Mt Higashi-Azuma (1975m), Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture, Sunday, August 25 2019

After a one-month break, I’ve resumed my hiking activities, despite an ankle that hadn’t really healed. I needed something easy to allow me to get back into the groove, and also at a high elevation, since it was still quite hot and humid. With the weather forecast looking good, I decided to take the shinkansen all the way to Fukushima city, and then drive up the Eastern side of Mt Azuma, a hyakumeizan inside the Bandai-Asahi National Park about 230 km North of Tokyo.

Technically, the highest point is the Western summit about ten-kilometers away, so summiting the Eastern summit doesn’t really count towards increasing my tally of hundred famous mountains, stuck at 81 since last July. Although there is a bus from Fukushima city, the return is quite early, and doesn’t allow enough time to hike to the top and back.

 

Part I: Usagi-daira – Toriko-daira – Mt Higashi-Azuma

The top of Mt Higashi-Azuma in good weather

After parking my car at the free parking at Usagidaira 兎平, just a few minutes from the huge paying parking in front of the Jododaira visitor center, I set off on a small path that went through the campsite on the other side of the road. Apart from a few nice sections, I didn’t enjoy it very much. The path was tricky to walk, and was in dire need of maintenance. It was a relief when I finally reached Toriko-daira 鳥小平 with its wooden walkways and many dragonflies.

Here I turned right instead of going straight

Instead of heading up Mt Takayama straight ahead, I turned right, crossed the Bandai-Azuma Skyline, and slowly started climbing. Shortly, I reached a kind of plateau where I had great views of the summit, as well as a small lake. I was at the same height as the clouds and it was fascinating to watch them drift by. I soon resumed my climb. As I gained more altitude, the weather started to worsen, and by the time I reached the observation point near the top, I was, to my great despair, in the cloud with almost no visibility.

I continued somewhat dejected towards the highest point, but by now it had started raining. I took refuge under the trees just a few meters short of the summit. I put on my rain gear and proceeded to have some lunch. I was hoping the rain would let up, but it only seemed to pound down harder. The wind was blowing, and it felt cold even though it was still August. Finally I gave up and made a dash for the exposed summit of Higashi-Azuma 東吾妻山. I took a quick summit pic, and immediately headed down the other side.

Blue skies and clouds reflected in a pond

I was glad I had put on my rain clothes, as they soon got soaking wet, partly due to the rain, and partly from brushing against wet vegetation. The rain eventually stopped and the sun came out, but I had already descended too far to return to the summit. I didn’t like the path down very much: lots of roots and rock, making it tricky with my bad ankle.

 

Part 2: Uba-ga-hara – Kama-Numa Pond

A beautiful lake high up in the mountains

Eventually, I emerged at Uba-ga-hara 姥ケ原 where I was faced with a crossroads. I decided to head straight rather than head back straight to Jododaira. Very quickly, I reached Kama-Numa Pond 鎌沼池 which was quite a breath-catching sight. The dark blue water and light sky perfectly complemented the light green grassy rocks near the shore, and the dark green forested hills opposite. Definitely a landscape that would be worth painting.

The path leading down and back to the visitor center

Initially I thought I would walk clockwise around the lake, but my footsteps somehow took me counter-clockwise. I hope to come back some day and climb the remaining peaks on the other side of the lake. Eventually I left the lake behind me, and started to head back towards the visitor center. The weather had completely recovered. Descending in the sunshine, it was hard to believe that only one hour earlier I was sheltering from the wind and the rain near the summit!

 

Part 3: Jododaira – Mt Azuma-Kofuji

Spectacular view of “small Fuji” on the side of Mt Azuma

I was behind schedule, so I started to hurry towards Jododaira 浄土平. Although I had come by car, according to signs I had seen on the way up, the road back to Fukushima city closed at 5pm, so I had to make sure I was gone by them. My pace slowed somewhat after I started getting some jaw-dropping views of Mt Azuma-Kofuji 吾妻小富士, the mini-volcano sprouting from the side of Mt Azuma like a pimple. I definitely wanted to walk around the rim!

Walking above the clouds…

Although some sections had steps and walkways, a lot didn’t, so my ankle suffered some more. To my right, steam was venting out of the side of Mt Issaikyo. It was with great relief that I finally reached the visitor center. I took off my rain gear, and then rushed up the side of the mini-volcano and was standing at the edge of the crater less than five minutes later. I managed to walk around it in less than half an hour, enjoying the stunning views in every direction. It’s a pretty easy walk and anyone can do it. I managed to be back at the car before 4h30 and was happily driving back to the train station by 5pm. On the way, I had a quick bath at the very nice public onsen Attakayu.

Next up: Hiking at Yu no Maru, on Mt Asama (Nagano prefecture)

 

Clouds rolling by at nearly 2000m elevation

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From the Archives: Tokyo Day Hikes, September & October 2017

Two years ago in August, my mother visited Japan, and we were busy sightseeing, mostly places in the mountains I had been to before. We visited Kamikochi, Mt Norikura, the Chuo Alps, as well as some mountains closer to Tokyo in Gunma prefecture. Consequently I didn’t get to climb any new peaks during that month, with the exception of Mt Shiga (which I will write about separately. However, from September, I was out exploring and climbing new peaks again, although as the weather cooled, my hikes got lower and closer to Tokyo.

