Tokyo Wide Pass Golden Week 2017 Update

Here are three more hikes that I did in 2017 using the Tokyo Wide pass. For more hikes using the Tokyo Wide Pass, check this blog post: Tokyo Wide Pass Silver Week 2018 Update or search for “Tokyo Wide Pass” on this blog.

Mt Suwa (1549m), Ueno Village, Gunma Prefecture, Thursday May 4

The start of the climb up Mt Suwa is along a small mountain stream

I may have said this before but this mountain probably has the longest access from Tokyo, or at least requires the highest number of different modes of transport. First I used the shinkansen to get to Takasaki. Then I changed to a local train for Shimonita. After that, I hopped onto a minibus, that took me through the mountains by way of a tunnel to the Village of Ueno. Finally I took a taxi, driven by the wife of my minivan driver, to the start of my hike deep deep inside Gunma Prefecture. Amazingly, everything went like clockwork and I was ready to start hiking before 10:30.

Even though it was already the start of May, the mountainside was dotted with yamazakura

The first part was up along a stream following a steep valley. No sooner had I set out that a yellow-furred Japanese weasel or “itachi” crossed my path, the first time I had ever seen one. After crossing the stream several times on wooden bridges, the path suddenly gotten steeper. I was surrounded by the light green leaves of spring and it was very beautiful. Finally I reached the top of the ridge, and the going got easier.

Easy hiking once you reach the ridgeline

Soon I got views of the neighbouring and yet-to-be-climbed Mount Chozuke, as well as the tops of Mt Yatsugatake and Mt Ryokami. Before reaching the top of Mt Suwa 諏訪山, a three-hundred famous mountain in Japan, I had to summit another peak on the way. It turned out to be quite an exciting section – a rocky prominence with steep climbs and drops. The surroundings felt very wild, and it was hard to believe that only a few hours ago I was in Tokyo.

The Rhododendron were in full bloom – Mt Chozuke is in the background

After taking in the great views from the top, I set off for the final part of the hike. I reached the top at 13h30, surrounded by deep forest – I was the only person and it was very quiet and peaceful. I thought it was shame that the path didn’t continue further. The return was along the same way so I hurried back down. There was an option to take a different path further down but it was just too long for a one day trip. After reaching the start of the trail two hours later, I headed to a nearby onsen.

Although the path seemed sketchy at times, it was perfectly safe

After a very quick bath, I started walking back along the road to the bus stop at Ueno Village, one hour away. However before I was halfway there, I was picked up my bus driver from the morning who happened to be passing by in his own car! He dropped me off at the bus stop so I had time to spare before catching the bus back to Shimonita.

View to the North and Gunma prefecture

Mt Oujou (1123m) & Mt Takama (1342m), Nakanojo Town, Gunma Prefecture, Friday May 5

Mt Oujou, the highest point of my hike

This is an off-the-map hike that I found through Google Maps. I was looking for new ways to use the Tokyo Wide Pass and by checking the mountains near the Agatsuma line and then looking them up on Yamareco, I found that Mt Oujou 王城山 and Mt Takama 高間山, both Gunma 100 famous mountains, could be done together as a day-trip from Tokyo.

A good view of Mt Oujou on the way back

After getting off at the the tiny but new Kawarayu Onsen station, I made my way across a long bridge above a meandering river far below. According to the signs on the bridge, there is a plan to dam the river and flood the valley to form a lake. Although the projected representation looked nice, I still felt that it was shame to destroy such a picturesque valley. On the other side, I turned left and walked along the road for a bit before taking a road that went straight up the side on the mountain to my right, to the start of the hiking trail.

According to the dam project, the floor of the valley (where the house is) would be flooded

As with Mt Suwa the day before, the mountainsides were dotted with yamazakura, and all around I could enjoy the new green leaves of spring. I reached the top of the first summit of my hike before 12h30, less than two hours after setting out. I had great views of Mt Asama to the south, and Mt Azuma and Mt Shirane-Kusatsu to the West, all still covered in snow. To the West I could also spot the outline of Mt Haruna.

For a Gunma hike, the path was fairly easy to hike

After a short rest I continued along the hiking path. It followed a ridge with steep drops on both sides. I had occasional glimpses of Kusatsu on my left. I saw no else on my hike, and that in itself made it really lovely. Eventually I crossed a road and started up a steep path – the final ascent for the second peak of my hike. The view from the top was less good than the first one but still nice. The clouds had rolled in and it was starting to get cold so I soon headed back the same way I had come.

Glimpses of Mt Kusatsu-Shirane through the branches

Most of the return was along the same way, although it was possible to take a small detour to the right at one point. Coming back down, I was able to admire the steep dramatic mountain peaks on the opposite side of the valley. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there are no hiking paths there. After reaching the station, I continued a little further to Kawarayu Hot Spring, about 10 minutes away through a tunnel, a great place to soak before catching a train back to Takasaki and Tokyo.

Only locals know a way up this mountain

Mt Azumaya (1341m), Minakami Town, Gunma Prefecture, Saturday May 6

Clouds rolling over the highest points of Tanigawa range

Since the weather seemed to be holding, I dared do a third consecutive hike. Also since it was the day before the last day of Golden Week, I felt the trains coming back wouldn’t be too crowded. Mt Azumaya 吾妻山 is a Kanto hundred famous mountain, just West of Minakami Town in Northern Gunma. As far as I know, there is no public transport to the trailhead, so I had to settle on a short taxi ride from Jomo Kogen Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen.

The taxi dropped me off at the end of the road in an opening in the midst of a dark pine forest. There were no other hikers and the sky was overcast. After a quick breakfast, I set off along the forest road. I soon reached a wide lake, with the main ridge on the opposite side. I opted to walk it clockwise and it turned out to be a lucky decision: I found out later that the other half was obstructed by snow! Despite not being especially high, its closeness to Japan’s snow country meant that the area gets quite a lot of snow in the winter.

Lake at Omine Marshland – the white slightly to the left of the center is Sakura, and the white on the right near the water is snow

After reaching the opposite end of the lake, I started climbing and spotted some Azalea next to the path, a sure sign that spring was on the way. Other that, I didn’t see much spring green in stark contrast to my two previous hikes. However, like the two previous hikes I saw absolutely no one. I did see some “Kamoshika” or Japanese Serows jumping away from me, and I startled a few Japanese pheasants. At one point it started to rain lightly and I started to doubt whether I should have gone on a hike at all.

Long staircase going down and then up the other side

Fortunately the rain soon stopped. After going down a very long metallic staircase and the going up an equally long one on the opposite side, I was confronted with more snow, this time lying across my path. As I walked on the snow, I was amazed that I was doing a snow hike in May at around 1000 meters. Luckily the path was easy to follow. I reached the highest point and a small shrine before noon. There were good views to the East of Minakami Town and yet-to-be-climbed Mt Mitsumine. To the North was the Tanigawa ridgeline still partially covered in snow and clouds.

