West out of Tokyo, the first place you come to is Yamanashi Prefecture. Yamanashi is landlocked, fertile and mountainous – Mount Fuji occupies a big chunk of its southern border – and it is here that the relentless urban expansion slows, trickling away into valleys and mountain passes that rise, in the north and west, towards the central Japanese Alps.
The Chūō Line railway escapes straight out of the capital through here, and in so doing traverses the municipalities of Uenohara and Ōtsuki. These are “bedroom communities”, many of whose residents commute into neighbouring Tokyo; but for the most part, these realms are of mountains, forests, and picturesque little towns neither fully urban – for all their farms and greenery – nor fully rural – for their density and infrastructure. The mountains are relatively gentle, in easy reach of the railway, and not as frequented as the hotspots of Oku-Tama or the Tanzawa range. And this, along with the views afforded by their special proximity to Mount Fuji, makes them attractive and under-represented places to roam.
Here is one of those mountains: Kuratake-yama (倉岳山), or “warehouse peak”, in Ōtsuki. This route is a pleasant up-then-down-again exercise, offering a bit of everything: mossy ravines, kept cool and fresh by their running rivers; high forests, a mix of evergreen and deciduous; and rolling ridge paths, with impressive views off both sides through breaks in the trees. On a clear day, expect to reach the peak to find the massive profile of Mt. Fuji right there in your face.
The walk is neither merciless nor long: Mt. Kuratake stands at 990m high, but you get a relaxing 4km of horizontal distance for the climb, and another for the descent, so at no point, save one or two very short bursts, is the steepness particularly brutal. The whole thing can easily be done within 5 hours, and will not trouble anyone in at least reasonable shape.
|Kuratake-yama (left), seen from the start of the walk at Torisawa station.|
What makes it fun right now is that the paths have not been serviced since the winter, in which time, it may be observed, tree falls and tons of snow melting off the slopes have carpeted the routes in detritus. This makes for many pleasant occasions of clambering over stuff, and at times the path becomes indistinct, but in essence you simply follow one river valley up to the ridge and the other back down again, so there is no serious risk of getting lost, and the soft ground generally cooperates with your soles.
To get there, take the Chūō Line west out of Tokyo – past Tachikawa, past Hachiōji, and past Takao. Once out of Tokyo Metropolis and into Yamanashi, the station you want is just a few stops ahead: Torisawa (鳥沢). The walk starts there, and finishes at Yanakawa station (梁川), the last stop before it. This area can be reached in about 1 hour 30 minutes from central Tokyo.