I felt like it was time to try something different, something more unique to Japan. I wanted to do a hike by the sea. Although the elevation of these three mountains is low, they seem quite impressive when seen from the sea-side town of Yugawara, famous for it’s hot springs and February plum blossoms. It is located in the prefecture of Kanagawa, not so far from the Hakone area. I had heard about Mt Maku before as a good place to do rock climbing near Tokyo, although today’s purpose was purely hiking.
HOW TO GET THERE: From Tokyo or Shinagawa station, catch the Tokaido line to Atami. Yugawara is one stop before. Depending on the type of train you catch, it takes between one hour and an hour and a half, direct or with changes. This is not a line I take often so it was a pleasant change with lots of views of the sea (sit on the right side when heading out).
From the station there are frequent buses to “Kaiya” which is the last stop. Unfortunately I can’t write this one in Kanji but the last sound is the “ya” from Shop. Yet again I was the sole person on the bus for the last portion of the trip (and for the first part of the hike) – who said Japanese mountains were crowded?
THE ROUTE: The bus actually stops in front of a temple but the hike doesn’t go through it. There really wasn’t anybody around to ask but I found a sign for Mt Nango pointing along the road that continues up the mountain to the left of the temple. At this stage, I’d like to point out that the signposting was particularly bad on this hike and I often had to rely on guesswork to find my way especially since there was never anybody around to ask.
Anyway, by following the main road which curved to the right and then back to the left again with many minor roads bifurcating off it, I eventually reached another way overdue sign pointing right up a very steep slope. I swear this slope had an inclination of 45 degrees and it was paved for cars. I cannot imagine driving up here with ice or snow (although I guess that it practically never happens in this area – it felt pretty balmy for a December day).
Soon I was walking among mikan trees with their bright orange fruit and I was starting to get pretty views of Yugawara, the sea and the surrounding mountains. Again there were really no signs and I had to constantly guess what was the main road since the other roads that branched off seemed to be the same width (which was just wide enough for a small car). Instinct served me well for shortly after entering a forest section, I found another wooden sign for the summit. The problem was that this sign was ambiguously placed a few meters before another bifurcation so I shouted a few curses, hesitated a couple of minutes and continued in the most plausible direction which was straight ahead.
Since I was going up the sides of a steep mountain, taking the wrong way could have big consequences. Fortunately, as the path went around and then crested the top of the ridge, I came upon a third and better made sign at the start of a proper hiking trail. From now, navigating this hike would be a piece of cake, or so I thought. The surrounding landscape had become quite fascinating, not because of its beauty but because of the sense of abandonment. This area had enjoyed a boom a few decades ago but was now in decline and there were a lot of abandoned houses and shacks that made it a little spooky.
Now I was following a proper hiking path along the ridge, the views hidden by the surrounding vegetation. This was actually a good thing because since I reached the ridge it had become considerably windy. I was skirting a golf course to the right and it was surrounded by an electric fence to keep trespassers out. After a while I reached a road where there was a group of about half a dozen hikers debating the way, the first hikers I saw since the beginning of the hike.
I swiftly turned right along the road and tried to put as much distance as possible between me and them, After following the road for a few minutes, I reached a path on the left heading up to the top of Mt Nango which was only about ten minutes away. There were some nice views of the coastline a few meters below the summit, better than from the summit itself. Here I met some other hikers, as it usually happens at the tops of mountains, and was easily able to get someone to take my photo.
After a short rest I set out again for summit number two and the highest point of the hike, Mt Maku. Here the signposting let me down again. At the first intersection there were no signs for Mt Maku, only a sign going straight to some temple and a sign going left down back to the road that runs between the two mountains. I had to cross the road at one point but not before passing by a small lake according to my map. So I decided to continue straight. I passed by another bifurcation offering me another escape route down to the road but I persevered straight ahead.
This was a mistake as I soon found out. The path started curving to the right and towards the north which was the opposite direction from Mt Maku. I was hoping somehow that the path would self-correct but I had to face reality when the path started descending as well. Fortunately before that it had been mostly flat so I quickly retraced my steps and took the second path down to road (now going right). This was a pretty path zigzagging down through a pine wood before reaching a flat wooded area where I crossed what was presumably the other path that led down from Mt Nango. I really have no idea since all these paths are not on my hiking map.
