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

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 Nodake (543m) & Mt Yaeyama (531m), Uenohara City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Tuesday, December 24, 2019

This was a short hike – about 3 hours – I did along the Chuo line. I decided to add it for a couple of reasons. First the views, including Mt Fuji, were amazing. Second, the signs – in Japanese and English – were excellent, and made this an easy-to-follow hike. It had snowed in the area 3 days earlier, but it seemed that crampons wouldn’t be needed.

I took the train to Uenohara station, about an hour from Shinjuku, from where it was another hour of walking to the start of the trail. In reality it takes a bit longer, but I was able to catch a bus midway. The buses in the area are infrequent and hard to figure out so I was lucky to catch one near a bus stop. It’s another ten minutes from the last stop to the start of the trail.

Start of the hiking trail

Beautiful forest just around the corner

I started up the hiking trail just past 10am, and in less than ten minutes, I reached a viewpoint where I could see Mt Fuji. After taking a few pictures, I turned around, and saw that the path was covered in snow! However, I happened to be there at the same time as another hiker on his way down, and he assured me that there wasn’t much snow higher up.

Snow on the trail, but mostly on the North side

The path turned along the side of the mountain, and once it faced southwards, the snow did indeed disappear. It reappeared here and there further on, but it was never an issue. I was soon walking on the summit ridge, and after a couple of ups and downs, I reached the top of Mt Nodake 能岳 before 11am. The view of the Katsura river valley below with Mt Fuji in the background was outstanding.

View from the top of Mt Nodake

Closeup of Mt Fuji

After a quick bite, I set off again. It took me only ten minutes to reach the top of Mt Yaeyama 八重山. There was a small arbour, but the view was somewhat obstructed by trees. I started walking down, and less than ten minutes later I came to another arbour and lookout point. Here, the view was top notch; arguably one of the best in the Tokyo area. From left to right, I could see the Tanzawa mountains, Mt Fuji, Mitsutoge, Mt Ogiyama and Mt Gongen.

View to the West of Mt Ogiyama and Mt Gongen

View from the Mt Yaeyama observatory

I left the viewpoint at 11h30. There are several paths down the mountain, but they all meet up lower down; some were closed due to typhoon damage. Once I reached the base of the mountain, the path followed a stream through the forest. At times, the sunlight filtering through the trees was magical. Very soon, I reached a road, and it took me another 45 minutes to get back to Uenohara station.

Magical forest at the end of the hike

NEXT UP: Mt Bukka (Tanzawa Mountains) in Kanagawa

Mt Iwadono (634m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Sunday December 8, 2019

Hiking from the Chuo Line 中央線

I’d been through Otsuki so many times, on my way to either the Mt Fuji Five lakes area, or Kofu city, and each time I saw this rocky hill jutting up behind the city. Since it’s not a very big mountain, I did it as a morning hike, returning to Tokyo around noon. At the moment, two out of the three hiking trails are closed, these closures predate typhoon Hagibis, but it’s still possible to hike up via the back of the mountain. After reaching the highest point, it’s possible to continue along the ridge westwards for another hour, and finally walk back to Otsuki station forming a loop; since it’s a popular hike, there are warning signs and maps about this right outside the station, and along the approach to the trailhead.

Autumn colours still on display in December

I used the convenient and comfortable Chuo line limited express to get to Otsuki station, only one hour from Shinjuku. It took me another hour to reach the start of the trail – Hatagura tozanguchi 畑倉登山口, just opposite a driving school. Although I had to walk on the road, there were good views of Katsura river (which later becomes Sagami river), Mt Momokura and Mt Gongen. The crisp autumn weather made all the surrounding mountains clearly visible. After crossing the river, I turned around, and I saw the snowy top of Mt Fuji rising behind Otsuki city.

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The hike follows the ridge from right to left

From the start of the hiking path, it took me just half an hour to reach the top of Mt Iwadono 岩殿山. It used to be the site of a castle, Iwadonojo 岩殿城 but there isn’t much left now. I was rewarded with an amazing aerial view of Otsuki town with Mt Fuji in the background. On the left, were the Doshi mountains, and on the right, were the Misaka Mountains. I was standing on top of the rocky face of the mountain, with nothing but a low fence and some bushes separating me from a hundred meter drop. My arrival at the top coincided with that of a rather large group, and I was asked to take their photo. One of the group members very kindly offered me some sweets in exchange. After they had moved on, I enjoyed an early lunch.

