Hiking in Western Tokyo: Asoyama and Hinodesan

Hey folks,

Here’s the next installment in my series of Golden Week articles.  This time, we’ll head out to to the mountainous wilderness of Oku-Tama in Western Tokyo!

After taking it easy for a few days (read: eating ramen and drinking beer, both in large amounts), I decided it was time to do something active.  I wanted to do a good long hike, and I wanted to get away from the crowds I’d experienced at Takaosan.  So, I did some research and settled on a remote path through the mountains, starting from Musashi-Itsukaichi, summiting Hinodesan, and ending up at Tsurutsuru Onsen.  Here’s the path I took:

I got started bright and early on Tuesday morning (well, early for a day off!) and hopped a train bound for Shinjuku station and points west.  This being a national holiday, the aptly-named Holiday Express bound for Oku-Tame and Musashi-Itsukaichi was crowded with hikers and their luggage.  Luckily I got a seat, otherwise I would have had to stand for the 90+ minute ride out to the wilds of Western Tokyo!

Once I arrived at Musashi-Itsukaichi, I bought provisions at the 7-Eleven at the station.  “Provisions” included:

  • 2 liters of water
  • 3 tuna-mayo onigiri
  • 2 ham and cheese sandwiches
  • 2 snickers bars

Seems like good fuel for mountain climbing, right?

The first part of the trail was quite steep, but I was soon rewarded with an excellent view of the city:

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A bit further up the trail was a small shinto shrine.  I couldn’t figure out the name, and the place was all closed up.  It was pretty creepy:

The real highlight of the shrine was actually back behind the shrine building.  There were some pretty serious boulders, one of which was clearly sacred and had a small shrine all of its own.  I wonder if this is why the shrine was built originally?

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After leaving the shrine, the trail followed a remote ridgeline up towards Asoyama.  The scenery was beautiful, and it was extremely quiet.  I only saw two other hikers the whole way between the shrine and Asoyama.  It felt a little strange to be so far removed from people after enduring the crush of Tokyo for the past few months.  Well, strange and refreshing!

After a very enjoyable hike along the ridge line, it was time to scramble up Asoyama.  The summit was mostly covered in trees, so the views weren’t great.  But, the trees provided some nice shade and a great place to eat some onigiri and sandwiches for lunch!

After Asoyama, the trail followed another ridgeline on the way towards Hinodesan.  The views were pretty spectacular thanks to the clearcutting of large swathes of the forest along the trail.  The contrast was stark:  In some places, the east side of the ridge would be a sea of stumps, while on the west side was a very healthy forest, with the trail serving as the dividing line.

After reaching the base of Hinodesan, the trail transitioned from gently rolling along the ridge to going straight up the side of the mountain via a seemingly endless series of stairs.  As a way of helping to quantify your progress, some well-meaning soul had counted the steps and written counts on little green pieces of tape placed at regular intervals:

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The fact that each flight of stairs started over again at “1” was only slightly difficult mentally!  Fortunately, the views from the top were pretty spectacular.  Unfortunately, all of those Tokyoites I had avoided for the past few hours had taken the cablecar up to Mitakesan and had hiked up to the summit from that side.  So it was all I could do to cram myself in a little bit of shade in the rest area to catch my breath.

After spending about 15 minutes at the summit, I got tired of the crowds and headed back down the way I had come.  The rest of the hike was straight down, and it was pretty tough on the legs.  But I was motivated, for I knew that a hot bath awaited at the bottom!

Once I made it to Tsurutsuru Onsen, I showered off and hopped in the outdoor bath for some serious soaking.  The water has some sort of minerals in it which makes your skin feel slippery (hence the name), and it was the perfect temperature.  I probably spent a full hour in the various baths, and by the time I was done my tired muscles felt great.  Finally, I changed into fresh clothes and hopped on the bus back down to Musashi-Itsukaichi, and then took the Holiday Express back to Kanda.  I am now of the firm belief that every good hike should start with an express train and end with an outdoor bath!

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