Mt Sennokura (2026m), Yuzawa Town, Niigata Prefecture, Saturday, September 9

A two-hundred famous mountain sitting on the border between Gunma and Niigata prefectures, close and far at the same time, access was as usual problematic. I finally bit the bullet and rode out with the shinkansen to Echigo-Yuzawa. I tried to get the Tokyo Wide Pass the same day but was thwarted by a long line at the Tokyo station travel office. After alighting in Niigata, only an hour away by feeling like a completely different world, I caught the bus for the Naeba Prince Hotel, and got off a little bit before, at the Mt Tairappyo trailhead. It was a beautiful sunny late summer day, and I was starting to feel that my shinkansen fare had been well spent.

The highest point of Mt Naeba is to the left of the “notch”

After a one hour slog up the side of the mountain, I emerged from the forest and started getting my first views, back towards the valley I had just climbed up. Now I was walking under the sun through bushy, grassy vegetation. Ninety minutes later, just before 1pm, I reached the top of Mt Tairappyo 平票山 (1984m) where there was a great panoramic view. To the South I could see the Kanto plain, against the sun and somewhat hazy; to the North, the mountains of Niigata.

Grassy ridgeline and wispy clouds

After an up and down, I finally reached the highest point of the ridge one hour later, Mt Sennokura 仙ノ倉山, and admired the dramatic views beyond towards the Tanigawa ridge. The drop in between was quite deep and don’t think I’ll ever have the courage to hike across it. After a short, peaceful lunch, only one other hiker shared the summit with me, I retraced my steps, admiring the nice views of the flat ship-shaped summit of Mt Naeba. The weather was holding, with only wisps of cloud here and there.

This lodge is quite a popular place to stay the night

At the top of Mt Tairappyo, I turned left along the ridge heading towards Mt Mikuni, and walked down to the hut at the lowest point. Since it was a Saturday afternoon, there were lots of people planning on spending the night there. I wasn’t, so I turned right and headed down into the valley. I soon reached the bottom, and walked southwards till I emerged from the forest back at my starting point, from where I caught a bus back to the shinkansen station and home.

 

Mt Kaya (1704m), Nirasaki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, September 30

Another two-hundred famous mountain, and one I had been wanting to conquer for a while (the top photo shows the view of Yatsugatake taken along the hike). A bus from Nirasaki station on the Chuo line put me at the start of the hiking trail. I reached the top of Mt Kaya 茅ヶ岳 shortly before noon. Since it’s a relatively easy mountain, there were quite a few people at the summit enjoying an early lunch in the beautiful autumn weather.

Mt Fuji is visible from most of the hike

I continued North to Mt Kana 金ヶ岳 (1764m) where fortunately there were fewer hikers, and I had the summit to myself for my own lunch. The good weather persisted, and on the descent I had some really good views of Yatsugatake, Mt Kinpu and the Minami Alps. The hike ended along a road at a nice onsen, with swiss flags flapping outside for some reason. After a great bath, I was able to catch a bus back to the train station. The bus was completely full and I had to stand next to the driver, but I was able to chat with the driver along the way while taking in the great views.

Mt Kinpu, a hundred famous mountain looming in the background

 

Mt Tetemiezu (1047m), Ogano Town, Saitama Prefecture, Sunday, October 8

This is a less famous mountain, certainly not a hundred anything anyway. I was interested in it mainly because it’s fairly remote, sitting on the border of Saitama and Gunma prefectures. I was the only person to ride the bus from the Ogano town hall to the last stop. The weather was good, clouds and sun, but I wasn’t able to get many good photos, except of Mt Ryokami to the South.

East to West view of Mt Ryokami

The top of Mt Tetemiezu 父不見山 was surrounded by trees; according to my guidebook, there is a viewpoint somewhere but I only noticed that part after descending. All in all, it was a very peaceful hike and I saw almost no-one the whole way. The final part was a one hour walk down a road to the bus stop, where again I was the only passenger to board for the return trip to Ogano town hall. There, I caught a connecting bus for Seibu-Chichibu station.

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Praying Mantis spotted near the start of the hike

From the Archives: Ten Tokyo Day Hikes (2016)

 

I’ve been kept from the mountains the past few weeks because of work, a tendinitis in my left ankle and a summer cold. It was a good opportunity to look back at the hikes I did in 2016, a busy year during which I made very few blog posts, from which I made a selection of ten regular Tokyo day hikes; I did many more hikes that year, but they were hyakumeizan peaks, well-known mountains near Tokyo I had climbed before, and half-day hikes.

At the time I hadn’t discovered all the great hiking in Southern Tochigi and Ibaraki, and thus nearly half of these hikes are in Yamanashi prefecture, arguably the best place for hiking near the capital. All these hikes required access by bus, except for one when I went by car. All these hikes are perfect for the upcoming Autumn and Winter hiking season.