Spectacular view from the top of Mt Iwadono

Fortunately, my hike wasn’t over yet. From the summit, I continued along the ridge, first heading down for a short while before climbing again. I soon reached a fork where I had 2 choices – the forest path or the rock climbing path. Unfortunately, the group I had encountered at the summit, were now busy making their way up the rock climbing path – there was no way to get around them. Since I was on a schedule, I took the less exciting forest option. However, the paths merged soon after, and I found myself ahead of the large group, so in the end it was a blessing in disguise.

Last good view of Mt Fuji

I had some more excellent views of the valley below, and Mt Fuji, while hiking along a narrow, rocky ridge. I had imagined that this would be an easy hike, but it turned out to be quite exciting. It took me less than an hour to reach the top of the next summit, Mt Tenjin 天神山, surrounded by trees. A few minutes later, I reached an impressive rocky face called Chigo-otoshi 稚児落とし. The hiking path took me above it, where I had some more great views of the area. Standing on top of the highest boulder, I took in the last views of today’s hike. From there, the path descended steeply through forest to Asari 浅利 at the bottom of the valley, and it was another 30-minute walk along the road back to Otsuki station, which I reached just before noon, nearly four hours after setting out. I was glad to find a mountain that hadn’t been too affected by last year’s powerful typhoons. Apart from one fallen tree, the trail and the surrounding forest seemed in good shape. Hopefully the other trails will reopen sometime in the future.

Chigo-otoshi at the end of the hike – no safety fence here!

NEXT UP: Mt Hagaba in Tochigi Prefecture

Toryu Valley & Mt Omine (1062m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, November 2019

 

Autumn colours along Toryu-Kei

In mid-November, I went on a day-trip to check out the autumn colours in the Oku-Chichibu area. It had been one month since the devastation brought by Typhoon Hagibis, also known as Typhoon #19, and there was a risk that some trails would be damaged or even closed. However, there are many great places to visit in the area, and I was confident I would find somewhere to walk among the autumn leaves.

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Sign reminding me that I was inside the Oku-Chichibu National Park

I drove from Seibu-Chichibu station, past Mitsumine-Guchi station, to Toryu Bridge 登竜橋 where I left the car. Past the bridge, it’s possible to walk along the Arakawa river in both directions. I first headed downstream; the path had been partly washed away in several places, and was also obstructed by several fallen trees. Since the path was a dead-end, I quickly gave up, walked back past the bridge, and followed the river upstream.

View from Toryu Bridge

First, I followed a gently climbing road past some ancient gravestones. After a few minutes there was a sign for a trail through the forest on the right. This led back down to the river, round a cliff on a wooden walkway, and finished at Ryumon Waterfall 竜門の滝. I retraced my steps to the start of the wooden walkway, and then followed another path further upstream, a few meters above the rushing river. There was a lot of damage here due to the typhoon. The trail was so washed away, that I soon gave up again. In conclusion, it’s impossible to hike along most of the Toryu valley at the moment. On the way back, I followed the road a little further, and it led to the start of the trail to Mistumine Shrine. Apparently, this trail is open and undamaged.

Entrance to the trail for Mitsumine Shrine

Afterwards, I drove another twenty minutes, past the turn-off for Mitsumine Shrine, all the way to the Irikawa river valley. I was going to leave the car at the Irikawa Camping Ground and explore the river upstream. However, the access road was closed due to typhoon damage, and it wasn’t possible to reach the start of the trail. I had to fallback on plan C: completely avoid river valleys, and drive to nearby Tochimoto Plaza 栃本広場 where I could hike Eastwards along a low ridge sandwiched between two lakes.

Beautiful autumn colours in “deep Chichibu”

This time I was lucky. The path was easy to hike with no damage at all; the autumn leaves were still at their peak. It took me about thirty minutes to reach the top of Mt Omine 大峰山 completely in by trees. Even the little viewing platform wasn’t high enough to see over them. The path continued along the ridge, but since it was now downhill through a thick cedar forest, and I had get back to the car, I decided not to go any further. Luckily, it was possible to take a slightly different path back, with occasional glimpses of Oku-Chichibu-Momiji lake through the trees.

