Hiking in Japan – Mount Tanzawa (1,567 m)

Located a little over an hour from Shinjuku station in the bustle of Tokyo, Mount Tanzawa and its surrounding peaks offer an accessible day-hiking option to cramped urbanites.

With views back to the vast metropolis in one direction and an unbroken perspective on Mount Fuji (3,776 m) in the other, this ridgeline return bags two small summits and a whole lot of satisfaction.

On 3 June 2017, we hiked from Okura to Mount Tanzawa and back. Discover more about our hike and get information that will enable you to do it too.

Essential information

  • Time of hike: 3.5 hours up, 2.5 hours down.
  • Terrain: Very well-maintained path throughout. Forest path, sometimes embedded with stones, and lots of stairs (especially after the first hut).

    A wooden staircase in the woods
    Mount Tanzawa could be called stairs to the summit. Be prepared for a little less wild walking
  • Distance and Elevation: From Okura to Mount Tou-no-dake (1,491 m) it’s 7.6 km,and a further 2.6 km to Mount Tanzawa. As a return, it’s a shade over 19 km. It’s 1,200 m up and down, not accounting for elevation changes along the oscillating ridgeline between Mount Tou-no-dake and Mount Tanzawa. Arrive prepared to protect your knees on the way down and work your quads and glutes on the way up!
  • Travel: From Shinjuku Station, take the Odakyu line to Shinjuku (around 75 minutes). Leave the station (head right after the ticket gates) and find the bus that heads to Okura (also spelled Ookura or Ohkura). Fifteen minutes later you’ll be dropped at the shop next to the trailhead. A one-way trip costs 880 yen (not JR pass covered).
  • Accommodation: We stayed at a campsite across the large suspension bridge near the trailhead. Cross the bridge, then head ‘upstream’ (left) along a road and take the first turning to the left. It was marked on Google maps but had no website. If you walk for more than fifteen mins from the trailhead, you’ve gone wrong somewhere. Expect to pay 1,000 yen per person per night and pay 200 yen extra for a short shower (3 minutes). It’s a pretty idyllic spot to hang out with a gentle rocky stream passing through the site (though more bugs than anywhere else we stayed).
  • There is no potable water on the mountain. Carry what you’ll need with you and don’t rely on the huts to provide you with more.

 

Description of the Mount Tanzawa hike

At 4:30 am, we woke up to the sunrise. By 5.45 am we were headed to the trailhead to begin our final hike in Japan (for this trip).

Next to the shop where the bus drops you is a small box that looks like a birdhouse. Fill out a form (name, address, where you’re headed, etc) and pop it in the box (although it wasn’t clear when we got down who to tell that we were back so not sure how useful this really was!)

The trailhead begins on the road to the left of the shop. Head uphill, keeping to the right. Where the road continues around to the left, go straight and you’ll find the first signpost for the mountains around 50 m later.

A sign reading Tanzawa Oyama Quasi-National Park
After the road, this sign marks the start of the Mount Tanzawa trail proper. (Not sure what a ‘quasi-National Park’ is!)

The first hour or so of this hike is relatively leisurely as the forest path winds gently upwards. It is occasionally paved or has stones deliberately embedded and is well-maintained without fail. This is a mountain you would have to work very hard to get lost on (though please don’t try to do that).

After the first official hut (there are three other buildings you pass from the start of the first path, two of which are cafes), the path becomes decidedly more rocky for a short distance. It’s not quite scrambling, but a little more challenging than what came before.

Soon you arrive at the stairs. There may have been some sections beforehand but certainly after the first hut they begin to become the regular type of terrain. These include typical mud steps defined by wooden logs, wood planks with grips and fully constructed wooden staircases.

The further up you ascend, the more constructed these steps become, though this doesn’t detract from the experience particularly.

During this climb you begin to walk along the ridgeline that connects these peaks. It is known locally as Okuraone or ‘stupid ridge’ on account of the gruelling elevation change. The climb is pretty constant but certainly isn’t the most challenging or steep ascents you’ll come across, even in Japan.

A rideline lined with trees and a path
The ridgeline between the two main peaks showing the terrain of the whole route.

It is also a ridgeline lined with great beauty. The slopes are covered with tall, slender trees and wild flowers, whose populations gradually change as you ascend. There are sections where the trees on one side of the path appear entirely different to the other and others where the views of the surrounding landscape open up briefly and offers an opportunity to breathe and marvel.

In one direction, the metropolis of Tokyo slowly unfurls like a carpet from behind the mountains in the east. More striking is the emergence of Mount Fuji, that most mystical of peaks, as you climb above the rolling hills that otherwise cloak it to the west.

