Mt Gassan (1287m), Nikko City, Tochigi prefecture, Saturday, October 30, 2021

I thought I should really do one more hike from the Aizu-Kinugawa train line before it got too cold and started to snow. Looking through my guidebook, I found a mountain I could reach by taking a bus from Kinugawa-Onsen and along a river valley hidden behind the sprawling mass of Mt Nyoho. Although it was a short hike and required some road walking to get to the start of the trail and back, I had never been to that area nor ridden that bus line before. I was worried about missing the last bus back, since it would be a long walk to the station. I also wondered whether the autumn leaves would finally be at their peak, since it had been so cold a week earlier. On the other hand, the weather was supposed to be a perfect with warmer temperatures and almost no wind. I was looking forward to getting some new views and seeing the first autumn colours of the season.

Autumn colours at the Kuriyama dam lake

Mt Gassan in the late afternoon sun

It was a beautiful autumn day as I rode the comfortable Nikko line to Shimo-Imaichi station, where I transferred to the local train for the short trip to Kinugawa-Onsen. I hadn’t been there for nearly ten years and I soaked up the atmosphere of this popular hot spring resort while waiting for my bus to leave. It was an exciting ride following the Kinugawa river valley and past Kawaji dam. Although today’s mountain was only six kilometers away, the bus traveled three times that distance as the road curved around to the back of the mountain.

View from the road leading to the entrance of the hiking trail

A perfect day for hiking

I got off the bus just past 11am and quickly set off up a small road through the forest and alongside a river. I soon reached a deforested area and after a series of switchbacks, I had my first views. I was stunned by the reds and oranges covering the mountain side directly opposite. Looking west, I could see what I thought was Kinu-Numa Swamp at the end of the river valley. I soon passed a cow barn with a bright red roof surrounded by pastures, both deserted at this time of the year. Looking up, I could see see see thin white strips of clouds spreading across the blue sky.

A cow barn belonging to Hikage Farm

Mt Nyoho, one of the Oku-Nikko mountains

Around 12h30, I reached a flat area with a view to the south and some more pastures: this was Hikage Farm (日蔭牧場 hikage-bokujo), just below Mt Meoto (夫婦山). It was a short and easy climb up this mountain, but it would have to be for another time, since I was on a tight schedule. On the west side, I could see the long ridge leading from Kirifuri Highland to the summit of Mt Nyoho. The road sloped down, and looking east through the trees , I could see the fiery red summit of today’s mountain. A few minutes later, I reached the start of Meoto Tunnel (夫婦トンネル).

Mt Meoto in its autumn coat

First view of Kuriyama Dam lake

It was a spooky five minute walk through this tunnel, fortunately closed to traffic (see video). I emerged back into the sunlight at the base of Kuriyama dam and I could now see the full shape of Mt Nyoho. I had never seen it from this direction before, and I was impressed by its massive size; it truly belongs to the 100 famous mountains of Japan. I continued along the level road and reached the start of the hiking trail at exactly one pm. I took a short break and then started up the narrow ridgeline path.

A narrow ridge path through bamboo grass

Mt Takahara and Hunter Mountain Ski Resort

After twenty minutes, I already had some excellent views of Mt Meoto, the colour of rust, and the blue Kuriyama Dam lake. I continued to climb through beautiful forest enclosed on three sides by the Nikko National Park. Ten minutes later, I reached the top ridge. I had a superb view of Mt Takahara directly west, through a break in the trees; I could make out patches of light green that would become the ski runs of Hunter Mountain in the winter. To the north, in the midst of a multitude of mountains, I spotted the elegant, subdued shape of Mt Shibakusa. Soon after, I reached the highest point of Mt Gassan (月山 がっさん meaning “Mt Moon”), a Tochigi hundred famous mountain.

Imaichi lake and the Kanto plain

Walking down to Kuriyama Dam Lake

Famous for its azalea flowers in the spring, all it offered now were bare branches hiding the view. However, just a few meters further, I reached the top of a small rocky area and a wide panorama. Stretching away towards the west were the low mountains of southern Tochigi. A vermillion ridge ended at Imachi dam and lake at the head of a green-brown valley leading into the Kanto plain. It was nearly 2pm so I sat down for a late lunch under the warm autumn sunshine. Although it was possible to descend the rocky area towards the lake, it wasn’t part of today’s route.