I was surprised to see so much snow on the trail during Golden Week

The weather was improving gradually, and after lunch, I got some better views of Mt Tanigawa and the neighbouring peaks. Unfortunately I couldn’t linger since there was still a long way to go. I started down, continuing North along the ridge. I had some nice views of Mt Hotaka, and finally saw lots of green spring leaves. After descending a long wooden staircase, I reached the bottom of the valley, and turned onto a nice forest road along a river.

By now, the weather was sunny and I was in high spirits. Here I relaxed and somehow managed to miss a turn to the right. Soon the forest road ended, and I had to retrace my steps in order to find the turn. The turn took me across a river and onto a road where I turned left. My plan was to walk all the way to the hidden onsen of Sarugakyo, one hour away. Fortunately the road was quite wide and had sidewalks on the sides. I could still enjoy various kinds of Sakura in full bloom on the way.

A worthwhile detour – Enmusubi Waterfall

Eventually I took a small hiking trail to the left which ended at the the very nice Yushima Campground alongside a river. I did a short detour to check out a nearby waterfall, then walked up a short road to Sarugakyo Onsen (literally hot spring of the Money Capital). The view of Lake Akaya with a string of Koinobori flags strung across it was quite spectacular. After a nice bath with a view on the lake, I caught a bus back to the Jomo Kogen station, just one hour from the capital of Japan.

Looking back towards the Tanigawa range

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Tokyo Day Hikes April May 2017

Mt Mikasa (1013m), Mt Nekko (1035m), Mt Goto (944m), Mt Kon (933m) & Mt Tanaba (753m), Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka Prefecture, Sunday April 16

The final part of the hike had views galore

A hike of my own creation following the long northward curving ridge opposite Mt Amagi, smack in the center of the Izu Peninsula. If you haven’t hiked Mt Amagi yet, I would recommend that hike first, since this is simply a continuation of that hike. Here, I really appreciated the natural beauty of the Izu portion of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and was grateful that I could hike it as a day trip from Tokyo, even though it is over 120 km away from the capital.

The area between my position and Mt Fuji is not part of the National Park

First I had to get to the Amagi Pass bus stop (650m), a 40-minute bus ride from Shuzenji station at the end of the Izu-Hakone railway. From there it was a short hike to the top of the pass, a place I had passed previously on my descent of Mt Amagi. I turned right along the mostly level path and soon had some good views of snow-covered Fuji to the North, as well as the valley I had previously come through by bus. I soon arrived at Nihonsugi pass (the pass of the two cedar trees). There was a good sign board which included information in English. It’s also worth mentioning that the signs along the way were some of the best I’ve ever seen.

Most of the time the trail looks like this

I knocked off Mt Mikasa 三蓋山, Mt Nekko 猫越岳 and Mt Goto 後藤山 in succession, each peak surrounded by trees. I had occasional glimpses of Mt Fuji, passed a small pond, and saw quite a big toad on the trail, a fairly rare sighting in my experience. It was a beautiful hike during which I saw almost no one. Five hours and a half after setting out, I reached Nishina Pass and the West Izu road at around 2h30. After checking out the great views of Suruga Bay to the West, I turned North and started up another slope, starting to feel a little tired. I was buoyed by the sweeping views since the area is mostly farm pastures, as well as sakura trees in full bloom dotting the sides of the mountains.

Mountain sakura were in full bloom

At this point my hiking path was running parallel to the road, and after a number of passes, I reached the top of Mt Kon 魂の山 just before 4pm. A final effort brought me to Mt Tanaba 棚場山 at the end of the afternoon, just after 5pm, from where it was another hour to a bus stop and my ride back to Shuzenji, a town famous for its hot springs. The hiking path continues all the way to Mt Daruma, but I had already made a visit there the year before.

Spotting any kind of wildlife on a hike is always a source of excitement

 

Mt Futago (1165m), Ogano Town, Saitama Prefecture, Sunday April 23

This hike mainly follows the entire length of the ridge

This was an exciting hike along a narrow ridge on the border of Saitama and Gunma prefectures, at the edge of the Chichibu mountains, and in the shadow of Mt Ryokami. It had been recommended to me a couple of years before by fellow hikers staying at the Kumotori lodge on New Year’s Eve. The trail looks deceptively short on the map but does require a full day of hiking. Mt Futago 二子山, meaning twin mountain because of its two peaks, can be reached by taking a first bus from Seibu-Chichibu Station, and then changing to a second bus at Ogano Town.

Chichibu as seen from Mt Futago

The first part of the hike is along a road. After you finally leave the road for the trail, there are some great views of the rocky double peak of the mountain, which seems quite impossible to reach. Once the path reaches the forested area at the base of the cliffs, it curves left under the rocky walls and finds a way up the Northern end of the mountain. It’s steep and roped but you’ll find yourself on the top ridge in no time. From here it’s important to progress with caution along the mostly level path, since there are drops on both sides. I had to be careful not to get distracted by the amazing views: Mt Ryokami and the other Chichibu mountains to the South, Kanna River valley and the mountains of Western Gunma to the North. On this perfect day, I also got to see the snowy tops of Yatsugatake and Asamayama.

North towards Gunma – the highest point is Mt Akaguna

I eventually reached the western peak where I took a well-deserved lunch break. People were climbing up the North cliff with all the proper equipment. It is at this point that I made a big mistake. After lunch, I continued straight along the ridge. I hadn’t bothered to read the description of the route in my Japanese guidebook (I now do this every time), and I had rushed ahead since I was a little behind schedule. Soon I found myself climbing down successive rocky faces with only thin ledges between them. I am used to the occasional rocky face, but they usually come with ropes, chains and ladders. However, here, there was nothing, just metal bits for attaching ropes.

The West Peak of Mt Futago

On one ledge, I had a good look up and down, and realised that I was in the midst of a cliff – this certainly wasn’t the right path. My knees started to shake uncontrollably since any mistake could lead to a fatal fall. At this stage, going back up was as risky as continuing down, so I gulped the remainder of my coffee, and proceeded downwards. I don’t think I have ever been so frightened since I did the “daikiretto” in the North Alps.

I mistakenly took the “advanced” red route instead of the “usual” blue one

Eventually I reached the base of the cliff and a little further the path merged with the path I should have taken. Soon I reached a pass where I left my pack and did a quick round trip to the lower and less impressive eastern summit. There were good views of the Western summit and the cliff I had just hiked down (shivers). After taking in the views, I decided it was time to head down since it was nearly 3pm. The descent down a forested valley was uneventful and I reached the bus stop around 4pm.

