[Visited on July 24th, 2022]
For some reason, Japan likes to have every single matter organized, meticulously arranged in boxes and lists. For example, there are the 3 views of Japan (Miyajima, Matsushima and Amanohashidate), the 100 mountains of Japan, or the 100 soundscapes of Japan. You can find a ranking list for almost everything. In the list of the 100 waterfalls of Japan however, Tokyo holds only one entry. You may wonder, how is it even possible that Tokyo has a waterfall at all. Well, Tokyo prefecture includes both Tokyo-to (the metropolis) and some small towns and villages in the undeveloped and mountainous western region. The west is where all of Tokyo’s natural beauty exists, and where city boys flock to get a detox break.
This time, we are going to explore Hinohara village (檜原村), yes, an actual village in Tokyo. In order to get there, you first have to reach Musashi Itsukaichi station (武蔵五日市駅) and then ride bus number 10 until Kamikawanori (上川乗) bus stop. Sit comfortably, because the bus ride is going to take a while. Eventually, you will arrive in the middle of nowhere, to a place covered with a thick forest of pines. There are numerous camp grounds at this location, but if you want to work out a bit, go slightly left and find the entrance to the path towards mountain Sengenrei (浅間嶺). The path starts with a steep slope, and soon you find yourself inside the lush forest. It’s pretty humid and damp during the summer, the shade of the trees does not help much with the temperature. There was almost no one climbing in July. After reaching the top and meeting a handful of people who were having lunch at the benches, I found out that Mt. Sengenrei is recommended for the autumn and winter season, because of its low altitude.
There are actually two peaks next to each other. First, the observatory, with a 360° view to the mountains of the Chichibu-Tamakai national park. The peak of Mt. Otake is visible clearly at the background. On the opposite side, hidden among the trees, there is a tiny path to the actual Sengenrei peak. Apart from a tiny Fuji Sengen shrine and a small wooden sign on a tree, there is no view or anything else of interest there. The shrine looked brand new and the materials of the old shrine were left just next to it, exposed to the nature. This reminds me of the tradition of shrines in Ise, where every 30 years the dismantle the shrines and re-built them just next to the original location. A marker structure is left to mark the previous/future location. In this case however, it looks that the materials are left out of necessity and not as a ritual for future re-building.
From Sengenrei, you can follow the signs towards Tokisaka pass (時坂峠). Along the path, there is amateur equipment for water sourcing. I’ve heard that many houses in the outskirts of Tokyo and Yokohama are still not connected to the water network, instead sourcing water from streams and springs. After passing an abandoned (?) tea house and restaurant, you will eventually end up at a road with a few houses scattered around. It seems this area is quite popular for bicycle and motorcycle rides. From here, you can easily find the way to the Hossawa waterfall.
Actually, the Hossawa waterfall is only one of the 50 waterfalls and the ‘eight waterfall views’ in the area. Hinohara village is located in a valley surrounded by mountains and Sengenrei ridge in the middle splits it in two. Naturally, a lot of mountain streams flow from higher altitudes to branches of Akigawa river, forming waterfalls as they do so. While Hossawa fall is the most popular, Aya, Meoto, Hanamizu and Kichijoji falls are easily accessible on foot. The local tourist association recommends a two-day stay in order to visit as many waterfalls as possible.
If you end up staying in Hinohara village, you should try the local potatoes. The villagers are so proud of their potatoes, that even the post box is shaped like one, the mascot Hinojaga-kun. The clean water streams provide optimal conditions for excellent tofu. Alternatively, you can collect some gacha gifts to support the local forestry association, or enjoy some shaved ice with syrup made from local ume plums. Surprisingly, the area is home to a few cozy coffee shops and restaurants. I recommend Gallery Cafe Yamabico (right next to Hossawa fall), Harenoya (an old house converted into a café) and Kanakana (a camper van converted into a restaurant).
By bike or on foot, Hinohara village should be on your list for a quick break from Tokyo. Have you been there already? Are you planning to go? Tell me what you think in the comments. You can check out today’s route at Alltrails. Stay tuned for the next post, there are a lot of hidden paths that I’m dying to tell you about!