Tokyo Wide Pass – Where to go? Part IV : Jomo-Kogen, Echigo-Yuzawa & beyond

Here I will explore the stations on the Niigata/Joetsu line that are accessible with the pass.

JOMO-KOGEN 上毛高原

First up, a place I had never heard of till I first started using the pass: Jomo-Kogen.

A shinkansen only stop at the lowly altitude of 450 meters and 70 minutes from Tokyo station, it sits within striking distance of a number of mountains on the northern edge of the Kanto plain that are accessible thanks to the bus terminal just outside the station.

A word of caution: there is little in the way of restaurants and shops, the Newdays inside the station closes early and there usually isn’t a food cart on this line, so make sure you don’t come back hungry, and forget about that after-hike beer.

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Top of Mt Tanigawa

  • Mt Tanigawa 谷川岳 1977m (hundred famous mountain)

You can catch a bus to the ropeway (change at Minakami) and even do an onsen in Minakami if you come back early enough. Even if you don’t go all the way to the summit, the views from Mt Tenjin 天神山 just above the top of the ropeway are fantastic in clear weather.  

  • Mt Hotaka 武尊山 2158m (hundred famous mountain)

This is a tough one to do in a day trip without public transport. Unless you are a very fast walker, try to hitchhike while walking the road up to the campsite and make sure to bring a headlight for the descent – thankfully the last bus is relatively late. The famous Takaragawa onsen 宝川温泉 lies further down the valley.  

  • Mt Oku-Shirane 奥白根山 2578m (hundred famous mountain)

In theory it’s possible to reach the Nikko-Shiranesan ropeway with one bus change and that in turn will whisk you up to 2000m (still 3h from the summit though). I have climbed Mt Shirane but I haven’t done it yet with the pass from that side. The return could be done via the Nikko side.  

  • Mt Azumaya 吾妻耶山 1341m, Mt Mistumine 三峰山 1123m

I haven’t attempted these 2 yet as access is troublesome. Perhaps the easiest and fastest option is to take a taxi from Jomo-Kogen (15min) and return via Minakami or Kamikoku stations on the Joetsu line, or by bus from Sarugakyo Onsen (see below).

  • Mt Mikuni 三国山 1636m and Mt Inazutsumi 稲包山 1598m

More mountains I haven’t climbed yet. There is a bus heading east for Sarugakyo Onsen 猿ヶ京温泉 where you can change buses for Houshi Onsen 法師温泉. Combining both peaks in a one-day hike seems doable but tough and requires favourable bus times. Another option would be to start or end on the Niigata side and going through Echigo-Yuzawa (see below). 

 

ECHIGO-YUZAWA (and beyond)

A new addition since 2015 which I have yet to try out with the pass, Echigo-Yuzawa is well and truly beyond the mountains of northern Kanto, and sits in a pleasant valley firmly inside Niigata prefecture. Weather is notoriously bad here so check the forecast thoroughly and come prepared.

  • Mt Naeba 苗場山 2145m (hundred famous mountain)

Another tough day-trip since there is no bus to the trailhead. The bus for the Prince Hotel will get you to the access road and then try to hitchhike and make sure to have a headlight for the return. I went there in June and there was a lot of snow left (crampons weren’t required though).

There is also the option of using the Dragon Gondola from the Prince Hotel but it only runs for a short time in the autumn.  

  • Mt Sennokura 仙ノ倉山 2026m (two hundred famous mountain / not done)

The start of this hike also requires taking the bus for the Prince Hotel.

  • Mt Mikuni 三国山 1636m and Mt Inazutsumi 稲包山 1598m (not done yet)

This hike starts from the Prince hotel and can be done as a loop but can also finish or start from the Gunma side (see Jomon-Kogen above).

  • Mt Daigenta 大源太山 1598m (not done yet)

A bus going the opposite direction will take you to Daigenta Canyon where you can attempt to climb this non-famous matterhorn lookalike.

  • Mt Makihata 巻機山 1967m (hundred famous mountain)

A local train to Muikamachi (25min) will get you close enough to attempt this beautiful mountain. Totally doable in one day if you are motivated enough but bring a headlight for the return.

From Muikamachi one can also take a bus for the start of the trails for Mt Hakkai 八海山 1778m (200 hundred famous mountain) and Mt Kinjou 金城山 1369m but this is uncharted territory even for myself.

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Walking the top ridge of Mt Makihata


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Tokyo Wide Pass – Where to go? Part III : Saku-Daira

This is the final post on hiking possibilities on the Nagano shinkansen line using the pass. The next stop after Karuizawa is the much smaller and less touristic town of Saku-daira. The main reason to come here is to catch a bus for Mt Asama which in addition to the main volcanic cone has a number of minor peaks stretching west.

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Yunodaira Kogen nestled between Mt Asama and Mt Kurofu

Takamine Highland

A one-hour bus ride will get you to Takamine Kougen 高峰高原 at 1973m. There is a hotel, a hot spring open for day visitors and also a ski resort open in the winter. The bus runs year round. There are 3 hikes you can do from Takamine:

  • Mt Asamayama 浅間山 2568m, hundred famous mountain

Even though you can’t go right up to the crater because of the recent increase in volcanic activity, the views from the top area are beautiful in clear weather. An alternative way back is through Tengu onsen and get the bus back to Saku-daira lower down the mountain.

  • Mt Kurofuyama 黒斑山 2404m

This is a difficult but exciting loop hike along an outer crater rim, with great views of the volcanic peak and back through the hidden valley of Yunodaira Kogen 湯の平高原, between the crater and the slopes of Mt Asama. The climb back up the rim is steep and tough.  