 

Mt Komotsurushi (1379m) & Mt Azegamaru (1293m), Nishi Tanzawa Mountains, Kanagawa Prefecture, Sunday April 30

Seeing Mt Fuji is one of joys of hiking in Japan

This was another of my original hikes, and it’s also part of the Tokai hiking trail. I really wanted to walk through the westernmost area of the Tanzawa mountain range, but none of the peaks were featured in my guide book. This is probably because the area is rather difficult to access, despite being half the distance of my previous hike to Izu. The problem lies with the adjacent Doshi valley, which has extremely poor public transport. One needs to take a bus from Sagamiko station and then change to another bus. However the transfer times don’t line up so if you go that way you can’t make it back the same day.

Across Doshi Valley – Mt Shotai

Instead I took what must be the most roundabout route ever to approach the start of the trail – from behind. First I took a train from Shinjuku to Fujisan station via Otsuki. There I caught a bus to Yamanaka lake, where I changed to another bus heading to Doshi village, and finally got off at Yamabushi Pass. Despite the long detour, I was ready to start hiking at 10h30. I was the only person to set off on the trail to the top of the ridge. There I turned left (Northeast) towards the Tanzawa mountains with the Fuji area to my back. In the clear spring weather, I had good views of Mt Fuji along the way as well as Mt Shotai to the North. The trail was easy to hike and I saw no one.

A really easy trail to hike

There were some escape routes to the left down into Doshi valley but since there are hardly any buses running there, they are pretty useless. I soon passed the summit of Mt Komotsurushi 菰釣山 and its nice and clean emergency hut that had just opened for the season at the beginning of April – the visitor book showed some guests had already stayed there. This peaceful and relaxing hike eventually brought me to the top of Mt Azegamaru 畦ヶ丸山 with a nice stone summit marker. There is no view but there is another emergency a little bit before the summit.

A man-made waterfall on the final section of the hike

From there, it was an interesting descent down a rocky river valley with multiple crossings along small wooden bridges to the Nishi Tanzawa nature center. Curiously, the signs changed from the usual white paint on wood, to the unusual black paint on yellow painted metal. They seemed quite new and I’ve never seen such signs anywhere else. At the Nature Center, which I reached shortly before 5pm, I caught a bus back to Shin Matsuda station for a much shorter ride home.

 

Mt Gangaharasuri (1874m), Otsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday May 20

Mt Gangaharasuri as seen from Mt Ubako

This is another summit I had been eyeing for a while but couldn’t figure out how to access it without a car. In the end I saw no other way but to walk for 2 hours along an asphalt road. The starting point was the final stop of the Fujikyu bus from Otsuki station on the Chuo line – I was the sole passenger as usual. The first part was quite pleasant, following a river. Less than an hour out, I passed a taxi coming down the mountain. Only after it disappeared from sight, I realised I could have used it to get to the start of the trail since it would have cost half or less of what it would cost to go from Otsuki station.

A mountain stream in the heart of Yamanashi prefecture

I finally reached the parking area at Otoge pass (1560m) just after 11h30. I took a short break and enjoyed the good views of Mt Fuji. Luckily the summit was only 45 minutes further and 300m higher along a nice hiking trail. The top of Mt Gangaharasuri 雁ヶ腹摺山, located just North of the Chuo Line and West of Otsuki, is one of the 12 viewpoints of Mt Fuji in the Otsuki area. After lunch, I headed down a different path. At first it was pretty steep but soon I emerged at the top of Mt Ubako where there were some good views of the peak I had just descended.

Mt Fuji less clear in the late May haze

After that it was a long descent along a forested ridge during which I met no other hikers – most other people having done the roundtrip from the pass by car. Eventually I went down a short path to the right to join up with a road and a couple of inns. Unfortunately they didn’t allow daytime use of their hot baths, so I walked along the road till the bus stop and got back to Otsuki station where I caught a train home and a shower.

Tokyo Day Hikes March 2019

Five weekends in March and four hikes done…not too bad, especially considering that the last weekend was hanami and the weather has been pretty foul lately. This month I stuck to Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures, as well as to low altitudes as winter maintained its grip on the Kanto area. Only one hike was station to station. The others relied on additional forms of transportation such as bus, taxi and a kind offer of a lift to the nearest train station from a local. Next month, I will definitely do a hike within the confines of Tokyo prefecture!

 

Mt Sekison (348m), Kimitsu City, Chiba Prefecture, Saturday March 2

The peaceful top of Mt Sekison in the heart of Chiba

I finally returned to Chiba after more than a year. The two main issues I have with Chiba hikes are 1) public transport access is usually a problem (even now, Google Maps doesn’t have information on many bus routes) 2) trail signs leave a lot to be desired. Despite those shortcomings, Chiba has some great hiking, especially in the colder months. This time I choose a fairly straightforward hike connecting Yoro Keikoku station, on the Kominato line, with Kazusa-Kameyama station, on the Kururi line, and passing by the summit of Mt Sekison 石尊山.

I hadn’t been to the Yoro river valley since May 2016, and I had forgotten what a wonderful train ride it was: the retro train from Goi station will definitely put you in the mood for hiking. At one tiny station along the way, locals were selling bentos on the platform and passengers were encouraged to get off to buy something. I bought some tasty “fried balls” and a cup of local sake. After I got off at my destination, the station attendant kindly asked me about my itinerary and gave me a useful map – a very nice welcome!

The charming 90 year-old station of Yoro-Keikoku

If you haven’t hiked the Yoro River valley before, I’d recommend doing that first. I had, however, hiked it a few years before, so I set off along a road perpendicular to the river. Shortly after setting off, I spotted a lone monkey in a field, but it fled before I could get a good picture. Still, it was my first monkey spotting in Chiba prefecture. The first part of the hike was along a narrow road that followed a gradually climbing ridge. There were few cars so it was quite pleasant, with occasional views of the neighbouring ridges to the left and right. Unfortunately, I noticed that people had dumped trash down the steep sides at several points. I don’t know if this is still a problem or whether it’s a thing of the past – the signs warning people not to dump trash were old and faded – but considering that it’s within a protected nature zone, a clean-up might be in order. I finally reached the first of five short tunnels along the way, always a nice way to spice up a hike.

Ropes to help you stay on the path

After the fifth tunnel I turned left onto a dirt forest road. It was a very enjoyable and solitary walk in the middle of nowhere. After a while the road ended and became a small up and down trail along a narrow ridge – a true Chiba hiking path. Although there were almost no signposts, the path was well-maintained and had ropes along the tricky bits. After crossing some nice forest, I reached a high level area with some good views to the West through the trees – a good place for a lunch break. The sun which had been ducking in and out of the clouds, chose this moment to come out and warm me up.

