My wife told one of her Japanese girlfriends that I am going hiking to Mount Tanzawa next weekend. Her friend replied, “Kawaii!”
For those Stateside, that means “cute.”
However, hiking is not cute. Mount Tanzawa is a two-day hike. The first day is 7km straight up and then on day two we head 10km, peaking just over 5,000 feet (keeping in mind, Japan starts at 0 feet above sea level). This is going to be a mountain-man, whiskey-in-your-veins kind of hiking trip.
Hiking means something different to Japanese. They call it “hikingu,” and they generally consider it to be an easy stroll along a paved trail that might have some flowers and trees and then they have a picnic and then maybe take a cable car back down.
When hiking in Japan, most of the natives joining me on the trails are old enough to remember when The Beatles performed at the Budokan.
There is a also cultural phenomena called “yamagarru” (mountain girls). These young women with bright smiles can be found in close-knit groups on Japan’s hiking trails dressed from head to toe in vibrant, brand new hiking gear. Very cute.
When I tell Japanese men that I like to go hiking, they tend to reply with a dismissive grunt and strange looks. When I tell girls I go hiking, they say, “Kawaii!”
Mount Kobo was kawaii.
Hiking Mount Kobo
A mountaineering expert I interviewed for a past story recommended Mount Kobo as an easy, family-friendly day hike during hanami season (cherry blossom season).
Having recommended this hike to readers as a nice spot to view the cherry blossoms, I figured I better check the place out myself (even though the article was already in print).
I wasn’t disappointed.
Getting to Mount Kobo
From Tokyo we took the Odakyu line towards Odawara from Shinjuku Station. The train ride to Hadano Station was just over an hour. My wife Lisa and I arrived at 11am and our friend Makana got there six minutes later. The English maps at the information center were pretty rudimentary. They showed the train station, and the mountaintop, and there was a squiggly line that led to the summit, not bothering to notate any landmarks in between.
So using Google Maps we left the north exit of the station, went straight until we hit a dead end intersection and then took a right, which led us to the base of the mountain. The walk through town was the longest portion of the hike.
About five minutes into the hike up the hillside we found a parking lot that was bumper-to-bumper with parked cars. The sky was overcast that day and there was a light sprinkling of rain. Being the peak of hanami season, the forecast of thunderheads didn’t keep everybody away, even though three of our Japanese friends had backed out of the trip.
Lisa told me that in Japanese primary school they are taught that thunderstorms are extremely dangerous on mountains and should be avoided at all cost. Lisa’s friend had called us at 6:30am warning us we shouldn’t risk it.
However, Mount Kobo is a mere 235 meters (771 feet) high, and barely qualifies as a large hill. If there was a thunderstorm, we could be back in town before the first bolt of lightning hit the ground.
Ascending Mount Kobo – in 15 Minutes
From the parking lot, it was a somewhat steep, 15-minute climb to the viewing spot slash picnic area called Koboyama Park. There was a clearing about the size of a football field and the perimeter was lined with picnickers. There was also a pretty two-story gazebo that was packed with people trying to protect themselves from the light rain.
We found the one flat, open spot on the rim of the plateau and set up our little “hobo” camp, as Makana called it.
We brought along a 100-yen ($1) blue picnic tarp and laid it on the ground. I also brought up the rain fly I had been using on campouts since the late 20th century. I tied two corners from the branches of a tree and staked the other two corners down, so it acted as a lean-to. We kind of had a view overlooking the mountainside and we also had privacy and protection from the rain.
There was a group of girls next to us dressed in their Sunday’s best huddled under umbrellas. They didn’t look like they were feeling very kawaii.
A Hanami Picnic on Mount Kobo
I lit up my camp stove and heated up some water for Cup o Noodle. I also lugged up my REI cooler packed full of tall boy cans of Asahi beer and Chu-Hi. We proceeded to drink and eat ramen under our shelter. By the time we finished most of the other people had cleared out, as did the rain.
The sun popped out and we had some blue skies and we were able to climb to the second story of the gazebo and enjoy the view on our own.
We tore down our little camp and headed to the summit of Mount Kobo. It was an easy 10-minute hike along a paved sidewalk. There were a couple of yakisoba vendors along the way, and flush toilets.
There was a small shrine at the top of the mountain and we had it all to ourselves. There are over 5,000 cherry trees in the Hadano area and normally during hanami season it is jam-packed, elbow-to-elbow with visitors. The bad weather report turned out to be a bit of a blessing.
Even though the view was mostly obscured with clouds, we were able to escape Tokyo for the day and enjoy the peace and quiet of the wilderness on our lonesome, which is quite rare on the Japanese hiking trails.
On a clear day you should be able to see Mount Fuji from the picnic area and from the summit you can view Tokyo Bay. We caught a glimpse of what we thought was Enoshima Island, but spent our time at the top polishing off the rest of our alcohol.
The highlights of the shrine are the bell tower and an ancient water well called Chichinomizu – or “Milk Water.” Mothers with poor milk production come here to drink the water for nourishment – and more robust milk production.
Instead of returning from whence we came, we headed down the other side of the mountain for a 4.3 km hike to Tsurumakionsen Station. The hike down is gentle, but none to picturesque.
Right next to the station is Tsurumaki Onsen, a nice, big onsen with facilities available for hikers to clean off their boots and store their gear.
After a relaxing bath and a cold beer we asked directions to the nearest yakiniku restaurant and enjoyed an assortment of grilled meats. A nice end to a nice day.
Mount Kobo is an excellent hike for beginners and families. If somebody is not having fun, or the weather turns, you can return to civilization quickly. If you want to spend a little more time in the outdoors, you can extend your hike as well.
If you’re looking for death-defying excitement and adventure, this hike isn’t for you. If you want a relaxing visit to the mountains without having to travel too far from Tokyo, then make your way to Mount Kobo.