We had a bit of an adventure at the weekend. We wanted to go for a hike up Mt Shoto but we missed one train connection just as the doors were closing which meant we also missed the bus connection – the one bus per hour! We decided then to keep going down the same line to Otsuki station which had a short three-hour hike on the map.
We should’ve had some idea something was up by both the “You want to go where?” look the tourist office lady gave us and the fact that we couldn’t find the start of the trail! Lost before we’d started. This was a small temple that was not the start:
We found the start of the trail which, after a short flight of steps, turned into a 60° climb pulling ourselves up with ropes:
Some mushrooms along the trail:
This was not the smartest thing to be doing in 33° heat and humidity but we managed to reach the top of that peak where, if you look closely, you can see Mt Fuji:
That was the first of the three peaks and was relatively straightforward. Generally after the initial climb you can walk along the ridge line with only some up and down:
There was some quite nice hiking in places – well I’m sure it would be enjoyable in Autumn anyway:
But it soon became clear that the city council, figuring no-one in their right mind would go hiking in the middle of summer, didn’t bother to maintain the paths and just let them grow for those months. It was like a jungle! The paths were criss-crossed with spider webs, we literally had to slash our way through overgrowth in some places, we lost the path a couple of times. We were like a pair of Dr Livingstones! Eventually, we made it down the mountain only to find the last stairs so completely overgrown we couldn’t even see the path. Here are some iPhone snaps.
This is the ‘path’:
At some point what goes up must come down – then get lost, then go back up again, find the path and come down:
Somewhere in here there were stairs:
Moral of the story: don’t go hiking in Summer (and if you do wear long pants)!!
The next day we set off and took a different route across the river to walk back to the station. The hiking route actually continues all the way around the river and then to the summit of the peaks but not quite at this level yet:
Bridge over the river:
This side of the river is mostly wetland and you walk along boardwalks through the marshes:
Even though it’s the middle of summer there is still some snow and ice:
The kappa-bashi bridge:
Monument to Walter Weston, a British missionary who first popularised mountaineering in Japan (previously it was mainly only for religious ascetics) and campaigned to have Kamikochi preserved as a national park. Apparently the monument was hidden during the war to save it from being melted down:
We decided to escape the 35 degree heat on the weekend and go camping up into the Japanese Alps of Nagano to the Kamikochi area. The area is a National Park where cars are prohibited from entering for ‘preserving and maintaining the virgin nature’. Which, of course, brings bus-loads of tourists. But, once you get further up away from the crowds (and don’t look too closely at the bulldozed river), it really is a very scenic and beautiful spot.
With the soaring mountain peaks, it is truely deserving of its tag ‘The Japanese Alps’:
Once past the bus-stop and main tourist area, the hiking course winds up the slope along the river:
And then back into a birch forest:
There are small streams running through the forest – I imagine in spring they would be flooded with melt-off from the snow:
Every now and then we could catch a glimpse of the mountain peaks:
After a couple of hours walking through the forest we came back out towards the river and eventually the campsite:
We went for a short hike on the weekend up Mt Takao. It’s easy to see why this got 3 stars in the Michellin Guide – there’s not many other major world cities where less than two hours on the train, and still technically within the city, you can find yourself walking up mountain trails. We went on Trail #6 which runs along a small stream, so it was wonderful to escape the summer heat if only for a short time (though not the humidity!).
Getting into the spirit of it (recently trail running has become popular):
The Seven Gods of Luck stand watch:
The start of the trail proper:
The mountain was a popular pilgrimmage site – devotees would stand under the waterfall and pray:
Ladies enjoying a day out:
The mountain is covered with old growth forest – amazing that it’s actually inside the City of Tokyo:
There are stepping stones up the middle of the stream:
Here are some photos from a hike we did to Mt Jinba, out near Mt Takao on the very western edge of Tokyo. The hike we did was from 小仏 (Kobotoke) to 陣馬山 (Mt Jinba), around 14 kilometers. Once you get to the top of the peak it’s quite a nice walk along the ridge between the two mountains (around 800m). It’s actually the border between Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture so you straddle the two as you walk.
Just outside Inuyama is a fascinating little theme-park, I guess you could call it, called Meiji Mura. It was opened back in 1965 with the aim of preserving buildings from the Meiji period (1868-1912), a period of rapid industrial development. Various buildings were collected from all around Japan and carefully restored on this site.
A still working post-office:
The old Tokyo Imperial Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright:
Just north of Nagoya in Gifu Prefecture is the small town of Inuyama (lit. ‘Dog Mountain’). In summer the Kiso River features night Ukai cormorant fishing, where the birds dive down by flaming torch light, pick out the summer fish known as Ayu and then disgorge them onto a waiting boat.
On a hill overlooking the town is Inuyama Castle, one of the oldest surviving castles in Japan, constructed in 1537, and one of only twelve original castles to survive intact. It is also, I believe, the only privately-owned castle in Japan.
Taking the Tobu Line from Asakusa in Tokyo north towards Nikko, the train branches at Shimo-imaichi station – the left takes you to Nikko while the right goes to Kinugawa. Kinugawa is an onsen hotspring town that inevitably became over-developed during the Bubble years of the 1980’s/90’s. Now, twenty years later, it has settled down into a quiet getaway from the tourist-bustle of Nikko itself with wonderful onsens, some stunning autumn foliage (although we went in Summer!) and boat rides down the river.
The name, 鬼怒川 Kinugawa, means devil or ogre river, which of course is reminded to visitors with all the subtlety one might expect in an ogre:
The Kinugawa river runs through the centre of town and down out to the rock formations of the Ryuou-kyou Ravine, which you can take a boat ride down:
You can do that, but we decided to hike it down. Following the left bank along the river affords some spectacular views of the ravine:
After a while you pass a small shrine with a waterfall:
Further along there is a bridge that crosses the ravine (with a soba noodle shop on the other side!):
From there you can hike back to town along the opposite bank. The path is dotted with summer wildflowers and even the occasional wildlife. After that, it’s time to enjoy a rewarding soak in an outdoor onsen over-looking the river.