Lonely Mountain Trails in Japan

On top of Mt. Sasimoto, Niuto Onsen area, Japan

[13th in a series about a recent trip to Japan]

The plan for our second day at Taeno-Yu was to hike around some of the impressively steep mountains in the area. The trick was finding the trails, which I’d read about, but did not know how to locate.

But first, breakfast. At 8 a.m., we went downstairs to the breakfast lounge, which was furnished in late 19th century antiques. Again – a feast. We started with forest mushrooms, something like potato salad with flecks of pickles, red bean paste in seaweed, and a stew made with sausage and vegetables heated at our table on a burner. Next came miso soup with egg, poached eggs, and on an individual hibachi grill, we were invited to warm smoked cooked fish (probably sea bass or black cod). A slice of honeydew perched in a footed glass dish. During the meal, our hot tea was replaced with very hot tea. I’ve never seen such hot hot-food in my life. Lastly we were served coffee in porcelain coffee cups with a crystal-topped demitasse spoon.

Returning to our room for our things, everything had been put back in its place – futons and bedding stored in the closet, low table back in the center of the room with makings for tea.

We had noticed a sign about a national park visitor’s center just down the road and decided to walk there to see if they had trail maps. The center turned out to be “Vacation Village” and all they had was the map of the seven onsens in the area; however, we did figure out that on the map there were thick green lines – indicating forest paths – and dotted lines – indicating trails to the surrounding mountains. The forest paths turned out to be short, bark-covered trails with hot pink trail markers about every 50 feet. The mountain trails ranged from 3-4.7 km, not very long, but up steep terrain. We eventually found a trail head behind the “WC” and camping area associated with Vacation Village.”

Niuto Onsen map

For a quarter mile or so, we wondered if we were on the trail as it was at the foot of a clear cut section in the forest, and was paved. At the end of the pavement, however, we found a trail marker in Japanese and English for Mt. Sasimoto. The first mile or so went straight up the clear-cut hillside, in uncomfortably warm sun, but we were rewarded when the trail headed into the birch forest.

According to Thom, hiking is a solitary sport in Japan. Periodically, when people are sick of the city, they head out alone for a little hiking. The mountain that Thom hiked near Tokyo, Mt. Takao, is a popular destination. The second mile of the Mt. Sasimoto trail was clearly used; it was wide and well marked, free of vegetation. The highlight of the trail is a saddle between two brooks that flow rapidly down different ridges. On each side, the creeks splash loudly over boulders, creating short waterfalls. Ferns climb the hillsides and the entire scene was speckled light and dark as sun broke through the trees in patches.

beech forest Niuto area

Small stream, Mt. Sasimoto trail

It was pretty clear that the rest of the trail, through the woods and up to the ridge top, weren’t well used. The trail grew thinner and thinner, and more overgrown. Finally we were down to about six inches of path, and below the undergrowth on the right, we could see that water had cut away the dirt creating a steeply-sided ditch. We really had to watch our step. Leaving the trees at the ridge top, we were wading through shoulder high bushes and bamboo, and a machete would have been a sensible accessory. Large bees discovered us and started circling. We hurriedly headed back down, into the shade where the bees didn’t venture.

Near the top

IMG_2469

By the time we came down the trail, we missed lunch at the Vacation Village restaurant (which ends at 1:30 p.m.), and settled for soft ice cream.

Next: How to take an onsen bath in Japan

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