Mt Takagawa (976m) & the Yamanashi Prefectural Maglev Exhibition Center, Thursday, December 23, 2021

I had climbed this mountain once before, about ten years ago. I remembered it mainly as an easy to reach peak with a spectacular view of Mt Fuji. On the other hand, the top had been packed with other hikers, making it difficult to get good pictures of Japan’s most famous volcano. I had a rare weekday off and, with the forecast looking good, decided to give it another shot. Studying my map, I counted seven trails leading to the summit; previously, I had gone up from Kasei station and then down to Otsuki; this time, I would start from Hatsukari station and aim to end at Takanokura station, crossing the mountain from west to east. I noticed that the Maglev Exhibition Center was located near the end of my planned route, so I decided to drop by if time allowed. I was looking forward to an easy station to station hike and getting some good, unobstructed views of snowy Fuji.

View of Mt Fuji from the summit of Mt Takagawa

I rode the Chuo line limited express for a short hour to Otsuki station, where I changed to a local train to reach Hatsukari, one station away. The weather was as forecast, and the outline of Mt Takigo, opposite the station on the north side, was clearly visible against the blue sky. I set off just after 11am, first through the town, then along a forest road. By now the sun had risen high enough in the sky to shine through the trees on the northwest side, and despite the cold temperature, it felt pleasant walking through the forest.

A mostly sunny hike to the top

First view of Fuji

Thirty minutes after setting off, I reached a trail on the left; the forest road continued along the valley, eventually turning into the “sawa” trail, but I was keen to get on a proper trail as soon as possible. In no time, I was making my way up a steep ridge and had to stop to take off a layer of clothing. I soon arrived at a fork, and with little hesitation, left the slope for a more relaxing level path, following the contour of the mountain. Fifteen minutes later, the path merged with the “sawa” trail, climbing out of the valley to the left.

On the right, Mitsutoge, where I was just 2 weeks before

Looking at the Doshi mountains

The trail doubled back and was now completely in the sun. Through the leafless trees, I had my first glimpse of Mt Fuji, its white summit rising above a ridgeline. After another fifteen minutes, I passed the top of the steep ridge I left earlier. The path turned around again and rose gently through bamboo grass and a sparse forest. A little before 1pm, I reached the top of Mt Takagawa (高川山 たかがわやま takagawa-yama), a 100 famous mountain of Yamanashi.

The Maglev tracks can be seen at the bottom of the valley, on the right

Still some sun on the way down

As I had hoped, I was the only person there to enjoy the views. I was also lucky with the weather, since on top of the blue skies, I couldn’t feel the slightest breeze. Looking south, I could see Mt Fuji, at the end of the corridor linking Otsuki with the Fuji Five Lake Area. To its right was Mitsutoge, and to its left was Mt Kurami and Mt Shakushi. Peering down on the west side, I could see the straight Maglev tracks crossing the flat valley bottom. Above the trees on the north and west sides, I could make out Mt Gangaharasuri and the northernmost peaks of the South Alps.

The Yamanashi prefecture diorama

Kofu city and its castle

After having lunch and enjoying the fantastic views, I was ready to head down by 2pm. First, I followed a path along the north ridge, and then turned right onto a path going down the mountain in a series of zigzags. The path dipped in and out of the sun, and less than an hour later, reached a paved road. At 3pm, I was at the entrance of the Maglev Exhibition Center. I found the huge diorama of Yamanashi very interesting, as well as the demonstration of the levitation principle (see video). I also discovered they had a free shuttle bus which took me directly to Otsuki station, where I boarded the limited express for the short trip back to Tokyo.

See a demonstration of the Maglev system

Mt Mino (587m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, Thursday, November 11, 2021 [Monkeys]

I had already climbed this mountain a few years ago, but I wanted to return on a crisp autumn day hoping to get better views. I also wanted to explore the park covering the mostly flat summit area. Finally, I was looking forward to catching the last autumn leaves of the season. Although this mountain is easily accessible by train, I decided to go by car as it would allow me to visit another sightseeing spot on the same day.

