Archive for the ‘Archive’ category

Omoteyama (Kasama Alps)

March 11, 2023

Extra details:

Extra details:

The full route from Iwama (岩間駅) to Fukuhara (福原駅) is well-marked, with white signposts for Kasama Wagakuni-Atago Hiking Trail at regular intervals. Be warned that it is a long route (15.8km) with a lot of up-down, so make sure you bring plenty of liquids and give yourself at least 4 hours (though it’ll probably take closer to 6).

Traverse route:

From Iwama station, follow the signs to Mt Atago. The video above describes the route to Mt Minami in great details. From Mt Minami stay on the main trail, following the signs toward Mt Nandai (難台山). After hiking up and down over a few undulating hills, the path drops steeply via fixed ropes to Dango-ishi Pass (団子石峠). Turn left on the paved forest road and then an immediate right (past a couple of parking spaces). It’s a long hike up to Mt. Nandai over a series of smaller peaks. Take your time and follow the signs as it leads past a number of boulders, especially Dango Boulder, Shishiga-han Boulder and Byobu Boulder. Just before the summit the terrain gets quite rocky and the broad summit is a great place for a break. You’re halfway there distance wise, so on the far side of the summit drop down the steep trail and up and over a few more hills until you drop down to another paved road at Dōrokushintōge (道祖神峠). Follow the signs and pass through a forest briefly before reaching a red-roofed structure and some green signposts for Wagakuni (ハイキングコース吾国山頂). Climb up and cross over the forest road where it is a very steep and hard climb to the summit. The top is marked by a rustic shrine and it overlooks the mountains of Oku-Nikko. You can see Mt. Nasu, Mt. Nantai, Mt. Okushirane, Mt. Hiuchi, and Mt. Sukai on a clear day. From here take the trail to the right of the shrine (if you are facing the building) and drop through a forest of towering beech trees. There are roped off walkways here that meander past all of the big trees, but you’ll basically want to head down past a small pond and into the forest. After 30 minutes you’ll reach the edge of a village and will pop out into civilization. Continue following the signposts as they take you to Fukuhara station.


Iwama station takes about 2 hours from Ueno on the JR Jōban line. Fukuhara station is also about 2 hours from Tokyo. You may find it faster to change to the Kanto Railway train at Shimodate station (下館駅) instead of staying on the JR Mito line all the way. If you change at Shimodate, take the train to Moriya (守谷) station, where you can change to the Tsukuba Express for Akihabara. Otherwise you’ll need to change back to the JR Jōban line at Tomobe station.

Mt. Mitsuboshi (三星山) – Mt. Ryūzen (龍神山) loop

March 9, 2023

Extra tips:

DO NOT attempt the route from Kizestsu-kyo (奇絶峡) as it is incredibly steep and exposed. Instead, it’s much better and safer to do this hike as a loop starting from 佐向口登山口. There are a couple of parking spaces near the entrance. Otherwise, you can either take a taxi from Kii-Tanabe station to the trailhead or an infrequent bus bound for Ryujin Onsen and alight at Yahagi (矢はぎ) bus stop. Click here for the bus schedule.


The route from 佐向口登山口 first starts on a gravel forest road marked by a lot of cairns. Follow the mountain river upstream and pay attention to the tape marks. After 15 minutes or so you’ll reach the junction for the loop hike. The signposts are old, but rumor has it they will be replaced by the city soon. Anyway, turn left at this junction (instead of taking the trail straight further up the river) and follow the tape marks. You’ll first pass by a small waterfall flowing over some layers of rock, with a small altar and shrine gate resting at the entrance. Follow the switchbacks above the river and continue heading upstream, over a series of river crossings. At the junction, turn right and continue upward, where the trail soon splits. You can take either way, but a right turn here will offer more views as it climbs up a spur. Both trails meet up further on so take your pick. You’ll soon reach Ryūjin (or Ryūzen, as both readings are correct) shrine punctuated by some very massive trees in places. From here it’s a simple 15-minute ascent to the summit. Just before the summit plateau, ignore the trail junction (龍神分岐) heading right (you will take this later) and head straight on, past the castle ruins and up onto the summit of Mt. Ryūzen (龍神山). Take a quick break to admire the views.

