Hike a Hidden Gem in Kanagawa: Mount Hakusan
Japan's dramatic landscape is roughly 70% mountainous, meaning that even within the throngs of people and clusters of high rises in Shinjuku, you are never far from a peak! From the world famous Mt Fuji to the popular Mt Takao, there are plenty of mountains easily accessible from Tokyo offering hikes of varying difficulty. However, for those wanting a relatively easy hike, luscious greenery, relaxing onsen within an hour's journey from Shinjuku but to also get away from the crowds, I introduce Mt Hakusan in Atsugi, Kangawa prefecture.
I recently visited Mt Hakusan for the first time during 'Golden Week' – the first week in May which includes 3 national holidays. A friend and I wanted to escape to some greenery for the day – as do most Tokyoites – so we knew that most well-known beauty spots would be packed with people. However, as Mt Hakusan is close to Mt Ooyama, which is a relatively popular destination, but is far less of a climb (284m), there were only a handful of tourists and no omiyage-ya (souvenir shop) in sight! Just green, green and green!
To access Mt Hakusan from Tokyo, take the Odakyu line from Shinjuku to Hon-Atsugi (The Odawara express train takes 5 5mins and leaves roughly every 10 minutes. 500 Yen one way) then from the north exit of Hon-Atsugi station, head to bus stand 5 (just outside the Lawson convenience store on the opposite side of the road to the station) and take the bus for kami-iiyama (上飯山). (approx. 25 mins, 340 Yen one way). For the start of the hiking course, alight at iiyama kannon mae (飯山観音前). It is worth bearing in mind that there is very little in the way of shops and restaurants near Mt Hakusan and not a convenience store in sight, so if you need to buy your bento (packed lunch) it is best to do it here first in Hon-Atsugi.
The temple, Iiyama Kannon (飯山観音) is but a short, uphill walk from the bus stop. The temple is popularly known as Iiyama Kannon due to the 11-headed kannon housed here, the principal object of worship. The temple is also a popular sakura (cherry blossom) viewing spot – great if you plan to visit in late March/early April!
You can then access the hiking course behind the temple. There actually two routes: The woman's route and the men's route! (‘女’ for the women’s route, ‘男’ for the men’s.) They both lead to the same observatory at the top of Mt Hakusan, and actually merge (i.e., if you ascend the woman's course, you will descend on the men's course) with the only difference being that the men's course is steeper. Of course, there are absolutely no gender restrictions on the courses; it is a mere suggestion, if a somewhat condescending one! Though it may well be worth mentioning that the woman's course is a little easier to follow that the men’s course, with more picnic and viewing spots along the way. The men's course is certainly steeper and less clear – there were moments where the trail was virtually hidden by undergrowth – but allows you to be slightly deeper in the forest. There is also a running course clearly signposted (though not marked on the map).
The hiking course and the running course run through lush, peaceful forest right up to the top of Mt Hakusan and takes approximately 2 hours to complete (round-trip). The observatory platform at the top is a modest affair, allowing you views of the neighbouring mountains ranges, Yokohama and even the sea! Whilst at the top, you can also visit the tiny Hakusan Jinja shrine, largely hidden away among the trees.
Near the base of Mt Hakusan, there are a few open green spaces, especially well-suited for families and picnic-ers. These include the Ki no mi no mori (木の実の森) and the children's play park near the Iiyama Kannon temple. There is also the Ajisai Park – if you visit in June, the hydrangea swill be in full bloom in a variety of beautiful pastel shades.
After our hike, we naturally wanted to take off our muddy shoes and have a relaxing soak, so we headed to one of the four onsens in the area, Motoyu Ryokan (元湯旅館, a 10 minute walk up the road from the end of the trail or alight at kami-iiyama bus stop). You can't miss the giant tanuki (Japanese racoon-dog) statue at the entrance! This onsen is part of a ryokan (a classy, Japanese style, hotel) but non-guests are allowed to use the onsen for about an hour (for a fee of 1000 yen). The onsen is small but in a beautiful setting and the outside bath is surrounded by maple trees – sure to be stunning in Autumn. Other onsen in the area are listed on the Iiyama Onsen website (Japanese only but the map shows the onsen names and locations in red).
Entrance to Moto Ryokan
So if looking for a mini-mountain break, full of greenery, low on people and without having to spend lots of time and money to get there (from Tokyo) – please give Mt Hakusan a try! Enjoy!
Map of hiking course (in Japanese)