Climbing Kurikoma Mountain on an Autumn weekend 栗駒山
Early October ’22
A good night at Genbikei michi no eki. The rain eased by midnight and the morning was bright and clear. The michi no eki has rubbish bins and reasonable if not flashy facilities.
As the weather is fine and the forecast for tomorrow is less good, we decide to climb Kurikoma mountain though we had planned to put it off for a day. This was a good decision as the day proved fine until late afternoon.
Parking and Shuttle Bus
The mountain has 6 different hiking courses originating in three separate prefectures. We decided on the central course which is said to be the easiest. The starting point for the central course is ‘Iwakagami-daira’, about an hour’s drive from Genbikei michi no eki. D. was worried about finding it possible to park as we were arriving after 9am on the Saturday of a 3-day weekend. In addition, it was in what should have been peak Koyo (autumn leaves) season. As it happened, the parking situation was very organized, and we were directed to the lower car park and took a 500-yen shuttle bus up to the start of the hiking course. There were, naturally, a lot of people and the shuttle bus filled very quickly.
The view, from even the lower car park, across the plains below to the blue haze of mountains in the distance was splendid. Especially, as there were massing banks of cloud in the distance and ragged clumps all around.
The start of the hike I did not find very appealing. It was quite steep and underfoot large stones embedded in concrete. This does not make for easy walking and sadly the sides of the trail are hemmed in by high bushes blanking any sort of view. This situation continues for some distance and as you are trudging with a throng of people it did not conform to my idea of a pleasant way to spend Saturday morning.
Eventually, the way becomes less steep, the bushes less tall and the throng thinner as those in the more unsuitable footwear return downhill after the first open viewing spot. Then the rewarding vistas become more frequent and with them one’s faith in hiking up mountains.
From here on, the trail becomes more loose lava stones and occasionally large concrete steps. The sun is strong but, now out of the shelter of the high bushes, the cooling breeze makes it easier to walk. There are still significant numbers of hikers, some in very large groups. The Koyo is just beginning to appear so there is some colour to the mountainsides but nothing spectacular. I suspect the unseasonable heat will either delay the colour by some time or render this year a dud for autumn leaves.
This is a very famous and popular mountain for hikers. The higher sections are fine but don’t do it on a weekend if you can possibly avoid it. Going down, again I found the bottom section hard going. The constant steepness and the concrete embedded rocks make uncomfortable walking.
From the mountain we head for Ginzan onsen. We can’t take a bath here as the onsens close to outside visitors around 2 or 3pm, but we want to take a look at the ryokan building and public onsen designed by Kuma Kengo. He is famous for the Tokyo Olympic stadium, and we have come across his work notably in Yusuhara in Shikoku.
When we reach Ginzan Onsen, it is complete chaos. A total confusion of cars and pedestrians in a very confined space. When our patience is exhausted, we execute a U-turn with some difficulty and escape the madness without seeing Kuma San’s onsen building.
We drive to Nishikawa michi no eki where there is an onsen. A functional and effective bath. Once back in the car we put up the shades, light the lantern, erect the table and relax with a pre-dinner beer.
＊Mizusawa Onsen-kan ; 300 yen / adult
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.