Easy hiking through the forest

I drove a different way back, following a very picturesque road with good views towards Mt Wanakura. I got back to Seibu-Chichibu station before 4pm where I was able to enjoy a nice hot bath, and taste some local sake inside the station, before taking the brand new and futuristic looking Laview Limited Express train back to Tokyo. After the heavy rains and strong winds that hit the Kanto area last October,  I think that most hiking trails in Tokyo, Saitama and Tochigi prefecture are still hikable, except the ones following river valleys. Those ones may be closed for a while, but hopefully they’ll be restored sometime in the future.

View of Mt Wanakura in the late afternoon

Mt Sanpobun (1422m) & Panoramadai (1300m), Fujikawaguchiko Town, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, November 30, 2019

Hiking in the Fuji Five Lakes Area

This is one of my favourite areas to hike in the late autumn and early winter since the views of Mt Fuji are so beautiful. Also, since April 2019, there is a direct limited express between Shinjuku and Kawaguchiko that I really wanted to try. It’s the same deal as the Chuo line limited express – all seats are reserved only. However, for the Fuji train, there were no seats to be had on the day itself, and I had to stand most of the way. Although it’s convenient, I probably won’t be using this train again.

View of Mt Fuji from Yamadaya Hotel

I got off at Fuji station, boarded the bus for Motosu lake, and got off at Yamadaya Hotel next to Shoji lake. The view of Mt Fuji rising from behind the lake was stunning. Originally I wanted to hike all the way to Mt Ou and end at lake Saiko, but considering the fresh layer of snow that covered the higher reaches of the mountain, I decided to shorten the hike, and make a loop back to my starting point. The fact that the Yamadaya hotel also allowed day-trippers to use their hot spring bath was also a factor in that decision.

Already hiking in the snow in November

I started up the hiking path quite late in the day – at 11h15. I had hiked up this path once before in February 2013 in the snow, and there was snow again this time. I met many people coming down – apparently this is a popular hike. I reached Panoramadai パノラマ大 one hour later, and had an early lunch. Six years ago I continued down to lake Motosu on the other side. This time, I retraced my steps to follow the ridgeline Northwards. There were less people, and the path went up and down more steeply. Fortunately, the snow layer was thin, but I had to be careful not to slip on the descending parts. I was glad I had chosen the shorter hike and that I didn’t have to rush!

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View of Shoji lake and Mt Ou in February 2013
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View of Mt Fuji and Aokigahara forest in February 2013

There was a great view of Mt Fuji and Shoji lake, a few meters to the right of the path, just before Shoji pass – I nearly missed it even though it was marked on my map. After that, the path climbed steadily. I reached an area with a small shrine that seemed like the top but wasn’t. It took another five minutes along a level path to reach the true summit of Mt Sanpobun 三方分山. It was surrounded by trees, but there was a nice view of Mt Fuji on the South side.

 

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The best view of the hike was near Shoji Pass
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View from the top of Mt Sanpobun

It was past 2pm and time to head down. On the way, I had some good views of the ridge leading up to Mt Ou – hopefully I can hike it another time. The whole mountainous area spreading North-East, and bound by the Fujikyuko and Chuo lines, is known as the Misaka mountain range. One hour later, I emerged from the forest near the base of the lake. There was an interesting shrine with a couple of very large cedar trees. According to the sign, they were 1200 years old, 10 meters in circumference, and 40m high! A short walk brought me back to my starting point where I was able to take a nice bath with a good view of Mt Fuji in the late afternoon light.

Next up: Mt Iwadono in Yamanashi Prefecture

Mt Minobu (1153m), Minobu Town, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, November 16, 2019

Hiking in the Minobu Mountains 身延山地

This is another mountain that was on my must-climb list for ages, in an area relatively close to Tokyo that I had never been to before, between Mt Fuji and the Southern Alps. There is also a ropeway to the summit – I didn’t use it, but it’s nice to have the option. Finally, the temple area at the base of the mountain is the last resting place of the founder of Nichiren Buddhism – less interesting to me, but worth noting.

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Above: Summit framed between cedar trees and temple buildings

Below: Significantly less snow on the Western side of Mt Fuji

I rode the Chuo line to Kofu, then changed to the Fujikawa Limited Express to Minobu station, arriving just past 9h30. I hopped onto the bus for the short ride to Minobusan at the base of the mountain. A short walk up the main street brought me to San-Mon 三門, one of the three famous gates of Kanto, according to the information board. It was certainly one of the most impressive gates I’d ever seen. Beyond, was also one of the longest stone staircases I’d ever climbed – a good warm-up for the hike ahead. At the top, I took time to check out the temple area before heading up the narrow paved road to the right of the ropeway, a little after 11am.

