Monday, 19 May 2014

More Old Ways - Momokura-yama (百蔵山) and Ōgi-yama (扇山), Otsuki-shi, Yamanashi

A recent mountain article on here introduced the Ōtsuki valley, a corridor of roads, farms and suburban settlements through the mountains, joining Tokyo with Yamanashi's central basin. Here we have another mountain walk route, this time on the valley's north side.

Two mountains feature prominently here. Momokura-yama (百蔵山) stands at 1003m above the hamlet of Saruhashi (“monkey bridge”). To its east is Ōgiyama (扇山) at 1138m, so named for apparently resembling a spreading fan from the south. Both offer very pleasant views of classic Japanese countryside, of peaceful villages with their farms and rivers and rails and roads, nestled amidst rolling mountains and lush mixed forests with Mt. Fuji dominant in the background.

The old Kōshū Kaidō (甲州街道), one of the Edo Five Routes, also runs through here, albeit mostly superseded by its modern successor, National Route 20. Like the more prominent Tōkaidō road, this was another of the old ways in and out of the Kantō plain – but where the Tōkaidō connected Edo to the west, the Kōshū Kaidō penetrated inland to the important provinces of Kai and Shinano (now roughly Yamanashi and Nagano, respectively). The final part of this walk traces the route through the old post station settlement of Inume.

Momokura-yama (百蔵山), with the Chūō Expressway in the foreground.
The summit of Ōgiyama (扇山).

This walk is tough. It features regular ups and downs, including two prolonged strenuous climbs and a steep descent in the middle, as well as a protracted slog along tarmac at the end. On the other hand, the paths are in excellent condition and very well signposted, facilities and vending machines are plentiful in the opening and closing stretches, and there are plenty of options for shortening the route. The final hour and a half can be skipped altogether by bus, although the marvellous scenery makes it well worth seeing it through on foot.

Plan for around seven hours of walking if you attempt it. And at this time of year, be sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water to sustain yourself in the powerful heat.

To get there, take the JR Chūō Line out to Saruhashi (猿橋) station, where the walk starts. It finishes at Shiotsu (四方津) station, three stops back towards Tokyo.

From the north exit of Saruhashi station follow the road north, crossing National Route 20. Just to your right will be a 7-Eleven convenience store; cross the Katsuragawa river over the bridge on its right.

High ahead soars the Chūō Expressway. Pass under it and turn right at the T-junction, whereupon you will come almost immediately to a crossroads.

The way to the mountain is left up the hill, but if you have time, it may be worth doing a 30-minute detour to one of Ōtsuki's interesting local attractions. Saruhashi means “monkey bridge”, and its namesake is just a kilometre east along the river: just keep going until you see it down on your right. It is a very old bridge, and is so named because its architecture was supposedly inspired by monkeys joining their hands to swing across the chasm.

Looking east from atop the bridge, at an old hydroelectric power waterway.
Oh look, a tanuki.
To visit this, I recommend taking this route along the north side of the chasm, and not the south one along the traffic-heavy, pedestrian-unfriendly National Route 20.

Either way, the way into the mountains continues from the aforementioned crossroads, up the climbing northern road signposted to Shiei Ground (市営グラウンド). Labour your way up through this residential area until you come to a Y-junction just past a sports club, and go left, as signposted to Momokura-yama. Don't forget to look behind you as you go: you have direct line of sight towards Mt. Fuji in places.

Soon you will come to another Y-junction, this time with both roads signposted to the mountain. Go right here; there are toilets just ahead if needed. From there the road winds upwards past a water treatment facility.

The road now ascends through mountain greenery. Ignore the first dirt path for Momokura-yama you pass on the right (you want the west route, not the east); instead follow the road all the way to the end, past a grand temple gate with two lion statues. Eventually you will pass a small shrine and reach the end of the road, where the trailhead proper begins.