A good place to stop for a late lunch

I was finally approaching the summit of Mt Sekison. The final climb to the top was along a staircase in dire need of some maintenance. The summit area was devoid of views but pleasantly green and peaceful. My research had revealed that there was a path from Mt Sekison all the way to the Pacific coast but I decided to keep that for another time. I started to head down to the entrance of the trail, and the end of my hike, but the trail soon vanished. Since the road wasn’t far I decided to simply head straight through the forest and I eventually emerged onto the road. Nearby was the lovely Shichirigawa Onsen and bus stop. However after enquiring at the onsen, I found out that the bus wasn’t running. Luckily the onsen owner offered to drive me to the train station about ten minutes away, after joining me for a hot bath!

Mt Hokyo (461m) & The Chiyoda Alps, Tsuchiura City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Saturday March 9

View of the Chiyoda Alps from the top of Mt Omachi

This is another hike that seemed difficult to access till Google Maps showed me the bus times. The bus from Tsuchiura, on the Joban line, runs all the way to Mt Tsukuba and was this quite crowded. However I was the only person to get off near the start of the trail up Mt Hokyo – it seems that most people go by car, as was made clear by the large parking area. There is also a nice rest house with pamphlets of all the trails. It was pretty empty when I was there but I am sure it must be quite lively later in spring. I decided to take the trail that went by Mt Sengen. At first it went through fields, then parallel to a beautiful mountain stream. The final part was a long steep slope (actually called the very very long slope).

Perfect view of Mt Tsukuba from the top of Mt Hokyo

After catching my breath at the top of Mt Sengen, I continued to the top of Mt Hokyo, about half an hour away. From the top, there were great views of Mt Tsukuba to the North, as well of my next destination, the Chiyoda Alps to the East, described in my guide book as a separate hike. However, since Mt Hokyo was quite a quick climb, I decided to try to combine them. There is a nice forest road (no signposts) leading to the busy Omote Tsukuba Skyline. Then it’s about an hour walking to get to the start of the Chiyoda Alps. On the way I passed by Mt Omachi (361m) 大町山, slightly off the road, and a launching spot for paragliders. I also passed by the Asahi Pass View Park, a parking area with great views of the very flat Ibaraki prefecture to the East. I also got to observe some hobbyists flying remote controlled planes.

Mt Tsukuba as viewed from the Chiyoda Alps

I finally reached the start of the Chiyoda Alps, after 2pm. There are two main peaks: Mt Yukiiri (345m) 雪入山 and Mt Sengen 浅間山 (345m). There were many escape routes to the left and the right. After what seemed like an interminable path, I reached Mt Gongen, the final peak of the hike, after 4pm. I quickly checked out the view and hurried on to to the closeby bus stop, from where I was able to get a bus back to Tsuchiura station.

Still too early for green leaves

Remote controlled plane doing loops in the sky

Mt Kumano (311m) & Mt Morigane Fuji (340m), Hitachiomiya City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Sunday March 17

Path leading to the to the top of Mt Kumano

I decided to go to Ibaraki again because I wanted to check out Kairakuen Park in Mito, one of the 3 famous parks in Japan, especially famous for its plum blossoms. But first the hike: after arriving at Mito station in the morning, I got on the Suigun line and got off at the unmanned Shimoogawa Station one hour later – I was the only person to get off there since most people were heading to Mt Nantai further down the line.

The start of the hike up Mt Kumano

After crossing the river and passing by some beautiful plum blossom trees, I reached a beautiful forest path which I was able to enjoy all by myself. Eventually I reached a “torii” and a long staircase leading up to the top of Mt Kumano 熊野山, where there were good views of the Kuji river valley. I got to enjoy the last bits of sunshine before the clouds rolled in.

The summit is at the top of these steps!

The next part of the hike involved descending all the way down to the river, crossing to the other side and making my way to the start of the trail of Mt Morigane Fuji 盛金富士山, where there were some beautiful plum blossom trees in full bloom. Half way up, I emerged into an open space with great 360 degree views – if only the sun were out, it would have been perfect!

The best view of the hike

I spent some time here taking photos before continuing to the summit where the views were less good. The descent was surprisingly steep, and I was down in no time. It was only 2pm so I had plenty of time to check out the plum blossom garden in Mito City.

Mt Moto-kiyosumi (344m), Kamogawa City, Chiba Prefecture, Sunday March 24

View of Hodai Dam on a blue-sky day

I really wanted to go back to Chiba before the warm weather arrived, and I was given a good opportunity by a high pressure system that brought cold but sunny weather to the whole of the Kanto area towards the end of March. Apparently Western Boso has the highest amount of rainfall in the whole of Chiba, but I hardly saw a cloud during my hike.

Start of the long ridge leading up Mt Moto-Kiyosumi

The start of the hike was from Hodai dam, a truly beautiful area with few people, which I reached by taxi from the train Awa-Kamogawa station. I saw even fewer people on the hike – a family of monkeys crossed the path at one point. After what seemed like an interminable hike along an up and down narrow ridge, I reached the top of the quiet, but viewless Mt Moto-kiyosumi 元清澄山 just before 1pm. A short way beyond, I rejoined the Kanto Furenai Michi, a network of paths covering the entire the Kanto area. This section was well maintained with good signposts.

The second part of the hike followed a well-maintained trail

After some ups and downs a reached a very enjoyable flat section which I followed all the way to an asphalt road. From there it was a fairly simple hike to Kiyosumi temple. I had originally planned to continue from there to Mamenbara Plateau but I was running late and that plan would likely have to be abandoned.

Tunnel #7 along an unexpected detour on my hike

I spotted by chance a trail to the right of the road and decided to check it out. It turned out to be quite a fascinating trail along the side of the mountain and passing through five eight tunnels – the last one had bats sleeping in it! Unfortunately the path did not reconnect with the road but followed an empty riverbed down the mountain. I had to give up and go back the way the I came. Once I was back on the road, I hurried along it to Kiyosumi temple about 45 minutes away. There were great views of the Chiba hills from various points. At the temple I boarded a minibus – I was the only passenger – back to the train station.

View of the hills of the Southern Boso Peninsula – endless hiking opportunities!

Tokyo Day Hikes March 2017

Mt Kogashi (583m), Utsunomiya City, Tochigi Prefecture, Saturday March 4

A rocky mountain at the edge of the Kanto plain

Continuing to explore Southern Tochigi, I moved again to the East but also somewhat to the North, to Kanuma station between Utsunomiya and Nikko. There, I boarded a bus to within walking distance of Mt Kogashi 古賀志山. The approach is quite nice since this low-lying rocky mountain cuts quite an impressive figure when seen from below. After walking on a road through fields and forests, I reached Akagawa dam and lake, where I got to see countless paragliders floating around in the sky above me.

The mountains of Oku-Nikko

The start of the trail is at the end of the lake but at first it was a little hard to follow since it had been damaged in a recent typhoon. There are other paths up but I was keen to follow the one in my guidebook. After crossing a river, I followed a steep zigzagging path that quickly took me to the ridge. Before continuing to the right, I followed another small path to the left for a few minutes till I reached a lookout point. There I got good views of Akagawa lake as well as Mt Akagi and the mountains of Oku-Nikko.