View from the one of the summit observation platforms

It was a perfect autumn day as I rode the Laview limited express to Chichibu station, where I switched to a rented car. It was a short drive to the parking lot below Minoyama Park, and an even shorter stroll to the highest point of Mt Mino (蓑山 みのやま minoyama). It’s also known as “Utsukushi no Yama” (美の山) meaning “beautiful mountain”, perhaps referring to its round, regular shape, or perhaps to the springtime views, when the many cherry trees are in full bloom.

The hills of Eastern Chichibu

The broken summit of Mt Ryokami

I checked out the view from each of the 3 observation platforms facing south-west, west and east. West, I could see the wide Chichibu valley surrounded by the Oku-Chichibu mountains and flanked by the triangular summit of Mt Buko on the left, and the jagged top of Mt Ryokami on the right. East, I could see the low mountains of Higashi-Chichibu with Chichibu Highland Farm directly opposite, and in the distance, Mt Akagi and Mt Nantai.

Walking through Minoyama Park

A beautiful day at the end of the autumn season

It took less than an hour of easy hiking to complete the loop of Minoyama Park. Along the way, I came across another observation deck on the north side with a good view of Mt Happu, as well as a maple tree with fiery red autumn leaves. At 12h30, I was back at the parking lot. I drove the winding road down to the bottom of the valley and dropped by Miyabi An (みやび庵) for a tasty soba lunch. Next, I decided to check out the nearby Urayama dam (浦山ダム) and Chichibusakura lake.

Chichibusakura lake from Urayama Dam

View of Mt Jomine from Urayama Dam

I spotted movement in the trees next to the road after getting out of the car at the dam parking. Peering into the forest I saw a troupe of Japanese macaques foraging for food. I was excited to see monkeys not having encountered any for a long time and spent some time observing them (see video). After a quick tour of the dam, I drove back a short way to Jurin’s Geo coffee shop for a quick break around 3pm, before heading back to Chichibu station and the eighty-minute ride by limited express train back to Tokyo.

See the views from Mt Mino and the monkeys of Chichibu

This is the 200th blog post on Hiking Around Tokyo

Mt Tana (1171m), Yamanashi City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, 6 November, 2021

I wanted to do one last hiking trip in the low mountainous area between Yamanashi and Kofu cities before the end of the year. Looking through my guidebook, I found a suitable loop hike with Mt Fuji views. I could reach the start of the trail by taxi from Yamanashi station and then walk back at the end. I was worried about getting a seat on the train so I decided to reserve it beforehand online. The clear sunny weather was supposed to continue for a few more days and the autumn colours would still be at their peak. I was looking forward to a pleasant hike above the Kofu valley.

View from the summit of Mt Tana

Late afternoon above the Kofu valley

After an uneventful ride on the Chuo limited express under sunny blue skies, I caught a taxi outside Yamanashi-shi station at 10am. Fifteen minutes later, I was standing outside Hottarakashi onsen, a hot spring featured in the manga Yuru Camp. Since today’s hike was on the short side, I took a few minutes to check it out. I discovered that there were two outdoor baths, each with its own entrance: a small one facing Mt Fuji and a large one facing the Kofu valley. From a viewing area next to the bath entrance, I got a glimpse of Japan’s most famous mountain in its brand new winter coat.

View from Hottarakashi hot spring

Mt Fuji in its winter coat

At 10h30, I finally set off along a level forest road passing above the Hottarakashi Camping Ground. The surrounding forest had been cut down so I had some good views south of the Misaka mountains surrounding Mt Fuji, now in the clouds. Half an hour later, I reached the official entrance of the trail through bright yellow “suzuki” grass dancing in the wind. A few minutes later I was walking up the mountain side through dark forest and soon reached a fork: left was the “kasane-ishi” trail (重ね石コース meaning rock pile trail) and right was the “yama-no-kami” trail (山の神コース meaning mountain god trail), both leading to the summit.

The Mikasa mountains

Entrance to the trail through Japanese pampas grass

I took the left branch and made my way up a steep slope, assisted by ropes tied between the trees. At times the path disappeared under a carpet of leaves, so I was glad for the ropes showing the way even, though I didn’t always need to use them. It was the tail end of the autumn leaves season and from time to time the wind blew through the trees, causing dead leaves to tumble gently to the ground. I eventually arrived at “kasane-ishi” marked by a large boulder. From there, the path became less steep and followed a ridge sprinkled with rocks of various sizes. This rocky section was easier to navigate than the one on nearby Mt Kabuto and the ropes clearly showed the way.