Here I turned right and continued walking through some more delightful forest. Of course it was only seconds after I confirmed the way with a solitary hiking going the opposite direction that I finally spotted the lake that I had been aiming for. It was a small and lonely lake resting peacefully in the middle of the forest. Just beyond it was the road which I crossed in order to re-enter the woods on the other side. This part was really pleasant and made me want to bring other people here. If only there wasn’t that insanely steep slope at the start.
After a few minutes I reached the path heading for the summit of Mt Maku which took me another fifteen minutes of gentle climbing. The summit was a little disappointing. I could see the sea and the surrounding mountains but I had to sit on the ground to have lunch and the view was obscured by the vegetation, mainly tall grass. In addition it was terribly windy. I guess the strong wind is due to the proximity of the sea. In any case I decided not to linger. However I needed a summit shot before departing. By pure chance the same people I had met on top of Mt Nango were now arriving at this summit as well so all I needed to do was catch their eye and they knew what to do. Of course I reciprocated the favour.
Upon heading down, I took yet another wrong turn, this time along the circular path around the summit. Once I realized my mistake I cut back through the woods to the head of the summit path. I was led into error due to the fact that the path initially goes north instead of south and the sign had another place name I couldn’t find on the map. However very soon the path turned south again and had some nice views of the sea and Mt Shiro opposite. I passed the group who took my photo on the summit which gave them a fright since they saw me leave ahead of them.
Eventually I got to the base of Mt Maku and it’s famous rock climbing cliffs. There were a few people practising their skill in the good weather. It was interesting to note that they place mattresses underneath in case they fall. That’s Japanese safety for you. This is where the famous Yugawara plum trees are located.
At the bottom, I reached a road which I followed up the valley between Mt Haku and Mt Shiro. It was starting to get late, that’s 3pm in the winter, and basically I was in a race with the shadows creeping up the valley behind me. I stopped to take photos of the beautiful colours of a maple tree and the shadows nearly overtook me. A little later I crossed a bridge and after going straight another hundred meters, I turned left up another smaller road, reaching small rocky hiking trail ten minutes later. The main path continues around Mt Maku and joins up where I started climbing the mountain on the other side.
Here the race with the fading sunlight continued but I eventually lost out as the path twisted and turned under thick vegetation. There are a few ropes and chains but nothing challenging. It was tough to climb again after walking all the way down Mt Maku but it was too soon to head back. After about 30 minutes I reached a small shrine under a mini waterfall. Above it, there was a paved path going backwards and forwards up the mountain with stone lanterns along the way that gave it a holy atmosphere. I was the only person using the path.
Finally I reached a road that went into a tunnel just under the mountain ridge. What a windy tunnel that was! the other side was very sunny and the wind continued to blow. I followed the road one hundred meters or so to a lookout point and a bus stop. Behind the observation platform, there was again a hiking trail which double backed along the ridge and above the tunnel. This was again a very pleasant path despite the strong wind, going slightly downhill with occasional views of the adjacent ridges and the ocean.
A short while later I reached the final summit, Mt Shiro, the lowest of the three peaks. This one had by far the best view of the three. It had places to sit down and no obstructing vegetation. In addition there were toilets. The bonus was that there were no people at this late hour (the sun was still up though). You could see the Izu peninsula coastline to the south and the Shonan coastline to the North, as well as the tall building of Yokohama. To the west I had for the first time ever I clear view of Ooshima Island. I’ve been wanted to visit that island for a while but now I want to go more than ever. The most amazing thing about this summit was that it was right at the edge of the sea. I think it’s the first time I have stood about 500 meters above the coastline.
I had to pull myself from this great view only fifteen minutes after arriving since I really wanted to get off the mountain before it got dark. I headed down at a fast pace, the path being relatively easy to walk along. There another good view of Ooshima island on the way. Very soon I reached a winding road. My map showed that there were a couple of shortcuts so that you didn’t to walk so much on the road. However I got tricked on the second one – it led basically nowhere and I had to climb five minutes back to the road. There was a Japanese sign at the entrance which I hadn’t bothered to read which explained exactly that.
When I got to the real short cut, I didn’t dare to take it so I jogged the wide bend along the road. Soon I started seeing signs of civilisation again (if you don’t count the road): telephone wires, houses and cars. There was again some confusion as to what was the right road down to the station. There were again no signs and more roads than were indicated on the map. Somehow my gut instinct was always right and I ended up at the station at dusk. One more great thing about Yugawara – there is an onsen five minutes down the road on the top floor of the hotel with an outdoor bath. Just ask the tourist office next to the station.