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Mt. Tsurugi (剣山)

April 26, 2008

Last updated: November 16, 2021

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. Here is English information about the bus from Sadamitsu station,

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)

Mt. Yari (槍ヶ岳)

April 14, 2008

This blog post was written back in 2008. For the latest information about this hike (including color photos and maps), please consider purchasing my guidebook to the Japan Alps. 

Mt. Yari is one of the most famous peaks in the Kita Alps, and on the ‘must climb’ list of just about every Japanese hiker. Its remote access means that it’s impossible to do as a day trip, unless you fancy hiking over 40km in one day!

The hike: From Kamikochi bus terminal, take the trail that heads toward Kappabashi, but instead of crossing the bridge, stay on the same side of the river. You can basically follow the signposts toward Yari-ga-take (槍ヶ岳). It’s 22km one way from Kamikochi to the summit of Mt. Yari. Most guidebooks say to allow 2 days to get there, but if you get an early start (around 6am) you can make it in one day. The elevation change is only 1600m, and the first 14km or so is pretty flat. Anyway, your first landmark will be Myoujinkan (明神館), a famous hotel about an hour from the bus terminal. After that, you’ll come to Tokuzawa lodge and campground (徳沢ロッヂ). Continue following the river until you reach Yokoo-sansou (横尾山荘). This is the halfway point distance-wise to Mt. Yari. From here, the trail starts climbing a little, reaching Yarisawa lodge (槍沢ロッヂ) in about an hour. This would be a good place to stay if you’ve gotten a late start, but if you’ve brought a tent then continue for another half hour or so to the campsite. This site is behind a lodge that was destroyed by an avalanche, and there are plenty of places to pitch your tent, lots of water, and toilets. Before deciding whether or not to camp here, consider that you’ve got about 4 more hours of hiking before reaching the hut just below the top of Mt. Yari. The path is easy to follow and will climb up the cirque toward the ridge line. If the weather is good then you should start seeing the spear-like peak of the summit. There are tons of switchbacks and paint marks on the rocks. The climb seems like it takes forever, but eventually you’ll end up on the saddle just below the summit. This is where you’ll find Yari-sanso (槍ヶ岳山荘). You can pay lots of money to stay in the hut, or pitch your tent a short distance away. Please note that the campground is completely exposed on the ridge and you may not be able to pitch a tent if the winds are strong. Drop your pack at the hut, and prepare for the final climb to the summit. There are lots of chains and ladders, but just follow the crowds and arrows and you’ll be on top in no time. The views are exhilarating, so bring your camera if the cloud isn’t in. Descend back to the hut. The next day, you have 4 options. You can either descend the way you came all the way back to Kamikochi, do the daikiretto (大キレット) ridge walk over to Kita-hotaka, continue on the trail next to the hut over to Sugoroku hut (双六小屋), or take the trail away from the campgound down to Yaridaira (槍平小屋) and Shin-hotaka hot spring.

When to go: This hike can be done from early May to early November. The earlier you go, the more snow there will be, so bring crampons if climbing before the rainy season or anytime in late fall.

Access: From either Takayama (高山) or Matusmoto (松本) stations, take a bus bound for Kamikochi (上高地). There are also direct night buses from Tokyo and Osaka, depending on the season. Click here for the bus from Matsumoto to Kamikochi. From Takayama you’ll have to change buses at Hirayu Hot Spring.

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 5 out of 5 (elevation change 1675m)

Mt. Daisen (大山)

April 13, 2008

Last updated: Sept. 10, 2019

Special note:  The summit plateau is currently off limits due to construction. While you may still climb the mountain, you currently can’t enter the area around the hut on the summit. The hut is also currently off limits to hikers. Construction is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2020. Click here for more details. 

Mt. Daisen, the highest peak in the Chūgoku region, is a Fuji-esque volcanic edifice located southeast of Yonago city in Tottori Prefecture. The peak gets a ton of snow in the winter, and the wildflowers bring the crowds in the summer.

