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Sobatsubu-san (Mt Buckwheat Grain)

Japanese mountains can have some unusual names.  Apparently, Sobatsubu-san (蕎麦粒山 – literally translated as Mt Buckwheat Grain) may have been given its name based on its small isosceles triangular shape that resembles a grain of soba. 

Last weekend, up on the mountaintops, the mist had rolled in and created a mystical atmosphere that was far better than running around in the humidity back in Tokyo, and making it too foggy up there to tell the shape of the mountain peak.

Path to Tenmokuzan

To get there, start by catching the train to JR Okutama Station (奥多摩), at the end of the Ome Line (青梅線).  This is nearly as far west in Tokyo Prefecture as it is possible to go.  Okutama is a mountain resort town on the upper Tama River, and is very picturesque – and a little quiet and sleepy, quite different to the 23 districts back in municipal Tokyo.

Okutama railway station.

From here, it was the bus to Nippara (日原), further up in the hills and even sleepier, and then hike up a steep ascent through the forest to Mizu Ippai hut (水一杯避難小屋) and Tenmokuzan (天目山).

The bus from Okutama Station to Higashi Nippara takes around 25 minutes.  It was crammed with hikers heading up into the hills, although I don’t know where they all went, as once we started hiking, we ran into very few people.  Watch out for the timetable, because this bus doesn’t run very often.  Nishi Tokyo Bus has created a useful PDF map timetable for the hiking bus routes around Okutama.  Here’s the bus about to head back down the mountain to Okutama after dropping us off.

Higashi Nippara bus terminal

Nippara is a little township perched on the mountainside.  It’s too small for a convenience store – there was an old wooden general store instead.

The Nippara store - no Lawson convenience stores in this town!

We got lost before even leaving the town, so asked the local gods at the Shinto shrine up the hill to show us the way.

Jinja at Nippara

Outside the Nippara primary school, we found an old relic.  It looks like a kids’ miniature railway, but it’s actually a locomotive and wagon from the local limestone quarry’s private railway line back down the hill to the cement works at Okutama township.  I couldn’t tell whether the line still operates.

Nippara is located right next to the quarry, and perhaps it used to be where workers lived – there are abandoned ugly concrete apartment buildings up on the hill that looked very forlorn.

There's a limestone quarry at Nippara, and this is one of the old electric trams that used to run along a special track back down to the cement works at Okutama town centre

Finally, we were on track, and could look down on the town below.  It took us over half an hour to find this track, and of course, it was located right above the bus stop.

Nippara from above

The town has a great view over the nearby mountains, some of which are an impressive shape.  Just up the road are some limestone caves, which seem to be Nippara’s biggest tourist attraction.

This is nearly as far as Tokyo Prefecture goes - the local scenery up in the mountains is a bit different from the 23 districts of central Tokyo

Not far up the walking track was something a little surprising – a single street lamp, which was turned on.  Couldn’t work out why this was here.

Street lamp on walking track

The track ascended up a steep ridge, through some forest that would be very nice in autumn.

Through the forest on the hike up to Tenmokuzan

Finally, things levelled out a little bit.  In places, the ridge dropped away steeply on both sides.

Through the forest on the hike up to Tenmokuzan

Near the summit of Tenmokuzan is the Ippai Mizu hut.  It’s not staffed, but has some picnic tables outside.

Mitsu Dokke emergency hut

Inside Ippai Mizu hut was just like most other mountain huts that I’ve visited.  It was simple, but kept clean by passers-by.

Inside Mizu Ippai hut

On the outside wall of the hut was a sign advertising the Okutama Visitor Centre to be a 1 minute walk away from Okutama Station.  It was a bit late to go back to the station by now, but the cute pictures told us what to expect in the mountains – water pools, hiking tracks, mountain huts, forest, flowers, deer and bears.  We didn’t see any bears.

