Friday, 31 October 2014

Mitō-san (三頭山): Three-Headed Mountain

Mount Fuji from the summit of Mitō-san.

Mitō-san (三頭, 1525m), the highest of the 'Three Mountains of Oku-Tama' in western Tokyo, is trickier to reach than the others. For one thing it is scarcely in Oku-Tama at all; it stands in the far southwest corner, on the boundary with Hinohara village and Yamanashi Prefecture. On the other hand, if you go there on a day with nice weather, you can get to see things like this.

Mitō-san – so named because of its clump of three summits – was apparently closed off to people in the Edo Period. This left it in peace to grow a splendid forest of huge beeches (buna, ブナ) and maples (kaede, カエデ), which still stand despite the dominance of sugi plantations in the area and display impressive colours in the autumn. This rich mixed forest also supports a thriving diversity of plant and bird life.

In a reversal of its former status, Mitō-san is now the centrepiece of the Hinohara Citizens' Forest (tomin no mori, 都民の森). The mountain and its surroundings are now open to everyone, with a well-equipped and well-maintained network of hiking trails and facilities which attract large numbers of people, although its relative remoteness stops it from getting overcrowded or detracting too much from immersion in nature.

There are multiple hiking routes to choose from, and they are generally quite easy – occasionally steep, but never punishingly so. This is definitely a mountain suitable for beginners, with a lot of cabins and information boards making it easy to navigate, rest or find support if needed. For more advanced walkers, longer routes out of the Citizens' Forest are also an option – you can go down to Oku-Tama Lake, or even up to Gozenyama if you are feeling ambitious enough.

The Citizens' Forest occupies the northwest corner of Hinohara Village, Tokyo. Mitō-san is in the top-left corner. To the north is Oku-Tama, to the west Yamanashi.

The biggest challenge lies in getting there. Hinohara, the last part of Tokyo still designated as a village (mura, ), is a sleepy place, whose mountain and forest coverage far exceeds its rail coverage. Unless you have a car, take the Itsukaichi Line (which branches off the Ōme Line) from Tachikawa to Musashi-Itsukaichi Station (武蔵五日市駅). From there, ride the Nishi Tokyo Bus (2014-5 timetable here) to tomin no mori (都民の森), although it may only run to Kazuma (数馬) where another bus will be waiting to take you the rest of the way. That's about 1 hour 10 minutes and 910 yen one-way, incidentally.

Click below for the full article.

The Citizens' Forest entrance area has a large car park with shops, food stalls (with huge grilled dango) and an information centre. From there it is just a few minutes walk up the hill to the forest centre or shinrin-kan (森林館), which has an exhibition on forest life and activities that is worth investigation, as well as a restaurant upstairs.

Left for the stairs, right for the tunnel.
Shinrin-kan (森林館).

Most of the walking routes start and end here. The following photos come from the buna no michi (ブナの路) course, the standard circuit that incorporates the main landmarks as well as the best of the great beech forests.

It begins with a stroll along the 'Therapy Road'. This is a pleasant promenade with a surface of wood chips, which has apparently been approved by the Forest Therapy Society for conferring a range of physiological benefits, such as reducing stress, relaxing the mind and lowering blood pressure. There are a few nice views along the way.

'Therapy Road'.

Before long you come to a little suspension bridge overlooking the Mitō Great Waterfall (三頭山大滝), which you will hear before you see. It may look small, but is surprisingly high and vigorous.

Mitō Great Waterfall (三頭山大滝).

The climbing starts just past the waterfall. For a while the path follows the churning stream, occasionally crossing it as it rises through the valley.

Eventually it steepens and climbs up to the shoulder at Mushikari Pass (ムシカリ峠). From there a short final ascent brings you to the top of Mitō-san – specifically to the West Peak, the broadest of the three, where the best views of Mount Fuji can be seen and where most people congregate for lunch.

The West Peak of Mitō-san.
On the north side you can also see the mountains of Oku-Tama.
This, specifically, is Takanosu-yama (鷹ノ巣山, 1737m). Climb that in winter if you want some fun. What you see here is the summit and ridge at the start of Stage Three of that article.

If the main summit is too crowded for your liking, you can descend east then climb up the little ridge that has the Central Peak and the East Peak. Just past there is a lookout platform with clearer views over Oku-Tama, and likely a more quiet place for a lunch break.

Mitō-san Central Peak.
Mitō-san East Peak.

To get down, continue east for a descending ramble through some of the best beech woods. Eventually you will reach the crossroads at Saiguchi Pass (口峠), where a right turn takes you back to the entrance. But if you are still up for more, consider adding on the circuit up and down the seikatsu no mori (生活の森) in the Citizens' Forest northeast section. This only takes about an hour, and gives you some more good exercise, some peaceful sections of more shadowy forest without so many people, and some more good views over the northern mountains.

Saiguchi Pass (鞘口峠).
The seikatsu no mori (生活の森) is less frequented than the main part of the Citizens' Forest, and the density of tall trees casts thick shadows in places, making it somewhat haunting.

Either way, the path down to the shinrin-kan is short and passes a large woodcrafts centre. This apparently runs classrooms and events for visitors, although on this occasion I was slightly rushed due to the bus timetable and did not get the chance to investigate.

The woodcrafts centre (木材工芸センター).
The shinrin-kan is just past there, and the car park and entrance area below it. The buses back to Musashi-Itsukaichi station run about once every hour.

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