After a surprising string of hot November days in Tokyo, the winter chill is finally kicking in. During winter, the hiking options for those who are not into alpine hiking and are susceptible to slippery falls (like yours truly) get severely limited. Don’t worry though, miss belleelene has got you covered, with a scenic hiking route that stays open all year long.
As you have probably realized by now, I’ve been hanging around the mountains of Saitama quite a lot. My weekend commute to Agano was becoming so regular, that I’ve even contemplated moving there for a change. Alas, Kawasaki won my heart, but Saitama remained the top candidate for the occasional city break.
The path for this hike starts at Nishi-Agano station. The village appears dusty and covered in moss, I barely met anyone walking outside. Some buildings look abandoned, others not so much. The autumn colors are magnificent on this side of the mountain. All colors of the palette dominate the landscape: blood red from the momiji (maple), deep yellow from the icho (ginkgo) and orange from the keyaki (zelkova).
Previously, I’ve showed you the charms of the hidden Koburi pass in Higashi-Agano. This time, we will go a bit further and head for a great-but-forgotten Buddhist temple, the Takayama Fudoson (高山不動尊). Fudo temples are dedicated to the homonymous god Fudo-Myo (不動明王), who is the protector of the Kanto region i.e., Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures. The other two famous Fudo temples are Narita Fudo and Takahata Fudo. I also appreciated the smaller but interesting Meguro Fudo downtown. (Kindly remind me to show you all of these temples at a later blog post).
The trails around here are part of the 105km-long Okumusashi long trail. The path to the temple passes close to a couple of wateralls. There’s an Otaki (big fall), a Shirataki (string fall) and a Fudo-taki, all common names for waterfalls. There is also an observatory with the most fabulous name I’ve ever come across, the Kanto’s Eight Provinces Lookout (関八州見晴台). If you don’t get distracted by the many alternate routes, Takahata Fudoson is just there. Records claim that it was founded in 654 C.E. The temple boasts a wooden statue of Gundari-Myo, created in the Heian period.
As the story goes, Fudo-Myo is the god that doesn’t move, the Immovable one and the Enlighted King, the Japanized version of the Buddhist god Acala. While Acala was a minor deity in other Asian Buddhist traditions, Fudo became prominent in Japan. Fudo is the protector of the imperial court, or even the country as a whole. His symbols are a rope and a sword, and he is usually surrounded by flames. His face looks angry, and his fangs look tenacious. Fudo is a guy that you’d rather not mess with. Despite his fierce appearance, this god’s mission is to bring mankind to salvation by cutting delusions with his sword and catching pure souls with his rope. The worship of Fudo is well connected with the traditions of the Yamabushi wandering monks and Shugendo. For this reason, you can find his statues tucked away into the mountains, close to caves or waterfalls.
The most interesting attraction on the premises is a giant Gingko tree, which was turning yellow at the time that I visited. The ground was covered with a blanket of leaves. The commanding presence of the tree gave me chills, it felt a bit like a serene power spot. This tree is called Childcare Ginkgo and it is supposedly 800 years old. The information board next to it says that the tree is 37-meter tall with a 10-meter trunk circumference. Visible traces from a fire in 1830s that burnt down the complex still remain on the tree, but it miraculously survived. Some of the roots are hanging exposed at the side of the hill and look like breasts dripping milk, hence the name. Women who fail to produce milk after milk can come to pray at the tree for assistance. A small shrine is carefully tucked under the exposed roots, next to the wooden steps that lead down. Nowadays, this tree is considered a prefectural natural monument.
The rest of the route is deprived of sights but attractive, nonetheless. You can explore a few rundown buildings or simple enjoy the colors of nature. I did both.
Eventually, the path ends at Agano station. From there, you can get to Hanno and try visiting the Moomin Valley park if it is still early. Alternatively, you can always wash away your tiredness in Kirari Onsen’s hot spring water.
If you want to check out the details of this hike, you can follow the route in alltrails and the map. If you liked this article, share it with your friends. Do you have any hiking tips for the area? Add them in the comments. You can also follow this blog, follow me on Instagram or Facebook, to never miss a post. Until next time!
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