  • Mt Kagonoto 篭ノ登山 2227m Mt Miharashi 見晴岳 2095m

These small peaks make for relatively easy high-altitude hiking through some beautiful nature and are also a chance to see the elusive Kamoshika or Japanese serow. The return to Takamine is along a slightly sloping dirt road along the base of Mt Kagonoto. You could also start or finish in Yunomaru (see below) depending on the season and bus times.

 

Yunomaru Highland

A second bus, also taking one hour, will take you to Yunomaru Kougen 湯の丸高原 1732m on the western edge of the Mt Asama range. The bus only runs weekends and holidays from June to August. If you are a member of Times car sharing, they have 2 cars at Saku-Daira station which is handy for driving up there during the low season. So far I’ve only done one hike but hope to return in the future to hike the other small peaks in the area:

  • Mt Yunomaru 湯の丸山 2101m Mt Eboshi 烏帽子山 2066m.

This a relatively easy hike with fantastic views of the North Alps to the west , Mt Azumaya and Kusatsu-Shirane to the north and Mt Fuji to the South. 

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North Alps panorama from the top of Mt Yunomaru

Beyond Saku-daira

Although Mt Asama has the potential to keep the average hiker busy, for those who want more, there are some additional options although the high travel time make them less attractive. I’ve listed them below but I haven’t tried any of these yet:

  • Kirigamine 霧ヶ峰 / Kurumayama 車山 1925m, hundred famous mountain

In theory it’s possible to get there by bus from Saku-daira, using Chikuma bus 千曲 but it requires a couple of transfers. Alternatively you could use Times car sharing and drive there in an hour. This is the northern part of the Yatsugatake range near lake Suwa.

  • Mt Ogura 御座山 2112m, two hundred famous mountain

The pass also includes the Koumi line 小海線 which connects Saku-daira with Kobuchizawa on the Chuo line. From Koumi station (50 min), a couple of buses (total travel time 30 min) will get you to the start of the trail. There seems to be another bus back on the other side.

  • Mt Arafune 荒船山1422m, 200 famous mountain

Getting off at Nakagomi 中込 station, only 14 minutes away, a 30-minute Chikuma bus can get you close to Mt Arafune and some other mountains in the area. Access from Shimonita may be easier though.

  • Mt Azumayasan 四阿山 2354m, hundred famous mountain

Here you’d have to pay extra to continue one stop further on the shinkansen line, to Ueda and from there take a  bus to the start of the trail. Using the local train takes too long.

Tokyo Wide Pass – Where to go? Part II : Karuizawa

In this post we shall explore the Karuizawa area on the Nagano shinkansen line beyond Takasaki. Unfortunately, since the start of the Hokuriku shinkansen in 2015, reserved seats tend to sell out quickly during holidays due to the continuing Kanazawa boom.

Karuizawa (around 70 minutes from Tokyo station) has 3 things going for it:

1) It sits at the foot of the active volcano Mt Asamayama (current status: smoking)

2) John Lennon used to live there for a while with Yoko Ono

3) Situated at 940m above sea level, its a pleasant place to visit in the summer months.

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Asamayama from the Hanamagariyama hike

Below are some hiking suggestions (for Mt Asama see the post on Saku-Daira): 

 

  • Karuizawa station to Yokokawa station (Dentetstu main line, return via Takasaki)

This is a great hike on the old Nakasendo route connecting Takasaki to Karuizawa with great views of  Mt Asama, Mt Myougi and the Nishijoshuu area. There is an abandoned station and railway line at the end and monkeys can be seen in the warmer months. 

  • Mt Hanamagari 鼻曲山 1655m, Kanto 100 famous mountain

Access is by bus but you can walk back to the station. This hike is on the ridge opposite Mt Asama and has good views of Mt Asamakakushiyama (North) and the Kirizumi onsen area (East). It was a rather dull walk in the winter but should be nicer when greener. 

  • Mt Asamakakushi 浅間隠山 1756m, 200 famous mountain (not climbed yet)

It’s a long walk along a road from the closest bus stop in Kita-Karuizawa unless you can hitch a ride. There is an option to descend to Asamakakushi onsen and ride a bus to Nakanojo on the Agatsuma line (return via Takasaki) but buses only run on weekdays.  

  • Mt Happu ハ風山 1315m to Mt Arafune 荒船山 1423m, 200 famous mountain

This is a long hike for fast walkers connecting Minami-Karuizawa with the Nishijoushuu area. Access is by bus and ends at Arafune onsen (last bus to bus to Shimonita is at 15:46). The hike can be shortened by descending from the farm near Monomiyama 物見山 1375m.

  • Kirizumi onsen area 霧積温泉

I haven’t explored this area yet since access is only via car or taxi but it seems to have some interesting and exciting mountains.

  • Mt Kusatsu-Shirane 草津白根山 2171m, a hundred famous mountain

There is a bus from Karuizawa station which (with one change) will take you all the way to the pass below Mt Shirane (2010m) and beyond to Shiga kogen 志賀高原. I haven’t done this yet with the pass. Mt Shirane is currently active and some parts may be off-limits. 

  • Shiroito waterfall 白糸の滝

The waterfall is less than 30 minutes away by bus and you can walk back to the station in around 4 hours through beautiful woods. This is a relatively easy hike and beautiful in the autumn months.

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View of Nishijoushuu from the Nakasendo route