5.18.2011

An Attempt to Hike Mt. Kumotori - Saitama

Golden Week marks a week long holiday in Japan, and with no work, and the warm Spring weather, many people use this time to escape the big city and head in to the Japanese wilderness. A couple of friends and I, somewhat ambitiously, decided to make our way to Saitama, and do a 2 day hike up Kumotori-san.
Despite a few showers, we experienced beautiful weather, magnificent natural scenery and perfect Japanese hospitality. Things at the beginning however, were not so rosy.

Some tips for hiking in Saitama:
1) The express trains to Chichibu National Park, which run hourly from Ikebukuro, are booked well in advance. Pre-book or get in early
2) Despite what many websites and English guide books may tell you, the cable car at the bottom of Mt. Kumotori has not been running for two years. My friends and I discovered this when after the 3 hour journey we asked our bus driver how to get to the cable car, and he informed us it does not exist
3) See above - be prepared to hike up a steep incline for the first 3 hours
4) Bring wet weather gear

After this 'rocky beginning' things in Saitama looked up. We soon realized we would not make it to the hut at the top of the mountain where we had planned to stay, so we stopped at a beautiful temple and asked around if there was somewhere close by to lodge for the night. By chance, Mitsumine Temple had a joining hotel including mountain views, onsen and a delicious dinner.

After being well bathed and rested, we decided to explore the surrounding region, and at the highest point reached 1500 meters about sea level. Walking amongst what seemed like a never-ending forest of trees, we passed many other hikers, who all happily greeted you with 'konnichiwa', and walked along jingling with bells attached to their bags. There were a lot of signs around warning people of the local bears, and I guess these bells were meant as protection.

Giddy with fresh air (and climbing fatigue), there is nothing quite like reaching the top of a mountain peak and looking down at how far you have come.

A quick bowl of soba before commencing the hike


Mitsumine Jinja

Much of Tokyo's water supply come from these mountains

To reach Kumotori-san:
Take the Seibu-Ikebukuro line to Chichibu, followed by the local rail to Mitsumineguchi
From Mitsumine, take the bus to Mitsumine Jinja shrine (to avoid the initial hike up the mountain).

3 comments:

Ryan Hayward said...

God, I want that soba!! p.s. you left out the part in which the hiking party dispassionately sends one of the crew home on a bus. awkward!

Mr. S. said...

Try that hike again. Do not stay in the Kumotori hut as the owner has a rep as an ass among Gaijin and Japanese. There is an unmanned hut at the peak, but summer weekends are too crowded. Thought there was a bus now up to Mitsumine-jina. Use this website for information on hikes: http://japanhike.wordpress.com/2008/05/08/mt-kumotori/

First time I did it in '93 my friend and I missed a train and a bus, got a late start and found out at sunset we had no flashlight... when halfway between the temple and the hut. We crawled along the trail by our watch light (pre-keitai!) and fell off often enough. Got to the Kumotori hut too late for dinner, and woke to the good old raw-egg on rice Japanese breakfast (a first, and a last!).

Sarah in Tokyo said...

Sounds like you also had an eventful Kumotori-san experience Mr S. There's nothing like losing your way in the Japanese wilderness with signs telling you to watch out for the wild bears! Will update you if I ever make it to the hut at the peak.

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