Ready to jump off?

I continued up the steep, narrow ridge heading West. Eventually I reached another ridge and turned left (South) along it – the path to the right (North) leads to Mt Kuratake which I climbed last year. This part had some nice exposed sections with good views of the Oku-Nikko mountains, and some interesting rocky formations on Mt Kogashi itself. I finally reached the summit just after 2pm (no views). After a lunch break, I continued along the ridge, gradually losing altitude and occasionally getting good views on both sides. At one point I reached a rocky prominence that had to overcome with the help of some rope – nothing technical but surefootedness was vital. The views from the high point were totally worth the effort.

Decipher this sign!

I reached the final peak of the ridge, Mt Akaiwa (553m), just before 4pm. After that the path started to descend quickly. On the way I passed the launching point for the paragliders that I had seen in the morning. Going down I took a wrong turn at one point and had to retrace my steps. However I got some nice views from that mistake. After I got back to level ground, I continued walking along a road through fields till I reached an onsen and a bus stop just before sunset.

 

Mt Kaba (709m) & Mt Ashio (628m), Sakuragawa City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Saturday March 11

Mt Kaba rising above the fields

Mt Kaba 加波山 and Mt Ashio 足尾山 are two peaks located along the same ridge, North of Mt Tsukuba. I had a good look at them when I climbed Mt Nandai and Mt Wagakuni the month before. I opted to go by car this time, and I parked close to the colorful Kabasan Shrine. The climb to the top was uneventful, with occasional glimpses of Mt Tsukuba to my right.

Mt Tsukuba in the shade

The summit of Mt Kaba is occupied by a shrine complex. The view from the highest point is obstructed by trees which may not be cut down, or so I was told by another hiker. The clouds had rolled in temporarily and it was cold so I didn’t linger. After some up and down, and passing a lone wind turbine, I arrived at the top of Mt Ashio, with better views to the South – Mt Tsukuba – and to the West – the Kanto plain.

The eerie top of Mt Kaba

After some lunch I continued to the next summit, Mt Kinoko (mushroom mountain), passing on the way a paragliding spot with actual paragliders preparing to take off. Here something interesting happened: there was a cat, and this cat followed me once I started going down the mountain. It had the traces of a collar around its neck, so I assumed that its owner had simply abandoned it (there is a road that runs along the ridge). Halfway down, the cat was falling behind so I waited occasionally, and fed it some cheese and water.

View of the Kanto plain

As I was approaching the bottom of the mountain I was starting to wonder what I would do if it followed me all the way to the car. However after we entered the village, the cat went after the first person I passed – problem solved! It was a short walk through fields back to the car with good views of the mountains I had just climbed in the late afternoon sun.

Cat that befriended me (?) on the top of the mountain

 

Mt Ono (723m), Yamakita Town, Kanagawa Prefecture, Sunday March 19

Tanzawa range and Tanzawa lake from the top of Mt Ono

Mt Ono 大野山 is a bald grassy rounded mountain sitting at the edge of the Western part of the Tanzawa mountains. It’s not a very long climb but the views from the top of Mt Fuji, the surrounding mountains and Tanzawa lake are fantastic. Mt Fuji is already visible shortly after leaving Yaga station on the Gotemba line. This is a popular climb but luckily there is lots of space at the top. At this time of the year, I could also see snow on top of the highest parts of the Tanzawa range.

Mt Fuji can be seen from several viewpoints during the hike

I decided to flee the summit and the hordes of hikers shortly after arriving, and headed North along a peaceful path through beautiful forest. My plan was to extend the hike by heading towards Tanzawa lake. Eventually I reached a T junction. Left was a path that led down towards the lake but first, I decided to explore the path going up a ridge to the right. At first the path was quite good, if steep. However it soon got difficult to follow because of tall bamboo grass. I finally reached an open space with some views, and after eating some lunch, I called it quits and retraced my steps.

Walking down to Tanzawa lake

I had some good views of Tanzawa lake while descending. After reaching the lake and its dam, I was lucky to find a hotel there that allowed hot spring entry for day trippers. After a nice refreshing bath, I caught the bus back to Matsuda station. An exciting thing happened then – a bird of prey (maybe a black kite or “tonbi”) made a very low swoop, and nearly collided with the bus, giving all the passengers, myself included, quite a scare!

Tokyo Day Hikes February 2017

Mt Maru (960m) & Mt Dodaira (876m), Tokigawa Town, Saitama Prefecture, Saturday February 4

Mt Dodaira – the antenna at the top is an NHK relay

I had already climbed both of these peaks separately in the past. Mt Maru 丸山 (climbed twice) was a short and easy loop hike from Ashigakubo station on the Seibu Chichibu line, and Mt Dodaira 堂平山 was a longer hike along a horseshoe shaped ridge in Eastern Chichibu (bus access from Ogawa station). This was a hike of my own creation aiming at linking the two mountains, as well as and explore some new ridgeline trails. I could see from my maps that it involved some road walking but I didn’t mind since the area was easy to reach for me, I knew that both peaks have excellent views.

The start of the hike involved getting a bus from the Tokigawa town hall located between Ogawa and Ogose towns, and reachable from the Ogose station on the Tobu line. I got off at the last stop Hinatane, near a tiny hamlet on the side of the mountain. First I went on a short round trip to closeby Mt Arazaku (409m). There was no trail on the map but it was marked on a guidance board near the bus stop. Mostly level walking through forest, it made a good warm up even though the top was without view. After quickly retracing my steps, I started climbing in the opposite direction along a forest road up to a pass, where I turned right to follow the ridge to the North, this time along an asphalt road, half iced over.

Cute fake bus stop for the “mountain cat electrical railway bus”

Soon I reached another pass called Kabasaka toge (818m). There were some people here since there is a parking lot. There were good views of Mt Dodaira opposite. Here the trail left the road and followed a narrow ridge to another pass. Mt Maru was about a 45 minute round trip to the left and I decided to go for it since the weather was good. There is an observation tower at the top and the previous times the visibility hadn’t been great. This time, visibility was fantastic, and this is probably one of the best views one can get of Mt Buko and of Chichibu city. Mt Asama, Mt Akagi and Mt Haruna were clearly visible.

View of Mt Buko and Chichibu city from the top of Mt Maru

After a quick lunch and a short chat with other hikers, I made my way back to the intersection and went right towards Mt Dodaira. There was another section of road walking. You can actually walk on the road all the way to the top but halfway there is a hiking trail that goes up a ridge to the left. The rounded level top is also accessible by car and there is an observatory for night sky gazing. It is also a popular place for paragliding in the warmer months.