(Top Left) San-Mon Gate (Top Right) Kuonji Temple (Bottom Left) Bell Tower (Bottom Right) Random temple building inside the forest

I followed the paved road as it zigzagged up through the forest. There were few views through the cedar trees, almost no signs for the hiking trail, and no people. Occasionally, I could hear buddhist chants drifting up from below. Half an hour later, I emerged onto a shoulder, clear of trees – there was a small temple complex and a view of the summit. The paved road continued into the cool shade of the forest; its condition started to deteriorate, before completely giving up turning into a dirt road. Here, I passed a few hikers (and a dog), but it seemed that the majority of visitors preferred the ropeway. Just before 1pm, I had my first glimpses of Mt Fuji through the trees. A few minutes later, I reached the top of the ropeway, and a fantastic view of Mt Fuji and the Fuji river valley heading Southwards.

(Above) Summit of Mt Fuji behind the Tenshi Mountains (Below) Fuji River flowing into Shizuoka Prefecture

After snapping some pictures, I walked past the summit temple to the other side, where there was the summit marker for Mt Minobu 身延山. I was able to enjoy a great close-up view of the Southern Alps, with the Arakawa-zansan on the left, and the Shirane-zansan on the right, with fresh layers of snow each. Further right was Yatsugatake, in the clouds, and the Oku-Chichibu Mountains, free of clouds. I also had a good view of Mt Shichimen and Mt Fujimi, two mountains I hope to climb next year. Just past the latter was Mt Kushigata which I climbed in June this year.

(Above) Mt Shichimen (Below) Mt Fujimi, two other peaks of the Minobu Mountains

After a short standing lunch – there were no benches – I started walking down. I was supposed to head down the other side of the ridge I had come up, but instead, I seemed to be going down the backside of the mountain. I was the only person hiking down, so there was no one to ask. After triple-checking my map, I decided I was on the right path after all. I was on a paved road again, but I didn’t mind since there were now some good views through a mix of trees. Facing the massive peaks of the South Alps, I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.

Soon I arrived at a temple manned by a solitary monk. There was an information board with a good map which I studied for a while. The monk hovered nearby. It seemed like he was eager for some conversation but didn’t dare, or wasn’t allowed to initiate it. I noticed Minobu Hot Spring written in English on the map so I asked: “are there any hot springs for day-trippers in Minobu?” “I don’t think so,” he replied. “Do you have to stay here all day?” I asked. “I Yes, but I go back down at nightfall.” He then pointed out the tip of Mt Fuji, above the ridgeline of the mountain behind me. Having run out of questions, I thanked him, snapped a few pictures, and continued along my way.

Beautiful autumn colours in the afternoon light on the way down

The path had now turned nearly 180 degrees, and was finally heading the correct way. I soon reached a magical spot, called “senbon-sugi” 千本杉, meaning one thousand cedar trees (in reality just 260 according to the sign). I’ve seen many cedar trees in Japan – I’ve even seen the Yakusugi on Yakushima – but I thought these were really impressive. They went straight up to amazing heights – I estimated over 40 meters, but according to the signboard, some of them topped 60 meters. I spent some time gazing and photographing these awesome trees.

The Japanese Cedar (scientific name: Cryptomeria), also known as the Japanese Redwood, is related to the American Redwood or Sequoia

I finally managed to pull myself away, and continued to head down along the road, still paved. It was now 3pm and I had to speed up if I wanted to get down before dark. There were some good views of Mt Shichimen to the right, with the sun slowly dipping below the ridgeline. I soon reached a viewpoint of the valley below and the turnoff for a hiking trail – finally! The path took me straight down the side of the mountain, cutting across the forest road several times. At one point, I had an excellent view of Minobusan town, and the temple complex perched above. I could again hear the buddhist chants drifting up below, creating a special atmosphere unique to Japan. I hurried on, finally reaching the base of the mountain and Minobu town around 4pm, in the time to catch the bus back to the station. As I was told by the lone monk on the mountain, there were no hot springs for day-trippers anywhere in Minobu. However the town does have a very beautiful five o’clock chime (see Video below) which played while I was waiting for my train back to Tokyo.

Minobusan town and the temple where I started my hike five hours earlier

See the views and listen to the sounds of Minobu

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NEXT UP: Mt Sanpobun (Fuji Five Lakes) in Yamanashi