Need a get-away into real nature? I’ve got just the trip for you! Come with me on an easy overnight excursion — fully guided in English — to the nearby Tanzawa mountains. We’ll learn about the area’s fascinating natural history while enjoying fall colors, Fuji views and hiking — and, of course, traditional culture and food. Thanks to a government subsidy, we can offer all this at half the actual cost (25,000 yen per person; 21,000 yen if you can share a small room and bed with a loved one).
The Tanzawa mountains covers most of northwestern Kanagawa Prefecture, and borders Shizuoka to the west and Yamanashi to the north. The highest peak is Mt. Hiru, which stands at 1,673 metres (5,489 ft). Sacred Mt. Oyama, which some of you visited on an earlier trip in this series, is also part of the Tanzawa range. Much of the Tanzawa area is now protected as a nature park, and is popular year-round with hikers for its easy access as well as spectacular Fuji views.
Our group, which is limited to 20 people, will meet at 9:15 am on Saturday Nov. 28 at Hadano station on the Odakyu Odawara Line. (Train information below.) Hadano was once famous for tobacco and peanuts; tobacco’s now a lost industry, and peanut growing is on the decline, but I have to say that Hadano peanuts are some of the best I’ve tasted. There are lots of interesting peanut confections in the station stores, too.
We’ll begin our adventure in the foothills, at a visitor center with lots of useful exhibits about the natural history of the area. A scale model of the mountains will give us a quick overview, and we’ll learn how the Tanzawa mountain range was formed — and why they are full of fossils of sea animals! (I don’t want to give away the whole story, but all of the Tanzawa mountains were once islands that got shoved against Honshu by shifts in the earth’s plates. Even today, the plates are still exerting pressure on the mountains, pushing them up a little higher every year. ) The tectonics of Tanzawa are complex; the ground under this part of Kanagawa is one of the few places in the world where three of the earth’s plates converge.
Next we’ll head on our private bus up into the mountains towards the Yabistu pass. On the way, we’ll stop for at the Nanohanadai View Point for a bento lunch break. If the weather is clear, we’ll have a good view of Mt. Fuji. There’s a wooden tower to put us well above the treeline; that climb will be a nice warm-up for hiking, and the structure itself makes for a nice picture. See what I mean?
Now, what’s a trip into the mountain without a little hiking? (One of the luxuries of having our own bus is that we’re not constrained by the limited schedules and crowded conditions of the public buses!) Our first afternoon is set aside for a guided hike along a portion of the Omote-Ohne trail, walking from the Gomayashiki natural spring (elevation 725 m) up to the Ninoto peak (elevation 1,185 m) and then on to the Sannoto peak (elevation 1,250), where we can get an unobstructed 360-degree view over the entire area. If it’s clear, we’ll be able to see most of the Kanto plain, including the island of Enoshima, the Boso coastline, and of course Mt. Fuji! (For those who have been on my previous trips, we should also be able to see Mt. Oyama and the Manazuru peninsula — a great way to knit all the trips together.)
Total distance is about 4.4 kilometers with a significant elevation gain; most of the way up, we’ll be climbing on stairs built with logs. We can take our time, taking advantage of the local guides who will accompany us to learn about the plants we’ll see along the way. They can tell us about changes in the mountains caused by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake as well as efforts to control damage from deer overpopulation — a big problem throughout Japan as humans encroach on the deer’s natural habitat, forcing them higher into the mountains. At the same time, their natural enemies, notably wolves, have disappeared, meaning there are more deer competing for scarcer food.
Now, for our overnight lodging, I decided to opt for privacy over traditional charm, on the theory that most of us prefer not to sleep with strangers. (In Japanese-style inns, groups are usually put all together in large rooms, with everyone sleeping on the floor lined up to one other.) The Manyo no Yu hotel is in town, but offers the right combination of lots of single rooms (everyone gets their own small Western-style room with private bath and toilet)– AND Japanese-style amenities: a tatami banquet room for our dinner and lots of onsen baths to enjoy nearly any hour of the day and night. (If you’re joining the tour with a loved one and don’t mind sharing a small double bed in tight space, we can offer you both a reduced rate. )
Dinner and breakfast are included in our stay; we’ll have a Japanese dinner together, including free drinks (both alcoholic and soft). Breakfast you can take on your own anytime from 7 am, with a choice of either a Japanese “teishoku” tray or a semi-Western breakfast of eggs, meat, juice and rice. (Don’t ask me why, but the hotel says they can’t manage bread). In either case, there’s coffee, my personal requirement for a happy morning.
On our second day, we’ll start with a walking tour to Hadano’s many springs. The whole Tanzawa area is full of water; in fact, there’s half again as much water underground as in Hakone’s famous Ashinoko lake, and it seems to bubble up all over in not just the mountains but in town as well. In fact, the waters are listed among the “100 Notable Springs of Japan” and certified by the environment ministry. People come from all over to take home the water, and there are interesting legends associated with the springs. One spring supposedly burst forth, like a miracle, when the legendary priest Kobo Daishi knocked his staff on the ground.