Despite the rocks, the path was easy to follow

It was the perfect time for autumn leaves

After another steep section, I reached the nearly flat summit ridge and at 12h15 I was standing on the highest point of Mt Tana (棚山 たなやま tana-yama), meaning shelf mountain, probably referring to its elongated, horizontal summit. Looking west, I could see the South Alps already covered in snow: looking east, I had a view of the massive bulk of Daibosatsurei and the ridgeline stretching south; the other directions were blocked by trees. I was the only person there and, in-between gusts of wind, it was very peaceful. After a leisurely one-hour lunch in the sun, I walked back a few meters to the junction with the mountain god trail.

Walking the summit ridge

The long ridge stretching south from Daibosatsurei

The path leading down was even steeper than the one up and I was glad that I had followed the guidebook’s recommendation to go up the other half. Fortunately, I could count on the ropes to steady myself. Half an hour later, I reached the bottom of a gloomy valley and soon after I was back at the trail junction from where I would follow the same route back. At 2pm, I was back under the sun walking along the forest road, the views in the afternoon sun somewhat different from the morning, although Mt Fuji was still nowhere to be seen.

Looking north towards the Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park

Dusk on Mt Tana (right)

I was surprised to see no other hikers on the mountain since it was an easy hike near a popular camping site. At 2h30, I was back at the Hottakarashi hot spring. It seemed crowded so I continued down the road to the less busy Puku Puku Onsen. Although I couldn’t see Mt Fuji, I had a great view of the mountains lining the eastern half of the Kofu valley from the outdoor bath. At 4pm, I walked down through Fuefukigawa Fruit Farm and arrived at Yamanashi-shi station just before 5pm. Since I had bought my ticket online after my hot spring bath, I just had to board the next limited express for the ninety minute ride back to Tokyo.

See the falling leaves on Mt Tana

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” course 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.

Tanbara Highland (1200m), Numata City, Gunma Prefecture & Bear Sighting

I had been to Tanbara highland in May 2018, so I thought it would be the perfect place for some easy hiking during the rainy season. Since I had already been to the highest point, Mt Kanomata, this time I decided to take a different trail and skip this summit. This would make for a slightly shorter hike which was good, since this time I was driving there and back myself (it’s also possible to get there by bus). My main concern was the temperature – would it already be too hot and humid to hike comfortably?

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Tanbara Lake, seen from ski slope, turned grassy field

I arrived at the Tanbara Center house 玉原センターハウス around 12h30. Contrary to my expectations, the air felt a little chilly and a few raindrops were falling; however, the sun was just coming out from behind the clouds. I set off the along the same trail as my previous hike, heading gently uphill through a beautiful beech forest and following a small bubbling stream. Just before arriving at the Tanbara camping ground, I turned left along the road towards the Lavender Park  in bloom from next month only. Now, however, the flowers were still closed, and the area was deserted.

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Hiking next to a small stream

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The Tanbara Lavender Park

I walked up one of the paths among the flowerbeds to a small observatory. It had a bell that one can ring to scare away any bears that may be lurking nearby. I gave it a good ring. After climbing down, I spotted a black shape out of the corner or my eye. It was about a hundred meters away on the edge of the ski slope (Tanbara is a ski resort in the winter months). Using the zoom of the camera, I was able to ascertain that this was in fact a bear cub. It seemed unperturbed by the noise of the bear bell, but a few seconds later it ran off into the forest. This was my fourth bear sighting, and it had been a while since the previous one, so this made my day.

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Bear cub above the Lavender Park (taken using 10x zoom on my camera)

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Tanbara is mainly known as a ski resort

I headed back down, and continued along the hiking trail up into a forested area between two lavender zones. Unfortunately, after a few minutes, the trail became so overgrown with bamboo grass that I had to give up . Even though it was indicated on the maps, it was obvious that the trail wasn’t much used, most people preferring the direct route to the summit. I decided to make my way back to the start of the hike, and turn right along the the bird-watching route 探鳥ルート so that I could at least reach the beech flats ブナ平, one of the highlights of the hike (I didn’t see any birds though).