 

Mt Ou (1623m) & Mt Oni (1738m), Fuji-kawaguchiko City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Sunday, January 3, 2016

Amazing view of Mt Fuji and two of its five lakes

The first hike of 2016 – how could it not be with a view of Mt Fuji? If you want to get spectacular views of Japan’s most famous mountain, I‘d recommend hiking the surrounding peaks in December or January. The start of the trail near Lake Saiko, is a bus ride away from Kawaguchiko station – luckily the buses were running on schedule during Shogatsu. A short climb brought me the top of Mt Ou 王ヶ岳 (“King mountain”), from where it was a pleasant, snow-free hike along the ridgeline to Mt Oni 鬼ヶ岳 (“Demon mountain”). After admiring the wonderful views of Mt Fuji, and the South Alps on the other side, I descended through forest back down to the lake where I caught the bus back, after a relaxing onsen.

Dramatic view towards Kawaguchiko city

 

Mt Goten (364m), Mt Takatori (364m) & Mt Dainichi (333m), Minamiboso City, Chiba Prefecture, Sunday, February 21, 2016

View West towards double-peaked Mt Tomi

With the snows of February, I retreated to the Boso Peninsula in Chiba, a wonderful area  I discovered the previous year. Although the views aren’t as spectacular, I was able to enjoy some quality snow-free hiking under the warm winter sunshine. I drove from Kisarazu station to the start of the trail. After reaching the summit of Mt Goten 御殿山, I continued a little further to the top of Mt Takatori 鷹取山, and then further still to Mt Dainichi 大日山. The last two peaks had nice views Westwards towards Mt Tomi and Tokyo bay. Since I had come by car, I had to return along the same way. Afterwards, I had a little time left, so I dropped by a short hiking path near the highway, where one could see “suisen” flowers (a kind of daffodil) that bloom at this time of the year. Although it’s a popular trail, since it was late in the day, I saw only two other people, so it was a nice stroll with great views from the top of the hill overlooking Tokyo Bay.

Nice views westwards at the top of the “suisen” path

 

Mt Takagoya (330m), Kimitsu City, Chiba Prefecture, Sunday, May 15, 2016

Mt Takago is also a Kanto hundred famous mountain

A hike on a hidden mountain in the middle of the Boso peninsula – I had trouble finding it again on the map while writing this post. This time, I took a bus from Kisarazu station, then hiked along a small road, through a hamlet with many cats, and finally reached the start of the trail: log steps heading up the side of the hill. At the top, I admired the views of Mt Kano to the North, before continuing southwards. The views of central Chiba aren’t really all that amazing, but I find the sight of green rolling hills in all directions is very impressive. It was a fairly easy hike with occasional views – the rocky top of Mt Takago 高宕山 is the highest point in the area, so there are nearly 360 degree views of a sea of trees from its summit – do people even live in Southern Chiba, I wondered. At one point, hungry for more views, I extended the hike by doing a short there and back along a lonely ridge. After returning to the main trail, I made my way down, running and walking since it was getting late, and ended up at a bus stop in the middle of the countryside not far from Lake Mishima, after a very satisfying seven-hour hike.

The Southern part of Chiba is a very very green place

 

Mt Mikuni (1328m), Kanagawa, Yamanashi & Shizuoka Prefectures, Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mt Fuji and Mt Mikuni

A great hike that follows two prefectural borders, first between Shizuoka and Kanagawa, then between Shizuoka and Yamanashi, Mt Mikuni 三国山 (“Three Country mountain”) being at the convergence of all three. A seasonal hiking bus running from Suruga-Oyama station took me up to Myojin pass (900m), from where I first hiked East along the ridge in to the top of Mt Yubune 湯舟山 (1041m). It was a cloudless and hot May day, but fortunately I was mostly under the shade of trees. I then retraced my steps to the pass, and continued Westwards to Mt Mikuni. After a bit of road walking and a short steep climb, I reached the peaceful flat summit, surrounded by cool green forest. After that, it was a nice ramble along a descending ridge with occasional views of Mt Fuji, mostly covered in cloud except for its snow-covered summit. I passed the minor peaks of Mt Naraki 楢木山 (1353m), Mt Obora 大洞山 (1383m) and Mt Hatao 畑尾山 (1365m). I finally reached a section I had hiked a few years ago in December, but had to abort because of a freak snowstorm. There seemed to be a serious war game taking place opposite on the lower flanks of Mt Fuji: I could hear explosions the entire afternoon (the foothills of Mt Fuji is a training place for the self-defence forces). I ended up at a very nice hot spring near the bus stop for Gotemba station.

Mt Fuji straight ahead!

 

Mt Imakura (1470m) & Mt Nijurokuya (1297m), Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, June 11, 2016

Viewpoint at Akaiwa (“red rock”)

This was another very good hike in the Fuji area. Although the rainy season had already started, the weather stayed good all day. I took a bus from Tsurushi station all the way to the Michizaka Zuido Iriguchi bus stop. From there, it was a steep climb to the top of Mt Imakura 今倉山, completely surrounded by trees, although I had some glimpses of Mt Fuji through the trees on the way up. I headed west along the ridgeline, descending steeply at first. There were some great views of Mt Fuji and the surrounding mountains from Akaiwa 赤岩 and Mt Nijurokuya 二十六や山. After that last peak, the path turned Northwards, and I headed downhill first through forest, then some pleasant countryside, finally arriving at a nice hot spring near a bus stop. I returned the following year to hike the Eastern ridge from the top of Mt Imakura.

