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 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

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 Sakado (634m), Minami-Uonuma City, Niigata Prefecture, Thursday, May 5, 2022

For my third trip using the Tokyo Wide Pass, I decided to head north to Niigata: reachable via shinkansen and covered by the pass; the beautiful May weather was supposed to last for one more day in the Yuzawa area. Looking at my hiking map, I found a suitable mountain that promised some good views, also the site of an ancient castle, and close to a train station. The hike was under three hours, which was fine, since it would be my third one in as many days. From Echigo-Yuzawa station, I would ride a local line for a few stops, and then walk to the start of the trail; since it was a loop hike, I could travel the same way back. The forecast announced blue skies again, but also summer-like temperatures. I was a little concerned as this hike was 1000 meters lower than the two previous ones, but I was excited about visiting Niigata again after nearly two years and seeing the Echigo mountains in spring.

The Echigo mountains in spring

Mt Kinjo, climbed two years ago

It was another beautiful May day as I rode the nearly empty shinkansen to Echigo-Yuzwa, where I transferred to the JR line for the short ride to Muikamachi. Standing outside the station, I had a view of today’s mountain, looking more impressive than it had on paper. I walked through the town and over the Uono river, reaching the trailhead at Torisaka Shrine (鳥坂神社) just before 11am. I was surprised to see some snow in the shade, even though I was only 200 meters above sea level. I didn’t make me feel any cooler as I started up the Yakushi Ridge Route (薬師尾根コース) on what was so far the hottest day of the year.

First view to the south of the Joshin-Etsu mountains

Climbing the log steps under the midday sun

I made my way up a grassy slope, lined with a handful of Buddhist statuettes. I soon reached the first viewpoint of the day: looking south, I could make out Mt Tanigawa and Mt Naeba in the midday haze, still white with snow. Contrary to my expectations, from this point forward the path was out of the tree cover, and it felt very hot under the midday sun. On the other hand, thanks to the clear weather, I enjoyed amazing views back of the flat Yuzawa valley, as the path followed a narrow ridge, that eventually merged with the summit ridgeline. Looking south again, I could now see Mt Kinjo, patches of snow still covering its top half.

Looking back at Muikamachi Town

One of the flat sections of the Yaukushi Ridge Route

The steeper sections of the trail were fitted with log steps, making it easy to climb; higher up, there was even a metal staircase. Just before 1pm, I arrived at the small wooden shrine marking the summit of Mt Sakado 坂戸山(さかどやま sakado-yama). Although the summit of yesterday’s mountain seemed artificial, today’s summit was man-made, all that was left of the highest point of Sakado castle. On the north and east sides, I had a spectacular view of the 3 great mountains of Echigo covered in snow: Mt Hakkai, Mt Echigo-Koma and Mt Naka. I found a spot in the shade and sat down for lunch. Once done, I made a short round-trip to a couple more grassy mounds along the eastern ridge, also part of the castle ruins.

The steeper bits were fitted with log steps (left) and metal ones (right)

Looking down at Minami-Uonuma City

I was rewarded with amazing views in all directions; it almost felt like I was hiking in Switzerland. I also saw many Mangolia flowers (tamushiba) along the path. At 2pm, I started to head down the Shirosaka Route (城坂コース). Very quickly the path dived into the forest, the cool shade a welcome relief; however, I was soon out of the trees again at the top of a steep valley. I followed a switchback path while enjoying the bird’s eye views of the flat valley below, framed on both sides by bright green ridges. It was the hottest time of the day and amazingly many people were still going up. Half an hour later, I reached a famous cherry blossom spot near the flatter base of the mountain.

A side view of Mt Hakkai

Making the roundtrip along the east-west ridge

I was shocked to see many trees broken in half: apparently an avalanche had swept down the steep mountain side during the winter. However, I was amazed to see some flowers still in full bloom on one of the damaged trees (see video), a sign of hope among the destruction; this also meant that I had seen cherry blossoms on all 3 hikes. I followed the now level path, and after passing under some cedar trees, I was back at my starting point by 3pm. It took about an hour for the return to Echigo-Yuzawa station, where I enjoyed a hot spring bath and some local sake, before boarding the shinkansen for the eighty minute ride to Tokyo.

