Mt Kurami (1256m), Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture

This was my first day hike of 2015, and since it was during the Japanese New Year or “shogatsu“, I wanted to have some good views of Mt Fuji, do a station to station hike (buses run on special schedules during that time), and, if it wasn’t too much to ask, end the hike at a nice onsen. I want all hikes to be good hikes, but the first one of the year should be special.

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The city of Kawaguchiko at the base of Mt Fuji

I took a train to Mitsutoge station: I hadn’t been there since I first climbed Mt Mitsutoge several years before, and I had completely forgotten that there was a fantastic view of Mt Fuji from just outside the station. This time, however, I was climbing a mountain on the other side of the railway line. The trail started next to Yaku Shrine, 15 minutes from the station. However, I accidentally went down another trail that was level instead of going up. Once I realised my mistake, I cut through the forest up the side of the mountain to reconnect with the correct trail.

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The Kawaguchi toll road snaking down the valley

I soon started getting some good views up and down the valley connecting Kawaguchiko and Otsuki cities. It was a fairly relaxing climb, the only steep bit came at the end, going up the small pyramidal summit. I reached the top of Mt Kurami  (Kuramiyama 倉見山) after about 90 minutes, around noon. There was an excellent view of Mt Fuji, resplendissant in its winter coat. I could also see Mt Mitsutoge, the cliffs below the summit area making it look like an impregnable fortress. Looking North, I could spot the peaks of the Oku-Chichibu mountains. Looking South, I could gaze on the vast urban sprawl of Kawaguchiko City. On this clear sunny day, the snowy peaks of the Minami Alps were clearly visible.

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Easy hiking on the way down

The descent, through a beautiful pine forest, took another ninety minutes. The trail was very easy to walk, and offered many good views along the way. It often felt like I was flying above the small houses in the valley below. The sun was now slightly behind Mt Fuji, so the side facing me was in the shadows, less good for taking photos. I reached the bottom of the valley just past 3pm. I then walked another 30 minutes to Yoshinoike Onsen 葭之池温泉 for a quick hot spring bath, before taking the train from the nearby station back to Tokyo.

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 Mt Fuji view from Mitsutoge station (using camera zoom)

Mt Sekirou (694m), Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

This was my second visit to Mt Sekiro (石老山 sekirouzan) and the first time taking other people; the photos will be a combination of both trips. I feel that this mountain is really exceptional: it’s close to Tokyo, easy to climb, it has great views (including Mt Fuji), there is a temple at the base, and finally there are few hikers since it’s not a famous mountain.

Mt Sekirou from Sagamiko Station

Mt Sekiro from Sagamiko Station

As of October 2020, the trail around Kenkyoji Temple (顕鏡寺) is still closed due to trail damage due to last year’s Typhoon 19 / Hagibis – it’s not possible to reach the summit of Mt Sekiro via this route. No reopening date has been set yet. Please check the Sagamiko Tourist Association website for future updates. 

HOW TO GET THERE: Get on the Chuo line for Takao station, ride to the end of the line, and switch to the Chuo line again by simply crossing the platform. Get off at Sagamiko station, the next stop. The only tricky part here is catching a bus to the start of the hiking trail. Departures normally coincide with most train arrivals, but if the wait is too long, it’s possible to take a taxi since it is only ten minutes away.

THE ROUTE: From the bus stop, we crossed the road and headed up the road that lead away from it as a straight angle. There is a sign saying Sekirosan iriguchi (石老山入口 meaning entrance to Mt Sekiro) as well as a big sign showing the route. There are also toilets and a vending machine. After walking along the road for about twenty minutes we reached the start of the trail, behind a hospital. The weather wasn’t great, but it didn’t matter so much since the hike was mostly in the forest during autumn.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Sekiro

The first part of the hike climbed steadily through a forest of tall cedar trees next to a stream. Massive moss-covered boulders lay strewn on both sides of the path. Some had small signs with Japanese explanations on their legendary origins.

The road to the temple

The road to the temple

Huge moss covered boulders

Huge moss covered boulders

In less than half an hour, we reached Kenkyoji temple (顕鏡寺) perched on the lower reaches of the mountain; we took a photo break since it had some impressive autumn colours. Since there are no other mountains standing in the way, there was also a view west towards Tokyo, but clouds and smog meant that visibility was limited. Northwards, we could see Mt Takao, the closest mountain to Tokyo.

The trail continued behind the temple, winding back and forth, eventually a fork, unmarked on the map. We asked a small family on their way down who confirmed that the paths connected further up and that the right one was easier to walk. We took the right branch and were rewarded with some more nice westward vistas, as the path curved around the side of the mountain.

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Autumn colours were in full swing

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Orange and yellow fighting for dominance behind a stone lantern

Before we knew it, the paths joined up. From that point, the path climbed gently through the forest till a fantastic viewpoint of Lake Sagami. We couldn’t really see much of the view, since the weather was still cloudy. We continued up the mountain at a good pace and meeting few people. The path was a series of short steep climbs followed by flat or slightly downhill sections.

We reached the summit two hours after starting out. There were two or three tables where you can have a picnic while admiring the view of Mt Fuji. Unfortunately today the weather had steadily been getting worse, and there was no hope of seeing the majestic volcano today. We repaired to a table under a tree out of the cold wind that had suddenly started blowing, and prepared our ramen lunch.

View from the top last year with Mt Omuro in the centre.