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Tanbara Marsh, after descending from the beech flats

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The Iris flowers were in full bloom

Around 4pm, and somewhat behind schedule, I was finally walking on a level path among the beech trees. This is one of the rare places with a mostly flat trail high up in the mountains, so it’s perfect for beginners. Soon, I turned left, down the river source route 水源ルート, ending up at Tanbara Marsh 玉原湿原 around 4h30, another of the highlights of this hike. After crossing the marsh on wooden planks, I emerged onto a road (closed to traffic), and I was back at the parking lot just before 5pm. Even though I couldn’t do the hike exactly as I had planned, I was still able to hike for around 5 hours through beautiful nature in good weather. I was also relieved that the temperature and humidity had turned out to be perfect for hiking!

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Mt Hinata (404m) & Mt Mijo (237m), Isehara & Atsugi Cities, Kanagawa Prefecture

There is a section of the Kanto Fureai no Michi that passes by Mt Oyama. It doesn’t go all the way to the summit, but goes past the top of the cable car halfway up the mountain. I had hiked the section on the Southern side a few years ago, and I had always wanted to return and hike the Northern section. It continues to Nanasawa onsen 七沢温泉 which seemed like a good place to finish. Mt Oyama, a 300 famous mountain, is a popular hiking spot close to Tokyo, but since I went on a weekday there were relatively few people.

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View halfway up Mt Oyama from Afuri Jinja Shrine 

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Viewpoint of Mt Oyama and mostly empty benches

I took the Odakyu Romancecar to Isehara, where I transferred to one of the frequent buses for the Oyama Cable car. For once, the bus was nearly full. Since it was a short hike, I left later than usual, and got there around 11am. It had been a few years since my last visit, and I had forgotten that it was a twenty minute-walk up the Koma Sando コマ参道 shopping street to the cable car station. Since the next one was leaving at 11h20, I flew up the flights of steps, past the shops selling spinning tops, and hopped on to the green cable car just before they closed the doors.

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Cable car up Mt Oyama

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View from the top of the cable car

After getting off, I decided to walk up the steps to Afuri-Jinja Shrine 阿夫利神社 to check out the view. It was a bit hazy in the late morning but I could just make out the boso peninsula in the far distance. The path up Mt Oyama is behind the shrine, but the Fureai no Michi trail is at the base of the steps, so I headed back down, and it was around noon when I finally started hiking. The first part was mostly flat, hugging the side of the mountain. The surrounding trees were very beautiful, and I saw a giant cedar tree soaring up into the sky next to a tiny shrine.

A couple of impressive trees along the trail

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Few people hiking on a weekday

Half an hour later, I reached a viewpoint with a dozen benches, to accommodate the weekend crowds. I could see the triangular summit of Mt Oyama, as well as the urban spread to the North. After a short break, I set off for Hinata-Yakushi Temple 日向薬師寺, in the opposite direction of the trail for Mt Oyama, heading down the mountain. Some workers were doing maintenance on the trail, due to be completed today according to a sign I saw lower down. I had some good views Southwards of the Izu peninsula. Past a rather large jizo statue, which I first mistook for a person, the path turned sharply off the ridge and went downhill via a series of switchbacks.

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View of the Izu Peninsula

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Jizo statue protecting the traveler

Around 1h30, I emerged onto a road, but I soon turned left onto a small trail to Johotsuganji Temple. At this point, I had left the Fureai no Michi. After about ten minutes, I arrived at a small cave at the base of a cliff. It contained some Buddhist statues, and from the croaks I was hearing, some frogs as well! The trail continued up the mountain, along a ridge crisscrossed with tree roots, making it a little difficult to follow. Before reaching the highest point, the path turned right and followed the side of the valley. Here the path showed signs of maintenance, and was much easier to follow. Around 2pm I reached an old bench, a good place for a break and a late lunch. There was no view, but the surrounding was very peaceful save for the chirping of birds. The path continued, along a level ridge extending northwards.

