8- 9 September, 2018
Mt Oyama is a 1252m peak in Kanagawa, just southwest of Tokyo. It’s the first big peak you get to on the way down to the Tanzawa range, and its close proximity to Tokyo looked like a great place from which to look out onto a blazing sea of city lights at night time. Being quite partial to that sort of view, off I went.
This hike kicks off on a warm, mostly sunny, Saturday afternoon, at 1:23. Exactly. That’s when the Odakyu Oodawara line train from Shinjuku pulled into Tsurumaki-Onsen Station, right on time.
From the station I headed northwest, looking for an underpass tunnel beneath the Tomei Expressway and a way to the mountain. It was about a 12 minute walk from the station to the tunnel.
It’s man vs truck at the expressway underpass
Directly on the other side of the expressway, a dead-end street heads uphill a short distance to the start of the climb. An old shack and a small home with a pleasant garden here give the trailhead a real country vibe, and even before you head into the greenery you already start to feel a long way from the city.
The trail starts behind that shack and goes straight into the trees
The path heads up through long grass and bamboo, before entering a forest. I passed a few hikers coming down, several young Americans among them: military-looking types with crewcuts. Given the location of the path and nondescript entrance, I wasn’t expecting to see any foreigners. Maybe it was a much more well-known hike than I’d realised. As is often the case, some of the hikers had bear bells, and again I had to wonder if it was due to a real danger, or the fear that reports of occasional bear attacks in other places instil in us.
It rained intermittently on the first half of the hike —nothing too heavy; just enough to cool things down a little and make the going a bit easier. The forecast though, had been for clear weather, and I wondered how the rain might affect my plan once I arrived at the top. More about that later.
Mt Oyama from an opening in the trees, near the start of the trail
The path meandered easily along through a pleasant forest for several kilometres without any serious climbs. At one point it passed right by a hotel that looked like it hadn’t changed much since the 80s. The longer I walked, the fewer and fewer people passed me heading down, and by about 4pm, the path started to feel fairly remote. It passed by and under a couple of big electrical line pylons and through a couple of areas with lots of red berries. Bear food? At least they offered a healthy alternative to a sweaty human snack. Sunlight then broke through the clouds for a couple of hours and made for a very nice walk.
At one point, a fence crossed the path, and continuing required unlocking a gate and locking it again on the other side. I’d seen lots of fences on these mountains near Tokyo, but that was the first D-I-Y gate I’d encountered. A few minutes later I came upon several small statues in the forest, near a second gate. The route up to Oyama route didn’t go through this gate though. Instead it continued on northward and along a different ridge.
The first intersection and view of the city out on the plain
I knew it was going to be quite a long walk—around 11-12ks to the summit all up. I’d originally planned to head off from Tokyo later and not start the walk until around 2 or 3pm, but I was glad I’d decided to leave earlier.
Higher up and better views
By 5, despite making a fairly good pace, I’d stopped plenty of times, as usual, to take photos, and my watch showed me to be only about two thirds of the way up. Mountains are always steeper toward the top, so I guessed that I’d still have least another two hours to go before reaching the summit.
An old logging road that’s been reclaimed by nature — lovely stuff
At around 5:30 I could see a distinct layer of clouds when I looked up through trees and ten minutes later I was in them. Despite this and some more drizzle, it was a really pleasant part of the hike. The sun set around 5:40, but because of the clouds, there was enough diffused light to continue without needing the torch for another half hour.
Looking up through pine trees to see the first sign of the clouds
At a quarter to six, I came upon a shrine. It was an unusual one, with the main feature being an obelisk-type pillar a couple of metres high. It looked beautiful with the clouds blowing across it and I took lots of photos and a bit of video.
Even once it become almost pitch black, my eyes had adjusted enough to be able to plod on. It started raining again, heavier this time, and I had to stop to put my shell jacket on. I took out my headlamp but didn’t switch it on right away. I quite enjoy the challenge of seeing how dark it can get before I need to use the light. Or twist an ankle and curse my stupidity.
Just as it was turning pitch black under the trees, a large group of hikers approached, headed down. Through the cloud, their headlamps gave the scene a sci-fi look — straight out of The X Files, or Alien. I whipped out my camera and fired off a few shots hopefully, not having time to check the settings properly.
Cue The X Files theme
The hikers were geared up like they were climbing the Matterhorn in a hurricane, and looked pretty surprised to see me standing there in the darkness, no torch, in shorts and a big wide hat, but they were friendly as they passed. After looking into the light from all the passing torches, my night vision went and I put my headlamp on.
Cue Alien theme
In another 15 minutes or so the tree cover opened up slightly and I reached the first of two torii gates. It was gusty and drizzly out in the open, but thankfully, not too cold. Shortly after that, another torii gate, and then the summit.
Not the greatest conditions near the summit
Here, are a couple of fairly large buildings and a bit of an open area. There was no view of the city and the clouds were racing by fast. I walked past the first building, around a corner and up some stairs to a second. This second one was open and looked like it had some benches around the inside edges. It would have been the perfect place to spend the night, but there was a couple sitting on a bench in the dark inside, so I left them alone and looked for another spot.
I didn’t have my tent on me, only the sleeping bag. Partly because it wasn’t cold, and partly because I didn’t want to attract undue attention by carrying my big backpack. That meant I had to find somewhere else with enough cover to keep me dry.
I headed back down the steps to the corner of the first building. It had an eave and beneath, was a small patch of dry concrete. Not perfect, but easily enough room to roll out the sleeping bag. I unpacked, then sat on the bag and ate, while watching the branches of a spectacular old tree dance and sway around in the wind.
