Posted tagged ‘japan’

Mt. Haruna-fuji (榛名富士山)

November 24, 2013

Just as the name implies, Haruna-fuji is a miniature version of Mt. Fuji, with views of the real Fuji from the summit on clear days. Although the top has been wrecked by the addition on a gondola and a TV antenna, the hike through the wonderful bamboo-grass lined deciduous forests is highly recommended.


The hike: From the bus stop, be on the lookout for the visitor’s center, a long, low rectilinear building that has basic information about the mountain. To the left of the visitor’s center is Haruna Lodge, a good place to grab some lunchtime noodles. The trailhead starts just to the right of the visitor’s center, across the paved road. Look for the sign that says 榛名富士登山口. If you got off the stop in front of the gondola, then walk on the paved road to your left (towards the lake), and you’ll find the trailhead on your right. The route is incredibly easy to follow, and if you’ve gone during the week, you’ll likely have the place to yourself. Though the maps say to allow 1 hour to reach the top, if you’re quick and don’t take any breaks, then you can make it in about 40 minutes. The trail is lined with bamboo-grass and verdant foliage. The lack of cedar trees is will be refreshing to those of you used to hiking around the rest of Kanto. The views really open up once you hit the summit plateau, but unfortunately you’ll be staring right at the large building housing the machinery for the gondola. There’s a restroom and vending machine here. Walk past the gondola and turn left, climbing the wooden steps towards Haruna shrine, which sits on the true summit of the mountain. You’ll have wonderful views from here, even if you have to share it with heel-toting tourists who took the easy way up. From the summit, head down the path just to the left of the shrine.  The path is marked as Yusuge Motoyu (ゆうすげ・元湯. The route is incredibly steep, so be careful during the cooler months when there is ice and snow on the path. Despite the gradient, the trail is easy to follow, and it will spit you out behind Hotel Yuusuge in about 30 minutes or so. If you’re based at this hotel, then it’s a great place to end. If you’re heading back to Tokyo, then you can loop back around to where you started (or to the bus stop to Takasaki) by turning left when you hit pavement and turning left again. Descend to the lake and follow it clockwise. The trail follows the edge of the lake before skirting the edge of a small side vent emerging from Haruna’s western flank. All in all it should take about 3 hours to complete the entire loop, depending on how many breaks you have taken. You can also combine this hike with Mt. Eboshi if you’re looking for a bit more exercise. 

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but you’ll need some 6-point crampons if hiking in January or February. Try to go on a sunny day with clean air and good visibility, as the views are superb. If you visit in mid-December, then you can see the lakeside illumination and fireworks. This is the only time of year where the gondola runs at night. It’s a cheeky way to get to the summit, but it’s really beautiful if you can stand the arctic temperatures. Head up the gondola just before sunset and watch the lights come on from the summit. The night view of Kanto is eye-popping as well.

Access: From Tokyo, take a train to Shibukawa (渋川), and transfer to a bus bound for either Ikaho hot spring (伊香保温泉) or Ikaho-Harunaguchi (伊香保榛名口) and get off at Ikaho Bus Terminal. From here, you can catch a bus bound for Haruna-ko Onsen Yuusuge (榛名湖温泉ゆうすげ). Get off at either in front of the Ropeway (ロップウェイ前) or Lojji Mae (ロッヂ), the next stop.  The buses are poorly-timed, so double-check both schedules before you set off, or consider breaking up the trip by staying at the hot spring. Click here for the bus from Shibukawa, and here for the bus that runs between Lake Haruna and Ikaho hot spring. Alternatively, if you’re staying in the area for a few days, then you can simply just stay at the Kokumin-shukusha (recommended), or the more expensive Hotel Yuusuge, which is more convenient for the hike. Either place will pick you up from the bus stop if you’ve taken the bus from Takasaki (see Mt. Kamon hike for a description of that bus route). From the Kokumin-shukusha, you’ll need to walk clockwise around half of the lake to reach the trailhead.

Map: Click here

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~300 meters)

Distance: 3.5km (2 to 3 hours)

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Mt. Kurikoma (栗駒山)

November 8, 2013

Mt. Kurikoma is an active volcano straddling the border of Iwate and Akita Prefectures in northeastern Honshu. The views of Mt. Chokai, the spectacular volcanic scenery, and the soothing hot springs make it a great place for a weekend getaway.