Mount-Tanzawa-Mount-Fuji-First-View
The first view of Mount Fuji

For much of the hike, the unmistakable shape of Mount Fuji is your regular companion. This offers ready doses of motivation to reach the two main summits on this hike and the clear views they offer of Fuji.

The first of these summits is Mount Tou-no-dake. We reached this peak in around 2.5 hours and took a moment to enjoy the view of Mount Fuji and the snow-capped peaks to the north and eat a tofu pocket or two.

From the summit of Mount Tou-no-dake, continue to the left of the summit hut and follow the path down towards the oscillating ridgeline to Mount Tanzawa. En route you’ll cross two secondary peaks (Mount Hittaka (1,461 m) and Mount Ryugabanba (1,504 m)), each of which offers a small ascent and descent.

Signpost between two mountains Tanzawa and Tounodake
En route between the two main peaks: Mount Tou-no-dake to Mount Tanzawa.

After a little under an hour of walking from Mount Tou-no-dake we arrived on top of Mount Tanzawa. The summit appears innocuously around a tree-lined corner and is understatedly marked by a small stone summit marker, a statue of a deity and a small window in the trees, cut back to reveal Mount Fuji.

View of Mount Fuji from the summit of Mount Tanzawa
View from the top of Mount Tanzawa

There is some seating on the summit as well as the third hut, but we decided to head back down the path for around a kilometre to an area with a view to the east and a number of benches for our lunch (at 10am!)

From Mount Tanzawa, it takes around half an hour to reach Mount Tou-no-dake and another hour and a half to reach Okura. If you are like many of the local hikers we saw (as they bounded passed us) you’ll no doubt get down faster, but we have joints we want to keep going a while longer and so duly took our time.

Our descent also had a number of short breaks enforced on us. A downside of the constant staircase and raised walkways is that traffic can build up. As we were heading down, half of Tokyo seemed to be heading up. As such, we had many pauses waiting for a break in the flow, along with a constant chorus of konnichiwa and arigatou gozaimasu.

A little before 1 pm we walked off the mountain, thoroughly satisfied with our experience on Mount Tanzawa. With various landmarks en route to turn back from or pause at, a very well-maintained path and lasting visual memories this was a special hike with which to finish our hiking in Japan.File 10-6-17, 13 06 01

After packing up camp at a leisurely pace we headed back to Tokyo via Shibusawa, arriving at Shinjuku by 5 pm.

 

How hike Mount Tanzawa like a local.

  • Arrive early, especially on weekends and sunny days. We left the trailhead at 6 am and walked with only occasional company. By 8.30 am the route up was packed with a steady flow of hikers. This could be a disadvantage of trying the day-hike from Tokyo so, where possible, stay near the mountain the night before to avoid the crowds.

 

  • The summit of Mount Tou-no-dake is better set up for a lunch break, with rows of sleepers to sit on a panoramic view of Mount Fuji. Mount Tanzawa is a big patch of glass with trees blocking much of the view.

 

  • Grab snacks at the shop at the trailhead, or at the supermarket (Odakyu Ox) found in Shibusawa station. When we hiked up, no refreshments were available after the first hut (that includes water).

 

  • With so much of the route made up of steps and good quality paths, hiking boots are not essential come the summer season. However, hiking sticks are highly recommended to lessen the impact on joints during the long descent.

 

Other hikes nearby / alternative route options.

Mount Tanzawa sits in the Tanzawa range, and as such there are plenty of options for those wanting to do more than this single summit return.

The best-known route is a two-day thru-hike from Okura to Tono. This follows the ridgeline as we did over Mount Tou-no-dake and Mount Tanzawa, but also takes in the higher peak Mount Hiru-ga-take (1,673 m) before descending. There are four mountain huts to choose from and you can read more about this option here or here.

There is a popular trail-running route called Omoteone. It leads north-west from Yabitsu Pass (accessed by bus from Hadano Train Station) up to Mount Tou-no-dake before cutting back to head south-west to Okura. Giving views of Mount Oyama to the east and Mount Fuji to the west, there’s plenty to motivate a seasoned runner (before the relentless 1,200 m descent over steps).

Read more about this route.

From Okura there are other routes up the range, including nearby routes to the peaks to the east (including Mount San-no-tou (1,204 m), Mount Shindainichi (1,204 m)) and the west (Mount Nabewari (1,273 m)).

With few clear topo maps online of the area (at least in English searches), take a look at the photos below to get a sense of the winding routes possible in this range of ridgelines (pink lines are hiking routes).

Map of Tanzawa National Park
To the west of Mount Tanzawa
Map of Tanzawa National Park
To the east of Mount Tanzawa
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