Even though the title of this post mentions the height, I didn’t actually summit this mountain (I thought about it though). The reason being that despite its low altitude, this is a dangerous and difficult mountain to climb. I used to think that you could walk up every mountain in Japan (chains and ladders being placed in the more sketchy parts) and that Mt Tsurugi was the most difficult of the peaks. However Mt Myougi has proven me wrong. All the summit paths are marked with dotted lines which means “experts only” with multiple danger signs and worrying comments added into the mix (“50m chimney – a lot of people have died here”).
So I ended up doing the scenic and safe tour along of the base of the mountain – not only were the views fantastic but there were some thrilling parts as well. Let’s not forget to say that Mt Myougi is one of the 3 sacred mountains of Gunma prefecture (the other two being Mt Akagi and Mt Haruna) and belongs to the 200 famous Japanese mountains.
HOW TO GET THERE: I had been putting off going to Mt Myougi for a while, imagining that it was hard to get to. I first saw this mountain while staying overnight with friends in Tomioka and while it seemed exciting to climb because of its ragged peaks it also seemed quite remote. Nothing could be further from the truth. I managed to get there in just over 2 hours from Ikebukuro station. Take a train to Takasaki station (you could go by Shinkansen but the saved time is not really worth the extra money in this case), get on a train for Yokosawa and get off at Matsuida, about 25 minutes away.
The view from the station exit is stunning – there are no surrounding mountains and Mt Myougi is quite close. I could also see a snow covered peak just behind it, maybe Mt Asama. I didn’t take a photo unfortunately hoping to get a better view from the mountain but never did.
Also unfortunate is that there is no bus from the station to the start of the hiking trail. You could walk along the road or take a taxi to Myougijinja (Myougi shrine). It takes about 10 minutes and costs about 1400 yen. I’m not really sure about the exact price since I shared the taxi with 3 other people and we split the fare – I paid only 400 yen. There aren’t that many taxis and although there weren’t many people, we still had to wait for one taxi to do the round-trip. Still I was at the start of the trail just before 10 am – two hours and a half after leaving Ikebukuro station.
There is a bus running from Joshutomioka station on a different line running south of the mountain but not only does it take forty minutes to reach that station by train, the bus also takes forty minutes, basically adding one hour to the travel time so I wouldn’t recommend going this way.
THE ROUTE: From the taxi drop off point, I headed up the street on the right to the Myougi shrine and through to the start of the hiking trail beyond it. In some respects the base of this mountain is similar to Mt Tsukuba – many people visit it to see the shrine and pray. My original plan was to walk the Chukan Michi along the base of the mountain however I wanted to tag along a loop that would take me close to the easternmost summit and which had some good views according to the map. Since I would also return by taxi, for once I had no concerns about having to hurry to catch a bus at the end of the hike, except maybe getting off the mountain trail before it gets pitch black (after 5pm in this season).
I left the sightseers behind once I exited the Shrine grounds and I soon encountered a beautiful momiji (maple leaf tree) displaying vibrant autumn colours (there were a couple in the shrine as well). Although the Kouyou season has already ended on the top parts of the mountain, it was now it full swing around the base of the mountain. The path soon started climbed and before long I was pulling myself up steep inclines with the aid of chains. Nothing dramatic though – you could easily walk it up but pulling yourself does take make it easier on the legs.
At one point I reached a huge boulder with chains that supposedly had a viewpoint on top. Thanks to my long legs and arms I clambered to the top in a matter of seconds. I was at the “Big” kanji that is on the mountain (the Kanji’s size is big and it is also the kanji for the word big). The view was really good, especially since it a blue skies type of day. In front of me, the Kanto plain. I couldn’t see all the way to Tokyo though since in truth I wasn’t very high, perhaps 800 meters. To the south was a mass of peaks that forms the Northern part of the Chichibu mountains. Apart from My Ryogami, most of this area is virgin territory for me. To the north I could clearly see Mt Haruna and Mt Akagi. These mountains are so massive, I really must visit them more often. In the far distance I could make out the snow covered peaks of Mt Hotaka, Mt Tanigawa and various other connected peaks. Winter has arrived definitely to that part of Japan. And of course, just behind me, one of the steep and rocky peaks of Mt Myougi, Hakuunsan.
