Mt. Sobo (祖母山)

Mt. Sobo translates as “grandmother mountain”, but it’s no walk in the park with an 1100m vertical ascent and an annoyingly large number of horseflies. The views are worth the work, though.

Mt. Sobo

The hike: From the bus stop, head up the forest road on your left. The first 3km or so is easy going, but you’ll soon find the trail proper and climb up, up, and up. There’s an unmanned hut at the 5th stage-point (五合目), which is a good place to fill up on water and take a break. If you’re hiking in summer, then this may be your last chance for a break, as the next section of the hike I’ve nicknamed ‘horsefly ridge’. The climb is not only steep, but if you stop to catch your break for more than a second, then you’ll be surrounded by hoards of horseflies! Once you hit Kunimitouge (国観峠) though, the pesky creatures will have vanished and you can take a much needed respite. There used to be some sort of hut here a long time ago, and the area is perfect for camping (except for the lack of water). If you’re keen to camp here, then drop off your stuff and head up to the hut to fill up on water. Otherwise, continue climbing up toward the peak. The aforementioned hut will come into view in around a half hour or so, and it’s a nice place to stay if you can forget about the musty smelling carpet. The trail to the peak of Mt. Sobo is directly in front of the hut, and it should take around 10 minutes or so to reach the bald, rocky top. The views toward Mt. Aso and Mt. Kuju are fantastic. Take the necessary photos, pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and head back to the hut. If you’re staying for the night, relax and write in the hut logbook. If you haven’t had enough punishment, then take the trail branching off to the left toward Miyahara (宮原). The trail loses altitude rather quickly, and flattens out once you come to Uma-no-kata (馬の肩). In another 15 minutes or so, you’ll come to a trail junction. My map had this marked as a campground, but there’s only room for one tent and no water source. However, it didn’t stop me from setting up camp to escape an oncoming thunderstorm.! At this junction, take the trail going right toward Obira (尾平). It should take about 90 minutes to reach the flat area of the trailhead, and you’ll cross a beautiful river with crystal clear water. There’s a bus from Obira to Ogata station (緒方駅).

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but you’re in for a heck of a climb in the winter, so plan accordingly. The Azalia flowers bloom in early May, making this a popular destination during Golden Week. Beware of horseflies in the summer.

Access: From Oita station (大分駅), take a local train on the JR Hohi Line (豊肥本線) and get off at Bunko-Taketa station (豊後竹田駅). The train takes about an hour & 20 minutes. A limited express train, while costing more, will get you there in about an hour. From there, take a bus bound for Kamihara (神原). There are 5 buses a day and it costs 550 yen one way. A taxi will run you about 4000 yen. From Obira, you can take a bus to Ogata station. Click here for the schedule.

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~1100m)

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5 Comments on “Mt. Sobo (祖母山)”

  1. Hi Wes
    I’m planning a shortish Japan trip late October/ early November and to complete my Kyushu hyakumeizan set I need Sobo-san and Kaimon dake. The latter is easy planning given the close train access (I will come with a train pass and just need to do the time in the trains) but Sobo-san is far less planning friendly for this Australian resident. The only info I can access from here are the Lonely Planet book (Hiking in Japan) and your web blog (which is extremely helpful) but I’d be very appreciative if you are able to shed further light on my queries below in respect of Sobo.
    I’m considering following your route, in via Kamihara and out via Obira/Ogata, can you identify how many hiking hours you took? Also, am I reading it correctly that your Sobo to Obira route did not have you following the ridge to Tengu-iwa before heading east – that is, was your route somewhat north of the Lonely Planet described hike at this point? (The only map I currently have is that in the Lonely Planet book.)
    If possible, are you able to shed light on the times of the bus from Taketa to Kamihara and Obira to Ogata? And does the latter bus route only go north through Uwahata or does it also go the other way – possibly towards Takachiho?
    Thank you again, Stewart

    • wes Says:


      Thanks for checking out my site and for the questions.

      In my case, getting to Kamihara was a pain and we ended up taking a taxi from Taketa station. Actually, the bus has been abolished, so there’s no other way to get there. A taxi will cost around 5000 yen.

      There is still a bus to Gokasho from Kawauchi and another bus from Kawauchi to Takachiho bus center. Here is the schedule:

      Click to access 1450220130401k.pdf

      From Obira, here is the bus schedule:

      Click to access 1440120130706k.pdf

      I honestly don’t remember how long it took us to hike. The horseflies were horrendous, so we pretty much hiked nonstop from Kamihara to the summit. We were planning on staying in the hut at the 9th stagepoint (about 15 minutes climb from the summit). That’s why we didn’t continue to Tengu-iwa. There is a loop trail from Tengu back to Obira however, if you choose that option. The mountain hut was nice and free to stay in. The carpeting in the hut was pretty musty and moldy however.

      If you want to head towards Takachiho after completing Sobo, then why not start at Obira and finish at Gokasho? That way you’re guaranteed a bus to Takachiho. The bus from Obira doesn’t head in that direction, so it’s something to think about when planning.

      I hope that helps. Let me know what other questions you might have



      • Wes
        Thank you for these excellent suggestions. Starting from Ogata/Obira and exiting via Gokasho/Kawauchi/Takachiho looks a good option.
        As my kanji reading is very limited, could you please advise whether I am understanding the access information correctly. Is the Obira hike start point Obirakozan, the last stop on the Obira bus schedule that you provided a link to? Is this the so-called Kawakami Valley route up to Sobo?
        I also note that the Gokasho bus link only covers to Kawauchi, are you able to provide the Kawauchi to Takachiho timetable link?
        Thanks, Stewart

  2. wes Says:


    Sorry for the late reply. I’ve been on the road for the last month.

    Yes, Obirakozan is the stop for the trailhead. I’m not sure if it’s the “Kawakami route”. My map has it marked as 黒金山尾根

    I haven’t been able to find the bus from Kawauchi to Takachiho. I think this is something you’ll need to ask tourist information about. I’m not even sure which bus company it is.

  3. David Says:

    I climbed Mt Sobo on Thursday April 14th. It seems that the most popular way to go up, is via the Kitadani mountain trail entrance 北谷登山口 from Kumamoto prefecture.

    It’s possible to do a loop by going up the 風穴 trail (sorry not sure of the pronunciation – kazeana?) which is rather steep (some sections with ladders / ropes) and has a 20m deep cave half way up that can be explored if you have a good light and some rope.

    Going down is via Kunimitouge and is a fairly easy and pleasant hike from the pass. Going up and down that route is also an option.

    Unfortunately the only access is via car. The last 4 kilometres or so is on a dirt road in pretty bad condition (top recommended speed is 10km/h). That road could be walked to save on the taxi fare.

    Even more unfortunate – the most direct route there (road 57) is now partially closed and the bridge connecting it to road 57 has been completely destroyed due to a landslide caused by the earthquakes that have struck the area over the last few days. So Mt Sobo will be somewhat inconvenient to access from the Kumamoto side for a while… 

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