Our quest for water will take us to two fabulous but very different Shinto shrines: first, the Izumo Taishi Sagami Bunshi, a branch of the famous Izumo Taisha shrine in Shimane Prefecture that was established in the Meiji period. Check out the jumbo “shimenawa” rope over the entrance there.
This is a famous place to pray for better luck in love, and there are even heart-shaped places to tie your wish. No wonder this has become known as one of the more powerful “power spots” in all of Kanto, drawing lots of young, female tourists.
As something special, we have arranged for our group to view a special performance of “kagura” shrine dance. This is not something you get to see everyday.
After the first shrine visit, we’ll go to a lovely farm-like setting, with a water wheel and local produce for sale, where we’ll get a lesson in how to make soba noodles. Soba is an important food in mountainous areas where it’s difficult to grow rice, and making good soba requires good, tasty water –something we’ll know by now that Tanzawa has plenty of.
We’ll mix and roll and cut and work up an appetite for our lunch of soba noodles and vegetable tempura. They’ll even send us home with a recipe in English so we can make soba again for our friends and family.
The last stop of the day will be the Shirasasa Inari Shrine, one of the the three most important inari (fox) shrines in the Kanto area. Of particular interest here is their lovely new ceiling, painted recently by an artist as an act of faith and using all sorts of ancient symbolism. We can try to puzzle out together what all the panels mean. There is also a very curious custom here involving spearing strips of fried tofu, as a form of prayer, and they have very cute “randoseru” (school backpack) charms for just 500 yen each.
We should be back at the station around 4:30 pm on Sunday. For those who want to pick up some local produce or presents before heading home, there are some shops at the station.
This fully guided tour in English is organized in cooperation with Kanagawa Prefecture and Hadano City, and with a grant from the national government that makes it possible to offer it half the actual cost. The fee of 24,000 yen per person (21,000 yen if sharing a room) includes our private bus and driver for transportation within Tanzawa, lunch, dinner and drinks on the first day, hotel (with as many baths as you want), and breakfast and lunch on the second day. It also includes donations to the shrines, the fee for the kagura shrine dance and soba-making lesson, and fees for any exhibits we visit. Please pay your own train fare to and from Hadano station.
Train information: To travel in comfort from Tokyo, I recommend the Odakyu Odawara Line’s limited express “Romance Car” with reserved seating that departs Shinjuku station at 8:10 and arrives in Hadano at 9:07 (train name Sagami #59, 57 minutes, 670 yen fare + 620 yen for the express ticket; total 1,289 yen one way). You can buy your seat ticket in advance at any Odakyu station and use your Suica or Pasmo for the basic fare. Or, you can take a regular express train on the same line, departing from Shinjuku at 7:51 (1 hr, 12 minutes, 670 yen). From Yokohama, there is a special express on the Sotetsu Line dep. 8:00 bound for Ebina station; arrive at Ebina at 8:26 and change to the Odakyu Odawara line, dep. 8:42 and arriving Hadano at 9:03. (1 hr, 3 mins, 590 yen). The group will return to Hadano station on Sunday at approximately 16:20.)
A word on the level of strenuousness: we’ve set aside four hours on the first afternoon for hiking. Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness should be able to do the climb we’ve planned, but keep in mind that it’s real hiking and will involve some exertion. I did it with huffing and puffing but no problems or muscle soreness afterwards. And I was passed on the trail by climbers who were at least in their seventies, and families with young children. If necessary, we can divide into two groups, each with guides, with one group taking an alternate, easier hike. I’ve even planned a “chicken out” point along the way, so you can sample the incline along the main route for 15 minutes, and if at that point you think it’s too much, you can still opt for the easier hike with less climbing. The main route I’ve planned goes up and down the same path, so it’s also possible to stop at any point and head back to the bus or wait on a bench for the group to finish and return. If you have any doubts about your hiking ability, send me a message through the contact form on this blog and we can talk about it. Also, please contact me if you’re a vegetarian or have a food allergy, and we’ll discuss how we can accommodate you. For sure let me know if you have a peanut allergy!
This tour is limited to 20 people and should fill up quickly. If you’re interested please sign up as soon as possible. You’ve got two options: Tabee Japan, which is all in English, sort of, but is finicky. Start by clicking on the circle on Nov. 28. Alternately, if you can read enough Japanese to sign up for things online, you can try Kanagawa Chikatabi. The text about the tour is in English but the instructions are in Japanese. When you enter your name, do it all in capital letters, which I’ve heard works better. If you have any trouble, please let me know and I’ll get you signed up.
One final note: We’re also organizing a day-trip in early February (probably Saturday Feb. 6) to Gotanda, near Mt. Fuji, to explore the connection between sake and Shinto. We will be visiting shrines and sake breweries, but you don’t have to be drinker to enjoy this tour.