The hike: Directly beside the bus stop is the tourist information center. Drop in and pick up a free map and ask about trail conditions. After leaving the bus parking lot, walk out to the main street and turn left up the stone-paved street running directly through the center of town. Turn right on the first street past the Post Office. You’ll see two souvenir shops here, both of which sell basic snacks for the hike. Just past the shops you’ll find a huge Montbell store on your left. You can grab some freeze-dried rice packs and other gear here, but the selection isn’t great. Directly past the Montbell store, the street meets a larger road. Cross the bridge, ignoring the parking lot on your left. Go around the bend in the road and you’ll find the trailhead on the left side of the road, leading up a set of stone steps. This path will intersect the main route in about 100 meters. When you see the signpost, turn left and start the massive climb up a wide set of stone steps. At the top of the steps, you’ll see a shrine building on your right, which is a good place to pray for a safe voyage. After saying a prayer, return back to the trail and keep climbing up. The stone steps will give way to wooden ones, and after about 10 minutes you’ll reach the first stagepoint (大山一合目). The path is divided into 10 stages, and these will be marked all the way to the summit. Also, there’s a wooden marker at each 100 meters of vertical elevation gained, so it’s easy to track your progress. There’s only one trail to the top, so expect huge crowds if you’ve come during the peak holiday season. It should take about an hour or so to reach the first emergency hut at the 6th stage (六合目). Just before reaching this hut, a trail will branch off to the left towards Mototani (元谷), but just ignore it for the time being and keep going up. The hut is concrete and very basic, with room for 1 or 2 hikers to sleep. From the hut, you’ve got another 45 minutes of steep climbing until reaching the ridgeline just above the 8th stagepoint (大山八合目). Here you’ll find a junction, but turn left to start the long section of walking on wooden planks. You’ve only got about 15 more minutes to the summit of Mt. Misen (弥山), the official high point of Mt. Daisen. If the weather is clear then you’ll have a nice view of the knife-edge ridge leading to the true high point called Ken-ga-mine (剣ケ峰). There’s also a large emergency hut with toilets here, but the lack of water makes it an uncomfortable place to stay unless you happen to carry an extra 2 or 3 liters of water. Anyway, after admiring the views, take the trail that wraps around the summit behind the emergency hut for a nice loop back to the main trail. You can see a lot of wildflowers in the summer, and the stroll is quite peaceful when not shared with hundreds of other people. When you reach the junction at the end of the loop, turn left and start heading back down the mountain, past the 8th stagepoint. Just past the 6th stagepoint emergency hut, turn right on the Mototani (元谷) junction you passed earlier on the way up, which descends to a nice valley. After a half an hour of descending, you’ll reach the bottom of the valley and can see an emergency hut directly in front of you. While there is plenty of water in the valley, the lack of toilets at this hut make it quite uncomfortable to stay in, and should be a strong hint that you should boil any water from the neighboring stream. If you’re not staying for the night, the head down towards the left and cross the huge riverbed with all the concrete dams. Pretty unsightly I know, but what else can you do. After crossing the river, you’ll hit a forest road and see a small signpost reading Daisenji (大山寺). Turn left here and follow the trail for about 20 minutes until it spits you out at Okamiyama shrine (大神山神社). Take the stone steps leading down from the shine which connect to a stone lantern-lined path. This path will take you all the way back into town. If you have time, you really should check out Daisenji. There’s a small trail coming off the stone path right where you see the wooden “日本の一番長い石道” signpost. Walk to the main building and pay your 400 yen to the monk there. All in all it should take anywhere from 5 to 7 hours to complete the hike, so make sure you start early (or stay in the wonderful temple lodging named Sanraku-so).

When to go: This hike can be done year round if you’ve got the right equipment. In fact, winter is the only time of year where you can actually climb to the high point. The ridge line is very rugged and should only be attempted by those with the right equipment and experience. Click here to get an idea of what you’ll be up against. Otherwise, the snow will melt sometime in mid-May, and anyone can climb to the ‘legal’ high point of Misen.

Access: From Yonago station (米子駅), take a Nihon Kotsu (日本交通) bus bound for Daisenji (大山寺) and get off at the last stop. The first bus departs at 7:10am, arriving at the trailhead at 7:53am. Click here for the web site that has the bus schedule. When you open this page, click on 観光道路経由大山線 to download the .pdf file. The bus leaves from bus stop #4.

Map: Click here

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 939m)

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