Nantai: The Sacred Mountain
Nantai-san is a sacred mountain looming over Chuzenji-ko, just north of Nikko in Tochigi prefecture. Standing at 2,486 meters high, Mount Nantai is one of Japan’s 100 famous mountains, and for good reason. While the mountain is technically considered an active volcano, it is hiked often due to its challenging terrain and the rewarding views from the summit.
A Sacred Mountain
Mount Nantai, translating to “man’s body”, is considered to be a sacred mountain. Futarasan shrine rests at the base of the mountain and is a place where people pray to mountain’s god. It is said that this god brings water from the mountain down to the people living near the base. At the summit you can see a statue depicting this god.
Every year at the beginning of August, a festival is held at the base of the mountain. People gather at the shrine and near the lake, purchasing food from local food stalls and enjoying the good-natured atmosphere. Fireworks are set off over Lake Chuzenji in honor of the mountain, and crowds of people ascend Nantai-san at midnight.
The hike itself is quite steep and ascends 1200 vertical meters to the summit. It can take anywhere from three to five hours to complete. Start at the Futarasan shrine, where a torii gate marks the entrance of the trail. The path ascends steeply through the woods and then comes to a road at the third station. The road switchbacks to the fourth station, and from here the hike gets a bit steeper still. Stations six through eight require rock scrambling categorized between class two and class three. The final summit push is on volcanic soil and takes roughly 20-30 minutes.
The mountain is open to hikers between the 5th of May and the 25th of October. There is the possibility of snow on the mountain between May and early June, so be aware of this when planning your hike. A 500 yen donation is asked of hikers at the beginning of the hike, just before passing through the shrine’s middle torii gate. Make sure to bring plenty of water if you are planning on hiking, as there is nowhere to replenish your water source on the way up the mountain. 1-2 liters is recommended.
After the hike you can celebrate your summit with a beer while overlooking Chuzenji-ko. The surrounding town has plenty of small restaurants where you can get a meal by the lake. If you have leftover energy after the hike, you can rent a canoe and have a relaxing paddle across the water. There is also the option of visiting one of the many famous onsen in area. This is a popular amongst hikers as it helps to relieve muscle pain after a day of climbing.
From Tokyo Station, take the JR Utstunomiya line to Utstunomiya, then transfer to the JR Nikko line. When you arrive at Nikko, take a bus in front of the station heading to Yumoto Hot Spring. Get off at the Futarasan Jinjamae bus stop and walk up the steps of the shrine towards the trailhead. A slightly quicker, although more expensive, option would be to take the shinkansen to Utsunomiya.