Riding the Haruna Ropeway

Japan has many mountains, and many ropeways (often called “gondolas” in the States). While some go all the way to the top of mountains, others–like the Haruna Ropeway in Gunma Prefecture–carry visitors only most of the way to the top.

Appearances are deceiving – that ropeway doesn’t go all the way to the top.

On the day I visited (February 23, 2019), windchill dropped the temperature well below freezing–so cold that my fingers went numb in the seconds it took to remove my gloves and snap even a single photo.

I have seldom been so glad that, in Japan, a ropeway-assisted “climb” still counts as climbing the relevant mountain. (As one Japanese climber told me: “why would you want to climb from the bottom when you can take the ropeway?” Why, indeed?)

The ropeway at Mt. Haruna features a dual-car grouping. Each car holds up to 25 people (12 comfortably). On the day I visited, cold kept most of the tourists away, so we traveled three to a car.

No waiting and no crowding – at least in winter.

During the ascent, the gondolas offer spectacular views of Lake Haruna and the surrounding mountains.

Lake Haruna from the gondola. Much of the lake was still covered in ice.

From the upper ropeway station, it takes about 15 minutes to reach the true summit of Mt. Haruna, where a Shintō shrine and a cluster of standing stones honor the goddess of the mountain.

It’s also possible to hike to the top of Haruna-fuji. The climb takes about an hour (going up – and 40 minutes coming down) but given the unusual cold (my fingers were nearly frozen, even in gloves with heat packs, just from the walk around the lake to reach the gondola) I opted to ride the ropeway in both directions. Since the hike around the lake (and back again) was actually longer, distance-wise, than the trail to the summit, I think it counts.

Do you like riding gondolas? Or do you prefer to keep your feet on the ground?