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The roots along this ridge made for tricky walking

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Easier level ridge after lunch

This was my favourite part of the hike. It felt very wild and isolated; it was hard to believe that I was less than 10km from Hon-Atsugi station. I was also surprised that I had never heard about it before; perhaps the locals wanted to keep it a secret. After some descending, and then a short climb via log steps, I reached the summit of Mt Hinata 日向山. Through a break in the trees, I could see the flat expanse of Tokyo. The weather which had been sunny and warm in the morning, was now overcast and windy. I continued along the trail downhill, and soon reached an intersection. I continued straight up the other side to the top of Mt Mijo 見城山, the site of an ancient castle. The view was much better here; below was Nanasawa onsen, and the forested hills separating it from Tokyo.

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A 120 year-old Ryokan in Nanasawa Onsen

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A rare but no longer functional rotary phone

Since the trail ended here, I retraced my steps to the intersection, only a few minutes away, and turned left down the mountain, following the sign for the intriguingly named Turtle Rock 亀岩 (in English on the sign). I spotted it, just before arriving at a road, a massive moss-covered boulder in the midst of the cedar forest beyond a small stream. I walked up the road for a few minutes to check out the Nanasawa Observatory. It was a worn-out structure with an unimpressive view, a curiosity from past times. However, I did get a glimpse of the first signs of spring on the branches of the nearby trees. I continued down the road, and just after 4pm, I arrived at Tamagawakan, a Ryokan more than 100 years old; it even had an old rotary public phone near the lobby. After a short hot spring bath, I caught the bus for Hon-Atsugi station from the nearby bus stop, and from there, I took the Romancecar for the short trip back to Tokyo.

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Mt Sashiro (205m), Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Saturday, March 7, 2020

This hike was also different from usual, since it was more walking and sightseeing than pure hiking, albeit with a couple of summits and some views. I had hiked nearly all the mountains near the Mito and Joban lines, except for the ones near Kasama station. The hike described in my “Mountains of Ibaraki” was only 3 hours long . However, it followed the Kanto Fureai no Michi, and I was confident that there would be some interesting sights along the way enabling me to stretch the hike to a full day.

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Nearing the top of the castle

After a later than usual departure, I transferred to the Mito line in Oyama, and reached Kasama station a little before 11am. There was a tiny tourist information office outside, where I picked up some good maps of the area. It took half an hour through town to reach the Kasama Inari Shrine, the main attraction of the area. I spent some time exploring the shrine and the main shopping street in front of it, and I only started up the hiking trail, ten minutes East of the shrine, around 1pm.

Kasama Inari Shrine is dedicated to the fox god

The first part was a short climb up a rounded hill called Fujiyama (143m) 富士山, quite a common mountain name in Japan. It was an azalea park, but none were in flower at this time of the year. Although there was no summit marker, there was an observatory platform with a 360 degree panorama of the entire area. Looking South, I could see Mt Wagakuni, climbed in 2017, and West, Mt Takamine and Mt Bucho, climbed in 2018. The skies were overcast, but I am sure the view must be spectacular on a cloudless day.

Mt Takamine (left) and Mt Bucho (right)

I followed the road down the other side, crossed a larger road, and continued up a small road into a cedar forest. On the side of the road, there was a large boulder known as “Daikokuseki” (大黒石 or big black rock), which had been rolled down from above on castle attackers. A little further on the right, was the start of the road up to the ruins of Kasama castle. Halfway up, I took a shortcut via a flight of moss-covered stairs, to reach a flat grassy space. It was hard to figure out the way when looking at the map, but it was easier while walking it because there were frequent signposts of the Fureai no Michi.

Leafy and mossy steps leading to the ruins of Kasama castle

As with many old Japanese castles, there wasn’t much left to see, just traces of the foundations overgrown by grass. At the back, there was another staircase leading to the shrine at the very top of Mt Sashiro 佐白山, which I reached just after 2pm. It was completely in the trees, except for a small gap to the West. Behind the shrine, was an alternate path going down. It was steep and rocky, but there were some chains for steadying oneself. It led to a place with some big boulders, called ishikura (石倉 or rock cellar). I climbed on top of one of them to see the view to the East. A mostly level path through the forest brought me back to the castle ruins.

Stone steps leading to the top of Mt Sashiro

On the other side, there was a hiking path leading down the mountain through the forest. I arrived at Sashirosanroku park after 3pm. At this point I felt quite satisfied with today’s hiking, and since I was close to the city, I decided to have a late soba lunch. I chose Sobakiri Ichibee そば切り一兵衛, fifteen minutes away on foot. It seemed quite a famous place, judging from the autographs of celebrities covering the walls. After a satisfying meal of soba and tempura, I made my way back to Kasama station, twenty minutes away. There I got the local train for Tomobe, where I switched to the limited express for Ueno.