A peaceful walk along the shoreline

Sun setting on Mt Nyoho

Around 2h30, I made my way back along the top ridge and took the right path at a fork, heading north and down towards Kuriyama lake. At times the path was hard to follow because of the bamboo grass, but fortunately I could rely on the pink ribbons on the branches. I had glimpses of the lake through the trees, the surrounding forest bright yellow under the afternoon sun. I arrived at the peaceful lake shore thirty minutes later. Since I had a bus to catch, I quickened my pace and soon reached the road leading to the base of the dam, from where I made my way back through the tunnel and up to hikage farm.

Late afternoon at Hikage Farm

Same views but different lighting

It was past 3h30 and the sun was setting just above the highest point of Mt Nyoho. I walked down the road, now in the shade, the views of this morning looking different in the late afternoon sun. I reached the bus stop with a few minutes to spare. After a 45 minute ride, I got off at Kinugawa-Koen station around 5pm, one stop before Kinugawa-onsen, so that I could take a quick hot spring bath at Iwaburo (meaning “rock bath”). After a pleasant soak in the outdoor bath, I caught the local train for Shimo-Imaichi station, where I boarded the limited express “Kegon” for the ninety minute ride back to Tokyo.

See the red and orange colours of Mt Gassan

Mt Kabuto (913m), Fuefuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, October 10, 2021

I had done many hikes in Yamanashi, but I had never been to the hills between Yamanashi and Kofu cities. My hiking guide had two suggestions for that area, but, after studying my map, I ended up choosing another mountain in-between, because it was shorter and easier to access. I would take a taxi from Yamanashi-shi station to the start of the trail, and after a loop hike, return on foot via a road to a hot spring, and Kasugaicho station on the local Chuo line. Although the trail went through a rocky area, it didn’t seem to present any major difficulties. I was more concerned about spiders and their webs blocking the way, a recurring headache when hiking under 1000 meters in September and October. The weather was supposed to be cloudy at first with sun in the afternoon, and since there was a viewpoint near the top, I hoped I could get to see the mountains of Yamanashi as well as Mt Fuji.

View south from the rocky area

The weather was gloomy and cloudy as I rode the limited express out of Shinjuku. It didn’t seem like I would get any views today, as white mist spilled out of the valleys on both sides of the Chuo line. I asked the taxi driver to drop me off at “Nageshi Somen“, close to the start of the trail, and less than ten minutes away. As I got ready for the hike, I felt that despite the overcast weather, I was lucky that the temperature felt just right for hiking.

Statue near my taxi drop-off point

An easy to walk path at the start of the hike

After walking along a dirt road for twenty minutes, I arrived at a fireworks store and the start of the hiking trail. I was soon walking on a flat wide path through pleasant forest next to a small river. It took another 20 minutes to reach the start of the “rocky area” trail (岩場コース iwaba-kosu). After a short climb up the side of the mountain, I reached the the rocks and cliffs on the east side of the mountain. I took a break to observe some people practice their rock climbing skills on a huge boulder (see video).

Cairn along the first part of the “rocky area” trail

Walking between the rocks on the east side of the mountain

I reached the first viewpoint of the day as the noon chime echoed through the wide valley below. Directly below, I could see the Kasugai golf course and, on the other side of the valley, the foothills of the Misaka mountains, their peaks lost in the low clouds. I was now halfway up the “rocky area” trail and I had fun scrambling between and over rocks of various sizes, using fixed chains to pull myself up when necessary. I could also relax since there were no webs spun across this section of the trail.

Kasugai golf course and the Misaka mountains

My lunch view – somewhere to the right is Mt Fuji

I soon reached a gently sloping ridgeline, and by 12h30 I was standing on top of Mt Kabuto (兜山 kabuto-yama), meaning helmet mountain because of its rounded shape. The summit, a hundred famous mountain of Yamanashi, was completely in the trees, but after walking south along a short path, I arrived at a bench with a view through a break in the trees, a good place for lunch. The weather hadn’t really improved, and although I was supposed to be able to see Mt Fuji, just 30 kilometers away behind Mt Oni and Mt Settou, all I could make out was a white wall. After lunch, I made my way back to the summit and followed the trail west through the forest.

A rocky narrow ridge near the highest point of the hike

View on the way down at the edge of a deforested area

I walked along a rock strewn ridge, slowly rising to an altitude above 1000 meters, the back of the helmet perhaps; for the first time this season, the air felt chilly. The path then suddenly dropped down the back of the “helmet”, and as the temperature went back to comfortable, I had to start dodging spiderwebs again. Luckily for me, each time I stepped into one, its maker was on the higher half, just above the top of my cap. I turned left into a valley and was now walking through the beautiful “Kabuto-yama no Mori” (the Mt Kabuto forest). I was the only hiker around and I was constantly spooked by falling acorns. At 2pm, I reached a forest road between a deforested area and Umezawa river, the same one I had followed earlier in the day.