From the summit, retrace your steps back to the junction and turn left at 龍神分岐. There’s a sign here that says 三星山山頂 75分. The route is well-marked and starts off relatively flat before quickly losing altitude as it descends to a narrow saddle called 三星のコル. Take a sip of water and stow away your trekking poles, as things are about to become interesting. For the next hour or so, you’ll be involved in a fight against gravity, making your way up cliff faces with fixed ropes. Watch your footing as the rock is gritty sandstone that can be slippery depending on the traction of your shoes. It is A LOT easier to go up this route than down (see video above), but take it slow and enjoy the many vantage points along the way as you reach the cliff tops en route. Just below the summit, the climbing will become easier and once you reach the summit, settle down to a well-deserved break. If you would rather take your lunch break at a viewpoint, then continue past the summit just a few minutes (DO NOT take the trail left off the summit but continue straight on the well-used route) and you’ll reach a big rock formation with excellent views. After taking in the view, continue on the descent through a couple of fixed rope sections until reaching another saddle called 西岡のコル. The signposts here are tattered, but turn right at this junction for the signpost marked 竜星の辻. It will take about 30 minutes of so to reach the first junction of your hike, thereby completing the loop. The loop will probably take about 4 hours depending on how long you spend taking photos and enjoying the views.


Click here for a YAMAP post showing the route.

The Love Letter

February 27, 2023

Extra details:

For a detailed map of all the art installations, inquire at the information center next to Fujino station.

There aren’t any convenience stores (apart from up on the expressway), so please stock up before you come.

Mt. Shakujō (錫杖ヶ岳)

February 18, 2023

Additional details:

Best Season:

This hike can be done year round, but definitely bring along a pair of crampons in the winter and DO NOT attempt the final chain section if conditions are icy. There are mountain leeches in the vicinity. so avoid hiking between June and August. Air pollution can be a problem in Mie Prefecture, so try to climb on a clear day with good air quality so you can get good views.

Hyakumeizan Book Review

February 3, 2023

Mention the Nihon Hyakumeizan to any Japanese hiker and you’ll likely receive an earful of personal anecdotes of successful ascents, breathtaking sunrises, and elusive wildlife. Indeed, it seems as if all mountaineers have their sights set on scaling every single peak on the venerable list. But what exactly is the Nihon Hyakumeizan? How were they chosen, and what makes these mountains noteworthy? Martin Hood answers these questions and much more in his fantastic book One Hundred Mountains of Japan

Originally published in mid-1960s, Nihon Hyakumeizan won the esteemed Yomiuri Prize for Literature in the Biography/Criticism category, and helped to spawn a hiking boom that has grown unabated. What was initially created as a personal list of 100 notable mountains that author Kyūya Fukada had climbed over his 40-year hiking tenure, soon became a de facto list of ‘must-climbs’, akin to Colorado’s fourteeners or Europe’s 4000-meter alpine summits. Even Crown Prince Naruhito attempted to finish the Hyakumeizan before becoming Emperor. Go to any bookstore nationwide and you’ll find numerous hiking guidebooks in Japanese for all of the mountains featured in Fukada’s book. 

Nihon Hyakumeizan is a collection of stand-alone essays that Fukada penned for the mountaineering magazine Yama to Kōgen. In 1964, all of the essays were compiled into a best-selling book that is still in-print to this day. Despite its enormous influence and appeal, the book had never been translated into another language until Martin Hood took upon the challenge to transform Fukada’s rich prose into English. Upon finishing the translation, publishers were reluctant to release the volume due to classification problems. This is addressed in a blog post on One Hundred Mountains:

“One Hundred Mountains (of Japan) is devilishly hard to categorise. Not unlike the geological mélange of Kita-dake, that mountain for philosophers, it blends together bits of this and bobs of that —  a soupçon of travelogue here, fragments of literature and history there, all mixed up, but with masterly assurance, into a zany matrix of zuihitsu-style essay writing.” 

Eventually University of Hawaii Press saw the historical significance of the work and published it under the genre of ‘Japan/Nature/History/Literature’. Hood’s translation is unprecedented in that it is the first English-language translation of any book on Japanese mountaineering.  

