Kantō Fureai no Michi, Segment 1 – November 22, 2020
Last weekend, I hiked the first leg of a multi-year, segmented hike of the Kantō Fureai no Michi (sometimes translated “Kantō Friendship Trail”). The trail is 1,799km (1,118 miles) long, and passes through seven prefectures (Tokyo, Saitama, Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Chiba, and Kanagawa) as it circumnavigates the Kantō (Japan’s largest flatland plain).
My goal is to hike all of the 160 sections, roughly in order, over the next 2-3 years, and to write at least one book (more likely, three) about the journey and the history, nature, and food I encounter along the way. I’ll also be chronicling the journey here on the blog – because I learned while writing CLIMB that a journey like this generates far too many stories for books alone.
A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. . .and here we go!
I opted to start my hike in Tokyo, at the “official” start (and end) of the Kantō Fureai Trail. Segment 1 is called “The Lake Trail,” for its views of Sagamiko (Lake Sagami), and begins at Umenokidaira, about a 20-minute walk from Takaosanguchi Station (roughly 90 minutes from central Tokyo).
The trail loses no time heading into the forest – it passes a few buildings as it winds up a paved road for a kilometer or so, and then heads directly into the forest, past the “Takao Green Center” and along a logging road through a forest filled with towering pines.
From there, the trail ascends along a gentle, curving route to Misawa Pass, which marks the border between Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefectures. At that point, I opted to make a short detour to the summit of Mt. Enokuboyama (420 m – #123) before returning to the “official” trail along the ridge.
A little way along the ridge (just past the cool owl statue shown above), the trail split. I opted for the branch that climbed up and over the summit of Taikojisan (474 m – #124), to add another peak to my 1000 summits goal.
Except for the occasional hiker or trail runner, I was entirely alone. Bird songs and the scent of fallen leaves filled the morning air.
About halfway along the ridge, I began to catch glimpses of Lake Sagami through the trees. A few minutes later, I reached an overlook with a spectacular view of the lake and the mountains of Yamagata.
Beyond the overlook, the trail continued along the ridge, with side trails over the top of two more peaks: Higashiyama (460m – #125), Nakasawayama (494 m – #126) which has a statue of Kannon on the summit.
The statue faces southwest, into Kanagawa. By this time, the morning chill had left the air, and it was warm enough to hike in short sleeves, but still refreshingly cool–the best possible weather for an autumn hike.
The foliage was nothing to sniff at, either. All along the trail, the trees had clothed themselves in vibrant shades of scarlet, orange, and gold.
Summits #127 (Konpirayama. – 514 m) and #128 (Oborayama – 536 m) were easy–the Lake Trail passes directly up and over each in turn. In fact, there’s an official Kantō Fureai no Michi trail sign on the top of Oborayama, where I took the “proof of hike” photo I will eventually submit to the Tokyo parks bureau (along with photos from the designated spots on the other segments) to prove “completion” of the Tokyo Prefecture portions of the trail. (The prefectures give commemorative pins to hikers who complete the entire trail.)
On the far side of Oborayama, the trail and I descended to a pass, where a two-lane asphalt road ran between Oborayama and the neighboring mountain range, which includes both Shiroyama and sacred Mt. Takao
At some point (most likely during Typhoon 19 [Hagibis] in 2019), a landslide took out a 100-meter section of the trail along the mountainside, but slide-resistant barriers and a railing (for security; not to support a hiker’s weight) have now made that section of the trail passable again.
Past the road (which also has a convenient bus stop, for hikers who choose not to complete the entire Lake Trail segment in a single go) the trail began a long, steep ascent to the summit of Mt. Shiro (Kobotoke-Shiroyama, 670.3m – #129). At this point, I’d started having trouble with my right IT band (a long tendon that runs along the outside of your leg, for stabilization) so I was happy to take a break and enjoy the view from the top of Shiroyama.
I stayed on Shiroyama just long enough to wolf down some oranges–about 15 minutes–and then began the hour-long hike along a sawtooth ridge to the top of Mt. Takao (599m – #130)–my stopping point for the day.
A boardwalk trail runs between Mt. Shiro and Mt. Takao. It’s not difficult, and is popular with people who ride the gondola to the top of Takaosan, because the “hike” to Shiroyama involves no strenuous effort. I saw quite a few families with children on the trail, as well as a number of elderly hikers and couples out for a pleasant afternoon of foliage-peeping–all of them masked. (Although I don’t wear a mask on isolated trails where there are no other people, I keep one hanging from my pack. I put it on as I approached the summit of Mt. Shiro, and wore it for the remainder of the hike.)
I did not stop for photos on top of Takaosan, despite it being my 130th summit here in Japan, because after a day of isolated nature, the leaf-peeping crowds that covered Takao’s summit felt overwhelming. (Also, the line to pose with the summit marker was 30 people long!) Instead, I made my way down the mountain, past Yakuoin–the Buddhist temple on Takaosan that features a number of famous winged Tengu statues.
Although the Lake Trail technically continues all the way down Takaosan to the official end point at Takaosanguchi Station, I planned to cover that section by gondola.
As it turned out, that was not to be.
By the time I reached the gondola, the boarding line was over 90 minutes long. The sun was setting, and I didn’t relish the thought of standing around in the cold as night fell and the sky grew dark. I had about 30 minutes of daylight left–about the amount of time it takes to descend the paved path to the base of Takaosan, so I opted to finish the hike as I started it: on foot.
I reached the base of the mountain just as the sun set, but instead of heading directly home, I stopped at the onsen (volcanic hot spring bath) next door to Takaosanguchi Station for a long, relaxing soak . . . after which, I promptly fell sound asleep on the train ride home.
Given the daylight hours and short bus schedules at this time of year, I’m skipping over the next two segments for now (I will pick them up next spring) and will continue the hike this weekend with Segment 4: The History Trail. Stop back next week to see more of the adventure!
LAKE TRAIL HIKE STATISTICS:
Starting Point/End Point: Takaosanguchi Station / Takaosanguchi Station
Total Distance Walked: 21.19km / 30,612 steps
Mountains Summited: 8 [current total: 130 / 1,000]
|Mt. Higashi||125||460 m|
|(Kobotoke) Shiroyama||129||670 m|
I hope you’ll join me again next week, as my journey to Walk the Kantō marches on!