Soba lunch at Sobakiri Ichibee

NEXT UP: Mt Hinata & Mt Mijo in Tanzawa (Kanagawa)

Mt Atago (394m), Akaboko (409m) & Kasumi Hills, Ome City, Tokyo Prefecture, Saturday, February 1, 2020

 

While trying to find some new hikes to do in the Tokyo area, I came across the Kasumi Hills (kasumi kyuryo 霞丘陵) in my guidebook. Starting from Higashi-Ome station, it ended at Iwakura Onsen 岩蔵温泉, halfway between Ome and Hanno cities. It seemed like the perfect hike except that it was only three hours long. After studying my Okutama hiking map, I saw that it was possible to extend it by hiking some minor peaks South of Ome city.

Ome city and the Okutama mountains

At 9am on a sunny morning, I got off at Miyanohira station on the Ome line. Each carriage was decorated with a Flying Squirrel or musasabi ムササビ theme. The hiking trail started on the other side of the Tama river, across Wada bridge, and was indicated by a signpost. Soon, I was walking along a path that went through a thick bamboo forest alongside a small creek, then climbed to the top of a low ridge. There, another signpost told me to turn right. Before that, I decided to investigate the path heading left. It turned out to be a very nice, not-on-my-map, alternate start to the hike, from Shinmei Shrine 神明神社.

Another path leading to the start of the hike

I retraced my steps and started to head up the ridge. Very soon, I reached another junction and a viewpoint of the Okutama mountains. The main trail continued to the left. I turned right instead, going downhill, then back up, reaching the top of Mt Atago 愛宕山 at 10h30. This section isn’t signposted, and I had to figure it out from Google Maps. The view is mostly obstructed by trees – even standing on a tree stump I couldn’t make out much.

Top of Mt Atago marked by a huge tree

Although the path continued down towards Ume no Koen, I returned to the previous junction, and took the path heading left. I was a little behind schedule so I picked up the pace and, consequently completely missed a great viewpoint that was indicated on my map. The path continued through beautiful and peaceful forest. It was hard to believe I was still inside Tokyo prefecture.

Beautiful scenery at the edge of Tokyo

It took me less than an hour to reach Tengu Rock or Tengu-iwa 天狗岩 , a spectacular viewpoint of the Tama river valley and Ome city. It was also the perfect place for an early lunch. No sooner had I set off again, that I reached another amazing viewpoint, Akaboko 赤ぼっこ. I could see the Okutama mountains to the left, the Oku-Musashi mountains in the center, and the skyscrapers of central Tokyo to the right.

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View from Akaboko

I resumed hiking at 12h45, now very much behind schedule. I had planned to reach Ome city, and start the second half of my hike around 1pm. I half walked, half ran down the mountain; fortunately the trail was wide and not too steep. I recrossed the Tama river at 13h45. It took me another hour of road walking to reach Shiofune-Kannon-ji Temple, famous for its Azalea flowers in May.

This popular flower garden was almost empty in the middle of winter

Even in winter, it’s worth a visit. I saw a couple of giant cedars, the tallest one rising up to 43m high! All the buildings had impressive thatched roofs. There is also a huge statue of Kannon at the highest point of the park. I made my way up there, and was rewarded with a view of Mt Fuji, just before it wrapped itself up in clouds. The Kasumi Hills 霞丘陵 hiking trail started just behind the statue, sandwiched between Ome Golf Club and Ome City. I had lost track of time and it was already 3h30.

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Start of the Kasumi Hills hiking trail

I jogged along the easy to follow and well signposted path. I soon reached a road near an athletic park, which took me to Iwakura-kaido Avenue. I needed another hour to do the last part of the hike through Shichikoku-toge 七国峠 (meaning “seven country pass”), but since the onsen was closed to day-trippers after 5pm, I decided to leave it for another day, and follow the road directly to the hot spring. I was able to take a hot bath at the very charming Mamada Ryokan before heading back home.

The signposts were decorated with these painted stones