Fukada’s original Japanese text is so laden with obscure historical references that most Japanese people have a hard time understanding it. Hood overcomes this hurdle by providing a comprehensive glossary for every single historical figure mentioned in the text. That, accompanied by a 40-page introduction, makes the book accessible to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Japanese history and culture. The introduction itself is a stand-alone work, in what must surely be the first comprehensive English-language anthology of modern mountaineering in Japan. The books starts with a detailed biography of Fukada’s life, followed by a thoroughly researched exploration of the influence of Japan’s most important mountaineering figures on the shaping of Nihon Hyakumeizan. Indeed, this introduction gives context to the book, providing a much-needed rooting of the text in the history of modern Japan.  

The book is required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in Japan’s mountains, for Hood’s translation shows not only how the mountains received their historical nomenclature, but also gives clues about the evolution of the landscape. Fukada’s text was written just as Japan was embarking on a massive post-war modernization, much to the detriment of the natural surroundings. Fukada captures these fleeting moments in the days before cedar plantations and forestry-roads-to-nowhere forever disfigured the scenery. The text also describes the mountains as if they were living creatures, something that is eloquently captured in the chapter on Mt. Tomuraushi, a mountain in Hokkaido:

“Kaun-dake is the rocky peak that marks one end of this broad-packed ridge. We scrambled onto its cramped summit and paused for a moment. At that moment, the clouds cleared to reveal mountains all around us under a flawless blue sky. But it was Tomuraushi, above all, that drew my gaze to the menacing bulk of his rocky shoulders.”

Canadian photographer Peter Skov provides the stunning cover photo book (paperback version only, so be aware if purchasing the hardcover). Additionally, the book features a full-color photo insert from Hood’s film photography collection showcasing some of the Hyakumeizan peaks as well as one additional photo from Skov.

The only drawback to Hood’s translation is the lack of maps. Indeed, Fukada’s original book has a map in each chapter, as well as a full illustration of Japan that shows the location of all of the peaks. Readers of the translation are well-advised to have a paper map or digital app at their ready when exploring the descriptions of the mountains. Perhaps this can be remedied in future editions of One Hundred Mountains of Japan.

Will this translation finally convince foreign publishers that English-language books about Japan’s mountains do have a willing audience? Only time will tell.

You can purchase the book here on Amazon or on the publisher’s website.

Kuroi Castle Ruins (黒井城跡)

January 23, 2023

Extra Tips:

There are two main paths up the mountain. I recommend ascending via the Nadaraka Course (なだらかコース) and descending via the Kyūzaka Course (急坂コース) to make a nice loop hike. At the trailhead, you’ll notice a small parking lot, toilet, and a long set of stairs on your right. These stairs is where you will complete the loop, so instead of heading to these steps, head straight and follow the signs for なだらかコース. On the descent, retrace your steps down from the summit (ignore the path on your left that reads 多田方面) go back through the animal gate and down the switchbacks to the flat area in front of the red gate. Instead of heading back to the red gate, hang a hard left here and follow the signs for the 急坂コース. It’s a steep but easy-to-follow track that leads straight down the mountain and to that set of concrete stairs at the end.


The castle was built by the Akai Clan in the 14th century but is best known for having be seiged by Akechi Mitsuhide, who is best-known as the man who betrayed and killed Oda Nobunaga. The castle became abandoned just before the start of the Edo Era and all that remains now are the castle wall foundations and a spectacular panoramic view.

Mt Ryūō (竜王岳)

January 14, 2023

Extra Tips:

A longer path to Ōhara is to take the main ridge from the junction to Mt Amagatake (天ヶ岳) which is one of the 10 peaks of Ōhara. Please note that it is easy to get lost, especially on the far side of the peak, so make sure you have the digital and paper maps. Here is my trip report so you can get an idea of what to expect.

Another good way to end your hike is by having a soak at the baths at Kurama Onsen. There are two bath houses, and I personally recommend the outdoor bath. However, please note that the hot spring is currently closed due to a COVID infection among staff, so double check their website before heading there.

