Mount Honjagamaru (1631m), Otsuki area

Mt Honjagamaru 本社ヶ丸山 in Yamanashi prefecture really deserves a place among the famous mountains of Japan in my opinion (if not the top 100 then the top 200 or 300). Not only does it offer a nice climb but it also has a panoramic view from the top which includes Mt Fuji and the South Alps. Additionally it benefits from an easy access from Sasago station, a couple of stops after Otsuki on the Chuo line.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take the Chuo line from Shinjuku station and get off at Sasago station. Don’t do like me and fall asleep and miss your stop. I was lucky to be able to get off 2 stations later and catch a train back within ten minutes – there are only about 2 trains an hour out there.

THE ROUTE: From the station’s only exit, walk up the road on the right. Within 50 meters you will reach a T. This is probably the most confusing part of the hike since there is a hiking sign that clearly points to the left whereas my map indicated a right turn. According to the map the left trail was a hard to follow route to another summit on the same ridge although since it was published 3 years ago things may have changed.

I decided to go right anyway and after walking along a dirt road for about 15 minutes I reached a sign for Mt Honjagamaru pointing to a dirt trail going up the mountain on the left. Relief washed over me as set off along it only be be confronted with a unmarked  branching barely ten meters further (actually there was a sign but it only had numbers no place names). The left path followed the bottom of the valley and the right one went literally straight up the mountain side.

Having already lost a significant amount of time by missing my station and the initial confusion at the very start, I followed my gut instinct and went right and up. I guessed that they would probably join up later as it often happens when you encounter an unmarked branching. They never did. Where the lower valley path went remains a mystery.

I quickly discovered that my chosen path was extremely steep – so steep that a couple of times I had to kick in the dirt with the tip of my hiking shoes to get a grip. People not used to hiking would have given up at this stage for sure. The path was very faint and I was starting to wonder whether it was the right choice after all until I saw the pink ribbon attached to a low branch which is the unofficial trail marker throughout the area.

The climb to the first shelf was intense and left me catching my breath at an electric pylon. After that it was easier going. The surrounding forest was beautiful and felt quite wild. There wasn’t soul around which made me realize that I was quite vulnerable in case of an accident. However eventually I started crossing hikers on their way down

There was another confusing part about an hour after I started climbing – the path disappeared into some dense vegetation – some sort of grass that had grown out of control. There wasn’t a clear path leading around so in the end I picked up a stick and literally beat a path through it myself. Emerging onto a motor road on the other side as predicted by my map confirmed that I was still on the right path.

After the road there was another very steep dirt path that required some more kicking. Eventually big rocks and boulders started appearing on either side of the path, a sure sign I was approaching the summit ridge. At last I reached a minor summit at 1377 meters on the way to the highest point but there wasn’t much of a view so I soon continued along the ridge line.  After a while I got to see some pretty autumn colours which looked amazing with the blue sky in the background.

The beautiful ridge line path

Some autumn colours

More autumn colours

Finally I started getting some glimpses of Mt Fuji. After confirming with a descending hiker that the summit had a clear view of Mt Fuji I hurried along till I reached the top and its stunning view.

To the south was glorious Mt Fuji, so close I felt  could touch it. In the front to the left was Mt Mitsutoge, one of the hundred famous mountains in Japan, to the West the South Alps and to the North Yatsugatake and the mountains of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai national park. The view to the East was hidden by trees. I found a good sitting spot on a rock with a view of Mt Fuji and enjoyed lunch.

Autumn Mt Fuji

The south view

The summit

After lingering as long as I dared I started downhill, continuing along the ridge. There were several other excellent viewpoints on the way. The surrounding rocky scenery felt very wild. I scared a family of partridges but couldn’t get a photo unfortunately. Soon there was a path leading down to Sasago station to the right. I ignored it since I intended to follow the ridge lime for some more time before heading down.

Just after that there was another tricky part – the path switches back and goes down the opposite side of the mountain. This is the path to Mt Mitsutoge. Shortly after you go under the trees there is small path leading right and following the ridge again. The sign has fallen and it is easy to miss.

At the fork for 八丁山 (not sure how it’s pronounced but this one isn’t hard to recognise) turn right to get off the mountain. You can do the round-trip to the top of this mountain as it takes barely 15 minutes but I had to drop it since I had lingered too long at the summit and was in a hurry to get down before it got dark.

A little further there was yet another tricky part. A little before 女坂峠 there was a right branch signposted to Sasago station that wasn’t on the map. The route through 女坂峠 was longer and involved an up and down whilst this new route was more direct. We were 3 hikers hesitating at this sign. In the end, as evening was arriving quickly we all chose caution over adventure and took the fastest route back to the station. Unfortunately it was also probably the least beautiful option as it descended quickly through secondary forest. It did offer some nice views of Mt Honjagamaru and surrounding peaks.

The Honjagamaru and surrounding peaks

Finally after going back and forth through some newly planted pines trees, the path joined up with the official map path. This was the path to the station I had ignored earlier. I was glad I had done so since the ridge line was truly a beautiful path with many views. Soon after the road became asphalt and it a pretty boring 40 minute walk to the station.

According to the map there was supposed to be a bath near the end of the hike. However locals told me it was closed. Whether it was just temporary or permanent I could not ascertain. In any case this wouldn’t have been a real onsen – in this area hot baths are usually colder water pumped from underground and then heated up artificially. The locations are usually somebody’s house and not so impressive so I didn’t mind not going. It was another 20 minutes walk along a busy road back to the station.

CONCLUSION: Strongly recommended if you are looking for a station to station quiet hike in beautiful forest with great  views within 2 hours train from Tokyo. The main drawbacks are some navigational difficulties and not onsen at the end.

Climbability rate: 6.4