A good hike for “fuji spotting” – Mt Shakushi is on the right

 

Mt Keikan (2177m), Koshu City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, June 18, 2016

The highest point of Daibosatsu Rei seen from Mt Keikan

It was getting hot in Tokyo so I took a bus from Enzan station all the way up to Yanagisawa Pass at nearly 1500m. From there it was a short walk through beautiful forest to a viewpoint of the mountains of the Chichi-Tama-Kai National Park. A little beyond is Roppongi Pass, from where it was a short and pleasant up-and-down hike through the forest to the top of Mt Keikan 鶏冠山 and its small summit shrine. It’s an odd mountain since it’s not a prominent peak in the area, so it feels like standing on a ledge from where one looks straight ahead at the views rather than down. After a short break, I made my way back to Roppongi pass, following a different trail for part of the way, and then hiked through more beautiful forest all the way to the Marukawa hut, at the base of Daibosatsu Rei. It looked like a nice place to spend the night but since I was planning to return to Tokyo the same day, I quickly made my way down the mountain, to a hot spring and a bus stop.

The Oku-Chichibu mountain area – a great place for hiking

 

Mt Mikabo (1287m), Fujioka City, Gunma Prefecture, Sunday, October 30, 2016

A glimpse back towards Mt Mikabo (left) on the way down

I had been wanting to explore the Kanna River valley for a while. In the end, access was easier than I had thought: the small community bus that picked me up at Shinmachi station was nearly empty, and so the ninety-minute ride to the start of the trail was fairly comfortable. I set off in fairly high spirits despite the overcast weather. Unfortunately I missed a turn, and ended up losing an hour walking back and forth along a forest trying to find the trail back – I truly thought that I would have to turn back and give up on the summit. Eventually I reached the Eastern peak of Mt Mikabo 御荷鉾山. After going down a bit and back up again, I got to the Western peak, the highest point of the hike. It was mostly free of trees and the view would have been fantastic if not for the gloomy, cloudy weather. I think I saw only two other hikers the whole day. After a short break (I was hour behind schedule), I hurriedly made my way down to the road and bus stop.

Few views on this hike mainly due to the cloudy weather

 

Mt Shaka (1641m), Fuefuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Sunday, November 20, 2016

Things get steep near the higher parts of Mt Shaka

Amazingly, the weather was still warm enough in the second half of November for a comfortable hike above 1500m. I took a bus from Isawa-onsen – again I was one of the only passengers – and got off at Torimisaka pass (1100m). This is another hike in the vicinity of Mt Fuji, and I was able to get many good views of its snow-covered summit, as well as many other mountains of Yamanashi. It was mostly a solitary hike, under a grey autumn sky – Kofu valley below was partially hidden by a layer of fog. I thought Mt Shaka 釈迦ヶ岳 was quite an interesting mountain and deserved to be better-known. The rocky climb up was surprisingly steep and dramatic (it reminded me of my hike up Mt Suwa), and I was rewarded with 360 degree views from the summit. After a short break, I continued along the ridge to Mt Fukoma 府駒山 (1562m) before descending through the forest into the valley. From there it was an easy walk along a paved road to the bus stop near the Ashikawa Farmer’s market.

Autumn mist covering the lower elevations

 

Mt Chichibu-Ontake (1080m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, Sunday, December 18, 2016

View North – Mt Asama is the white bit on the left

This is a hike I had been wanting to do for a while, but since it was a little short, I had to time it close to the shortest day of the year. Fortunately I was able to walk to the start of the trail from Mitsumine-Guchi station; it was a tad spooky because of all the “fake people” next to the road and in the fields (see the photo below). Some were obviously scarecrows, but not all of them. After climbing for a short while, I got my first views back along the Arakawa river valley, stunningly beautiful in the crisp December weather. After about an hour of steep, solitary climbing through dark pine forest, I reached the small shrine on the narrow top of Mt Chichibu-Ontake 秩父御嶽山, where another hiker was having his lunch. I took some time to enjoy the superb views in every direction – including snow-capped Mt Asama and the jagged peak of Mt Ryokami – before heading down a different route, to a bus stop on the road for Mitsumine shrine.

Fake villagers guarding the start of the trail

 

Mt Azumaya (772m), Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture, Friday, December 23, 2016

Countryside view of Chichibu with the pyramid top of Mt Buko in the back

My last day hike of the year, was the peak just to the North of the previous one. The start of the trail was a little further from the train station, so I had to take a bus. This is also a somewhat short hike, so perfect for this time of the year. Soon after starting out, I reached an observation point with nice views of the valley below. There are several paths up but the way I picked had a rocky section with chains – some unexpected fun! One can also reach the top via easier paths. I had more good views along the way, although the top of Mt Azumaya 四阿屋山 was in the trees. I only could see Mt Ryokami, and the mountain range to its North, including Mt Futago, which I climbed six months later and had a scary experience when I went down the wrong trail. This time I was completely alone on the summit. While I was having lunch, the weather turned cloudy and cold, so I hurried back down an alternate path, but which looped back to my starting point. From there it was a short troll to a nice hot spring facility and a bus stop.