A closer look at Best Day Walks Japan

March 1, 2021

My time in Japan coincides directly with the history of Lonely Planet’s Hiking in Japan guidebook. I arrived on these shores in March of 2001, just one month after the release of the first edition of the guide. I soon picked up a copy of the teal and black cover and immediately set out to climb as many of the mountains as I could. My focus soon shifted upon turning to page 21 and finding a side bar about the Hyakumeizan, and I set my sights on climbing all of the hundred mountains on Fukada Kyūya’s seminal list. Using the guide as a reference, I worked my way through the mountains until reaching my goal in late 2008, just as the authors were doing research for the second edition of the book. I picked up a copy of this new version after its release in 2009 and published a closer look , which details the changes between the two editions along with my thoughts on the update. Both editions eventually went out of print, leaving a void in the market for a comprehensive in-print guide to Japan’s mountains. Fast forward to 2021, and the long-awaited third installment in the series, entitled Best Day Walks Japan (US edition: Best Day Hikes Japan). Here’s a closer look:

The positives: First of all, the latest guide is visually pleasing, with 130 full-color photographs laid out through 210 pages of content. This certainly marks a big departure from the previous two books, which were done in 2 color offset with a full-color photo insert. The Japan book is among the first in a new series called Lonely Planet Best Day Walks, which is an interesting concept in this need for social distancing during the pandemic. Casual browsers in bookshops can simply open the book and immediately get an idea of the natural beauty of Japan. The designers have done an excellent job of presenting the materials in an easy-to-follow layout organized by region, and users will be able to flip through and find a hike that suits their travel needs.

Speaking of hikes, the new guide features what are simply billed as “60 walks with maps”, ranging in difficulty from flat strolls through Oze National Park to strenuous ascents of proper mountains such as Miyanoura-dake on the island of Yakushima. Regional content allocation is fairly balanced, with each region covering between 5 and 10 unique hikes, which gives readers enough variety to satisfy their outdoor thirst and match their travel itinerary. The first two Hiking in Japan guidebooks feature 71 and 69 hikes respectively, but in double the page content as the latest Best Walks Japan book.

Curating a guidebook is no easy task, but the authors have done well here for the most part. Lead author Craig Mclachlan has struck a good balance of bringing not only some of the best hikes from his previous two Hiking in Japan guides, but has also included a few new hikes that have not yet appeared in print, such as Sanbe-san in Shimane and Tanesashi Kaigan in Aomori. Also worthy of praise is the addition of experienced writer Rebecca Milner to the team – this  long-overdue female prospective is a welcome change from the all-male leadership of the previous two books.

Furthermore, the full-color English maps for each hike provide enough detail for hikers to follow, while the hike descriptions themselves  feature the kanji readings and symbols for each waypoint along the walk, which will help walkers to decipher the Japanese language signposts proliferating the mountain trails nationwide. The information is practical, and in many cases the URLs are included next to the items mentioned in-text such as transport companies and mountain huts.

Most of the hikes feature a ‘Take a Break’ sidebar with personal recommendations for places to eat and rest near each hike, including nearby hot spring baths. Each regional overview also includes a sidebar of practical resources for planning, featuring mostly government tourism websites and official promotional literature.

Room for improvement: While the book looks great upon first glance, there are a few things that could clearly make this book even better. The first issue is cosmetic. 90% of the photos are stock images, which is a huge departure from the Lonely Planet of bygone days with their 100% author-sourced photographs. Stock images do look nice, but they lack any kind of personal touch and perspective that the authors can give, especially since they are the ones who were there on the trails themselves doing the research. Among the 130 photographs, I have counted around 10 that are credited to the authors themselves. The notable exception is Ray’s photo of the higuma bear in Hokkaidō, which is a thing of beauty.

Two of the stock images chosen actually don’t refer to places on the actual hike: the stock photo for the Rokku Gaaden in Kobe is of the Suma Alps, which is further west in the Rokkō range but nowhere near the hike and the stock image of the Kujū hike is actually Amagaike marsh looking towards Mt Hiji, which again is in the Kujū range but not on the actual trail described in the book. These kind of issues are happening more and more in publications that rely too much on stock images, especially if the contributing stock photographer does not caption or tag their photos properly.