View from the with Mt Omuro in the center (taken the previous year)

First glimpse of the lake on the way down

First glimpse of Sagami lake on the way down

Even though it was the first of December, the temperature had been warmer than expected. However it suddenly turned freezing and the clouds got greyer. I noticed some white specks on the table; amazingly, it had just started snowing! it wasn’t even the beautiful snowflake type of snow; it was the hard granular kind, that was more like sleet, forcing us to gulp down our lunch, and leave as quickly as possible. By that time, my fingers were feeling pretty numb from the cold.

I had originally planned a loop hike but decided on the spot, that we should head down the same way; it would be safer to down a familiar way in a freak snowstorm. However, as soon as we got a few meters from the summit, the snow stopped falling and it felt noticeably warmer. Ten minutes later we had blue skies above our head and the sun was shining. The storm was over just as quickly as it had started. The path looked quite different going down especially now that the weather was so good. The view of lake Sagami was completely different and we could see the mountain ranges beyond.

Sunny woods

Sunny woods

View towards Tokyo

View towards Tokyo

At the junction, we took the other path so as to complete the loop. Just below, there is a good view of Mt Sekiro, as well as the mountains to the west. The path passes through some more huge boulders, but it wasn’t particularly difficult. We got down ninety minutes, and after a twenty minute wait, we were able to hop onto a bus back to the station. In good weather, it’s possible to continue beyond the summit and make a loop back to the start of the hike.

CONCLUSION: Great hike for the late autumn / early winter period, because of its short length and relatively low altitude. It can be combined with some neighbouring mountains if you are a fast hiker.

As of October 2020, the trail around Kenkyoji Temple (顕鏡寺) is still closed due to trail damage due to last year’s Typhoon 19 / Hagibis – it’s not possible to reach the summit of Mt Sekiro via this route. No reopening date has been set yet. Please check the Sagamiko Tourist Association website for future updates. 

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Sekiro

The Takao range seen from the temple

The Takao range seen from the temple

Mt Shakushi (1597m), Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Prefecture

The main reason to climb Mt Shakushi, a Yamanashi 100 famous mountain, is to enjoy the fantastic view of Mt Fuji from the summit; there are no mountains in-between, just fields and forest surrounding Oshino village below. The hike is mostly along a ridgeline, with several smaller peaks along the way. Although I was hiking in the middle of November, there were few autumn colours.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take the limited express for Kawaguchiko station, and get off one stop before the end at Mt Fuji / Fujisan station (used to be Fujiyoshida station till 2010). This convenient but pricey train will get you to Fujiyama in time for the bus for Oshino village. It’s also possible to take a combination of local trains, but the connection won’t be as good. I was the only person on the bus – I guess everyone else had gone to see the autumn colours around Kawaguchiko lake.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Shakushi

 

THE ROUTE: From the bus stop, I headed along a road with Mt Fuji to my back. After crossing a couple of small streams I started seeing signs for the entrance to the hiking  trail. Very soon I walking along a dirt road surrounded by beautiful forest; it felt very different from hiking trails closer to Tokyo, especially since there was no-one else around. Eventually I overtook a family of five who had come by car.

 

The sun was perfectly aligned above Mt Fuji

After climbing steadily for a while, I reached a pass where I turned left up the main ridge. I soon reached a rocky roped section, with a nice view of Mt Fuji to the side. After the obligatory snapshots, I continued towards the summit. After a while, I arrived at a junction, from where it was a short round-trip to another summit called Mt Shishidome 1632m 鹿留山 (shishidome-yama). Since there was no view, I decided to skip it and continue on my way. The path was now slightly downhill.

A good day for paragliding

Suddenly I came upon the perfect lunch spot – a lonely rock with a stunning view of Mt Fuji. Even though I was a short way from the summit, I decided to stop for lunch; the final part was mostly flat, and peaks can be surprisingly crowded even when there seems to be no one else on the mountain. Occasionally other hikers would stopped behind me to admire the view, but overall it was a very enjoyable lunch. Not only could I see Mt Fuji in front of me, but also the South Alps  (some of the highest peaks were already covered in snow) and lake Yamanaka. Eventually I managed to pull myself away from the view and reach the summit.

Mt Mitsutoge to the West

The top of Mt Shyakushi (杓子山 shakushi-yama) has a couple of benches, and interestingly enough, a bell to scare away bears. I was so busy taking photos of Mt Fuji, I completely forgot to ring it! I was glad I had already taken my lunch break – the sun was moving behind Mt Fuji, and the side facing me was slowly becoming a dark outline. It looked like the sun would set exactly behind the cone, a phenomenon called Diamond Fuji. Unfortunately, there was no way I could stay till sunset, even though it was nice and warm in the autumn sun.

View of Mt Fuji while descending

There wasn’t really any rush to go down, since I could walk to the onsen at the base of the mountain without having to catch a bus. After I started to head down, I passed a couple on the way to the top, showing that this mountain is small enough for a late afternoon hike. The descent was uneventful, except that at one point it got really steep and I slipped and fell. Luckily the trail was just dirt, no rocks, so no harm done. There were many open spaces where I could observe the dramatic outline of Mt Fuji with the sun behind it. There were also some fine views of Mt Mitsutoge to the right. I also passed a launching pad for paragliding that included a mini funicular to haul the material up. After a final switchback trail, I reached a paved road at the bottom of the mountain, and made my way to Fudoyu onsen. After a nice hot spring bath, I caught the empty bus back to Fujisan station.

CONCLUSION: A short hike that I recommend doing in autumn or winter when the weather is sunny in order to enjoy the views of Mt Fuji. An onsen within walking distance of the base of the mountain is a definite plus.

Ask for a hiking plan for Mt Shakushi