Mt Futago can be seen behind the power line

Karikomi Lake, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, Sunday, July 21, 2019

The very long rainy season had put a premature end to the first half of the 2019 hiking season…but I was determined to get one more hike in before the hot and busy (for me) summer arrived – my next chance would probably not be till September. Since I was a little out of shape, I chose a short and easy one in Nikko, hoping that the overcast skies, and voting for the national elections, would keep the crowds away. I was looking forward to visiting the Oku-Nikko area since I hadn’t been there since my climb of Mt Myoho two years ago.

Lake Karikomi and Mt Taro in the background

I took advantage of the more expensive, but direct Tobu Nikko line train – being able to sit and sleep during the 2 hour trip was definitely worth the express surcharge. In Nikko there was a light drizzle. I didn’t fancy walking in the rain but I couldn’t turn back now. Going up “Irozaka slope”, the bus was enveloped in thick mist. Fortunately, once we emerged at Chuzenji lake, we were above the mist and I could see the lake and mountain sides – the sky overhead was overcast and the peaks were in the cloud though.

Today’s hike was through green mossy forest

I got off at the very last stop, Yumoto-onsen. This small, somewhat run-down, onsen town town seemed totally deserted, 11am on a Sunday morning. Was the town in decline or was my timing bad, I wondered to myself. I made my way to the start of the hiking path behind the town, also the source of it’s hot springs. There is a wooden observation path, and two small pools of bubbling water – not the most exciting tourist attraction but it’s always cool to see hot water coming out of the ground.

See the hot spring water bubbling up and hear the birds chirping near Karikomi lake

The path climbed for a few minutes, then crossed a road, before heading along the side of small forested valley. Despite being at 1500m, the air felt unpleasantly heavy – very different from my previous hike 2 weeks earlier, and one thousand meters lower. It took me less than an hour to reach a pass, where I took a short break. Afterwards, the hiking was mostly level and along a broad easy-to-walk path. I took off my bear bell so that I could enjoy the intense chirping of birds.

A signpost in the forest

After some descending along wooden staircases through a thick moss covered forest, I arrived at Karikomi Lake 刈り込み湖 just before one o’clock. After checking out the view and having a quick lunch, I set off along the path through beautiful forest, passing another small lake, and finally arriving in a wide grassy valley. Since I needed to catch the 3pm bus from the Astoria Hotel I couldn’t linger and I powered up the mountainside opposite and over another pass, with Mt Taro on my left, a 300 famous mountain that I have yet to climb.

A grassy field suddenly appeared

A hidden valley in the middle of the Nikko National Park

From there it was a quick and easy thirty minute descent to the hotel – I had to overtake a very big group of elementary school children on the way. I made the bus but had to forego the onsen, otherwise I would miss the last express train back, and that would mean getting to Tokyo really late. By the way, this place would have snagged fourth place on my list of places to go when it’s hot and humid, except that the traveling time is too long for a daytrip – seven hours for only four hours of hiking.

On the shore of Karikomi Lake

Hiking in the Tokyo Izu Islands

 

These aren’t day trips, but they are Tokyo hikes, so I decided to include them in this blog. The Izu islands 伊豆諸島 are a group of islands Southeast of Tokyo prefecture – the furthest are the Ogasawara islands, a 24-hour ferry ride away! Last year, my mother visited Japan again, and together we made a visit to the closest island, Izu-Oshima 伊豆大島, and Kozushima Island 神津島, about 60km South of Oshima.

 

Mt Mihara (758m), Oshima Town, Tokyo Prefecture, Monday October 22

The impressive crater of Mt Mihara

I’ve had my eye on Mt Mihara 三原山 for a while, every since I first spotted it during one of my hikes along the Izu peninsula. It’s also an active volcano which last erupted in 1990, and thus has a spectacular crater. Although there are night ferries from Takeshiba pier to Oshima, I felt that it was wiser to take a daytime ferry and spend the night in Motomachi, the main town, so that we could leave refreshed the next day.

The final climb from the end of the road is not so high

We were very lucky with the blue-sky weather. The views of the Izu peninsula and Mt Fuji from the Mihara Sancho Guchi bus stop were fantastic. At 9h30 we set off for the summit, and from the start we had great views of the flat mountain top. First, we hiked on a level road through shoulder-high (for me) vegetation. We saw a couple of tiny deer dart into the bushes. It wasn’t until I wrote this article that I found out that they are in fact called “Reeves’s muntjac” and they are not native to the island.

Very soon the road started the climb up the side of the volcano, and in no time we reached the top of the wide caldera. From there it was a fairly easy loop walk around the crater. There was an option to walk down towards the crater, but we decided to skip it since we were on a tight schedule.

An easy hiking path on an active volcano

There were beautiful views inwards of the smoking crater, as well as outwards of the Pacific ocean, and the other Izu islands to the South. Although it wasn’t particularly cold, it got windy at the higher points of the caldera. We reached the highest point on the Southern side just before 11am, and after a quick summit photo, we completed our loop of the caldera, and retraced our steps back to the start of the trail. All in all, in was a quick and easy hike with fantastic views.

