The rocky trail was slippery and wet. We were on the downhill schneid and had been hiking through the fog and mist for over two hours. I had given up on taking in the scenery and had given in to jabbering about random childhood hiking memories. Then my hiking partner Barney shouted out, “Look at that beetle!” I didn’t see anything, but knew that Japan was known for some pretty gnarly beetles, in fact they are kept as pets, so I was quite intrigued to see one
in the wild. “There, under the branch,” said Barney. A fallen cedar branch laid in the middle of the trail and I brushed it aside with the toe of my hiking boot. Instead of a beetle, a small crab scurried out from underneath and took off sideways down the trail.
This was just one of the nice surprises we encountered while hiking Mount Buko last week.
Mount Buko is a short (1,304m) stub of a hill south of Chichibu in western Saitama Prefecture. It stands in no-man’s land, north of the Okutama Lake District and on the eastern fringes of the southern Japanese Alps.
An hour and a half north of Tokyo, we took the Red Arrow Line out of Ikebukuro. We missed the express train and ended up switching trains in Hanno, adding an extra half hour of traveling time. Even though I left my house at 6:15 a.m., we didn’t arrive at Yokoze Station until well after 9.
There is a little shop attached to the station where the very nice shop lady handed us free maps upon request. Most of the trek followed along the city streets of Yokoze and through the factory roads of the limestone plants. For the first hour we followed this paved road that meandered through limestone machinery, and there was a constant flow of trucks delivering the rock for cement production.
In fact, one face of Mount Buko has been chiseled flat from the limestone mining.
The road did follow the rapids of the Kawaguchi River and waterfalls gushed just off into the forest. After an hour or so we started to get a little nervous that we were walking the wrong direction when we finally reached the entrance to the mountain trail. There were a few cars parked in a small parking lot, and they had to drive under a small torii to enter, so if driving, be sure to bring a mini car.
The entrance to the trail is located at the mouth of the Kawaguchi River, which is fed by the mountain’s many crystal clear streams.
There was a nice waterfall at the entrance, as well as some cool demon dog statues covered in moss. We were finally in the wilderness.
That was the best thing about Mount Buko – the remoteness. The first 400m or so of the hike was on a paved walking path that soon turned to a nice, well-maintained rock path. There were few other hikers that day, though it should be noted that it was a Monday and a rather cloudy one at that. On the way up there were a couple of local older ladies making their way down. They were rather cheery.
The trail up was a bit steep. Not unbearable, but there were a few times I had to stop to catch my breath (though more fit hikers would have no trouble). It took us an hour to reach the shrine at the summit. It was pretty quiet at the top. The shrine itself was locked up and nobody was home. There were men’s and women’s toilets but we didn’t bother to investigate.
There was a nice three-sided lean-to with fairly new benches. There also seemed to be a nice flat spot with log benches set up for overnight campers. Which left me with this conclusion, as a day hike, there are better options than Mount Buko nearby Tokyo, but as an overnight stay on a multi-day backpacking trip, it would be a nice quiet respite after a hard day’s hike.
As I said before, it was quite cloudy, and we arrived at the top at noon, the cloudiest time of day, so there was no view to be had, though according to the travel guide there is supposed to be a scenic view of the Chichibu Basin, whatever that entails.
We met a friendly couple at the summit who were practicing for
Fuji and there were a few elderly gentlemen who seemed to be local. Once again, the few people we encountered were more friendly than those I’ve met on other hikes. So score 1 for Mount Buko there.
The mountain also scored points for the peaceful waterfalls and the wildlife. On the hike down we came across a tall, slim waterfall that is featured on all of the travel blogs. There was a rusted metal spout running along the bottom of the waterfall, with water flowing out the bottom. We were confused to its purpose until we found a yellow cup attached to the end of the spout.
This was for drinking water. The waters of Mount Buko are considered sacred, and people travel from miles around to collect buckets of water from the waterfalls. Barney sipped from the cup and I filled my water bottle. Others describe the taste “like honey” and I’ll go along with that.
Secondly, besides the aforementioned crab, we also encountered a humongous toad that I almost stepped on and a snake as well as countless colorful insects. There was a large wasp-like creature hovering about some flowers that we couldn’t determine if it was insect or hummingbird. Regardless it was quite cool.
While the damp weather may have altered our perception of Mount Buko, it is definitely a nice way to escape the city and avoid the crowds on the other mountains surrounding Tokyo.
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