A switchback path down the Shirosaka Route

See the views of Mt Sakado in the spring

A slideshow of some more photos of the Mt Sakado hike

Mt Meshimori (1643m), Minamimaki Village, Nagano Prefecture, Wednesday, May 4, 2022

For my second trip using the Tokyo Wide Pass, I chose another relatively easy mountain opposite Yatsugatake and about fifty kilometers south of the previous hike. I would travel to Kobuchizawa using the Chuo limited express, change to the Koumi line for Nobeyama, and finally hop on a bus for Shishi Rock, just opposite the trail entrance. After reaching the summit, I would descend via a different trail to Kiyosato, one station before Nobeyama. The sunny May weather was supposed to hold one more day, with slightly warmer temperatures. I was looking forward to visiting Kiyosato again, and seeing Yatsugatake from a new angle and in a different season.

Yatsugatake still topped in white in the middle of spring

The conical top of Mt Meshimori

I arrived at Kobuchizawa shortly before 10am on a perfect, blue-sky day, and boarded the highest train line in Japan for the 45 minutes ride to the highest train station in Japan, Nobeyama (1345m). It was my first time there and the wide open fields surrounding it gave the impression of being on a high plateau. I had planned to get some extra food from a 7\11 near the station, the highest convenience store in Japan, but the free loop bus was leaving in a few minutes, and I decided to get on rather than wait for the next one.

View of Yatsugatake from Shishi Rock

The South Alps also visible from Shishi Rock

I has some a great side view of Yatsugatake during the ten-minute ride to Hirasawa pass (平沢峠); although the surrounding countryside was bright green, the higher reaches of this ancient volcano were still of a brilliant white. Before starting my hike, I checked out the rocky formation of Shishi-iwa (しし岩 meaning lion rock); standing on the highest rock, I could see the Minami Alps to the south. After a short climb, I passed the flat summit of Mt Hirasawa (平沢山 1653m), from where it was a mostly an easy, level walk to a trail junction. I went left and after a short climb, arrived at the exposed and windy peak of Mt Hiramori (平盛山 1643m).

Near the Mt Hiramori (left) and Mt Meshimori (right) junction

The rounded summit of Mt Hiramori

Looking south, I could see the conical shape of today’s mountain, miniature people walking up and down the steps on the western side: it seemed almost man-made and reminded me of the “Lion’s Mound” in Belgium. To the east, I could see the highest peaks of Oku-Chichibu, Mt Kinpu, and Mt Miuzugaki with its blue-grey cliffs. After a short break, I set off again, and a few minutes later, arrived at the top of Mt Meshimori (飯盛山 めしもりやま meshimori-yama), just after 1pm. Its name could be translated as “a pile of food” which only made me hungrier, since I hadn’t packed a lunch today.

View of Yatsugatake from near the top of Mt Meshimori

View of the highest peaks of Oku-Chichibu

After enjoying the panoramic view, which included a faintly visible Mt Fuji, I headed down the western side; surrounded by pine trees and facing a view of the Alps on the left and Yatsugatake on the right, I almost felt like I was hiking in the Swiss Alps. At 1h30, I arrived at an intersection with a forest road near an open shelter. Here, I was delighted to see some cherry blossoms near full bloom, since I had thought I had already seen the last ones of the season. I continued down the path through green forest and soon arrived at a road outside a village. Beyond, the road descended into a river valley and then up the other side.

Walking towards Kiyosato

Walking through the new green of spring

It was only 2pm when I arrived at Kiyosato so, I hopped on another loop bus (this one had a flat fee) for Sun Meadows, where I got on a chairlift for Kiyosato Terrace (1906m), a viewpoint halfway up Mt Yatsugatake. Like the day before, I got to observe the mountain where I had been just two hours earlier. A ton of people were lining up for the return trip, so I opted to walk down to Utsukushi Mori (美し森 meaning beautiful forest). It was a peaceful walk, on a path little used this time of the year. I passed the lonely Hagoromo Pond (羽衣池 1610m) before arriving at a viewpoint on Mt Utsukushimori (美し森山 1542m) at 4pm.

View of the highest peaks of Yatsugatake from Utsukushi Mori

Last view before heading down to Utsukushi Mori bus stop

It enjoyed one last view of the South Alps, as well as a closeup view of Mt Aka and Mt Gongen, before heading down to the bus stop just a few minutes away, where I caught the same loop bus back to Kiyosato station. I had half an hour before the train back so I had a local beer and some food at a table outside a nearby Family mart. Around 5pm, I boarded the Koumi line and transferred to the Chuo limited express in Kobuchizawa for the comfortable two-hour ride back to Shinjuku.

