Since 1964, Jigokudani Yaenkoen is a very interesting place to observe the lifestyle of Japanese monkeys. More than anything for researchers and photographers. It is in a mountainous area in central Japan, Yokoyu River Valley, about 850 meters above sea level. People called Jigokudani "Hell Valley" because you could see the boiling water coming up from the surface of the earth! This makes it a paradise especially for monkeys.
The mountain of Mount Mitake is in Chichibu Tama Kai National Park, near Tokyo, Japan. It stands 929 meters (3,048 feet) high. It's one of the many highlights of the park, which covers more than 1,250 square kilometres (483 square miles) of forested mountains, hills, streams and some rural villages in the prefectures of Yamanashi, Saitama, Tokyo and Nagano. To get there, take a train from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo to Mitake station on the Ome Line. You will have to change trains at Ome Station. From Mitake Station, exit at the main exit, cross the river on the road bridge and then turn immediately right. Walk along this road for about a kilometre. Take the first street on the left, noticeable by Tori doors. Climb up for 20 minutes to the Mitake Tozan station. From here you can take the funicular, or continue walking along the narrow road until you reach the top. Once there, there is a major Shinto shrine.
One hour from downtown Kyoto is a neighbourhood which is an absolute must in the city, close to famous sites like the bamboo forests, and with beautiful views of the mountains in the background. There's a small sign that will surely attract your attention, as it highlights the home of the Iwatayama monkeys. After paying 550 yen, you'll have to go for a bit of a climb to get to the best panoramic view of all Kyoto. It's not easy - don't be tempted to rush. And be careful, because the monkeys can be quite aggressive! But nevertheless, it's worth a visit, and the monkeys are interesting to observe. We particularly enjoyed the chance to see them swimming in a small pond.
The trail starts from Meaken Onsen. To get there we opted for 20 minute taxi ride from Akanko. An early start to avoid afternoon cloud is recommended, we started out at 8.30 and already Japanese hikers were descending.
The starting point is easily recognized as there is a large collection of warning signs and a hikers register. Initially the trail winds through forest that becomes shorter and shorter until only dwarf pines remain. The last section zigzags up red volcanic rock taking around half an hour to arrive at the crater's edge.
In my opinion this is an easy volcano to climb, only 2hrs from trailhead to crater, not too steep and very little volcanic scree. But it is certainly rewarding, active with clouds of stream and sulfurous gases, the classic volcanic landscape and views of lakes Onneto, Akan and Kussharo.
To return we took the Shiroyu-yama Shizen Satsuro Trail which leads back to Akanko. The first section is a botanists dream passing through the different vegetation types as the path descends. Due to the passing of a typhoon the night before, there was added adventure with numerous fallen trees to climb over or around. On reaching the forestry track we followed signs for Hakuto-zan observatory. This leads to a fine view point for Akan lake if you are very fortunate. The path then descends past a number of Bokke, volcanic bubbling mud pools. When you reach the ski piste it is only a couple of kilometers into town.
The Hakkoda mountains hiking area is really easy to reach from Aomori. A bus leaves in the morning from a stop beside the train station (check in the tourist information for the time) and it is free for Japanese Rail Pass holders. Once into the mountains the bus stops at a tea house/gift shop for a comfort break. Outside there is a row of taps dispensing warm spring water. A sign claims that if you drink 1 cup you will live 3 years longer, 2 cups and you will live 6 years longer and 3 cups will ensure you live until you die.
We got off the bus a the Sukayu Onsen stop. The start of the path is around the next hair-pin bend and on the opposite side from the large car park. Initially we climbed through forest, at 2.2 km we arrived at an open river valley filled with sulfurous fumes. Our noses were soon assaulted by the acidic gasses that linger here so we quickly moved on. After another half an hour we arrived at a saddle. Here there is a mountain hut and a spring with enamel cups on a chain. This is a great spot to take a refreshment break before beginning the final ascent to the summit. From here there are plenty of volcanic features (cones, craters and a mysterious pond) to spot as you make your way to the top. There is a small white stone shrine just before the true summit. The path continues over the summit and zig-zags down to another mountain hut. Should an unexpected eruption occur you will find all the necessary emergency supplies in the hut. At this point the path splits and it is possible to climb up Ido-dake and then descend using the Hakkoda ropeway. We took the direct path back to Sukayu Onsen. Initially this is steep and rocky but it soon flattens out to an incredible high altitude marsh land. This is the Kenashi-tai marshes and truly a unique environment. The path is now a raised wooden walk way with occasional platforms with benches and information boards. When we were there the air was filled with a myriad of dragonflies, big and small, red, green, blue or brown. From the marshes it is around another 2 km back to the Onsen.
It was now time for the high point of the day. The onsen has a bath known as "Senjin Buro”, the bath of a thousand bathers which is a massive mixed sex bath of 248 meters square. Plus it is the oldest timber building in the Hakkoda area. Slip off your clothes, balance your tiny towel on your head and slip back in time as you relax in the steam filled beech wood baths. After 680m of ascent and descent, you've earned it.