Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

Nokogiriyama: A Break from Urban Life

Nokogiriyama: A Break from Urban Life

Catherine Allen

Looking out over Tokyo from one of the many observation decks, it might seem like there is no end to the urban landscape.  One skyscraper after another, it can seem like a long journey must be undertaken just to escape the hustle and bustle and find some greenery.  Thankfully (for any nature or hiking lovers), Chiba prefecture is surprisingly easy to get to, and offers a lush green panorama very much contrasting that of downtown Tokyo.  Nokogiriyama (translated as ‘Saw-tooth mountain’) is a mountain overlooking Kanaya, and provides the perfect day trip from Tokyo for anyone in search of nature, exercise, temples or buddhas.

Standing at just over 1000 feet, there are a number of different hiking trails to the top.  On the walk between Hamakanaya station and the base of the ropeway, there is a small tourist information center where you can pick up a map detailing all the various routes.  For anyone not wanting a hike, there is also a cable car, about 15 minutes from the ferry pier or 10 mins from the train station.

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If taking one of the shorter trails to the top, it can be done in less than an hour, and offers some great views and a different perspective of the ‘Saw-tooth’ rock.  One route in particular provides a playground among the remains of the quarry it once was (between 14th and 18th centuries), with abandoned machines and fascinating chiseled rock faces.  While the mountain itself isn’t as popular as it could be, the hiking trails are even less so, meaning you have the forest trail pretty much to yourself.

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As you reach the top, there are a few observation points to check out, each with a slightly different angle on the view across Tokyo Bay, Izu Peninsula and sometimes even Mount Fuji.  Completed in 1963 after earthquake damage, the Hyakushaku Kannon can be seen just next to the ticket booth.  This carving of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy is over 30m high, and is almost hidden until you stand directly in front of the alcove.  The name ‘Hyakushaku’ consists of two parts: ‘hyaku’ meaning 100, and ‘shaku’ is a traditional unit of measurement defined as 30.3cm (about 1 ft).  While ‘shaku’ was formally discontinued in 1966, it’s still sometimes used in fields such as carpentry.

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After mustering up the courage to walk on the lookout known as ‘a view of hell’ (Jigoku Nozoki), the ‘1500-Arhat Approach’ path can be taken down the mountain.  An Arhat is a Buddhist disciple who has achieved complete spiritual enlightenment, and these statues were carved between 1779 and 1798.  Unfortunately, there are actually now just 538 statues as many were destroyed during the anti-Buddhist violence at the start of the Meiji period in 1868.  With varying size, shape and facial expression, they make for a pleasant and interesting walk down the mountain.

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Further down the slope is the Daibutsu.  Representing Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Healing, he was completed in 1783 after 3 years of carving.  At 31m, the Daibutsu is actually the largest stone-carved Buddha in Japan, and the grassy area surrounding makes for a good place to have a rest or picnic.

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From here, it’s possible to follow signs for Hamakanaya station or Hota station, where you can catch the JR Uchibo train back to Tokyo.  The ferry to Yokohama is also an option from Kanaya, taking you to Kurihama port.

With a journey time of just a couple of hours, Nokogiriyama makes for a refreshing and interesting escape from a jam-packed Tokyo, and is perfect for anyone wanting to get off the beaten track.