See the views of Mt Meshimori

Mt Sekison (1667m) & Mt Hanare (1256m), Karuizawa Town, Nagano Prefecture, Tuesday, May 3, 2022

I finally had a chance to use the Tokyo Wide Pass,first time in four years, and in the end I did three hikes in a row. For the first one, I chose a small volcanic protrusion on the south side of Mt Asama (similar to Mt Hoei), which had been on my to-climb list for a while; being a relatively short trip up and down the same trail, it was reserved for a shinkansen jaunt. If I had time and energy after that, I would climb a small peak within Karuizawa Town, apparently the first one climbed by the Japanese Emperor, an enthusiastic hiker. After getting off the high-speed train, a short train ride on a local line, followed by an equally short taxi ride, would bring me to the start of the trail. I could travel to the second mountain by local bus, and at the end, walk half an hour back to the shinkansen station. The weather was supposed to be clear but cool for the season. I was looking forward to visiting Karuizawa after nearly two years and getting some close-up views of Mt Asama.

Hiking in the Joshin-Etsu-Kogen National Park

上信越高原国立公園 

Mt Asama still wearing its winter coat

Karuizawa with Mt Myogi and Nishi-Joshu in the background

I had never seen Tokyo station so crowded: on the platform itself, it was nearly impossible to figure out where the end of the line was, and I was very lucky to snag one of the last unreserved seats. After a comfortable ride, I got off at Karuizawa station just before 10am, and transferred to the much less crowded Shinano railway for the two-stop ride to Shinano-Oiwake. I was pleasantly surprised to see cherry trees still in full bloom, one month after Tokyo. I got on the last taxi waiting outside the station and was at the trail entrance by 10h30. After getting ready and having a late breakfast, I set off at 11am.

Walking under the pine trees at the start of the trail

The surreal Nigori River

The first part of the hike was along an easy to walk trail, slowly rising through a pine forest within the southern reach of the Joshin-Etsu-Kogen National Park (上信越高原国立公園). The altitude was around 1000 meters and spring was in full swing. Just before noon, I reached Nigori River (濁川 meaning “murky river”). I was stunned by its surreal yellow colour, probably due to the volcanic nature of the area. I was lucky to catch this sight on a sunny day, the water surface glittering like gold. After a few more minutes, I reached Chi-no-taki (血の滝), meaning “blood waterfall”, although it was still a muddy yellow.

Following a yellow river through the winter woods

Mt Asama, one of the hundred famous mountains of Japan

I was walking through a forest bare of leaves, since at 1400 meters, winter was back. The path continued to follow the Nigori river, passing “chi-no-ike” (血の池 “blood pond”), before turning away to the left, up a small valley. I soon reached the ridgetop, where I had my first view of Mt Asama, its rocky summit still sprinkled with snow. I walked up a short, steep slope in the opposite direction, and just after 1pm, was standing on the top of Mt Sekison (石尊山 せきそんさん sekison-san), its characters meaning stone and respect.

Yatsugatake, its highest peaks still covered in snow

Mt Asama is also an active volcano

The view was alot better than expected: on the east side, I could see the ridge connecting Mt Hanamagari with Usui Pass; behind Karuizawa was the craggy top of Mt Myogi; south were the mountain ranges of western Gunma; to the west, I could make out the shape of Yatsugatake, its highest peaks still shining white; the opposite side offered a stunning closeup view of Mt Asama. I was the only person on the mountain, so I settled on the grass for a quiet lunch. After half an hour, I started to descend the same way.

Still some snow due to a recent spring storm

It’s still winter above 1500 meters

I saw some puffs of smoke rise from the crater, reminding me that I was on the side of an active volcano. I retraced my steps back to the trail entrance; now and then the wind was blowing quite hard and made the tall pines trees sway above me. I moved quickly, as I wanted to allow enough time for the second climb of the day. I arrived back at my starting point at 3pm, and soon after reached the bus stop of the Chikuma city bus. Karuizawa being a popular resort town, I got stuck in some traffic and only reached the South Entrance of Harareyama Park (離山公園 after 4pm.