Heading down with views of Mt Amagi (left) and snow-capped Fuji (right)

 

Mt Tenjo (572m), Kozushima Town, Tokyo Prefecture, Tuesday October 23

The following day we took the slow ferry two hours South to Kozu island. The highest point is Mt Tenjo 天上山, another volcano and a Kanto hundred famous mountain. The very friendly owner of La Familia hotel gave us a lift to the start of the trail. The first part consisted of a switchback along a steep slope divided into ten stations. As we climbed, the views of Kozushima and the ocean got better and better. Once we reached the end of the steep bit, we were hit with cold gusts of wind, a little surprising considering how many kilometers South of Tokyo we were.

Climbing and climbing…

Once we had bundled up, we took in the surrounding landscape. We seemed to arrive at a sort of plateau covered with a mix of low bushes and grass, punctuated with a number of low rounded summits. Without a map, it would have been hard to know which way to go. The hotel owner of La Familia, had kindly drawn a loop course on a map, and we followed it religiously. There were a lot more clouds today and thus less sunshine, but fortunately no rain.

Fantastic landscape near the top of Mt Tenjo

First we headed to the center of the plateau to one of Mt Tenjo’s two sand deserts. Apparently, Kozu island residents think that the sands of Mt Tenjo form the only true desert of Japan, not the Tottori sand dunes. I’ve been to both, and both have merits. After some snapping some photos, we set off for the second sand desert, at the Southern end of the top plateau, where, from certain angles, you could think that you are really walking in the desert.

Walking through Tokyo’s desert

A few minutes away, there was a good viewpoint to the South. It was fun to watch a boat zip around a rocky island below in the distance. We were only 500 meters high, but it felt much higher since we were directly above the sea. We then set off Northwards, following the Eastern edge of the plateau. The path started to rise slightly, and we reached what is known as one of Tokyo’s top hundred views 新東京百景展望地. The view of the Tokyo islands we had passed the day before by ferry, sitting like white and green gems in the middle of the blue ocean, was indeed stunning.

Looking Southwards

After pulling ourselves away from the view, we set off for the true summit of Mt Tenjo, which we reached just before 4pm, a relatively late time in the shorter days of Autumn. There we could take in the entire plateau we had spent the whole afternoon traversing. More than half a kilometer below, was the village of Kozu island – it looked so far away, and we had to walk all the way back down!

Dragon on top of Mt Tenjo’s summit marker

A well marked path

Going down and down

We were the only hikers on the mountain

We set off hurriedly as the sun slowly approached the horizon to the West. A different switchback path took us down, and soon we were walking under forest cover at the base of the volcano. Darkness was falling quickly and trail was getting harder to follow. Finally, just when I was considering taking out my headlight, we reached a road at around 5h30. Thirty minutes later we reached our hotel, where we were rewarded with a couple of cold beers.

Nearing sunset

Two beers (and a turtle) for two tired hikers

Check out the howling wind and desolate landscapes of the Izu islands

Hossawa Falls to Musashi-Itsukaichi Station, Hinohara Village, Tokyo Prefecture, Friday, July 5, 2019

Despite the long rainy season this year, I managed to squeeze in a short hike on a cloudy, rain-free day. Although the elevation of the walk was relatively low – between 400m and 200m – the temperature and humidity were also low for July, so conditions were quite pleasant throughout the day. In general, this hike is best attempted in the spring and autumn.

I had last been to Hossowa falls 払沢の滝, one of the hundred famous waterfalls in Japan, located inside the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, after hiking Mt Sengen 浅間山 a few years ago. Then, Autumn was in full swing and I got to see some beautiful autumn leaves along the short trail to the waterfall. This time, the surrounding trees were lush with green leaves, and hydrangea flowers (ajisai アジサイ) were still in full bloom. The river and small falls leading up to the waterfall were wider and bigger that I had remembered, perhaps due to the high amount of rain that had fallen in recent weeks.

Smaller falls on the way to the main attraction

I had set off late and so I arrived at the Hossawa Falls entrance bus stop 払沢の滝入口, just after noon, and promptly started up the narrow climbing road to the left of Hinohara Tofu – their tofu donut makes an excellent snack! I soon reached an information board that showed the details of the whole area, and another one showing the location of 13 (!) waterfalls in the area of Hinohara Village, Hossawa falls being the most impressive one.

Entrance to the path to the waterfalls

Hossowa waterfall is located at the Eastern base of a narrow ridgeline wedged between the Kita Aki river to the North, and the Minami Aki river to the South. The latter is the longer of the two, and takes its source at the base of Mt Mito. The Kita Aki river joins the Minami Aki river just before the falls. Further downstream, it joins up with the Yozowa river (coming down from Mt Mitake to the North), and finally becomes the Akigawa river (which later merges with the Tamagawa further East).

The Minami Aki river after merging with the Kita Aki river

Since I was taking many photos of the river and flowers, it took me nearly half an hour to reach the waterfall, along an easy-to-walk path with no steep inclines. Along the way there were good views of the rushing stream below.