The hike: When you get off the bus, walk a few meters to the hot spring river that runs between the red-roofed hotel and the outdoor bath (露天風呂). Believe it or not, the path actually runs right by this steaming water source. As you walk up the path, you’ll see a small shrine on your right, across the small steam. Since this is an active volcano, it might be a good idea to pay your respects to the mountain gods before commencing the hike. Follow the concrete path past the stream and into the forest. You’ll soon find a path on your right. Ignore this and continue on the concrete trail, climbing to a small series of rock formations. If the weather is good then you can climb these rocks for a good view of the hot spring hotel.  Soon after, you’ll reach another junction with a trail heading off to the left. Ignore this spur trail and continue on, past a small hut and the ruins of an old bathhouse.  After a short climb, you’ll drop down to a meadow and reach yet another junction. Turn left here and follow the wooden boardwalk across a scenic, grassy area of the volcano. At the next junction, you’ll see a huge wooden signboard with a giant map of the mountain. Turn right here and climb a short distance to Taikadai (苔花台), where you’ll find a trail heading off to the left. Ignore this path, as you’ll use this route on the descent, creating a really nice loop hike. Continue straight on, being careful not to stray into the hot spring river running along the left side of the trail. Although tempting, the area is full of poisonous gases, so stay on the path. The route runs parallel to the river, climbing higher and higher towards the summit plateau before flattening out and reaching a beautiful lime-colored caldera lake named Showako (昭和湖). Just before the lake, the trail will split to the left. You can take either trail, since they meet up a short distance later at the shores of the lake. Here you’ll find a toilet hut on your right, which is well worth checking out for the foot pump flushing mechanism. Take a break on the benches in front of the lake, as the steepest part of the climb awaits. On the left side of the lake, the stair-infested trail once again darts back into the forest, increasing in steepness the higher you climb. Hang in there because the views awaiting you are well worth the sweat-inducing effort. It should take about 45 minutes of steady hoofing to reach the ridgeline at Tengu Daira (天狗平), where the panoramic views will start to emerge. You should see all of the mountains of southern Tohoku rising out in front of you. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Chokai as well. Turn left once you reach this lookout point, and you will reach the high point in about 15 minutes or so. Besides the giantic signpost, you’ll find a small shrine which makes a great backdrop for photos. There is a flat area just before the summit which would make an incredible place for a bivy (you just need to bring enough water and pack out your fecal waste). Sunrise from the summit on a clear day may very well be one of your highlights in Japan if you can time it correctly. Anyway, to complete the loop, take the trail from the top marked for Ubunuma (産沼). The path is easy to follow and lined with a plethora of wildflowers in bloom. When you reach the small pond, you’ll find a path on your right leading to 笊森. This route was only recently reopened after being damaged in the 2008 Iwate earthquake. Ignore this path and follow the signs towards Sukawa Onsen (須川温泉). The trail meanders through the forest before crossing a small stream, followed by a bigger river. This river can be tricky to ford when the river is swollen due to heavy rain or snowmelt, so take care. There’s a signpost here marking the way back to Taikadai (苔花台). Just before you reach that point, you’ll drop down to yet another river that needs to be crossed. Just after crossing, you’l reach the junction. Turn right here and retrace your steps back to the next junction. Instead of turning left here, keep heading straight through a scenic marshland comparable to what you would find at Oze National Park. At your next junction, you can take your pick of trails, as both lead back to the starting point. I headed left, following the easy-to-follow path until it reached the back of the hot spring hotel. From there, navigate your way through the hot spring river maze to the bus stop. Be sure to allow enough time to have a bath at the hot spring there. The outdoor bath (露天風呂) costs 650 yen and is worth every penny.

When to go: This hike can be done from early May  to early November, when the road to the trailhead is open. The mountain is famous for fall colors, so expect crowds if you go in October. Bring light crampons if you’re hiking anytime before July.

Access: From Tokyo, take a Shinkansen train bound for Hachinohe or Morioka and get off at Ichinoseki (一ノ関). Not all trains stop at this station, so double-check before boarding. From there, take a bus from bus stop #9 bound for Sukawa Onsen (須川温泉) and get off at the final stop. Please note that there are only two buses per day, (leaving at 9am and 2:30pm) making it tricky to do as a day hike. You can either stay at a hotel near Ishinoseki station, or stay at Kurikoma Sansou (highly recommended) at the trailhead. This hotel has an incredible outdoor bath with views of Mt. Chokai. Click here for the bus schedule.

Map: You can pick up a free full-color map from the tourist information center at Ishinoseki station. The office is directly in front of Bus stop #9 (the bus stop you’ll use to get to the trailhead)

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~500m)

Distance: 〜9km (3-1/2 to 5 hours)

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Takedao Tunnel Hike (武田尾)

October 27, 2013

Officially known at Mukogawa Gorge (武庫川渓谷), this is a gentle, family-oriented afternoon stroll along the old, abandoned  JR Fukuchiyama Line railway tracks. There are several dark, creepy tunnels to pass through, so a headlamp or flashlight is imperative.


