My intention, when I arrived in Japan, was to do a bit of hiking and perhaps climb the revered Mt Fuji.
Now, 7 weeks into my trip, whilst I have done lots of exercise, I have not yet scaled any mountains.
Mt Ōyama literally means “big mountain” yet at 1252m above sea level it’s pretty tame by Japanese standards. In comparison, Mt Fuji is 3x the height at 3776m.
Yet I had heard it’s a popular and challenging climb with many steps and a good view of Mt Fuji on a clear day.
With a bright, sunny forecast of 33 degrees C and blue skies, I was not keen to swelter in Tokyo and so figured it was the opportune time to just do it!
Waking early I pack a simple lunch and 2 litres of water into my camelbak, determined to travel as light as possible.
Making my way through the morning chaos of Shinjuku station, I feel familiar with the Odakyu Odawara Line as its the same we used to get from Tokyo to Hakone.
The cost to Isehara is only ¥570 one-way and a separate ticket is unnecessary if you use a PASMO.
As luck would have it, the 7.08am Express is due in a few minutes so I’ve timed it well. Whilst it’s the same train line to Hakone it’s neither as quick nor as comfortable as the luxury “Romance Car” because it’s a suburban commuter train.
When I hop on it is not crowded and I can find a seat if I want one. But after a few stops we’re full to overflowing. Morning peak hour I suppose. Wow! I finally get to experience something I’ve only heard about as Tokyo legend: “rubbing shoulders and sharing intimate, personal space with complete strangers as we’re literally packed in like a tin of sardines.” Awesome!
Looking around I see earphones plugged in, blank stares, no conversations, hands grasping the overhead hand-holds, and frantic last-minute homework being completed by young students: the universal commute for millions all over the world.
Those sitting are falling asleep from the gentle rocking motion and the warm, humid conditions.
However, once we pick up speed, a cool breeze provides some respite. Or is that the air-conditioning? Never mind. It works for me!
Travel time is just 1 hour. But then there’s the option to either walk 8km (about 2 hours) or transfer to the Kanagawa Chuo Kotsu I-10 bus from Terminal 4 that goes directly to the Oyama Cable, the last stop. The one-way fare is ¥300 and takes less than 25 minutes. I know I’ll be doing enough walking up and down the mountain therefore I opt for the bus.
When we arrive at the terminus it’s pretty straight forward. Head towards the sound of the running water. Then follow the steps up past all the little vendors selling their wares.
The region is known for its tofu and spinning tops. But I’m not one for buying trinkets and souvenirs.
Rather than take the funicular half-way to the lesser shrine called Afuri Jinja Shimosha I immediately start climbing the stairs. Although they call it a cable car it’s actually on tracks rather than hanging suspended. And I think it runs between 9am – 4.30pm so I could have caught the first one. But I am here to hike!
The birds are singing, the sun is shining, and there are no crowds. It’s as if I have the track to myself. There is obviously a clear benefit to hiking mid-week if you want to avoid the crowds as I count no more than 30 people hiking with me the entire day.
After about 10 minutes I notice a detour but I think it leads to the funicular so I double-back and continue onwards and upwards.
Steps, steps and more steps. I had read that there are a lot of steps so I am prepared.
Some are new. But most are big, old blocks that mean you have to work on each step just that little bit harder.
I pass an old lady who shares a friendly konnichi wa. It will become a regular greeting throughout the day.
Trees cling with their gnarly roots to rocky outcrops.
One guy is wearing a bell like a mountain goat.
Most people are alone or in pairs. So my solo effort is hardly unusual.
Shrines, big and small, are littered along the trail, many with small offerings of 1 yen coins at their base.
After 1/2 hour I reach Afuri Jinja Shimosha. The main shrine, Afuri Jinja is actually at the summit.
It’s a relatively modern setting and some of the buildings around it appear to be a work-in-progress as there’s plenty of construction going on.
It’s a good point to take a quick break: grab a drink of water and a bite to eat. Oh yes, and enjoy the view.
From here, on a clear day, you can see Mt Fuji: just follow the line-of-sight where the little boy is pointing (below). But not today. Not with the summer haze in the sky.
A short 10-minute rest and it’s back to the climb.
More steps. A lot more! Thankfully I’m fit from the past 3 months of running 3x a week.
It’s not really a hike for the unfit or those with a weak ticker. Yet there are a surprising number of elderly people climbing. So it can be done no matter what your age. Just don’t expect it to be easy.
I pass a croaking cicada, dancing dragonflies, and butterflies bouncing between flowers.
After another hour of climbing I finally reach the summit. It’s taken me 1 1/2 hours in total: half the suggested time. But I was going steadily and rarely stopping except to take the occasional photograph.
At the top there is a certain peace that comes with the accomplishment. But that serenity is shattered by the sound of a helicopter. I go to investigate and see there’s some more construction going on and it looks to be delivering cement.
On this side of the mountain-top are several picnic tables, toilets and a rather unperturbed deer.
The view is wonderful but it’s necessary to walk around the whole peak to completely appreciate it.
I sit and enjoy the scenery for a bit and the respite from climbing up. Knowing full-well that the descent is not going to be any easier on my legs.
I choose a different route by which to go down. I like the variety and I read somewhere that it’s a challenge.
I find that instead of lots of large, stone steps the trail is mostly packed earth and occasionally mud. The steps are formed with small, timber sleepers yet they’re still quite high giving my calves a real pounding.
If you have bad knees then this is not going to be good for them!
The trees are tall and slender.
And a moss-covered log catches my eye with the intensity of the green.
I make it down in 1h25m. Faster than my ascent but equally taxing on the old muscles.
I choose not to linger at the shops but eat my other sandwich and then catch the 1.05pm bus to Isehara followed by the 1.43pm Express train to Shinjuku. Thankfully they both have air-conditioning as it’s very hot & humid and I’ve probably lost at least a litre of water despite drinking 2 litres already.
I feel tired but content. It may have been hard work but it’s very rewarding.
Now where to next week?
level of difficulty : 14/20
duration : 4 hours