A well-maintained walkway along the steeper parts

Nearing the top

It was a relaxing climb through the forest, greener at 1000 meters; the steeper part near the top was along a well-maintained wooden walkway. Frequent signs breaking up the hike into 100 meter segments, were encouraging on the flat bits, less so on the ascending ones. At the end of a long staircase past some cherry trees still in full bloom, I reached the top of Mt Hanare (離山 はなれやま hanare-yama), the name meaning separation. To the west, I had a wider view of Mt Asama, as well as Mt Sekison, where I had been standing three hours earlier; it was against the sun, and would surely look even more impressive in the early morning.

Mt Asama from the top of Mt Hanare

Cherry blossoms, pink in the late afternoon sun

I was enjoying the late afternoon view when the five o’clock chime sounded through the valley. Normally, a call for children to come home for dinner, it also meant I had to hurry down if I wanted to catch my planned Shinkansen, about one hour later. I set off towards the East Entrance, and after some descending, I reached a wide gravel road taking me down to the base of the mountain. The last part was a pleasant walk past summer cottages set within the forest, for which Karuizawa is famous. At 6pm, I was back at the station, where I boarded the high speed train for the one hour ride back to Tokyo.

See the yellow waters of Nigori River and the volcanic fumes of Mt Asama

Akigawa Hills Trail (highest point 270m) & Takiyama Park, Hachioji City, Tokyo Prefecture, Friday, April 8, 2022

Cherry blossom season ended had ended early in Tokyo this year. I decided to search for the last blossoms in the western part of the city. I would start by walking along the hills south of the Akigawa river, from Akigawa station to Musashi-Masuko station on the Itsukichi line. Then, I would make my way to a nearby prefectural park, famous for its cherry blossom trees. At the end, I would catch a bus for Hachioji station. The weather forecast was good with temperatures ideal for an afternoon stroll. I was looking forward to doing some hiking inside the city and seeing the last sakura of the season.

First part of the Akigawa Hills Trail

It was a beautiful spring day as I stepped off the train at Akigawa station. It was a little after noon, so I stopped by nearby Kiryu-an for an excellent soba noodle lunch. After, I stopped at the nearby Chiyotsuru museum (千代鶴資料館), a famous brand by Nakamura, a local sake brewery (中村酒造). I could see some sake making equipment and also taste some freshly brewed sake.

Sign marking the start of the trail

Reaching the ridge top (left) cherry blossom trees (right)

At 2pm, I reached the trail entrance of the Akigawa Hills Route (秋川丘陵コース), next to the Ken-O expressway. I found myself immersed in nature as soon as I started walking along the trail; I was astounded by the sudden change in scenery. In no time, I reached the top of the ridge, where I turned left. The trail went up and down gently; occasionally I had views of the city to the right; looking up, I could spot cherry blossom trees here and there.

A bamboo forest tunnel

Some open spaces near the end of the trail

At 2h30, the trail went down the other side of the ridge and followed a small river valley for a short while. Eventually, I was walking again on the ridge; the trees had been cleared along some sections, offering good views north and south. Soon the path descended and after reaching a road, turned north alongside a golf course. At 3h30, I arrived at Yamada ridge, taking me accross the Akigawa river, after which it as a short walk back to Masuko station.

A view of western Tokyo from Takiyama park

Late afternoon stroll along the Takiyama trail

Since it was getting late, I took a taxi to the entrance of Takiyama Park (滝山公園). There were few people at this late hour. I found the cherry blossom trees, still in full bloom, as well as a good view of western Tokyo, where the Tamagawa and Akigawa merge. I walked southeast along the Takiyama trail and reached a road and a bus stop at 6pm, just before nightfall. After getting off at Hachioji station, I took the Chuo line limited express for the short ride back to Shinjuku station.

See a cherry blossom storm or “sakura-fubuki”

Kinone Pass (171m) and Reisui Peak, Minamiboso City, Chiba Prefecture, Sunday, March 20, 2022

I definitely wanted to make one more trip to Chiba this year before the warmer weather arrived. Leafing through my guidebook, I selected a loop hike on the Tokyo bay side of the Boso peninsula. Although it was on the short side, access was straightforward as I could ride the Sasanami limited express there and back. The weather forecast was supposed to be sunny in the morning and cloudy in the afternoon. I was looking forward to getting some good sea views and wondered whether I would get a view of the Mt Fuji on the other side of the bay.

The yellow, red, blue of the beach house roofs

I had my first glimpses of Tokyo Bay from my train seat, ninety minutes after boarding the limited express in Akihabara; it was amazing to think that one of the biggest cities of the world was located on the opposite side. I got off at Iwai station just before 10am, and headed south on a busy road before turning left onto a quiet lane through the countryside. Next, I turned right onto a path parallel to the railway tracks, squeezed between the bay and the hillside. Half an hour later, I reached the entrance of Takasaki park (高崎公園) and continued straight on the slowly rising path.