View from Mt Dodaira – It’s a 500m drop down to the bottom of the valley

The views from the summit of Dodaira were just as good as from Mt Maru. You could also gaze down into the deep valley of East Chichibu (North) and the take in the vast expanse of the Kanto plain to the East. Unfortunately it was already past 3h30, and it was nearly two hours to get down to a bus stop so I couldn’t linger much. I followed a very nice path called the Tokigawa trekking trail, some portions of which followed asphalt and forest roads. I finally emerged at the scenic Jikoji Temple, past 5 pm, and too dark to get any good photos, so I hurried down to the bus stop, in the valley opposite my morning starting point. Total hiking time was nearly 7 hours.

Mt Atago (305), Mt Nandai (553m) & Mt Wagakuni (518m), Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Sunday February 12

View of Mt Nandai, the midway point of the hike

This was my first Ibaraki hike that wasn’t on Mt Tsukuba. It’s a fairly long hike (6 hours) connecting three mountains, starting with Mt Atago 愛宕山 Southeast near Iwama station on the Joban line, passing by Mt Nandai 難台山, and finishing at Mt Wagakuni 吾国山 Northwest near Fukuhara station on the Mito line. My start time got pushed back due to delays on the Joban line. I also lost some time around Mt Nandai because of unexpected wet snow on the trail – my boots got completely wet since I didn’t bring my gaiters.

Observation tower along the trail

The first part is fairly straightforward. The path zigzags up the mountain and ends at Atago Shrine with good views to the East – Ibaraki is quite flat outside the mountainous parts! From the top there is a short walk along an asphalt road to reach the start of the trail for Mt Nandai. The trail through woods was level at first but soon it started to rise gradually, offering excellent views of Mt Tsukuba, Mt Kaba and Mt Hokyo to the West. There are wooden observation towers, rocky formations and minor peaks along the trail.

View of Mt Tsukuba

When I reached the top, mostly enclosed by trees but with some views to the West, I was ready for a short break and lunch. Afterwards the path descended gradually, with views of the Oku-Nikko mountains at one point, before crossing a road and bringing me to the final ascent for Mt Wagakuni. There were good views to the East on the way up – I could see most of the trail that I had hiked during the day. More excellent views towards the East and the North greeted me at the top, where there was a small shrine, although it was a bit lonely and cold there. I made my way down the mountain as quickly as I could in order to reach the train station just around sunset.

View to the North from the top of Mt Wagakuni

Mt Ohira (341m) & Mt Teruishi (419m), Tochigi City, Tochigi Prefecture, Saturday February 25

The hike follows most of this ridge

I so enjoyed my first hike in Southern Tochigi that I decided to go again as soon as possible, this time a little more to the East, one station past Tochigi City. The hike up Mt Ohira 大平山 starts from Ohirashita Station meaning the station under Ohira. From there it’s a fairly easy walk to the top and Ohirasan shrine (also accessible by road), a sort of deja-vu from my hike 2 weeks ago. I got to see some nice views of the Kanto plain, and also some early plum blossoms.

View of the Oku-Nikko mountains to the North

From there it was a fairly easy hike to the next summit, Mt Terui 晃石山. Apparently the whole area is inside a prefectural national park, not to be confused with a national park. From the top of Mt Terui, there were excellent views of the Oku-Nikko mountains. The visibility was much better than the previous month when I hiked nearby Mt Daisho. After that I gradually made my way down through to plain level. The surrounding nature was quite wild and it was hard to believe that I was so close to civilisation.

Hiking down Mt Teruishi

While I was walking to the station (more plum blossoms on the way), I couldn’t resist going up nearby Mt Iwafune, meaning “rock ship”. Although the way up was along a road, the top part was quite interesting. First of all I was able to check out a temple called Koshosji. Next, there were a couple of good viewpoints to the North and the South. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a summit marker for the highest point. I ended the hike at the very small Iwafune station on the Ryomo line.

Hello Spring!

Tokyo Wide Pass Silver Week 2018 Update

Here are a couple more hikes I did using the Tokyo Wide Pass during Silver Week in September 2018, plus a couple of short excursions I did with my mother using the pass in November. All previous Tokyo Wide Pass hikes are linked at the bottom of the Golden Week 2018 update. I also describe two hikes I did using the pass during the “Coming of Age” long weekend in Tokyo Day Hikes January 2019 (Mt Inafukumi & Mt Tatsuware).

Mt Tengu (Eastern peak 2640m), Chino City, Nagano Prefecture, Sunday September 23

I still find it hard to believe that I was here on a day trip from Tokyo

This is highest I’ve been using the pass, if not the furthest – 130 km away versus 160 km for Mt Nasu – although the travel time might be the longest: after taking the shinkansen to Sakudaira, it’s a 2-hour bus ride to the trailhead. Despite that, I was able to start walking from 10h30. Surprisingly, few people were lining up for the bus – most people preferred to head for Mt Asama, only one hour bus ride away. Most passengers, got off at Shirakome pond, but I got off at the next and final stop, Mugikusa pass (2120m).

The beautiful dark blue of Shirakome pond

I had seen the pass and its steep-roofed hut a few years earlier when I hiked Mt Shimakare to the North. This time, I set off Southwards through a thick mossy pine forest. Mt Tengu 天狗岳 is a 200 famous mountain in Japan, and is part of the ancient volcanic range of Yatsugatake, an extremely popular hiking area West of Tokyo. I hadn’t really appreciated how popular it was till I reached Takami Ishi hut where their masses of people. What surprised me was the number of small children with their parents – it is not an easy place to hike!

Typical views during the hike – it’s quite level, no?

Behind the hut, atop some rocky boulders, is a great view of Shirakome pond and Northern Nagano. After I short break I set off again. For a while the path was really muddy and I had to make tiny detours through the forest – it had rained hard the preceding days – but eventually I reached some narrow wooden walkways which were much easier to navigate. Occasionally the twin peaks of Mt Tengu were visible in the distance, as well as the dramatic-looking Mt Io.

Mt Io – I climbed it in winter from the other side

On paper it looks like a long hike but in reality most of the hike consists of a gently undulating path along a wide mountain top – the steeper sections are located lower down. Very soon I arrived at the base of Mt Tengu. I lost a lot of time taking photos during the climb, as it was mostly devoid of trees and the views in all directions were absolutely amazing. The Eastern summit was packed with people, half of them young children around elementary school age. The Western peak is four meters higher but required at least a half hour round trip, time I didn’t have since I was planning on returning to Tokyo the same day. According to my guidebooks, the views were fairly similar. Mt Neishi was also achingly close but I had to skip that as well.