I had to wait a little to clamber down again since the only route down the boulder was being ascended by a much slower Japanese hiker. Finally I was able to get back onto the hiking trail. Very soon I reached a junction where the top route continued to the summit and the left train looped around down the mountain and connected with the Chuukan path. I decided to continue along the summit trail as far as possible.
Within minutes I was scrambling over rocks again and holding on to chains, but nothing I hadn’t done a hundred times before on other mountains. Finally a reached some steps leading to a ladder leading into a cave. I climbed into the cave which turned out to be a sort of shrine but couldn’t see the next part of the path. It was a dead end. There was an opening above me but it was for Spiderman only.
I retraced my steps thinking that somehow I had overlooked the trail and found it to the right of the steps just beyond a towering cedar tree. I wasn’t surprised I had missed it since it wasn’t a path but a steep rocky incline with a chains and some footholds. Now I’ve done a few of these before but none quite as long or steep. I pulled myself up halfway but didn’t really feel all that safe – a fall would result in more than a few bruises – so I decided to go down again. I had no intention of completing this route, I was just curious to see what is was like and my curiosity was satisfied.
I went back down to the trail junction and started down the mountain. There were another passage with chains, a few nice sunny view points and I stopped at one of them to have lunch. Eventually I got to the Chuukan michi. It was a very pleasant up and down path (more up than down though) through the autumn foliage There were some truly fantastic autumn colours along the way and I couldn’t believe how few people there were. I saw later on the web that there were thousands of people at Mount Takao the same day.
After a while I got to a series of steps that took me very close to the top of one of Mt Myougi’s peaks. I didn’t expect the trail to go that high, perhaps 1000m but hard to tell from the map. At this point the skies had clouded over a little but the views were still good. I ended walking along the base of a cliff just below a summit. At times the path was carved inside the cliff and I had to walk bent double. Quite a fantastic path and one of the highlights of the hike!
Later on I got to a viewpoint that could be reached by a series of rocky up and downs fitted with chains. There were somewhat more people here since this spot is closer to the other end of the Myougi range that has another shrine and a car park. While waiting for my turn to go down the chains I took abundant photos of the mountains stretching away to the south. There was one especially that caught my eye – Mt Arafune. It had a very long flat top like a table, quite an intriguing sight.
When I reached the end of the path, I was also able to enjoy a great view of Mt Myougi to the North. The sun had come out again and the whole range was bathed in a late afternoon sunlight, perfect for taking pictures. After I while I headed back to the main path, went down some more, under a rocky bridge, through a picnic spot and then up to another viewpoint where I could admire the rocky crags I had clambered over just a few minutes before.
The sun was slowly but surely heading for the horizon so I continued my descent and very quickly reached the other shrine. There is something really nice about starting and ending at a shrine. It feels like you are combining hiking and sightseeing and the feeling is very similar to the one you get in places like Mt Takao and Mt Tsukuba. However I couldn’t linger and hurriedly left the shrine and got back on to the road for the last part of the hike. I had to return to my starting point but fortunately the return path was more direct and easier, and I expected it to take less than a hour.
Along the road there were excellent views of some of Mt Myougi’s craggy peaks and of the mountains to the south. The blue skies had returned so even though the sun had already set it was still light. Soon I entered a hiking path that went down through a forest. That was really the only way back since the roads going by both shrines did not connect directly It was slowly getting dark but I could still the see the way clearly. Very soon I was back on the road. At one point there, I took a right along a slowly rising curving road that took me to Momiji no Yu, a very conveniently located onsen. There are no buses going to the station after 5pm so I had to call a taxi afterwards. It was more expensive going back to the station, about 2300 yen but since I had paid peanuts on the way there I didn’t mind at all.