The hike: When you exit the train at Namaze station, go out the ticket gate and head down the main road (with a Co-op Mini supermarket on your left) through the small tunnel that goes under a mountain. After the tunnel the road curves towards the right and meets a busy main road. You’ll see a bridge with a red railing directly in front of you. Do not cross the bridge. Instead, turn left, staying on the left shoulder of the really busy road on the narrow sidewalk. Follow this main road for about 20 minutes (past a Cosmo gas station), until you reach a large freeway overpass. Walk under the huge expressway and take your first right, turning down a paved road that has some curvy switchbacks. There are no signposts so it’s very easy to get lost, but make sure the road you take descends towards the river. At the end of the paved road turn left and follow the dirt road that will eventually turn into a proper hiking trail. Just as the trail starts, you’ll see a huge metal sign in Japanese with the kanji (告) telling you that this is not a hiking trail! Don’t worry, it’s just JR trying to inform you that it won’t take any responsibility if you injure yourself or get attacked by a zombie. In the summer the trail can be quite overgrown because the company that owns the land (JR railway) doesn’t do any trail maintenance. The path follows the left bank of the river most of the way, and if you look down you can still see the wooden railway ties in place, but the rails have been removed. Also, keep your eyes peeled on the left side of the path and you can see old railway signs from time to time. Anyway, you’ll soon come to a metal lookout point on your right. Climb the metal stairs and take in the scenery. From here the trail continues upstream for about 15 minutes until reaching the entrance for the first tunnel. This is a good warm-up of what to expect for most of the way, and if you let your eyes adjust to the dark, then a flashlight is not necessary in this first tunnel. After the first tunnel, the trail becomes a bit wild in the summer, with lots of overgrown foliage and the rhythmic pattern of half-buried wooden railroad ties. The river scenery on your right is nice, but to be honest would be a hundred times nicer if the river weren’t so polluted. There’s a factory upstream that is dumping some questionable waste into the river. Even if you could get down to the river bank, I would not swim there. Anyway, soon you’ll reach the second tunnel, which is  one of the longest and scariest on the entire route. Due to the bend in the tunnel, a flashlight is absolutely necessary. If you suffer from claustrophobia then perhaps this is one hike to miss. If you’ve brought your kids then they’ll have a blast running through the tunnels playing hide and seek. Be careful of water dripping from the ceiling of the aging tunnels, as it can get muddy in places. After coming out of the the tunnel, you’ll soon pass through a really short tunnel that is only about 5 meters long. There are some railroad ties here placed as makeshift benches if you want to take your first break. Otherwise, just keep walking on the flat trail admiring the river scenery. The next tunnel will come in about 20 minutes or so, and ends at the base of a stunning railroad bridge that has been fenced off. It looks like the trail ends, but don’t worry, as you can cross the bridge on your left. If you want to re-enact the scene from Stand By Me then be my guest, though one slip will mean tumbling into the river far below.  Immediately after crossing the bridge you’ll duck into another tunnel before popping out and following the right bank of the river (with the river on your left). Here the scenery resembles more of a walk in the park than a mountain stroll, and in the spring the cherry blossoms in view are a site to behold. You’ll soon reach your first signpost of the day, pointing towards Takedao (武田尾), which is still 1.6km away. After 5 minutes you’ll pass a lion carving on your right with a stone stairwell that leads to a forest filled with cherry blossoms. Feel free to explore it if you’ve got extra time. Otherwise, continue straight on through a short tunnel that is still completely made of brick. Just past the tunnel you’ll see a trail on your left that leads to a plaza and offers access to the river bank (again, don’t let your kids play in the filthy water). Soon after, you’ll pass through a final tunnel made of brick before reaching an area on the right with some large rocks that make a great place to take a break. Just after you’ll find some toilets on your left that will probably have a really long queue. Don’t worry, as there are more, less crowded toilets just 5 minutes away in the main town. Your next landmark will be a wooden bridge. Cross this and take the stairs on your left, and you’ll see a sign indicating 600 meters to Takedao station (武田尾). From here you’ll walk through the main street through the tiny town and will likely find hikers hanging out in the local shops drinking beer. Keep walking for about 15 minutes, and you’ll see Takedao station on your right. If you’re keen for a hot spring bath, then instead of going to the station, continue walking along the river for another 15 minutes or so, and you’ll find a couple of ryokan that offer baths. They aren’t cheap though. The nicest one costs 1800 yen just for a bath and is available from 11am to 5pm only. All in all is a 2 to 3 hour stroll depending on how many breaks you take.

When to go: This hike can easily be done year round. Make sure you bring a flashlight or headlamp, because two of the tunnels are impossible to traverse without one. If you’re there on a weekend you could rely on other groups, but during the week do not expect must other foot traffic. There is a very cool art event every September which uses some of the tunnels near Takedao station as a canvas for a giant art and music project. It’s highly recommended, and can be combined with a hike of the tunnels if you time it correctly. Search for Takedao Art Tunnel Event on Facebook and check out these photos from this year’s event.

Access: From Osaka station, take train on the JR Fukuchiyama Line bound for Shin-sanda (新三田) and get off at Namaze (生瀬) station. A local train takes about 40 minutes, so if you want to save time, then take a rapid (kaisoku) train to either Kawanishi-Ikeda (川西池田) or Takarazuka (宝塚) stations, and change to the local train there. The return train is just two stops further north from Namaze, so take a local train all the way back to Osaka or again change to a rapid at Takrazuka or Kawanishi-Ikeda if you’re pressed for time.

Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change 〜100m)

Distance: 7km ( 2 to 3 hours)

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Oirase Stream (奥入瀬渓流)

October 23, 2013

Oirase stream is one of the most popular places in Japan to view autumn foliage. The flat 14km walk along the entire gorge is filled with soothing rapids and a couple of majestic waterfalls. The only downside is the paved road, which runs the entire length of the walk.


The hike: From Yakeyama bus stop, walk out to the main road and walk away from the post office and gas station towards the gorge. Walk past Oirase Keiryu hotel and you’ll see a big signpost for 奥入瀬湧水館. The trail starts just to the left of this signpost. Your first target on the long walk will be Ishigedo (石ヶ戸), about 4.6km away on a well-marked path. The trail soon reaches a paved road, where you should turn right and walk towards  Deai-bashi. Before crossing the metal bridge over the river, you’ll see the path dive back into the forest on your left. About 2km in, you’ll reach a small hut that houses a public toilet. Use the facilities now, because the next toilet isn’t until Ishigedo. The path alternates between the beautiful forest and the ugly paved road. This is one hike where you really need to worry about being hit by a car or tour bus! At the 4km mark you’ll reach a paved road. Cross the road and duck back into the forest, following the wonderful rapids of the swiftly moving stream. Eventually you’ll reach Ishigedo, which is marked by a toilet hut and small restaurant. It should take about 90 minutes from Yakeyama to this point. This is where the majority of people start the hike, so be prepared for a large increase in numbers of tourists. If you’re short of time then you can consider starting from here and skipping the section from Yakeyama, but the first part is a nice warm-up and you’ll appreciate the lack of people. The next signposted landmark is Kumoi falls, which should take about 45 minutes or so to reach. The trail passes through some areas of photogenic swift-moving rapids before passing by some rock formations known as Makadoiwa (馬門岩). There’s a bus stop here if you’re feeling lazy or the legs are starting to give out. Soon after passing by the rocks, you’ll cross over the stream on the concrete bridge and follow the right bank of the river for a while. (up to this time you will have been on the left bank the entire time)  You’ll pass through another area of rapids (signposted as 飛金の流れ) before reaching a small waterfall marked 千筋の滝, which is little more than a trickle. Soon you’ll cross over the road and be back on the left bank of the stream, arriving at Kumoi falls after about 100 meters. Take the path on the left that crosses the main road and leads up to the falls. It’s definitely worth the short side trip, as this is the biggest waterfall in the entire gorge. After sufficient photos snapped, retrace your steps back to the main trail and turn left, where you’ll soon reach another waterfall named 白布の滝. This is a nice waterfall on the other side of the river on your right that drops straight off a cliff. After passing through another area of rapids, you’ll see your first signposts indicating the distance to Tamadare falls. After passing by the bus stop for Kumoi no nagare, you’ll reach a public toilet at Tamadare falls. The waterfall itself is on the opposite side of the road and is nothing more than an unimpressive trickle, so don’t waste your time climbing up to the main road to see it. Stay on the main path and you’ll pass by another trickle of a waterfall (白絹の滝) before reaching Shiraito no taki (白糸の滝), which is very impressive but unfortunately on the other side of the river. Soon after you’ll reach Furou falls (不老の滝), which is also nice but kind of difficult to see through the trees on the right bank of the stream. After passing by more rapids, you’ll reach another unimpressive trickle of a fall called 姉妹の滝, before crossing over the river on a wooden bridge. A few minutes after crossing, you’ll see a signpost for 九段の滝, which is accessible via a spur trail on your right. This waterfall is really nice since you can get relatively close to it. Retreat back to the main route and turn right.  After crossing over the river again, you’ll reach the largest and most popular waterfall in the entire park (Choshi falls).