Not a real hiking trail but more of a walking path

On the left, a ravine, on the right, a cliff

There is a wooden sloping section that can get slippery when wet – someone took a tumble just as I was approaching! According to Wikipedia, the total length of the falls is 60m, divided into four sections – it was indeed an impressive sight to behold. You can get relatively close to the base pool, but the best shots can be obtained next to the stream, a little further away. After comparing with photos from my previous visit, I can confirm the falls are much bigger in the rainy season than in the autumn.

You can even feel the wind blowing from the force of the falling water

The return was much faster, and it only took me 15 minutes to get back to the main road. There were few people on a weekday, but I expect there would be a lot more people visiting on the weekend. There is also a cafe at the start of the path but it was closed on Friday.

Racing the stream on the return

Watch out for this interesting chap on the way back

Once back at the Tofu shop, I made my way back to Musashi-Itsukaichi station, sometimes following the main road, and sometimes following smaller and quieter roads on the other side of the river. The various bridges offered nice views of the Minami Aki river. The parts on the left side of the river made for a pleasant ramble through nice countryside with occasional glimpses of the river through the trees.

The sign says “Have a seat!”

Just before Sawato Bridge 沢戸橋, about two kilometers from the station, I stumbled upon a small path heading down on the right. According to the information board, it was the Akigawa Kyuryo Trail 秋川丘陵コース, a very nice discovery! I crossed the Bonbori river on a small wooden bridge, and then followed a very nice hiking path along the right side of the Akigawa river.

Careful not to take a tumble into the river!

Too soon the path joined up with the road again. There a small detour away from the river was needed, but soon I was walking next to the Akigawa again with good views of the surrounding hills. I reached the train station just after 5pm. Hopefully, I’ll be able to return sometime and continue hiking East along the Akigawa!

I found this little fella along the path

The “ajisai”, the symbol of Japan’s rainy season

Check out the power of water

From the Archives: Tokyo Day Hikes, June & July 2017

As the 2019 rainy season drags on, the past two weekends have been washouts. Fortunately, this gave me time to revisit some of my hikes during the same period two years ago. All four hikes are quite long since I was taking advantage of the longer summer days, and none are featured in my guidebooks. Considering the continuing gloom of this year, I realise how lucky I was with the weather!

 

Mt Omatei (1409m), Mt Narakura (1349m) & Mt Tsubo (1102m), Otsuki & Uenohara Cities, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, June 3, 2017

This hike starts from Matsuhime Pass (1250m). I first headed Northwest towards Mt Omatei 大マテイ山 (written like this) less than one hour away. It was featured in my best hikes of the Kanto area guidebook, so I wanted to check it out. It was an easy and peaceful walk through beautiful forest, with a good view of Mt Fuji on the way.

Still lots of snow on Fuji in June

I then retraced my steps to the pass, and continued Southeast towards Mt Narakura 奈良倉山 only thirty minutes away. There was another view of Mt Fuji, but by now it was hidden in the clouds. The trail, which had veered southwards, had become a pleasant forest road. On the other hand, dark black clouds had suddenly appeared overhead – fortunately they didn’t lead to any rain.

I saw some pheasants on this hike, a sign of a seldom hiked trail

After another hour of solitary hiking I reached a junction where I turned left (East) at Nishihara Pass – I had been here once before when coming from the opposite direction from Mt Gongen. One hour later I was at the top of Mt Tsubo 坪山. The last part of the hike was down to Saihara village 西原村 where I had hiked recently.

End of the hike – Saihara Village

There are 3 trails heading down from the summit. Unfortunately I could only find two of them, and I ended up going down the wrong one. Originally I wanted to go straight but I went down a much steeper path, heading North. The silver lining was that I could walk along the river at the bottom of the beautiful river valley to the bus stop for a while longer!

 

Mt Nyoho (2483m), Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, Saturday, June 17, 2017

This is a really long day hike from Tokyo, and I only recommend it if you are fit and the days are long – it took me four hours to reach the top and four hours to walk down. I saw only three people during the entire hike. The starting point, Sanbonmatsu (1500), just North of Chuzenji Lake, could be included as a good place for hiking when it’s hot and humid in Tokyo, if it didn’t take such a long time to reach from Tokyo (approximately 4 hours).

The first part of the hike was rather boring, following a road through the forest. At one point I saw a solitary monkey. It took me around two hours to reach the junction with Mt Nantai. By this time, the blue skies had turned into mist. Another hour of mostly flat walking took me to a rocky river valley, where the real climbing started.

Climbing hard from here

Although the climb was tough, steep and shrouded in thick mist, the surrounding forest was wild and beautiful – is it possible that I had left Tokyo only this morning? I put on my bear bell, which I rarely do, since I saw no other people and the vegetation was still thick above 2000m.

It was shakunage season!

I reached a lonely emergency hut after an hour, and I was at the summit of Mt Nyoho 女峰山, a two-hundred famous mountain, just after 2pm. The very last part was above the tree line, and through some very impressive steep and rugged volcanic landscape. Unfortunately the mist was still in. I waited as long as I could, but despite giving some signs of lifting, it never did in the end.