Here begins a good hour of climbing. There is only one path and it is easy to follow. The continuous uphill may get a bit demanding, but in good time you will emerge onto a little plateau with a bench, which offers a splendid vantage point over the Ōtsuki valley.

It is not far from here to the top of the ridge, where a signpost directs you right for a final, easy stroll to the Momokura-yama summit.

The summit has lovely views of its own, and is a good place to refuel with some lunch.

Notice Mt. Fuji, head concealed in the clouds.
After a good rest, continue east. The trail starts deceptively gentle, then without warning plummets into a sharp descent. The gradient does not relent for about twenty minutes, so be very careful with your footing.

There now follows a long 90-120 minutes of rolling along this bright and verdant ridge, up and down some minor peaks on the way to Ōgiyama. Covering this distance takes some time, but is not too demanding until you come to the one called 大久俣山 whose reading is beyond me. The approach to this peak is the second arduous climb of the day, and while neither as long nor as tough as the first mountain, it will hardly fail to incinerate your muscles after all the hard work up to this point.

There are a couple of junctions along the way, but always well signposted. Stay on the path towards Ōgiyama.
Once you see this, Ōgiyama is the next peak along.

At this point there is not much further to go, and the going is gentler. Soon Ōgiyama's summit comes into view. This is a lovely open grassland with some more great views across the trees, and another prime chance for a good long rest. It is also where you leave Ōtsuki-shi – the rest of this walk is conducted in Uenohara.

The view east, along the Sagami River valley towards Tokyo.
Close-up of the above. The large mass of buildings is Uenohara town. Fujino and Lake Sagami are just visible in the distance.

Descend back to the valley by taking the east path off the summit. The path is generally kind now, but there is a series of three junctions to negotiate. Go left at the first one (signed to Inume – 犬目), right at the second one and right at the third one, following the large white signboard to Kimikoi Onsen (君恋温泉). Soon after the last one you will come out at the Hakuba Fudō, a shrine building in the woods.

Hakuba Fudō (白馬不動).

Go down the steps in front of this to the Jizo, and continue left (you can pop right first for a quick look at a little waterfall).

The path finally emerges onto a road. This is the Kōshū Kaidō, the old Edo period route into central Japan.

Turn left onto the road, and before long you will come to a bus stop which can get you out of there if you cannot take any more. If you can, though, continue walking to reach Inume (犬目). This is now a quiet residential area, but in the old days it held the twenty-first Kōshū Kaidō post station (from the Tokyo direction). It was also where Katsushika Hokusai, for his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series, painted this.

A fitting location. Through the houses on the right you can make out stunning views over the valley, and a little path up to a cemetery towards the end provides an accessible vantage point.

The road through Inume.
The view back west from the cemetery. Mt. Fuji has a clear profile in the centre, though has not come out well in this photo.

From here to the end you are walking on tarmac again. Most of these roads are quiet, but stay alert for the occasional vehicles. Shortly beyond Inume the road splits into three.

The mountains of Yamanashi are probably not the most intuitive place you would expect to find a shipbuilding concern.

At the fork in the picture, take the right-hand road which slopes down, after a few minutes, to a rare crossing over the Chūō Expressway. Go straight across, and follow the descending road ahead.

The Chūō Expressway, looking west. It is not often you get to look down onto this thing.
Be careful not to dig up any innocent telephone cables as you go.
You will still find plenty of pedestrian signs at helpful locations.

On down this road you will pass the Ōme (大目) Primary School, before arriving at the next scenic landmark: Ōno Reservoir (大野貯水地). This is a picturesque lake with a little island with birds nesting on it. In the sakura season its shores are lined with beautiful cherry blossoms, making it a popular hanami site.

Ōme Primary School.
Ōno Reservoir.

Proceed along the road, beside the reservoir's north bank, until you come to the dam at the east end. Continue on the road here (do not cross the dam), and turn right at the sign for the final descent to Shiotsu (四方津) station. This last stretch is not short on charming arcadian prospects of its own – some good final returns for those who found it in themselves to do all this from start to finish.

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