The twin peaks of Mt Tengu

I set off down a rocky ridge that ended on a windswept sandy pass where I took a steeply descending pass that zigzagged down the Western flank. After what seemed like a lot of descending, I reached Honzawa Onsen hut from where it was a long slog along a dirt road – it really made me appreciate the size of the mountain I was coming down from. I emerged from the forest just as it was getting dark, two hours after the start of my descent, but still twenty minutes or so from Umijiri station on the Komi line. Originally I had planned to head back up to Sakudaira where I could get a hot bath, buy some local sake and get the shinkansen back to Tokyo. Unfortunately I made a mistake with the train times so I had to take a train in the opposite direction towards kobuchizawa, also covered by the pass, and take the very crowded Chuo line back – fortunately the station there also sells sake!

 

Mt Hakkai (up to Mt Yakushi 1654m), Minamiuonuma City, Niigata Prefecture, Monday September 24

The viewing platform at the top of the ropeway – a nice place to relax!

This one broke the record for furthest day hike from Tokyo – 175 km! I was less than 50 km from the Sea of Japan although I couldn’t see that far because of the poor visibility. I arrived in Niigata prefecture under the sun but the clouds rolled in with surprising speed and most of the day was spent under grey skies. Even the ragged top of Mt Hakkai 八海山, another 200 famous mountain of Japan, soon disappeared in the mist.

Mt Echigokoma surrounded by clouds

After taking the shinkansen to Echigo-Yuzawa, I boarded a local train to Muikamachi station (not covered by the pass). The town is fairly rundown and would benefit from a facelift. I got on a bus to the Mt Hakkai ropeway – I was the only passenger. Even the parking lot was depressingly empty. We were perhaps a dozen people to board the ropeway. I was pretty relieved that I didn’t have to wait in line. The view from the wooden viewing platform at 1120m was quite impressive – I guess the lack of people was due to the poor weather forecast, although it never rained.

The long summit ridge of Mt Tanigawa

The hike itself wasn’t anything special – up and down the same path, alternating flat and climbing bits. There were some good views to the North of Mt Echigokoma, and Mt Tanigawa to the North. There were much less people than the previous day on Mt Tengu. There wasn’t enough time to go all the way to the highest point (1778m). Perhaps it was a good thing because it is rated as somewhat dangerous on my map – lots of steep bits with chains and ladders.

Autumn has arrived near the upper reaches of Mt Hakkai

The clouds blocked most views from my turning back point, the top of Mt Yakushi 薬師岳 but there was a consolation prize in the form of some early autumn colours. I also saw three snakes which is always exciting. I recommend taking a bath into the hot spring facility inside the Echigo-Yuzawa station – it’s small but super convenient – and also buying some well local sake from the extensive souvenir shop.

 

 

Shiobara Gorge, Nasushiobara, Tochigi Prefecture, Saturday November 3

View from the main bridge in Shiobara onsen

This is a relatively short hike I did with my mother. I rented a car near Nasushiobara shinkansen station (it is also possible to go by bus). I was hoping to see some autumn colours, and so were the hundreds of other people stuck with us in a massive traffic jam, a few kilometers out from the onsen town! At least we could slowly enjoy the spectacular views.

The hiking path was a little worn out but easy to walk

We finally reached the visitor center with about an hour delay. Our plan to walk along the river downstream and then take a bus back. Unfortunately the traffic jam never let up so that we took a long time getting back to our car and then getting back to the station. Fortunately we could take a bath at the a hot spring before leaving.

Peaceful lake near the end of the hike – it would make a good painting

The hike itself had some nice views of the gorge and various waterfalls, and of course the autumn leaves. We crossed the river several times over narrow suspension bridges. The final part however consisted of a relatively long, steep climb followed by a descent with no real good views. The last part is over a suspended bridge that crosses a picturesque lake formed by a dam further downstream. There are other hikes in the area so I will probably return in the future.

It was the first time I’d ever seen people doing SUP (Stand Up Paddling)

One of the waterfalls we saw during the hike

 

Dragon Gondola and hike along the Kiyostu River, Yuzawa Town, Niigata Prefecture, Sunday November 4

Mt Sennokura with its autumn cloud cap

The next day I decided to check out the Dragon Gondola – 5481m long and apparently the longest in the world. Normally a ski lift – I had taken it once when skiing at the Naeba Prince Hotel resort – it is exceptionally open for a short while in autumn, and also in spring. It requires taking a bus from Echigo Yuzawa station. After that, things got complicated. Most passengers were non-Japanese like us, possibly also traveling on the Tokyo Wide Pass. However, the busdriver started giving complicated explanations in rapid-fire Japanese which obviously nobody understood. Apparently we had to get off one stop before the Naeba Prince Hotel to take a shuttle bus directly to the start of the gondola. Most people just remained on the bus. Finally, language barriers were overcome, and everybody was able to board the shuttle buses.

Mt Hakkai with its winter snowcap

At the gondola station, we got in line for the gondola. However I noticed that the people in front of me were holding tickets – I had no idea where to buy ours. I went to the head of the line to ask, and found a small ticket counter next to the boarding area – it could have been advertised better. The gondola ride was truly spectacular and exciting, since several small ridges and valleys had to be crossed, at times only meters above the ground.

Rising up and up among the camphor trees

The top area, at 1346m, was a little cool but pleasant in the sunny autumn weather. We walked up a bit to higher ground and had great views of many Niigata mountains: Mt Naeba, Mt Hakkai, Mt Tanigawa and Mt Sennokura. After that we walked past Tashiro lake and took the Tashiro ropeway back down to the bottom of the valley, enjoying the beautiful autumn leaves covering the sides of the mountains.

Taking the Tashiro ropeway back down

From the base of the ropeway, we walked along the river, following it upstream for about an hour while enjoying more autumn leaves and the fine early November weather, till we reached a spacious rest house. Inside, there was a good relief map of the surrounding mountains. From there it was a short ride on a crowded bus back to the shinkansen station.

Tokyo Day Hikes January 2017

I’ve finally found time to add some older hikes to the blog. These four date from January 2017, a couple of years ago, but the mountains and trails are still there (I suppose). The views were all top notch thanks to the clear winter weather. They are located in Yamanashi, Chiba, Tochigi and Saitama prefectures. Two are station to station and two require traveling by bus.

Mt Koshu Takao (1120m), Koshu City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday January 7

Koshu Takao – a hilly ridge that separates Tokyo from Yamanashi

An amazing station to station hike that I had been saving for a while for a day when I couldn’t be bothered to look up bus times. I just regret I hadn’t hiked up Mt Koshu Takao 甲州高尾山 earlier – from the pictures in my guidebook, it looked like a dull up and down slog, but, after gaining enough altitude, the views of the Mt Fuji and the South Alps were absolutely fantastic.

The South Alps, with the three Shirane Mountains in the middle

The surrounding scenery was a nice mix of subalpine and alpine – lots of pines trees and open grassy spaces – despite the fact that I was always below the 1500m mark. The hike follows an undulating ridgeline which goes all the way to Daibosatsu Rei but unfortunately there is no connecting hiking path.