Another issue with the guide is with inconsistency between sections. A good editor should be able to take a guidebook written by three authors and make each section seem indistinguishable from the other in terms of detail and flow. However, with this guidebook some of the walk descriptions feel rushed and lack the appropriate amount of detail, while others are very well-written and presented. These descriptions can mean the difference between an amazing hike and one bordering on disaster. For example, the Ōtake-san hike in the Tokyo section is excellent: it gives you all the practical information you need (how to get to the hike, how long it will take to get there, cost of train fare) and the trail description includes estimated hiking times between each waypoint in the hike. Every hike in this guide should include exactly the same amount of detail. I think the problem is with word limitations – they simply reached their word count limits and ran out of space. One possible way to free up space is to axe the 4-page Shikoku Pilgrimage, which is definitely not a ‘day hike’ and instead do a shorter text box description of the 1400km route. That would free up more space to add more details to other hikes that lack transport information such as Norikura-dake.

Thirdly, some of the information in the latest guide is simply out of date, which is quite a shame considering the publication of the book has been delayed by a year from its original slated publication date of spring 2020. For instance, at the time of writing the Aso-san volcano in Kyūshū was off limits to hikers, but the mountain reopened in September 2020, which should have given the authors plenty of time to update the trail description to reflect the most current conditions. As it stands, the information about the Sensui-kyo Ropeway is simply incorrect, considering the ropeway ceased operations in 2010 and is now in a state of complete ruin. Perhaps this guidebook was printed in early 2020 and has simply been sitting in a warehouse collecting dust all this time?

Next, each hike lacks a ‘when to go’ box. Information about the best season to visit is handled in the introduction to each region, but these particulars should be clearly presented within the individual hike overviews themselves. The authors tout Fushimi Inari as one of “most impressive and memorable sights in all Japan”, but perhaps they should warn people about the immense number of tourists that jostle elbows with others to get a selfie for their Instagram, and instead recommend a pre-dawn or early dusk ascent.

One final item is with the difficulty rating system, which ranges from ‘easy’ to ‘hard’. These ratings are explained on the insider cover page of the book, but they really should include vertical elevation gain and distance recommendations. The book lacks vertical elevation loss and gain, so it’s difficult for experienced hikers to evaluate a hike without this valuable data. Any hike that includes an elevation gain of 1000 meters is going to be a hard hike for anyone who is not fit. In addition, any hike over 20 kilometers in length is going to be tough on the feet. The Sandan-kyō hike in Hiroshima Prefecture is listed as ‘easy’, yet the total round-trip distance is 32 kilometers – that’s three-quarters of a marathon!

The verdict: This guidebook will definitely appeal to first-time visitors to Japan, especially those interested in the variety of beautiful walks and hikes that Japan has on offer. Repeat tourists may also find the information invaluable for making informed choices about where to go and what to climb. However, be warned that some of the walks include only ‘bare bones’ information, requiring readers to do their own research about bus and train timetables. Or they can simply enlist the assistance of a travel consultant to supply the logistics.

Long-time residents who are not fluent in Japanese will also find a great deal of valuable content in the latest guidebook. However, anyone who is fluent in the language could easily find better Japanese-language sources for hikes in their region.

That being said, I will definitely pick up a copy of Best Walks Japan to add to my collection. My philosophy has always been: the more published content about Japan’s mountains the better, and while the latest guide is far from perfect, it is a step in the right direction and, with a few improvements, could easily be a go-to resource for both tourists and residents alike.

Best Day Walks Japan is now available for purchase on Amazon Japan and other retailers in the Asia/Pacific region. The US release date is scheduled for the end of March.


Kumano Kodo Guidebook Review

July 16, 2019

It’s the winter of 2007, and I’m hiking along an isolated track called the Kogumotori-goe in southern Wakayama Prefecture with my newlywed wife Kanako. The faint, poorly-marked trail leads up to a viewpoint flanked by a large weather-beaten jizō statue. Armed with a Japanese magazine about the Kumano Kodō, we scan the kanji text and barebones descriptions to find that we’ve reached the Hyakken-gura tenbōdai. We pause here, admiring the splendid views while poring over the limited knowledge in our less-than-ideal information source.

Had we been armed with Cicerone’s latest guide to the Kumano Kodo, Kanako and I would have been in much better hands and definitely would have taken a bus to Yunomine Onsen instead of opting for the extra 6km uphill walk on a paved roadway at dusk.