Looking back at Mt Kabuto

View from the road between the golf course and the vineyards

I walked at a leisurely pace to the parking lot near the start of the “rocky area” trail, completing the loop. I then continued on a paved road, with the river below on the left and a golf course on my right. Looking back, I could see the helmet-shaped summit of Mt Kabuto. Ahead, I had a bird’s eye view of Kofu valley. The weather was finally improving and patches of blue sky were visible above. After a steep descent through some vineyards, I arrived at the Iwashita hot spring inside a building dating from 1888. It was just past 3pm, so I had time for a quick dip, before walking to the nearby train station. I rode one stop and switched to the limited express for the eighty minute ride back to Shinjuku.

Hiking over “Helmet mountain”

Mt Kozuke (448m) & Nosubari Viewpoint (634m), Ogose Town, Saitama Prefecture

Looking at my hiking map, I found another unexplored corner of “Oku-Musashi”: by connecting various local trails, I could make a loop in a hidden valley beyond the Seibu-Chichibu train line and the “Green Line” road. I would take the Tobu line to Ogose station, from where it was a short bus ride to the start of the hike, and return via the same way. It was a short hike so I could leave Tokyo mid-morning and still catch the last bus back around 5pm. The weather was unseasonably hot, and I was worried how comfortable I would be hiking at a low altitude; however, the skies would be mostly clear of clouds, so I could count on some good views.

Lunch with a view from Moroto no Kuruwa

A peek through the trees below the summit of Mt Kozuke

It was a short ride to Ogose, so I was comfortable even though, for once, I wasn’t on a limited express train. At 11am, I set off under a very hot sun. The first part of the hike was along a road next to a mountain stream. Along the way I stopped at a “Garden Terrace”, a kind of flower garden you can visit for free. It was officially closed at this time of the year, but the owner invited me in for some coffee and a piece of homemade cheesecake on their terrace in the middle of the garden. I was touched by their welcoming attitude, and after a friendly chat, I continued on my way.

View from near the start of the Shiroyama hiking trail

The hills of Tokigawa Town are also rich in hiking possibilities

After an hour of easy road walking, I reached the start of the Shiroyama hiking trail (城山ハイキング). From this point, I started waving a stick in front of me to clear the spiderwebs. Despite this, I still managed to walk into several cobwebs, luckily devoid of spiders each time. After some switchback climbing through thick forest, I reached the top of Mt Kozuke (小築山 こづけやま kozukeyama) around 1pm. The summit was in the trees so I soon moved on. The next section was through mixed forest with occasional views. I stopped for lunch at a place called “Moroto no Kuruwa” (もろとの郭) since I could sit down on a log and enjoy a view of Ogose to the west.

An easy to follow trail through the forest

View towards Saitama from the Nosubari viewpoint

After lunch, I found myself on a gently rising path through dark forest. At 2pm, the trail started to climb steeply and very soon I reached Hananoki pass (花の木峠 683m) on the Odaira ridge (大平尾根), the highest point of the hike and just below the “Green Line”. The hiking path then exited onto a road and twenty minutes later I arrived at the Nosubari observatory (野末張見晴台). I had an excellent view of the Kanto plain and the eastern reaches of the Oku-Musashi hills. In the late afternoon, the sky was hazy so I couldn’t make out the skyscrapers of Tokyo. After a short break, I rejoined the trail just beyond the road and resumed my descent.

Trail *almost* blocked on the way down

The spider Red Spider Lily which flowers in the autumn

It took an another hour of quiet hiking down a peaceful valley shielded from noise to reach a paved road. Half an hour later I was back on the road I had taken in the morning, and soon after I was back at the bus stop. As I had some time before the bus, I decided to explore the nearby Umesono ume no Eki (うめしの 梅の駅) where I bought some craft sour made from local lemons and plums (I had it at home and it was great). Around 5pm, I caught the last bus back to Ogose station and by 5h30 I was sitting on the train for the short ride back to Tokyo.