A long exposure and torchlight painting of the tree blowing around
It was pretty lousy weather on top and had it been cold it might have been a forgettable experience. But the night was warm, and even with just shorts, it was a thrill to be up there listening to the howling wind. Every once in a while there’d be a small gap in the clouds and the city lights would suddenly blaze away, only to be consumed again seconds later.
As good as the view got that night
At around 10:30 the couple spending the night in the other building came over. They were hoping for a view too. They were friendly and we all had a laugh at how crazy we must be to be staying up there in weather like that. From then until around 5am, I just lay in the sleeping bag, enjoying the sound of the wind. I didn’t get all that much sleep because of the hard concrete, but it was still a great night and I loved being so close to that raging wind and the huge tree blowing around, yet dry and toasty.
Another local that came to say hello
I woke up in the murky grey light of pre-dawn, packed up quickly and got going by around 5:20. The wind had just about ceased and the summit was a scene of quiet mystery in the clouds.
I’d decided to head down a different way than I’d climbed, even though it meant a bit of guesswork to get down to the cable car. On google maps there was no sign of a path from just below the summit to the cable car building, even though there plainly must have been one. Either way, whatever path I ended up on would head down to civilisation somewhere, which was good enough.
A sign on the summit. I took the left route.
The forest was beautiful in the subdued light, and in a few places where the foliage opened, were nice scenes of small trees swaying about as clouds raced past.
Someone camping just off the summit. This is the place to be on a clear night.
Not far below the summit, the first of the day’s hikers passed me, headed up through the clouds.
A couple of picturesque sections along the path
By 6:40, I’d reached a grassy open area with lots of picnic tables — Miharashidai Viewpoint. This flat spot has nice views across the mountains and back up the Oyama summit.
Mt Oyama from Miharashidai Viewpoint
A 15 minute rest then it was on my way again. This is where the paths gets a little confusing. You can either continue on down the ridge, or turn right to Shimosa. I had no idea what Shimosha was and it wasn’t marked on the map. I thought this route might have been the way to the cable car, so I headed off that way.
The path hugs the side of the mountain, and in some places, you get great views across the valley to a white shrine poking out of the forest on the far side. I couldn’t see any cable car though, and it didn’t look like the sort of building that a cable car would go to.
Looking across the valley to Shimosha. Maybe.
Down below it in the valley there was no sign of the other end of the cable car and the village that snaked its way up the narrow valley. In fact there didn’t seem to be anything down there for miles. It was just trees and more trees. I followed that path about half way to mysterious Shimosha, then decided to head back to Miharashidai Viewpoint and try the other path, continuing straight down the ridge top. I had the feeling that even if I’d made it to Shimosha, the only thing I would have found there would have been a smoky old bar with a dwarf dancing to some slow jazz, and I would have woken up on the ground in the forest with a brutal hangover, and no trace of Shimosha or any signs pointing toward it.
Beautiful early morning light on the path near Miharashidai Viewpoint
There were a few people heading up on this path, which gave me hope that I might be heading to the village.
More lovely mountain views
At around 8am, the trail popped out onto a road. There’s a sign here, and I discovered that I’d gone a different way that I’d originally planned. The Shimosha path was a way to cut across and get back on track to reach the cable car, but without being sure at the time, I took the safer route. But no matter. A road was a good sign. And it’s always exciting to be heading into the unknown. The path cut across the road, down into a steep gully, and I decided to follow it rather than follow the winding bitumen.
Down to civilisation in a very picturesque way
In another 10 minutes I came down to a creek and what looked like some sort of holiday lodge — Iseharashihinatafureaigakushu Centre. Say that correctly on the first try and you win a prize.
This was the end of the path. From here, it was back on the road again. There’s a detailed sign at this spot. It shows the route down to the train station, as well as various historic sights along the way.
A lengthy walk to the station, but with plenty to see along the way
It looked like a pretty long walk — around 11ks, but the day was sunny and cool and the road was quiet. Besides, I had no other choice. Off I went.
One of many beautiful sights on the walk toward Isehara Station
On a road, chewing up the miles is a breeze compared to walking down steep mountain paths. Within no time I’d passed a couple of shrines and found myself in farmland dotted with houses.
This quickly became my new favourite road
A small shrine slowly being reclaimed by the forest
I think it was around 10:30 that I came to a bus shelter. There was a simple timetable and from what I was able to make out, a bus was due in about 20 minutes. I plonked myself onto a bench within the shade and started sorting my backpack. Across the road an elderly woman was laying out vegetables and chatting with a neighbour. Within a couple of minutes a girl showed up at the bus stop. I guessed she wasn’t there to stand and hope a bus might come past, and I had to quickly stuff everything back into the pack. Just as I finished jamming the last of my bits and pieces in, the bus pulled up, catching me a little by surprise. I hopped on, moved to the back, and immediately swapped my stinky old shirt for a slightly less stinky new one. Then I sank into the seat and enjoyed the 15 minute ride to Isehara Station. Then it was onto the train and back to Shinjuku Station.
Near the bus stop
The 17.5 km route
General Beauty: 6
Hikeography Rating: 4.5/10
This was a nice little early autumn hike. Because of the clouds I didn’t get the spectacular view out across the city that I’d hoped for, but it was still a worthwhile trip. The second day in particular, along the road, past rustic old homes, overgrown shrines and alongside the river, made for a very pleasant morning walk. I still want that big view of Tokyo at night and Mt Oyama is the best mountain I’ve found so far for it, so I’ll be back to try again one day. Hopefully when the weather’s a little better.
Photos of some of my other outdoor adventures:
My other Japan blog: