Mt. Tsurugi (剣山)

Last updated: August 30, 2020

Mt. Tsurugi (san), not to be confused with Mt. Tsurugi (dake) in the Kita Alps, is the 2nd tallest mountain in Western Japan, and well worth a visit if you find yourself in Tokushima Prefecture. Apart from the chair lift and a couple of buildings/antenna on the summit, the peak is wonderful, with a splendid sub-alpine forest and plenty of breathtaking views.

 

The hike: From the chair lift entrance, hike downhill for about 50 meters on Route 438 (don’t go through the tunnel) past a couple of restaurants to find a shrine gate on your right with a signpost for Tsurugi Tozanguchi (剣山登山口). Climb the concrete stairs under the shrine gate (and don’t forget to check out the temple just to the left in the grassy park for its collection of Buddhist statues). At the top of the stairs turn right and walk past the shrine buildings to find a shimenawa rope strung between two cedar trees and a wooden signpost reading Tsurugisan Sanchō 4000 m (剣山山頂へ 4,000m). Just before the signpost fill up your water bottles at the stainless steel sink and walk under the rope and past the Fudō Myō-ō statue and small shrine sanctuary on your left. Walk past a concrete water reservoir with rubber water pipes strung about and climb the crest of the hill to a larger shrine building on your left. Through a gap in the trees you can see Mt Tsurugi if you walk up to the building itself. Continue climbing on a gentle slope to reach a corrugated metal tunnel running directly under the chairlift. Pass through the tunnel and follow the well-worn path as it switchbacks and runs mostly parallel to the lift. You may want to bring some headphones to drown out the loudspeaker announcements emanating from the adjacent chair lift. The route doubles as a nature walk, with plenty of trees signposted in katakana, so amuse yourself by learning some Japanese tree names if you’d like. After 10 minutes you’ll see signpost indicating Nishijima Eki 400m (西島駅 400m), or 400 horizontal meters to the top of the chair lift. Continue climbing for a couple of hundred meters through a narrow section of trail to reach a rock formation with a corrugated metal building housing a buddhist sanctuary. Feel free to climb up on the side trail to view the statues, or simply ignore and continue on the main trail to your left and ascend around the rock to reach a junction above. Ignore this and keep to the main trail, which soon breaks out of the trees to reveal the first vistas of the summit plateau in front of you and the pyramidal peak of Jirōgyū to the right. There are a couple of flattened clearings among the bamboo grass which double as campsites. If camping here then bring plenty of water to sustain you and be warned that the toilets at the chair lift station have seen better days. Stick to the main path to ascend past the campsites to reach the a big junction near the top of the chairlift. There is a huge signboard with a detailed map of the summit area. Take a photo as it will prove handy as there are many different paths to choose from. There are two different options. Those short of time should turn left and take the trail just next to the chair lift, which will take you to the summit in about 40 minutes. Otherwise, follow my recommended loop below:

This is the beginning of the loop hike. You’ll climb via the shrine Torii path and finish on the trail just below. Pass through the wooden Torii gate marked in yellow paint as 四国つるぎ山. Climb a short distance and ignore the path on your left (which leads to a longer loop trail for Shugendō practitioners) and keep to the main track. After passing through a second wooden Torii gate, the route passes through a lush forest with intermittent vistas to your right. Keep an eye out for wildflowers lining the path including purple monkshood flowers in late August. The trail traverses along the side of the mountain before reaching Otsurugi shrine (大剣神社) at the base of its namesake rock formation. This ‘spearlike’ crag was used in ancient times by Shugendō monks, who chanted mantras under this rock formation. A trail left leads to Katanakake-no-matsu (刀掛の松), a large pine tree that sits along the main path converging from the chair lift. The path to the right passes right by the shrine before reaching a water source that is among the 100 best water sources in Japan. Unless you’re thirsty, ignore this path and stick to the main route, which starts switchbacking through a forest of Erman’s birch (dakekanba) that is usually found growing in the subalpine forests of Japan’s higher mountains. The trail turns east and traverses around the back side of the mountain towards the summit. You’ll soon see the blue roof of one of the mountain huts above you and just before reaching the mountain hut a path converges from the left. After reaching the buildings, admire the views towards the northeast, including views of Daisen on days with good visibility. Take the narrow trail between the mountain hut and shrine office to reach the summit plateau, which is lined with wooden walkways to help protect the vegetation. Gone are the days of the concrete paths and the restoration work has helped the greenery return to what was once a neglected mountain top. A wooden walkway leads left to a platform and ridge trail to Ni-no-mori and alternative loop around the mountain. The platform is a great place to take a break as the true summit area is narrow and cramped. After admiring the views return to to the junction. You can take either wooden walkway as both converge on the summit. The building just to the left is an eco toilet facility and a welcome replacement over the foul-smelling concrete restroom that used to sit on the summit. Take the right fork and climb the final few steps to the summit. The walkway splits right at the summit, with the triangulation point sitting between, wrapped in a shimenawa rope. After posing for summit photos, continue on the path to the south along the main ridge. You’ll see an attractive-looking peak jutting out just in front of you – that is Jirōgyū, your second target peak of the day. Drop down through the bamboo grass along the well-traveled path to descend to a junction. Ignore the first junction you reach (this will be your descent path after climbing Jirōgyū so you can drop off extra stuff here if you have a heavy pack). Continue on the undulating track to reach the bottom of the pass and start of the steep climb to the summit. Ignore the track to the right that bypasses the summit (unless you need water, as there’s a source on that track) and keep to the main ridge. It’s a 20-minute climb to the top depending on your speed, where there are spectacular views back towards Tsurugi and further afield to Miune and the rest of the main traverse route of the mountain range to the west. After enjoying the views retrace your steps back to the second junction and take the track to your left marked in Japanese for Mi-no-koshi (見の越へ 2770). The path is a lovely, relatively flat track that skirts under the side of Tsurugi before joining the main trail at the top of the chair lift. Lined by wildflowers and hemmed by hardwoods, the track is easily the most beautiful on the peak and pleasant way to round out your hike. Ignore all of the trails splitting off to the right – they all lead back to the summit of Tsurugi. Instead, continue straight, past an unmarked water source and wooden rest shelter to reach the top of the chair lift in about 50 minutes. From there, simply turn left and retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got your own transport. Winter is probably the best time for experienced mountaineers, since the lift won’t be running and the mountain hut will be closed. Click here to see the winter scenery. Otherwise, aim to go between April and November. Be warned that the peak is extremely popular during the autumn season, so schedule your visit on a quieter weekday if possible.

Access: Public transport access is limited, so a car is essential for enjoying this hike at your own pace. The trailhead starts at Mi-no-koshi (見の越) at the junction Routes 438 and 439 at the entrance to Iya Valley. Hitchhiking from Sadamitsu Station (貞光駅) certainly is possible if you walk over to Route 438 and ask the driver to take you to Tsurugisan. Otherwise, there is seasonal microbus service from both Sadamitsu and Anabuki stations on the JR Tokushima line. Click here to download the most recently updated PDF file.

Map: Click here and scroll down to part 3 (主な配布場所). There you will find two pdf file downloads. Click on 広域登山道マップ(英語版).pdf to download the English version of the map.

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 535m). If you take the chair lift then you’ll save 200 meters of vertical elevation gain and will be hiking with a lighter wallet.

Total Round-trip Distance: 9km (4-1/2 to 7 hours)

Explore posts in the same categories: Shikoku hikes (四国)

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4 Comments on “Mt. Tsurugi (剣山)”

  1. Flo Says:

    Is there enough year round traffic there to be able to expect to hitchhike?

  2. japanhiking Says:

    I climbed Tsurugi-san about 3 weeks ago on a Monday. Despite the chairlift and wooden viewing platforms on the top I thought it was quite a pleasant hike. The recommendation to continue to Mt Jirogyu is quite a good one as the views of Mt Tsurugi from that side are quite wonderful (they are the ones featured on most photographs).

    It’s possible to return to the start point without going back over the top of Mt Tsurugi and thus do a loop hike by following a path that goes around the base of the top summit. There is a lower and upper path but the lower one was closed due to rockfall. This path takes you past the Otsurugi shrine and its great tasting mineral water.

  3. Amanda Says:

    Hi! Thank you for all your descriptions! Could you tell me if it’s possible to do Miune-Tsurugi or Tsurugi-Miune in one day ? i’m not planning to take the lift though. I want to make sure I can go up and down on the same day. How long did it take for you?
    Thank you.

    Amanda

    • wes Says:

      Amanda,

      While it is technically possible to do it in one day, I wouldn’t recommend it, as there’s a lot of overgrown bamboo grass between the two peaks. It’s a distance of about 22km, which will take about 8 to 9 hours to complete, depending on your speed. I broke up the hike by staying at the emergency hut between the two mountains. The hut is nice, but there’s no water source there, so you’d need to carry a lot. You’d also need to bring a sleeping bag and food.

      Miune is the better of the two peaks, as Tsurugi is tarnished by the lift and the massive shrine on the summit.

      I hope that helps.


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