The Kumano Kodō has come a long way since our fateful walk a dozen years ago. Since becoming a World Heritage site in 2004, Wakayama Prefecture has invested an immense amount of money into both promoting and maintaining the Nakahechi route, adopting the ‘if you build it he will come‘ philosophy that would make Kevin Costner proud. Indeed, the Field of Kumano Dreams has not only brought in the tourists, but has put the Kumano Kodō on the world stage by teaming up with the Camino de Santaigo to form a dual pilgrim program and creating an English-language support network connecting visitors to the many inns and facilities along the way. This has resulted in a 40-fold increase in overseas visitors compared to just a decade ago.

But I really don’t need to tell you all that. One quick net search will reveal a wealth of information about the riches of Wakayama Prefecture, and it’s one reason why I haven’t devoted much of my server space to the Kumano Kodō on this website. Indeed, with the diligent work of their bi-lingual employees, the Kumano Tourism Bureau has created an on-line guide like no other available in Japan, all for free of charge. There’s enough on that website alone to help you plan and walk the Kumano Kodō. So why buy a guidebook at all?

The answer lies within the 230 pages that Kat Davis has devoted to her informative guidebook, a well-researched gem of a publication filled with nearly a hundred spendid full-color photographs. Rather than clicking through web pages and trying to collate all of the information into a notebook, you have everything you need in this guide, and you won’t need a wi-fi connection to enjoy it.

The guide features full descriptions of the Nakahechi and Kohechi routes, each of them 4-day treks through an interesting part of the Kii Peninsula. Part nature walk, part history lesson, the 6 routes outlined in the guidebook offer visitors a chance to experience an ancient pilgrimage route steeped in history. It is the informative explanations of the various Buddhist statues, teahouse ruins, and hidden shrines that sets this guide apart from others, as the author adds context to the historical markers along the way, many of which do not have English explanations.

Additionally, the full-color maps give just the right amount of detail without being too overbearing, and the elevation profiles for each route, marked in a myriad of symbols, provide vital distance and elevation gains that are essential for trip planning. While at first the symbols can be a bit difficult to decipher, a quick study of the map legend at the front of the book, along with a bit of practical use will surely have walkers praising their inclusion. She even goes as far as to include the location of vending machines on the maps, something that even I have come to appreciate during my exploration of Japan’s hidden backroads. The only thing missing from the maps themselves are kanji characters, which Kat makes up for by providing the kanji within each hike description, which will surely be helpful for those unable to read the language.

Besides the concise descriptions of the walks themselves, the book contains recommendation for places to stay and eat for each hike, along with information about soothing hot spring baths and local specialties. Vegetarian hikers will want to bookmark the Japanese phrases on page 45 of the introduction so they can use at the various inns and restaurants they encounter along the way. Indeed, the guide seems to have all of the bases covered, offering a handy arsenal of practical and up-to-date information that both first-time visitors and long-term residents can appreciate.

If there is one thing I would like to see added to the guidebook, it would be at least one walk on the Okugakemichi, which is by far the most beautiful section of the Kumano Kodo. The tough route connects Kumano Hongu Taisha with Yoshino in Nara Prefecture 100km to the north, and features towering old-growth forests, precipitous cliffs, and spectacular views from some of the highest mountains in western Japan. Regrettably, one section of the route is still off-limits to women, and much of the terrain is hardly tourist-friendly, requiring a head for heights and route-finding ability. Still, the final section between Tamaki Shrine and Hongu via Mt. Godaison would be the icing on the cake for this Kumano Kodo guidebook. Perhaps the publisher will allow a slight expansion of routes for the second edition of the guide, if the book proves to be popular. Do your part now to ensure that such valuable resources continue to remain in print by purchasing this excellent guidebook.


Wall Calendars

November 5, 2017

The wall calendars are now all sold out. 

The 2018 wall calendars are now here. 1500 yen each or 3 for 4000 yen. Overseas orders please add 500 yen.   The calendars are free of charge since 2018 is already halfway over. I do have a few extra copies, so please contact me if interested in obtaining one.

Contact me to place an order and for more information.