View of Iwai bay from Takasaki Park

Navigating some course obstacles on the way

I was soon high enough to get a view of the colorful beach house rooftops. I turned left onto a curving log staircase, and at 11am, reached a viewpoint at the top of the park. I could see the dark blue waters of Tokyo and Sagami bays, with the outline of the Miura peninsula beyond; directly below, was Iwai bay, its light blue waters contrasting with the green forested ridge on the north side. As much as I strained my eyes, I could not spot Mt Fuji, normally visible to the northwest according to an illustrative sign board. After a short break, I headed back to the park entrance.

Panoramic view from Reisui peak

Yellow flower fields on the way to the Mt Harada highway

I turned right onto a road leading away from the blue sea and into the hills. I eventually reached the entrance of the hiking path on the left. It was a peaceful trail, through beautiful nature; occasionally I had to duck under a fallen tree, a reminder of the powerful typhoons from 2019. A little after 11h30, I reached Kinone Pass (木ノ根峠 きのねとうげ kinone-touge), its name meaning “tree root”. Despite being a pass, it’s one of the hundred low mountains of Boso; looking back, I had a view of Iwai bay framed by the vegetation. According to my guidebook, I could get a better view a little further east along the ridge.

Exiting the tunnel into a forested valley

These trees were probably knocked down by the 2019 typhoons

The trail was faint, but thanks to pink ribbons attached to branches, I emerged from the trees onto Reisui Peak (冷水ピーク), just before noon, and was rewarded with a panoramic view to the north: as before, I could see the two bays, Miura peninsula and Iwai beach; in the distance, I could now make out the skyscrapers of Yokohama, but Mt Fuji was still hidden; straight ahead, the ragged top of nearby Mt Nokogiri was visible. I sat on a lonely bench to enjoy an early lunch with a view. After, I went down the same way, and followed a road to a tunnel, the start of the “Harada-yama Sawayaka Gaidou” (原田山さわやか街道), built on top of an old highway.

The peaceful Iwabu lake

I was stunned by the sight of a picturesque, forested valley as I emerged from the unlit tunnel. I walked on a road with no traffic and passed through two more dark tunnels (see video). At 2pm, I reached Iwabuko Lake (岩婦湖 iwabuko), at the bottom of a slope lined with cherry blossom trees, their buds still firmly closed. The quiet of the lake was punctuated by birdsong coming from the trees on the opposite shore; a fisherman drifted across the lake on an inflatable floating device. I found a rocky spot near the water and enjoyed the rest of my lunch. From the lake it was another 30 minutes back to the station, where I caught the limited express for the 2 hour ride back to Tokyo.

See the views of Iwai bay, walk the dark tunnels of Mt Harada and listen to the birds of Iwabu lake

Mt Gozen (193m) & Mt Fuji (183m), Shirosato Village, Ibaraki Prefecture, Saturday, March 12, 2022

I was looking for some low altitude, snow-free hiking and knew I could find it in the hills of northern Ibaraki. I remembered seeing in my guidebook a loop-hike above a river valley I had never been to before; after checking it again, I saw it followed a section of the Kanto Fureai no Michi inside a prefectural nature park. I would ride the Hitachi limited express to Mito and then switch to a bus taking me close to the trail entrance, then do the same trip in reverse for the return. The weather was supposed to be sunny with spring-like temperatures, a good day for short sleeves. I was looking forward to hiking through some beautiful nature and getting some good views of a new area.

Hiking the Fureai no Michi

ふれあいの道

View from the top of Mt Fuji

Beautiful forest at the start of the gozenyama hiking trail

After a comfortable ride to Mito under light blue skies, I boarded a bus for the one-hour ride to the Gozenyama bus stop. Although it was only 11am, I decided to have an early soba lunch at Sobakiri Kuzo (そばきり空蔵) and then make a quick visit to the Katsura Michi no Eki road station. At 12h30, I was finally ready to start hiking. At first, the path climbed through stunning mixed forest, each species of trees carefully labeled; after passing an “azumaya“, a sheltered seating area, the trail became mostly level, with towering cedar trees on both sides. After a few minutes, I reached a turnoff on the left leading to a view point to the south, just a minute away, and the site of an old bell tower.

