it’s also possible to drive up. At the top of Mt Mino 蓑山 (Minoyama) there was a small observation tower with a 360 degree view. The view to the East of the nearby mountains of Higashi Chichibu was better than the view to the West of the much further Oku-Chichibu mountains, lost in the late morning haze. By the way, this mountain’s name means “straw raincoat”, but it’s also known as Utsukushii no Yama, or “Beautiful Mountain”.

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View of Eastern Chichibu from the summit of Mt Mino

After taking in the view, I started down on the opposite side. I saw no one on the way down; I even surprised some Japanese pheasants or “hiji”, which flew away in fright as I approached. I arrived at Asama Jinja Shrine around noon. The local priest was very friendly and offered me some cold tea, very welcome on this warm day. After reaching the base of the mountain, I crossed a busy road, walked up a smaller one with fields on either side, and arrived at the Chichibu Highland Farm or Chichibu Kogen Bokujo around 2pm. There, I had some of the best views of the hike.

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Hiking the seven peaks of outer Chichibu

The next part of the hike was quite easy, as it followed the wide ridgeline to the North. I passed by the minor peaks of Mt Atago 愛宕山 (Atagoyama) 655m and Mt Misuzu 皇鈴山 (Misuzuyama) 679m. A little beyond that last peak, I got some great views of the Kanto Plain to the East. By the way, this trail is known as the “Outer Chichibu 7 Peaks Traverse” (外秩父七峰縦走 – it is currently closed due to typhoon damage).

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View West from the Chichibu Highland Farm

At 4pm, I arrived at Mt Kamabuse 釜伏山 (Kamabuseyama) 582m, a short roundtrip off the main trail. Here, I left the Fureai no Michi, which went left towards Nagatoro, and headed right, along a road, the most direct route down the mountain. I reached Yorii station a little before 6pm, after nine hours of hiking, but not too exhausted since the hike consisted mostly of gentle slopes and flat ridges.

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The park at the top of Mt Mino has many cherry blossom trees

Koinobori at Chichibu Highland Farm

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Mt Hodo (497m), Nagatoro Town, Saitama Prefecture

At first, I wasn’t too excited about climbing this peak in the Chichibu area. It was a short hike accessible via a ropeway, so the trails and summit were bound to be crowded. However, it was a station to station hike and easily accessible from Ikebukuro via a direct train. I was also curious to see the views from the summit. By studying my hiking map, I saw that I could lengthen the hike by starting from Nogami station and following the Nagatoro Alps hiking trail (長瀞アルプス) so called because of the up and down nature of the course.

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View from near the end of the hike

Since the direct train ended at Nagatoro station, one stop before Nogami, I had to walk a few kilometers along back roads to reach the start of the trail. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise since Spring was in full swing; there were many cherry blossom trees in full bloom, including a couple of cherry blossom tunnels, as well as all sorts of other colourful flowers. I had good views of the Arakawa river gorge, and even saw people doing kayaking and rafting. I took so much time taking photos that I arrived at the start of the hiking trail around 11h30, two full hours after getting off the train.

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Start of the Nagatoro Alps

The trail was straightforward and much easier to walk than the name would suggest. I saw few people as the trail headed Southwards while slowly rising. It was mostly in the forest and there were few views. After about an hour, I reached a short flat section along a forest road, followed by a series of log staircases heading straight up. This marked the final ascent, and at 1pm I was standing on the wide flat top of Mt Hodo 宝登山 hodosan. By the way, the name can be read as “Treasure Climb”. I found a free spot on one of the benches next to a big group, and settled down for lunch; later on one of the members kindly offered me some freshly brewed coffee.

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An easy and relaxing hike up Mt Hodo

The views were better than expected, even though the blue skies from the morning had been replaced by a thick white blanket. From East to West, I could see Mt Jomine, Mt Ryokami, Mt Hapu, Mt Buko and Mt Mino. At 2pm, I set off again. The top of the Hodosan Ropeway was a few minutes away, and from there it was possible to walk down along a wide dirt road that switched back and forth so that it never got too steep. This part of the hike was a pleasant surprise: there were great views of the Arakawa valley, and the side of the mountain had many cherry blossoms, all the way down to the bottom of the valley.

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View South of Chichibu City and Mt Buko

It took me less than an hour to reach the base of the ropeway and a road. A little further on, I arrived at a small park filled with cherry blossom trees, with in the middle a small mountain called Mt Notsuchi (209m) 野土山. I reached my starting point of Nagatoro station after 3pm, six hours after setting off, just in time to catch the direct train back to Ikebukuro. It turned out to be a very satisfying hike, and I look forward to returning one day in a different season.

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The Nagatoro area of Chichibu

Rafting and boating on the Arakawa River

Riding the Chichibu Railway

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Mt Jomine (1038), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture

This is a good mountain to climb in the spring and the autumn, especially when the days are shorter as this isn’t a long hike. Since the Kanto Fureai no Michi passes by the summit, some sections are guaranteed to be easy to walk. Finally, there is a 360 degree view of the Chichibu mountains from the top, so it’s worth doing this one in clear weather.

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Endless mountains from the top of the observation tower 

The bus from Minano station on the Chichibu railway takes about half an hour to get to the start of the Fureai no Michi. From the bus stop, the trail follows the road for a bit, before turning right, and heading up the mountain side through thick forest. The steeper parts of the climb are made easier by several log staircases. It should take less than two hours to reach the observation tower at the top of Mt Jomine 城峰, a Kanto Hyakumeizan. Among the dozens of mountains, it should be easy to pick out the massive craggy top of Mt Ryokami on the West side.

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Log staircase barely visible under the snow in the middle of January

Walking down fifteen minutes, the trail leads to Jomine Shrine, where there is another good view Westwards. It should take another hour down the Omotesando trail to reach the trailhead, along a narrow forested valley. From there it’s another 90 minute walk along the road to the nearest bus stop. The road follows a river past charming countryside dwellings. The bus goes all the way to Seibu-Chichibu station with it’s onsen, food hall, sake shop and direct train connection to Tokyo.

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At the very right, the craggy bulk of Mt Ryokami

I did this hike on a snowy winter day, so I made another trip on a sunny Spring day to see the view. I drove to the top, something I don’t recommend since the road is long and narrow; fortunately, I didn’t meet any other cars going up or down. I plan to return a third time and take a different trail up, along a ridge parallel to the down trail described above. I would walk down the other side following the Fureai no Michi, and end at the Kanna River in Gunma where it’s possible to catch a bus back to Shinmachi station.

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The observation tower which seems to double as a telecommunication antenna