Watch a video of hiking in Ogose (includes a spider and a caterpillar)

Caterpillar spotted just past the end of the hiking trail

Hanno Alps from Nenogongen Temple (510m) to Maezaka (425m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture

Since I was satisfied with the outcome of the previous hike along the Okumusashi Long Distance Trail, I decided to repeat the experience with another section. This time I would hike along the northern half of the Hanno Alps (I had done the southern part a few years ago). To get to the start of the hike, I would take the same bus as the previous two hikes, but get off a few stops further. I would then follow the most direct route up Mt Atago and head to the start of the trail behind the temple. I decided to end the hike at another bus stop instead of Agano train station, mainly because it was a line I had never used before – I just had to make sure that I didn’t miss the last bus. This time the weather was supposed to be perfect all day with summer-like temperatures. This would be another short hike, and I hoped that it wouldn’t be too hot in the afternoon for comfortable hiking in the hills of Tokyo.

Hiking the Okumusashi Long Trail 奥武蔵ロングトレイル

View of Agano from the Okumusashi Long Trail

I stepped off the bus just after noon under a blazing hot sun. I turned right onto a narrow road leading up a river valley and soon arrived at the start of the hiking trail. It didn’t seem much in use nowadays: the first part was the bed of small stream, and the next part was overgrown with ferns. However, halfway up the mountainside, I entered the cool shady forest, and the path became easier to follow. After an hour of effort, I had reached the top of the ridge. I was now back on the “Fureai no Michi” as well as the “Okumusashi Long Distance Trail”. From there it took a few more minutes to reach Mt Atago and Nenogongen temple.

Climbing Mt Atago via the most direct route

Since it was nearly 1pm, I decided to have lunch at the same spot as before. The view was even better this time but I couldn’t linger since it was already early afternoon. At 2pm I reached another viewpoint, at a parking lot. In the clear weather, I could see the skyscrapers of Tokyo and the Tokyo Skytree – unusual for this time of the day. I now was at the beginning of the Hanno Alps (飯能アルプス hannou arupusu). I followed a narrow trail down the mountainside and I noticed that I was no longer on the “Fureai no Michi”, as the trail became hard to follow with fewer signposts.

Lunch with a view

The trail rejoined the ridge top after hugging the side of the mountain for a short while. This was one of the best sections of the hike: I saw no one along the narrow ridgeline as it rose and dipped, twisted left and right through a mixed forest. The surrounding vegetation was sparse and bright green under the afternoon sun, the complete opposite of the previous hike through lush dark forest. At 3pm a steep slope, almost like a cliff, appeared on the left – a rope had been added to prevent accidents. Occasionally I had a glimpse of the Agano valley through the trees. At one point, I thought I could even make out the house of David Niehoff of Kanto Adventures on the Green line directly opposite.

The little patch of light green in the center is Kanto Adventures

Suddenly, the path descended steeply and the ropes came in handy here. A few minutes later, I popped out on a small lonely road. I followed it downhill for a couple of minutes before turning left onto another, mostly level, hiking path. This led to a crossroad at Maezaka (前坂): straight ahead was the second half of the Hanno Alps; downhill and to the left was Agano station; however, I turned right towards Nakato (中藤). For the first time today I encountered some serious spiders webs across the path; fortunately I was facing the sun, so I was able to dodge them in time. I soon reached another road next to a stream which I followed all the way to the bus stop at the bottom of the valley.

Suzuki grass, another sign of autumn

Although I was close to civilisation, I was completely surrounded by nature: it was very peaceful, the perfect place for a summer cottage. On the way, I passed some intriguing wood sculptures and while I was taking some photos a man came out to talk to me in good English. Apparently he had lived in many countries around the world, and the sculptures had been donated by his students. After our brief chat, I reached the bus stop a little after 4h30 with ten minutes to spare for the return bus. One hour later, I was comfortably seated on Laview limited express bound for Tokyo.

Mt Hashimoto (321m) & Yugate (290m), Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture [updated April 2022]

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

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Sakura next to Kamakita Lake

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 had been washed away minutes after starting the hike!

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Start of the hiking trail for Yugate

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A pleasant hiking trail up the mountain side

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

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The flowers of Yugate

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

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Sakura tree in full bloom in Yugate

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.

UPDATE: I walked from Yamakita lake to Nishi-Agano station via Yugate in April 2022 and the lake had been refilled (see picture below).

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View from the hiking path along Kamakita Lake

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Following the path back up to the top of the ridge

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

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Sakura near Nishi-Agano station

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!

[UPDATE: The lake has been 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 more challenging. 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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