The waterfall is actually reminiscent of a concrete fall, but I’ve been told that it is completely natural. Climb the stairs just to the left of the fall and continue walking upstream. The next part of the route is closed, which means you’ll have to walk on the main road for a little while. On the right side of the road, you’ll see a signpost for 五両の滝, accessible via a small trail that dives into the forest on your right. After checking out the fall, retrace your steps and continue on the main road for a short time until reaching the continuation of the trail on your right. From here to the end you’ll stay in the forest, where you’ll soon pass by a concrete dam! This is used for hydroelectric power and flood control, and the water just behind the dam is incredibly clear and beautiful. From here it’s a straight shot to the main road, where you should turn right and cross over the concrete bridge and arrive at the bus station and ferry terminal of Nenokuchi (子の口). There’s a restaurant here that serves tasty food on the 2nd floor, with a souvenir shop below. You can either catch a bus out to Aomori, Hachinohe, or to Lake Towada. A more scenic option for those heading to the lake is to take the sightseeing boat, which takes 50 minutes (1400 yen) to reach Yasumiya, the main tourist village of the lake. The boat is great because you can see scenery that you would otherwise miss.

When to go:  As this is an extremely popular walk, aim to go on weekdays between early June and late September. Oirase is one of the most popular places in Japan for autumn leaves, so avoid the peak season in October at all costs (unless you want to share the the trail with hundreds of other people). Winter is also an option if you’ve got snowshoes.

Access: From either Aomori or Hachinohe stations, take a JR bus bound for Lake Towada and get off at Yakeyama (焼山) bus stop. The bus from Hachinohe takes about an hour and a half. Another option would be to base yourself at Lake Towada (staying at Lake Towada Backpackers) and take a bus from Lake Towada (40 minutes, 1210 yen).  Click here for the bus schedule

Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change ~100m)

Distance: 14km ( 4 to 5 hours)

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Washigamine (鷲ヶ峰)/Yashima marsh (八島湿原)

June 16, 2013

photos and text by Alastair Bourne

Washigamine (eagle mountain) and Yashima (eight island) marsh offer a short but scenic hike through a national park straddling Suwa and Shimo-Suwa in the center of Nagano Prefecture.


The hike: With panoramic 360-degree views, little-known Washigamine probably deserves similar recognition to its more famous neighbors, Kirigamine and Kurumayama. Unusual for a place with such spectacular views, the trail to the summit is an easy ascent that should present no difficulties to moderately-experienced climbers or hikers. To start the hike, go through the tunnel under the road at the far end of the car park at Yashima marsh. Instead of heading straight to the marsh take a sharp left with the deer fence and the road immediately to your left. Head up the rocky slope through the trees and after about five minutes you will come to a flat area with a signpost pointing up towards Washigamine (鷲ヶ峰). Follow the sign, remembering to close the gate of the deer fence as you head up the well-marked path. Don’t forget to turn around and enjoy the view as you ascend. On a clear day you won’t have to climb far before taking in fantastic views of Mt. Tateshina, the Yatsugatake range and Mt. Fuji. Within minutes the tourists, car park and Venus Line road seem far behind you. Continue heading up the steady slope, taking care not to slip on the gravel and loose rocks until arriving at a plateau after about 25 minutes. Here the well-marked trail bears to the right. Walk along the ridge line for a couple of minutes and take a short rest at the first peak to enjoy the magnificent views of Yatsugatake. The trail then heads to the left, with steep grassy slopes on both sides. Follow the path for another 10 minutes to the summit of Washigamine. In summer, the route can be obstructed by thick vegetation, but there is only one way to go and no danger of getting lost. From the Washigamine summit you can once again enjoy the view of the mountains described earlier as well as spectacular vistas of Utsukushigahara, the South Alps, Yarigatake and the North Alps, Lake Suwa and parts of the Matsumoto valley. From here, intrepid explorers can continue onto Wada pass (和田峠). However, with the best of the views behind you, a circuit of Yashima marsh is perhaps a better option. Return along the same path until you reach the flat area with the signposted junction. Here, you should head straight down the slope instead of returning to the car park. After about 100 meters you will find yourself on the path that encircles the marsh, which contains a number of stunningly beautiful mirror-like ponds. The center of the marsh is out of bounds, but you can enjoy the views from the boardwalk and path that encircle the area. You can spend 45 minutes following the path around until you return to the car park, or head off towards Kirigamine or Kurumayama on one of the many well signposted paths that crisscross the area. Flora fans can enjoy the small alpine flowers throughout the area, while fauna fans may be lucky enough to catch sight of a fox or deer or unlucky enough to come across a bear in some of the areas off the beaten track.