Walking under the cedars (left) one of the many ups (right)

A sunny section section of the trail

After admiring the view, I returned to the main trail. Some ups and downs, brought me to the highest point of Mt Gozen (御前山 ごぜんやま gozen-yama), completely in the trees. The trail descended sharply, crossed a road, and then rose again. At 2h30, I reached another “azumaya“, slightly off the main trail, with a view east through the trees, so I took a short break before setting off again. From this point, the trail became increasingly hilly and not unlike some of the “Alps trails” I had done in other places; about an hour later, I was glad to finally reach the top of Mt Fuji (富士山 ふじやま fuji-yama). From the top of the viewing platform, I had a view east of the Nakagawa river and the hills of Daigo on a cloudless day.

North view from the Mt Fuji observation platform

Nakagawa river from the Mt Fuji observation platform

I walked down a seemingly endless series of steps and reached the base of the mountain around 4pm. From there, one-hour walk of peaceful walking along a road through the fields and then above the Nakagawa river, took me back to the Gozenyama trail entrance and its bus stop. At 6h30, I was back at Mito station where I got on the limited express for the short ride back to Tokyo.

See the trees and views of Mt Gozen

Mt Buko (1304m), Yokoze Town, Saitama Prefecture, Saturday, March 5, 2022

I had climbed Mt Buko over ten years ago on a hazy June day and wanted to do it again on a clearer day. This time, I would take a taxi from Seibu-Chichibu station to the trail entrance and make a loop; this way, I could shorten the hiking time, because I needed to walk over an hour to Yokoze station at the end. Although the forecast for the next day was sunny and warm, I knew some snow and ice would be left above 1000m, so I packed my light crampons just in case. I was looking forward to revisiting this mountain and getting some great views of Chichibu from the summit.

Mt Buko, taken on my 2009 hike

View from the top observatory

It felt like early spring as I stepped off the Laview Limited Express at Seibu-Chichibu station. After buying some supplies, I hopped into a taxi for short ride to “ichi-no-torii” (一ノ鳥居). By 11am, I was walking up a steep paved road next to a river; I remembered this as the toughest part of my 2009 hike. Many people were already coming down, having enjoyed the early morning view. I soon reached some log steps marking the start of the trail. I passed several interesting sights on the way: the partially frozen “fudo-taki” waterfall (“fudo” means motionless); a delicate wooden bridge for only one person at a time; a pile of white limestone rocks taken from the summit; a giant cedar tree, its crown too high to see. I was walking alone through the forest and was stunned by the silence, since the other side is forever noisy because of the mining.

Some snow on the way up (left) and down (right)

Chichibu city stretching from south to north

At noon, I was treading on snow. Fortunately, the slope never became steep enough to justify putting on crampons. The long log staircase from my previous climb had disappeared, replaced by a switchback path. Half an hour later I reached the summit shrine, bathed in sun and surrounded by trees. I made my way to the observatory on the north side, a little higher up, and the official summit of Mt Buko (武甲山 ぶこうさん bukou-san), a two-hundred famous mountain of Japan. I was almost by myself, which was lucky since the top area was narrower than I had remembered. It hadn’t rained for a while so the sky wasn’t as clear as I had hoped, but I had a good view of the Minano Alps, Mt Mino, Mt Ogiri, Mt Dodaira and Mt Maru.

Looking back at the sunny descent to Shirajikubo

Back into the sun and out of the snow

I was most impressed by the bird’s-eye view of Chichibu city, stretching south to north along the Arakawa river. It was 12h30 so I had lunch standing up, since I couldn’t find a spot to sit. At 1pm, I headed back to the shrine and down a steep trail on the south side; I was relived it was in the sun and snow-free. Pine trees on both sides made it feel like a different mountain. I soon arrived at Shirajikubo (シラジクボ), the start of the climb up Mt Komochi. Here, I turned left onto a trail hugging the east slope. It was in the shade and covered by snow, but since it was mostly level, crampons weren’t needed. I had fun walking in the snow for a while; soon I was back in the sun and walking on solid ground. After an hour of descending through the forest, I was back at the “torii“, the shinto gate at the mountain base. As I walked to the station, I passed several impressive factory buildings, working hard on a Saturday. At a little past 4pm, I boarded the limited express for the 80 minute ride back to Tokyo.

Enjoy the bird’s-eye view from the top of Mt Buko