Okutama Visitor Centre sign

Climbing up to Tenmokuzan, we passed a false crest.  I thought we were the top, and celebrated for a photo.  Then we discovered there was more uphill.

False alarm.  Thought this was the summit.  But there was more uphill to go.

Finally, we made it to the top of Tenmokuzan – 1576 metres – on the border between Tokyo and Saitama Prefectures.  My hiking partner for the day was Laura, a friend of a friend who won the first ever triathlon she entered.  With some other hikers we met, we ate our bento lunches on the foggy summit.

On the summit of Tenmokuzan - in the mist

Continuing along the ridge, the fog became quite thick.

The mountain tops were all misty

The mood became a little eerie at times.  At one signpost in the fog, we were discussing that the kanji 仙 (sen), contained in the name of one of the local topographical features, means “hermit” (as in the supernatural kind).  Just then, there was a sudden quiet and the wind stopped…

The mountain tops were all misty

Having been left alone by the local spirits, we continued along the ridge (and the border between Tokyo and Saitama Prefectures) to the top of Sobatsubu-san (1,473 metres).

Sobatsubo-san (literally Mt Buckwheat Grain).  Not sure why it's called that.

From Sobatsubu-san, we found a path down the mountain that aimed for the Kawanori Forest road, which follows a side valley up from the main road.  Emerging onto the road, we found another form of interesting transport – a mini monorail that is operated by a mini diesel engine.  The rail ran off into the forest for a few hundred metres – we didn’t follow it along, but it looked to run into the top of a small weir up an otherwise beautiful gully, probably to carry equipment into a works site.  There didn’t look to be any fresh works in progress, and the weir was very mossy.

2 stroke monorail

Mountain stream

Walking down the Kawanori Forest road, a stunning waterfall was right next to the road.  It was unnamed on my map.

Waterfall up the Kawanori Forest Road.  Unnamed on my map, but it's probably called something.

In places, the road proved yet again that concrete and nature don’t aesthetically work together very well.

The Japanese construction industry sure knows how to use concrete in inappropriate places.  This is the Kawanori Forest Road, which doesn't go anywhere (except providing access to cedar plantations and more concrete dams on the river)

The Hyakuhiro Taki 百尋滝 (Hundred Fathom Falls) was a very impressive waterfall.  The road did not let us get very close, but there is a walking track on the other side of the river that I think leads right up to the falls.  Maybe next trip there will be time for that.

Hyakuhiro Falls (literally One Hundred Fathom Falls), taken from a distance.  The falls are quite high.

Back down the valley

Finally, it was back to the main Nippara Road, and a quick dip of the feet into the Nippara River.

Giving the feet a quick dip in the river was very welcome

The Nippara River, back at the Nippara road

The Kawanori-bashi bus stop is located at the end of the Kawanori Forest Road, and even provides a few seats for weary hikers to wait for the bus back to Okutama.

Kawanori-bashi bus stop, waiting for the bus back to Okutama

Here’s a map of the route that we took.  It’s only approximate in many places, because it was hard to find and trace the walking track under the trees.

Nippara to Tenmokuzan and Sobatsubu-san


  1. JapanSoc says:

    Hiking near Okutama – a soba-shaped mountain & hundred-fathom waterfall…

    Report and photo post of a foggy hiking trip to the beautiful mountains near Nippara and Okutama, in far western Tokyo Prefecture. Mountaintops in the clouds, abundant green forest, big waterfalls, and largely unvisited….

  2. David says:

    If this walk captured your interest, it’s also worth having a look at Mike’s Blender blog post that describes a nearby walk to Kawanori-san – the first part of that walk follows the same road up towards Hyakuhiro Taki. See http://www.mikesblender.com/indexblog230.htm

  3. […] Tokyo Prefecture.  (I’d been to Nippara once before to climb up another local mountain, Sobatsubu-san.) Catch a bus from Okutama Station up the hill past the limestone quarry, and from Higashi-Nippara […]

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