When to go: The area is theoretically accessible all year round as the winter gates for the Venus Line are located just after Yashima car park. However, I don’t recommend going in winter when the area is covered in deep snow and you run the risk of starting an avalanche on the steep, treeless slopes of Washigamine. In June, the yellow nikkokisuge (day lilly) plant blooms across the area, which is filled with cars and buses carrying crowds yielding big, expensive-looking cameras. Car parks fill up from early in the morning, and all but the most determined botanists are unlikely to want to put up with the crowds or traffic. If you’re relying on the bus, then aim to go in July or August.

Access: It takes about 40 minutes by one of the infrequent buses from Kami-Suwa (上諏訪) station on the JR Chuo line to Yashima car park (八島湿原). The bus only runs from July 13 to August 25th (weekends only for the most part) and will set you back 1200 yen one-way. Click here for the bus schedule. Outside of these dates, you’ll need to take a bus that runs between Kamisuwa and Chino stations and get off at Kirigamine Interchange (霧ヶ峰インターチェンジ). From there, you’ll have to walk for about an hour, or you can try your luck hitching. Click here for that bus schedule

Map: Click here

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change ~200 meters)

Distance: It’s a 4-km round trip from Yashima to the summit of Washigamine. The circuit around Yashima marsh is another 2-3 km. The entire hike should take no more than three hours at even the most gentle of paces.

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Mt. Kama-ga-take (鎌ヶ岳)

May 14, 2013

Mt. Kama is one of the hidden jewels of the Suzuka mountain range in eastern Mie Prefecture. The spear-like peak is a thrilling rock scramble with outstanding panoramic views of Ise bay and the rest of the mountains of Mie and Shiga Prefectures.


Note: If you don’t fancy taking the gondola, then there are several hiking trails to choose from. The most popular route is the Nakamichi (中道), but you’ll need to walk up the paved road for about an hour before reaching the trailhead. The Uramichi (裏道) route starts just past the gondola entrance and it’s a pleasant (and less crowded) climb. The summit of Mt. Gozaisho is an eyesore, with a ski resort, restaurants, and lots of concrete. It’s better to spend your energy getting towards Mt. Kama, which is why I recommend the gondola. In addition, there are outstanding views of Mt. Kama from the gondola: look out the left side of the carriage at the pyramidal peak on the ride up.

The hike: When exiting the gondola, head upstairs and enjoy the views from Fujimi-daira. On an exceptionally clear day, you can see the top of Mt. Fuji sticking up from behind the mountains of Aichi Prefecture. From here, take the concrete steps leading off the lookout point. The path will wrap around and pass by a restaurant (and the chairlift entrance). Climb the ski field just to the right of the chairlift for about 10 minutes and you’ll reach the high point of Mt. Gozaisho. From here, head left on the paved road, following the signs to Buhei-touge (武平峠).  After several minutes you’ll see a signposted path on the right side of the paved path with a warning sign in Japanese telling people it is dangerous (危険). The first part of the route is on slippery sandstone with a couple of low branches hanging across the path (watch your head please). After that, the route drops steeply through an area of large rocks and boulders. At times it feels as if you are traversing the Houou ridge of the Minami Alps with all of the sand stone present. It should take about 30 to 45 minutes to reach Buhei-touge, where you’ll want to take a break before starting the big climb. There are paths dropping off the ridge to both the left and right. The left path will take you back down to Yunoyama onsen, while the right path drops into Shiga Prefecture. The trail to the summit of Mt. Kama is straight ahead, and it’s a no-nonsense ascent of 300 vertical meters through more sandstone and large boulders. It’ll take about an hour to reach the summit, where you’ll have jaw-dropping panoramic views. The final 50 meters to the peak is tricky, with slippery rock and poor footholds. You’ll probably find yourself scrambling on all fours. However, there is a chain here to help you up the pebbly trail. You’ll know you’re just below the summit when you reach a blue signpost that says Kamagatake (Universal). Turn left here for the steep scurry. From the top, there’s a path that drops down on the left, but ignore this and continue on the ridge, past a rusty shrine and to a rock clearing. Don’t be tempted to keep traversing on the knife-edge ridge. The real path drops down on your left. It’s a steep 10-minute descent to Dake-touge (岳峠), where you’ll find a path on your left marked Nagaishidani (長石谷). Take this trail as it descends through a beautiful rocky, dry riverbed. The path can be difficult to pick up, so look for the red paint marks on the rocks and the red tape on the trees. As long as you stay close to the bed you’ll be fine. The gully will eventually turn into a stream with running water, which will grow larger the further you descend. The route crosses this river about a dozen times. The crossings aren’t well-marked, but a good rule of thumb is to stick to whichever side of the river is widest. After about an hour a tributary will come in from the left, and you can find a large waterfall here. There is a signpost on the path (on the right bank of the river) that says Inuhoshiootaki (犬星大滝). If you want to see the waterfall, then cross the stream on your left and you’ll find it about 50 meters up the tributary. It makes a wonderful place for a break. Retrace your steps to the trail and continue downstream. The waterfalls grow in size a bit from this point and the river crossings become a bit trickier, so take your time and make sure to look for the paint marks. There are also a couple of waste-deep pools that look great for a dip (as long as the leeches aren’t out). You’re next big landmark will (unfortunately) be a big concrete dam. You know you’re getting close when the cedar trees start showing up. When you reach the dam, head to the left and take the path that drops very steeply towards the bottom of the dam. This path will meet up with another path (this is the path that drops directly from the summit) and the route will drop back past a couple of more concrete dams before reaching a flat area where you’ll need to cross the river. From here it’s a short walk to the paved road, Turn right and follow the road for about 45 minutes to the bus stop just below the gondola. If it’s a weekend then you can try your luck hitching. Otherwise, wait for the bus that’ll take you back to Yunoyama station.

