Friday, 20 February 2015

Ogawa-machi (小川町), Saitama: Mountains, Temples, Forests, Farms

The mountains of Chichibu and Oku-Musashi in Saitama, north of Tokyo, recede into clusters of lowland hills around the centre of the prefecture, giving way towards the great Kanto Plain in the east. The settlement of Ogawa-machi (小川町), nestled amidst this transition zone, is a historic Japanese countryside town of about 35,000 people known for its long traditions of washi paper-making and sake brewing, both nourished by the area's high-quality mountain water. In recent decades Ogawa has also emerged as one of Japan's leading organic agriculture centres, with certain farms gaining high national profile for their pursuit of sustainable systems in energy, waste management, and food production.

It was here that I opened my hiking for the year 2015 with this restful walk through Ogawa's surrounding lowlands and neighbourhoods. The first half crosses a couple of low peaks overlooking the town, offering two consecutive 360-degree views for a really not so demanding climb. The second half winds through the outskirts of the town and lets you soak in the flavour of its farms, shrines, temples and peaceful neighbourhoods.

This is an easy walk, about 8km long, and requires only 3 to 4 hours to complete. There is only one significant uphill stretch, to get onto the adjacent peaks of Kannokura-yama (官ノ倉山) and Sekison-san (石尊山), both less than 350m high. Do be prepared though for one or two scrambles down gravelly slopes, including one that involves holding a chain for support.

To get there, go to Ikebukuro and take a Tōbu Tōjō line express train all the way to the end to Ogawamachi station, a ride of about 1 hour. Change onto a local train (on the same line) to go one stop further to bu Takezawa (東部竹沢) station. The walk ends back at Ogawamachi station, in the town centre.

Click the link below for more photos and route guidance.