Day hike from Tokyo: Mt. Jinba, a mountain with a horse

There are days that you want to be out in the nature, but don’t have the courage to do a long hike. There are also days when you can’t decide on a possible hiking destination between Tokyo and Kanagawa. A mountain with a horse is the ideal solution that can get you out of the pinch.

Last year, in the beginning of the summer, there was a short while in early June that the rain stopped. On that time, I decided to hike around Mt. Jimba, a quiet small mountain – or so I thought. Head to Takao station, but don’t climb up to Mt. Takao. Instead, hop on bus 32 to the east. Our 13km course starts at a bus stop called ‘Jimbakougenshita’ in front of a solitary soba shop. The first part of the course is along a mountain road, but don’t let that disappoint you. Lush greenery accompanies you, as well as a few stone guardians. Walk the road until you find a downward facing entry point to the new hiking path (新ハイキングコース分岐). Are you out of breath? You are going to be in a minute, for the path continues upwards with a steep slope. The stair steps you are walking on are tree roots, hugging each other harmoniously. Oh, did you bring a bear bell? I was basically running, because I heard one was seen around here recently.

The slope soon starts to flatten and a strange view awaits. The right of the forest is vivid, green, alive. The left side is branchless and dusky. Is it because of the sun not being able to reach and nourish the other side? Is it some kind of forest protection measure? I don’t know, but the scene looks like the meeting point of light and darkness, like an introduction to something fierce and glorious.

After a relatively narrow section of the path and a wide curve, you meet a checkpoint with a route going up and another going to Wada-touge (和田峠), a mountain pass with the standard mountain cafe-restaurant-resting place. You could take the detour to grab a refreshment, but I suggest continuing straight to the top. Soon, there are no more trees in view and the land flattens a bit around the peak.

The name of Mt. Jinba (陣馬山) means literally ‘horse camp’, so maybe that’s why you find yourself staring at a giant horse’s buttocks. As the story goes, when the Takeda clan was planning to attack the Hojos at Takiyama castle, they set up camp on the flat summit of this short mountain. Thus, the name was changed from Chigayaba (茅場, harvesting ground for Kaya branches used to make Go and Shogi game boards) to Jinba ( 陣 場, campground). Then, the 2nd character of Jinba was changed to the homonym character of the horse (馬), a necessity during the warring states period. Maybe that’s why this white horse statue was erected, as a nod to the mountain’s name.

The highest point of this flat peak is 857 meters tall. The interesting thing about it is that it sits exactly on the border separating Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectures. The wooden pole on the horse’s right side writes ‘Tokyo prefecture’, while the pole on its left side writes ‘Kanagawa prefecture’. The view is amazing, because on a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji (Yamanashi pref.), the mountains of Chichibu (Saitama pref.), the mountains of Tanzawa (Kanagawa pref.), even Mt. Tsukuba (Ibaraki pref.) and Boso peninsula (Chiba pref.) with some effort. A full 360 degree view of the entire Kanto plain is what this horse statue observes every day. The peak finds its name written in a lot of lists (why do they even have so many lists), like the 100 best spots with Mt. Fuji view in Kanto, 50 best scenic spots of Kanagawa and 88 best views of Hachioji.

On the summit there are three different mountain tea shops, the Shimizu, the Fujimi and the Shingen. At the Shimizu chaya, I found one of the best balconies I’ve ever come across. I drank a sour Ramune, but I still couldn’t get enough of the view. The red flowers below the shop made the color palette even fuller.

After you relax and invigorate yourself with mountain soba or soup, there are three options; go around to follow a loop back to the bus stop, head to Mt. Takao (it needs a lot of hours) or go down towards lake Sagami. I chose the latter and I followed the signs to Narako pass (奈良子峠). The path here is flatter and well maintained, with blocks of steps along the way.

There are not so many things to see in this part of the course, just trees and the occasional stone markers. So, I continue down to Myo pass (明王峠), where there is a small structure that maybe used to be a sort of resting space, as well as a stone monument devoted to the fire god (明王).

Occasionally, when hiking in Japan or Korea, you might come across carefully constructed piles of stone. Usually, passersby make these piles as a good luck mark. If the pile is exceptionally tall and wide, it might be hiding a jizo statue underneath. Hikers usually don’t carry incense sticks, so they throw stones as an offering instead (if someone threw a stone at me as an offer, I would probably have thrown it back, such an insult). For this reason, the big pile is called Ishiage Jizo (石投地蔵嬢ヶ塚, stone throwing Jizo). So, back during the wars of the 16th century, a lady of the Kai-Takeda clan married a guy from the Satake clan in Hitachi. The marriage turned sour, with the lady leaving her husband and daughter to return back to her parents. After years, her daughter, now a beautiful princess, decided to travel in the midst of war to meet her mother. She walked vigorously along the mountain roads, but upon reaching Myo pass, she fell ill. A lady in her service tried to carry her on her back down the path, but the princess died while crying the word ‘mother’. She was buried here and the Takedas put a jizo statue in her memory.

The path continues without surprises, the next checkpoints being Yanone (矢ノ音) and Oohira (大平). After a smallish peak called Magoyama (孫山), the next big thing is lake Sagami (相模湖). This lake is man-made with a large dam. Surrounded by mountains, this used to be a fun waterfront resort some decades ago.

Now, it is a shadow of its past self, everything looks old and abandoned. Like the old bowling alley next to the lake, which is almost completely reclaimed by vines.

Because ABSOLUTELY nothing has changed in the last 30 decades, it is an ideal location for retro lovers. After all, this is the place where I managed to get 3 fabulous traditional dolls (a geisha, the wisteria girl and the bucket-carrying girl from kabuki theatrical plays) for 400JPY each, because they were too bulky that no one wanted to carry home. For sure, you can find some old school souvenirs here. You can also enjoy a swan boat ride around the lake or coffee next to the water. Sagamiko always makes me feel melancholic, because I can see a prosperous past long gone, and it makes me wonder if this is the future that awaits other places which are prospering now and which I love.

So this is the story of the mountain with the horse. I heard it is becoming a hit recently, it was among the locations re-discovered during the covid-induced states of emergency. Would you visit? Have you visited already? Tell me about it in the comments.

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