When to go: This hike can be done from late March to early December. May is the best time for flowers. Avoid the peak from June to August, as the Suzuka mountains are covered with blood-sucking leeches. Winter is for experts only.

Access:  Although it’s very far from Osaka, it can be done as a day trip if you’re prepared for a 5-hour round trip train ride. From Kintetsu-Namba station, take a Limited Express train bound for Nagoya and get off at Yokkaichi station, where you can transfer to the Yunoyama line. Some trains don’t stop at Yokkaichi, so you’ll need to transfer to a different Limited Express train at Tsu. From Yokkaichi, take the Yunoyama line and get off at Yunoyama Onsen station. From the station, take a bus to Yunoyama onsen. The buses are infrequent, so if you’ve got some people with you, it’ll be faster to share a taxi to the ropeway (a one-way taxi is about 1300 yen). From Nagoya, there are some direct trains to Yunoyama onsen, and there are direct buses as well, which will drop you off just below the gondola entrance. Click here for the Nagoya-Yunoyama bus schedule and here for the bus from Yunoyama station to the gondola.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~500 meters)

Distance: 7.5km (3-1/2 to 7 hours, depending on whether you use the gondola or not)

Vertical elevation chart:

 kama - vertical

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Mt. Aoba (青葉山)

April 9, 2013

Mt. Aoba, also known by the nickname of Wakasa-fuji, is a twin-peaked volcanic cone rising proudly from Wakasa bay in northern Kyoto Prefecture. The hike is along an exhilarating ridge with outstanding views of the Sea of Japan, as well as the Japan Alps if you’re especially lucky with the weather.


The hike: Climb the stone stairs leading to Matsuno temple. When you reach the main temple building (distinguished by the double-pitched roof), turn right, looking for the covered bridge that connects the main building with an adjacent structure. Cross under the bridge and you’ll find a signpost and trailhead behind. Climb the stairs and enter the bamboo forest, following the signs that say 青葉山・山頂まで 1.8km. The path is a gentle, steady climb for a few minutes until flattening out and crossing through a broken shrine gate. Here you’ll pass through a small clearing of bamboo grass before re-entering the forest, where the real climb begins. The path wastes no time in gaining altitude, with generous amounts of switchbacks in place to ensure the climbing is not too steep. Ropes and ladders can be found in the steepest places, and it should take a hour or so of steady climbing to reach the ridge just below the summit of the west peak (西峰). When you reach the ridge, you’ll see the remnants of an old stone temple building directly in front of you. Turn right and follow the windy ridge (watching out for the steep drops to your left towards the sea). After about 5 minutes you’ll reach a small emergency hut that marks the summit. If you look behind the small shrine, you’ll see an enormous rock formation with a handrail attached about 3/4 of the way up. Head behind the shrine and towards the right, where you’ll find a ladder and ropes that will assist in the near vertical climb to the top. The true summit has amazing views of  Uchiura bay directly below. On the right hand side of the peninsula you can see Takahama Nuclear Power plant. It’s unbelievable that such a structure was built in this beautiful bay, but that’s the reality of Japan. After admiring the views, retrace your steps back to the emergency hut and continue along the ridge (in the opposite way in which you climbed). The ridge between the west and east peaks is exciting: after descending steeply to the saddle, you’ll work your way through an area of metal ladders with amazing views of the valley below. It should take about 40 minutes to reach the summit of the east peak (東峰), which is marked by a shrine building. Just to the left of the shrine is a set of steps that descends to a flat area with a lot of benches. Be careful going down the stairs, as they are incredibly slippery (my butt is still sore from taking a tumble). The rest area makes a great place to relax for lunch, and at the far end there’s a rock formation that is chained off to keep people from entering. The views from this rock are nice if you climb over the chain (just don’t get too close to the edge). From here, the path heads towards the left (just before the rock formation). The trail is marked as 展望台まで 1.1km. It’s a very straightforward trail, winding its way through a beautiful forest on a series of wooden steps. Be sure to encourage those hikers you pass : the ascent from here really is tougher than the other approach (in terms of distance and vertical elevation gain, that is). In about 10 minutes you’ll come to a large rock formation. You can either skirt around it to the left or head up and over it. It’s worth climbing the rock for the views. After that, the path flattens out a little before climbing a small rise and descending steeply down the other side. Your next landmark will be another wooden shrine with a small clearing. There are a couple of benches here, but no real views to speak of. The real lookout tower is another couple of minutes down the trail, and there you’ll have outstanding views of Wakasa Bay and Tsuruga city. If you’re really lucky with the weather and visibility then you can also see Hakusan and the Japan Alps from here. After this, a bit of the beauty of the peak is lost, as you’ll pass by a couple of television antenna before entering a cedar forest and a junction, where a decision will have to be made. If you’ve driven to the mountain, then take the right fork marked for 高野 (Takano). If not, then stay on the ridge and follow the signs to Nakayamadera (中山寺), where you can grab a taxi or hitchhike to the nearest train station. I took the trail to Takano, and it’s easy to follow until reaching the village. From there, it’s a long walk on concrete roads back to Matsuno temple. There are no signposts, so it’s best to ask the locals about the best place to go. You could also try your luck hitching. The entire hike should take about 3 or 4 hours, depending on your speed and how many breaks you take.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but you’ll want to be prepared for snow and ice during the colder months of January and February. The route is exposed in places, with ladders and ropes, so try to avoid wet conditons if you can.