Probably one of the best views I’ve gotten of Mt Fuji

Even though the starting point is Katsunuma Budokyo station (what a name!) on the Chuo line, only a couple of hours away by train from Shinjuku, it feels like a completely different world. Shortly after descending, there is the added bonus of a nice bonus of passing through a nice temple complex.

A nice place to stop for a late lunch

Beyond that, the path becomes a road which you need to hike for 90 minutes back to the station. I was fortunate enough to be picked up by somebody on the their way down – they even dropped me off at the onsen close by the station. By the way, this onsen is on the top of a small hill and has some great views of the wide plain that forms the central part of Yamanashi prefecture.

 

Mt Saga (315m), Mt Tsumori (336m) & Mt Hitobone (292m), Kyonan District, Chiba Prefecture, Sunday January 15

The peaceful top of Mt Tsumori

Since Chiba mountains aren’t very high, I usually need to combine several of them in order to make it worth my time to go all the way to the other side of Tokyo bay. One benefit of low altitude mountains is that they remain snow-free all year-round – or so I thought! No sooner had I started hiking up the trail for Mt Saga 嵯峨山, a short bus ride from Hota station on the Uchibori line, did I encounter snow! Apparently it had snowed the day before in Chiba…however it was only a thin layer which was melting quickly in the winter sunshine.

A rare sight – snow in Chiba

The climb to the top was relatively fast with just one steep section. There were views of Oshima island, Miura peninsula, and of course the Boso peninsula. Unfortunately, the top of Mt Fuji was hidden in the clouds. My plan was to do a loop around the back and end up back on the road, where I would catch a bus to my next destination. However at one point I lost the path and ended up taking a rather steep trail back up to Mt Saga. I eventually found my way down but I missed the bus and had to walk to about an hour to the start of the path for Mt Tsumori.

The Boso peninsula looks quite flat from this perspective – it isn’t!

The climb to the top of Mt Tsumori 津森山 was pleasant and the views Eastwards towards Kamogawa town, the Pacific Ocean and Mt Atago were unexpectedly beautiful. After that I made my way along hiking path and some roads to the frighteningly named Mt Hitobone 人骨山 (meaning person’s bone). This time the views were mostly of the hills towards the South and the West. After that there was quite a nice path through some marshland at the bottom of the valley – it was quite atmospheric in the late afternoon light. Eventually I reached a road which took me to lake Sakuma and a bus stop.

Mt Atago 408m, the highest mountain in Chiba

While I was waiting for the last bus of the day to come, I noticed an advertisement for Emiraku no yu 笑楽の湯, an onsen that seemed to be on the way, so I decided to call and see if they were open. They told me yes and also that there weren’t any more buses running that day – I had somehow misread the bus schedule. Fortunately, they kindly offered to pick me up and then drop me off at the train station after my bath. I don’t know what I would have done without their help. I highly recommend using their onsen if you are in the area!

Sunset at Sakuma Lake

 

Mt Daisho (314m) & Mt Daibo (285m), Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture, Sunday January 22

A nice circular hike along a ridge

This was my very first foray into the low mountains of Southern Tochigi, the perfect place for mid-winter hiking, and very much off the beaten track. Somebody actually exclaimed “gaikokujin da!” (meaning “it’s a foreigner!” – kind of rude, no?) after seeing me, something which I have only heard small kids say.

Close-up view of the characters “small” and “large”

This is also a station to station hike, the first part requiring some walking along roads and through fields. After a while the kanji 小 (sho) and 大 (dai) were visible on the side of Mt Daisho 大小山. It took me a very short time to hike up the path and reach the lookout point just below the characters, and about the same time again to reach the highest point of the trail (called Mt Myogi) where there were amazing views Northwards of the green hills of Tochigi.

The low mountainous area of Southern Tochigi

This is a circular hike – it follows an up-and-down ridge as it turns counterclockwise from East to West with lots of great views in all directions. The snowy peaks of Oku-Nikko, as well as Mt Akagi, can be seen from several points along the trail. I could also see the sprawl of Ashikaga city in the next valley. Finally, after a rocky section, I reached the top of Mt Daibo 大坊山 the other main peak of this hike, and the location of a small temple.

View towards Ashikaga city with Mt Akagi in the back

After that, it was a quick hike down to the base of the mountain, followed by some road walking in order to reach a small path that took me back up to the top of the ridge where I started my hike – above the the 小 and 大 characters. After enjoying the last great views of the hike, I made my way down quickly via a different route to where I had started my hike in the morning. Winter days are short but I managed to get to the train station just before sunset.

 

Ogano Alps (highest point 590m), Ogano Town, Saitama Prefecture, Saturday January 28

A glimpse of the Chichibu mountains from between the trees

This hike took me completely by surprise. It was mentioned in my guidebook but due to its low altitude and bus access both ways, I made it low priority – a mistake since it had superb views, interesting sights and some thrilling ridge sections. The Ogano Alps 小鹿野アルプス are located South of Ogano town and West of Chichibu city, and are low enough that the mountains of Oku-Chichibu further to the West and South seem to tower above.

Mt Buko with blue skies in the background

After a short walk from the bus stop I reached a nice little temple called Hoshoji behind which the hike starts. Very soon I got to the top of a rocky outcrop with nice views and a statue of Kannon. The next highlight was the Mt Kame viewpoint from where I could see an intriguing rock formation, resembling a giant lizard – it reminded me very much of similar rock formations on Yakushima island. The pyramid-shaped Mt Buko was also very prominent throughout the hike.

Fantastic lizard-shaped rock formation clinging to the side of the mountain

After the viewpoint I descended into a valley where there was a mountain retreat (apparently closed in the winter), and then climbed up a slope on the other side. This part is called “kamanosawa goho” 釜の沢五峰 – quite a difficult name to remember. It translates roughly as the five peaks of the cauldron valley, probably because, like the previous hike, the top ridge forms a circle. The five (small) peaks are numbered and are fun to hike, not to mention energy and time consuming!

Top of peak number four – one more to go!

As I approached the highest point of the hike, the dramatic ridgelines of Mt Futago and Mt Ryokami came into view. This part felt wild and isolated; I saw no other hikers, but maybe this was because it was already past 3pm. It was time to start heading down. During the descent I passed a small transmission tower perched precariously on a small outcrop, walked under a cliff, down steps carved into another cliff, saw more interesting rock formations, and finally arrived onto a road which I followed all the way back to Hoshoji temple, where I had started out five hours ago.

It took me four hours to reach the highest point of the hike

It was already past 4pm and the sun was starting to set. However, rather than take the bus directly back, I decided to follow another short hiking path nearby which took me over a hill to a main road and an onsen on the other side. The first choice for onsen was actually closed but thanks to Google Maps, I located another one within walking distance which I reached just after dark.

Perilous place to put a power transmission line no?

Water bubbles trapped under an icy stream