Nyoho summit landscape I

Nyoho summit landscape II

I finally headed down, back to the hut, where I continued along a different path through thickening mist. My plan was to walk all the way down to Nikko city, 1800m below, but I hadn’t realised what I little frequented path I was taking. It was an eerie descent: mostly silent, with fantastically shaped trees popping into view at various points.

Fantastic tree I

Fantastic tree II

Fantastic tree III

Finally, I was below the cloud cover, and a wide view of Nikko city and the surrounding mountains emerged. The path flattened somewhat. I was no longer alone – deer scattered before me. Another hour and a half of walking brought me to the Nikko Toshogu shrine complex, from where it was another twenty minutes to the train station.

A mix of misty and panoramic views

 

Mt Imakura (1470m), Mt Nabatake (1283m), Mt Asahi (1299m) & Mt Akakura (1257m), Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Saturday, June 24, 2017

This is another long hike of my own creation. Basically I wanted to link Michizaka Zuido Iriguchi with Akiyama hot spring. I had been to both places before, but I wanted to hike the ridge connecting them, since it overlooks the valley of Doshi village. I had hiked the opposite ridge when I crossed the entire Nishi Tanzawa mountains in one day. The village of Doshi, which I have never been to, is a place of great fascination to me.

It’s about the same distance from Tokyo as Chichibu, yet it’s impossible to visit as a day trip using public transport due to poor bus connections. So every chance I get to peek at it from the surrounding mountains, makes me feel like I am getting a glimpse of a hidden valley. I must always remind myself not to end my hike along the valley containing doshi valley because it would require hitchhiking to get back to nearby Tokyo.

The “hidden valley” with Fuji hidden in the clouds on the right

The day I chose for the hike was a very hot and humid day, and although the climb to the top of Mt Imakura 今倉山, which I had climbed before, was short, it was also tough. Luckily, from there it was mostly going down, albeit with one steep climb on the way. The ridge was narrow but shady on this beautiful sunny day. Half an hour after leaving the summit I got my first views of “doshi valley” and Mt Fuji peaking through the clouds as an additional bonus.

The path near the top of Mt Nabatake

Thirty more minutes of easy hiking brought me to the top of Mt Nabatake 菜畑山. A steep descending slope, followed by an equally steep one going up, brought me to the drawn-out summit of Mt Akakura 赤鞍ヶ岳. From there it was a gentle downward sloping ridge. The vegetation had changed from wild to tame – you could sense the proximity of human habitation.

As I dropped below one thousand meters, I started feeling the heat and humidity more. At Gando Pass 厳道峠 I turned right. I could have continued straight, but I wanted to explore the connecting to path to Mt Afuri – I had seen the other end I few years ago after climbing that mountain. The first part was disappointing – a fairly steep and difficult to navigate descent, followed by a shorter but equally steep ascent.

Turn left here

However, after that I was hiking through beautiful forest – squirrels and pheasants  darted left and right into the bushes. The second half of the trail certainly lived up to its promise. Too soon I reached the road at the end of Mt Afuri, from where it was another hour of hiking till the (very welcome) hot spring bath. I was fortunate to spot a Japanese badger crossing the road at one point.

Mother and chick pheasant running for cover

 

Mt Kita-Okusenjo (2601m) & Mt Kokushi (2592m), Yamanashi City & Kawakami Villages, Yamanashi & Nagano Prefectures, Saturday, July 8, 2017

This is another ridgewalk connecting two prefectures of my own creation. Since the return is via Shinkansen, it’s a bit pricey, unless you have a Tokyo Wide Pass. The starting point is from Odarumi Pass (2365m), the 2nd highest place you can reach by bus from Tokyo as a daytrip. I had been there once before when climbing Mt Kinpu (the day Mt Ontake erupted). This time, I headed due West under a grey overcast sky. Very soon, I reached the trail for Mt Kita-Okusenjo 北奥仙丈山, branching southwards, the highest peak of the entire Okuchichibu mountain range. Unfortunately because of the clouds, the view wasn’t so great.

I didn’t linger since insects were swarming, so I retraced my steps and continued to Mt Kokushi 国師ヶ岳, a 300-hundred famous mountain, which I reached just before 11am. Afterwards, the path descended somewhat, then flattened while turning Northeast. It was a long forested ridge, with few views, and I reached the base of Mt Kobushi, two and a half hours later. I saw very few people, and it was a very enjoyable ramble.

One of the few Southward views I got on this solitary hike

Since I had been up Mt Kobushi before, and thunderstorms were threatening, I decided to skip going to the summit, and descend immediately via the upper reaches of the Chikuma river. This river is the longest and widest river in Japan (known as the Shinano river in its lower reaches). Soon after I started descending, I reached the source of the Chikuma: just a signpost and a trickle of water through the forest, around 2000 meters high. Very soon, the trickle of water became a mountain stream.

The Chikuma river at mountain stream stage

It was a very enjoyable two-hour walk along a beautiful river valley in what was now Nagano prefecture. Eventually I reached the car park from where it was another hour of walking to the bus stop. However, a group of young people kindly picked me up on the way and dropped me off at Shinano-Kawakami station on the Komi line.

Check out the humble beginnings of the longest river in Japan