Access:  Although very tricky to access, it can be done as a day hike from Osaka if you get an early start. The best (and cheapest) way is to take a highway bus from Hankyu bus terminal in Umeda to Higashi-Maizuru (東舞鶴) station. From there, change to a train on the JR Obama line and get off at Matsuno-odera (松尾寺) station. The train only takes 7 minutes, but the trains are few and far between. The bus takes about 2 hours, depending on traffic. There are also buses from Sannomiya in Kobe and from Kyoto station. Click here for the bus schedule) You can also access Higashi-Maizuru by train from Kyoto (90 minutes by limited express train). From Matsuno-odera station it’s a short taxi ride (or a 1 hour walk) to the trailhead.

Map: Click here , here, and here.

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change ~400 meters)

Distance: 5km (3-1/2 to 5 hours)

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Mt. Eboshi (烏帽子岳)

March 18, 2013

Mt.  Eboshi, or Shinto priest hat peak, is a knobby mountain perched on the northern shores of Lake Haruna in central Gunma Prefecture. The steep hike is filled with pristine forests, wild bamboo grass, and enticing views of the lake directly below.


The hike: From the bus stop, walk on the paved road (with the lake on your left), turning left to cross the bridge, and you’ll see a signpost reading 烏帽子岳登山口 about a hundred meters on your right. Follow the trail through the forest for a couple of minutes and you’ll come to a small Inari shrine adorned with hundreds of tiny ceramic fox statues. Just in front of the shrine you’ll see a dirt forest road. Turn right on the road and you’ll find a sign that reads 烏帽子山登山道入口. Turn left at the sign and follow the well-worn path for about 30 minutes as it climbs towards the ridge. The last 50 meters of the climb are along a series of wooden steps, but all-in-all it’s not too steep of a climb. When you reach the ridge, you’ll find a junction. If you turn left, there’s an alternate peak called 鬢櫛山, which is a steep 30-minute climb to the summit. Ignore this for now and turn right, passing through the red torii gate flanked by two stone fox statues. The route immediately steepens, with lots of stairs and a roped handrail to aid in the ascent. Be particularly careful in wet conditions, especially on the descent. After about 20 minutes, you’ll reach a giant rock formation with a shrine torii gate in front. This is where the mountain god resides. The path becomes a bit unclear at this point, but turn left when you reach this rock and you should see the trail climb steeply around the stone, with ropes tied to the trees for assistance. After this, the trail flattens out as you reach the summit plateau, which is overgrown with bamboo grass. In about 5 minutes you will reach the summit of Mt. Eboshi, which is covered in trees and doesn’t offer any views. If you continue walking on the plateau, and descent for a couple of minutes towards the lake side of the peak, you will reach a small clearing with a small cliff, which has fantastic views of the lake and the mountains of Chichibu. This is the best place to take a break. Once satisfied, retrace your steps back to the junction and consider climbing the other peak (鬢櫛山) before descending back down to the lake on the trail you came from. One option would be to do what we did: climb this peak in the morning, and follow it up with an afternoon ascent of neighboring Haruna-fuji.

When to go: This hike can be done year round, but you’ll need some 6-point crampons if hiking in January or February. Winter is the best time to see the mountains of Niigata Prefecture covered with snow, as the lack of foliage improves visibility from the forest-covered summit and the clear air means Mt. Fuji will likely be visible on the horizon.

Access: From Tokyo, take a train to Shibukawa (渋川), and transfer to a bus bound for either Ikaho hot spring (伊香保温泉) or Ikaho-Harunaguchi (伊香保榛名口) and get off at Ikaho Bus Terminal. From here, you can catch a bus bound for Haruna-ko Onsen Yuusuge (榛名湖温泉ゆうすげ), the start of the hike.  The buses are poorly-timed, so double-check both schedules before you set off, or consider breaking up the trip by staying at the hot spring. Click here for the bus from Shibukawa, and here for the bus that runs between Lake Haruna and Ikaho hot spring. Alternatively, if you’re staying in the area for a few days, then you can simply just stay at the Kokumin-shukusha (recommended), or the more expensive Hotel Yuusuge, which is more convenient for the hike. Either place will pick you up from the bus stop if you’ve taken the bus from Takasaki (see Mt. Kamon hike for a description of that bus route). From the Kokumin-shukusha, you’ll need to walk clockwise around 1/4 of the lake to reach the trailhead.

Map: Click here

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~360 meters)

Distance: 3km (2 to 3 hours)

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Mt. Yura (由良ヶ岳)

March 16, 2013

Rising from the mouth of the Yura river in northern Kyoto Prefecture, Mt. Yura is a fantastic day hike for those looking for wonderful ocean views on one side, and a sea of mountains on the other.


The hike:  When exiting the train, give your ticket to the train driver, cross the overhead pedestrian bridge, and exit the station, checking the return train timetable before leaving. There’s a restroom on your left as you exit the station, along with some benches where you can eat lunch or organize your gear. From the station, walk straight on the paved road in front of you, turning left at the first intersection you come to (about 50 meters from the station). After passing by the elementary school, take your first left, following the signpost that says Kokumin-shukusha (国民宿舎). Cross over the railroad tracks and continue following the road straight towards the peak. Mt. Yura looks intimidating from this angle, as the peak rises abruptly directly above. Take it one step at a time and you should be fine. When you reach the Kokumin-shukusha (a tan building with a red tile roof), turn right on the road behind the building. Here you’ll find a small shelter and the start of the trail. The path is divided into 10 stages (or 6 stages if you follow the larger signposts). The path is blocked by a steel fence used to keep deer out of the village. Unlock the gate, enter the path, and don’t forget to relock the gate behind you. The first part of the route is extremely eroded, with deep head-high ruts riveted out of the sandstone. Follow the channel up for about 20 minutes until reaching a false ridge (it’s a secondary ridge that will lead you to the real climb). Your next landmark will be a spur trail with a signpost marked for water (水). There is a stream where you can get water, but you’ll need to descend down to a valley to get it. Anyway, unless you’re really thirsty, ignore this trail and continue the climb. A short time later, you will arrive at the 4th stagepoint (4合目), which is a great place to take a break. Just off the path on your left, you can see the remains of a charcoal kiln which was used to make charcoal in the old times. From here, the real start of the climb begins, as you’ll enter a cedar forest with steep switchbacks. You’ll cross a dirt forest road twice (be careful with the crossings – they’re not well-marked). The views towards the sea will start to open up behind you, so don’t forget to look back every once in a while to admire the scenery. Eventually you’ll reach another water source labeled Ippai-mizu (一杯水). The water is a short walk to your left, but wasn’t much more than a trickle when I visited in March. Take another quick break here. You’re almost on the ridge, but the steepest part of the hike is yet to come. After leaving the water source, follow the switchbacks through the deciduous forest until popping out on the ridge. From here, the walk becomes much easier and more pleasant, as your walking on a stellar ridge with beautiful foliage. Turn right when you hit the junction, following the spine of the mountain to Nishi-mine (西峰), the highest point of Mt. Yura. It should take 10 to 20 minutes of gentle walking to reach the summit, where you’ll have amazing views of Amanohashidate and Kunda bay, with it’s wonderful crescent-shaped beach. You’ll also see a dubious-looking power plant run by Kansai Electric company. Apparently it’s an “energy research center”, but who knows what they’re doing at that place. I really hope they are properly disposing of their waste and not dumping it in the scenic bay. After soaking up the views, retrace your steps back to the junction, and continue on to Higashi-mine (東峰), which is a short but steep climb. The views from here are much better than from the other peak, with panoramic views of the sea, Mt. Aoba, Hakusan and the Japan Alps (clear days only), as well as just about every peak in Kyoto and Hyogo Prefectures. You’ll find a small shrine and jizo statue on the summit. This would be a pretty impressive place to camp if not for the lack of water and toilet facilities. When you’ve had enough of the views, simply retrace your steps all the way back to the train station. Be sure to time your descent to coincide with the train departure times. There’s not much to do in the town if you’ve got an hour to kill before the next train.

When to go: Due to the extreme heat of the Kansai region, this hike is best avoided in the summer months of July and August unless you want to die of heatstroke. Winter is also a challenge due to the generally poor weather, frigid winds, and deep snow drifts. The best time to hike is either spring (mid-March to late May) or autumn (mid-September to late November). A good way to break up the hike might be to stay at the Kokumin-shukusha at the trailhead, which costs ¥ 6700 with 2 meals. Here is the website.

Access:  Although a bit tricky to access, it can be done as a day hike from Osaka if you get an early start. The best (and cheapest) way is to take a highway bus from Hankyu bus terminal in Umeda to Nishi-Maizuru (西舞鶴) station. From there, change to a train on the Kitakinki Tango railway (located in the main JR station on the first floor) bound for Miyazu (宮津) or Toyooka (豊岡) and get off at Tangoyura (丹後由良) station. The train takes about 15 minutes and costs 310 yen. The bus takes about 2 hours, depending on traffic. There are also buses from Sannomiya in Kobe and from Kyoto station. Click here for the bus schedule and here for information on the train line. You can also access Nishi-Maizuru by train from Kyoto (90 minutes by limited express train).

Map: Click here

Live web cam: Click here

Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 640 meters)

Distance: 8km (3-1/3 to 5 hours)

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Utara Coal Mine Ruins (ウタラ炭坑)

March 5, 2013

The ruins of the largest coal mine on Iriomote Island, the 20-minute stroll is a great chance to get a taste of jungle hiking without the effort or discomfort of getting there.


The hike: From the bus stop, cross the street and walk though the parking lot. Instead of dropping down to the boat landing on your right, continue straight on and the concrete road will turn into a dirt forest track. You’ll soon see signs pointing to Utara Coal Mine (ウタラ炭坑), which is 1km from the parking lot. There are signs every 200 meters, so it’s impossible to get lost. Depending on when you go, you may very well have the entire trail to yourself, since most people opt for the boat ride. You can also rent a kayak at the boat landing and paddle up to the ruins, but I’m not sure if they’ll rent it to you without joining an expensive tour. Anyway, after a few minutes of hiking, you’ll come to a lookout point with fantastic views of the river below. A little further on the trail will drop down to meet Utara river, which it will follow for the remainder of the walk. There are places where you can drop down and observe the wildlife of the mangroves. At the end of the path, you’ll see some wooden stairs on your left which lead to an elevated wooden walkway. Follow this walkway to the end, and you’ll arrive at the ruins. There are explanatory panels here (in Japanese only), as well as a black-and-white photo of what the place used to look like. Apparently, the Imperial Army used slaves from Korea and China for the perilous work in the coal mines, during which time Iriomote Island was infested with malaria. The walkway is a good place to contemplate what life must have been like years ago. The rest of the area is heavily overgrown, but if you’re keen to do some additional exploring, then hop over the wooden railing and knock yourself out. Be careful of snakes, leeches, and other creatures that may be lurking in the deep.

When to go: This relatively flat hike can easily be done year round, and is great to do with kids. It’s also great to do after doing the Kanbiree hike, since you’re already in the area.

Access: From Uehara ferry terminal, take a bus bound for Shirahama and get off at Urauchibashi (浦内橋). The first bus is at 10:43am. Click here for the schedule. Otherwise, if you stay at Mariudo Guesthouse, they should be able to give you a ride to the start if you ask them. Hitching is also an option.

Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (a pretty flat walk)

Distance: 2km (40 minutes to 1-1/2 hours)

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