Hiking the Kohechi Pilgrimage Trail: Day 4

The last leg of the trail! Another large elevation change, another large distance.

We woke up in Totuskawa Onsen and had more beautiful views of the river and some scarecrows before heading up to the trailhead. We could not have asked for better weather, the rain ponchos and heat packs from day 1 of the hike were a distant memory at this point.

If you look very closely at the cherry blossom tree, you can see tiny green birds inside; they are uguisu. The same kind that came to my balcony a few weeks ago that have a popular sweet designed after them. I took this as an exceptionally good omen.

The map charts the elevation changes and distance we covered over the last 4 days of the Kohechi trail. It almost didn’t make sense to look at, how had we come so far?

On the way down we get more beautifully coloured water and mountain views. Another wonderful alcohol vending machine, this one special because it houses empty cans as opposed to the typical images of the can. Must be a nice job.

Far off in the distance you can see the tori gate, it is the largest in all of Japan and was surreally perfect against the hazy rolling hills in the background. We finished at a beautiful temple at dusk and got a closer look at the tori gate. That’s it, we did it!

On to our last lodging. This is another onsen town with amazing private onsens. The views from our room of the cherry blossom trees were unreal, I cannot believe our luck. Dinner was elaborate and delicious and varied and I could eat there forever.

In the bottom left picture, you can see a wooden gate beside the boiling river. This is where food can be steamed and cooked, as was our hard steamed egg for breakfast in the right hand picture.

It was weird and bizarre going back to Osaka to fly back to Fukuoka. It was one of the most beautiful and challenging hikes and experiences I have ever had and now we need to plan our next one.

Here is the first part of our course on Yamap, and this is the second part of our course over here.

Hiking the Kohechi Pilgrimage Trail: Day 3

The third day of the pilgrimage hike was the longest and most significant elevation change. A big day that started out lovely with an amazing breakfast and other-worldly views on the way to the trail head. Coffee is not always the easiest to come by out here, especially in the early morning but we got lucky and found a vending machine.

There was significantly less snow than the previous day, it was melting from the treetops and gently melting and raining down on us in the early parts of the hike. These were definitely some of the most beautiful views we got during the hike, it was just amazing. Perhaps so amazing that we might have gotten lost for an hour or so.

After lunch we might not have paid complete attention to the trail markers and might have gone in completely the wrong direction for 1.5 hours (on top of an already 6-8 hour hike). Somehow, being the luckiest people of all time, a couple with a flatbed truck were driving on the service road and told us to hop in so they could drive us back to where we went wrong. We might still be hiking if it weren’t for them.

More incredible, classic Japanese scenery, complete with alcoholic beverage vending machines. The ‘No under 20’ is more of an honour system. Again, being so lucky, we were constantly running across beautiful wild sakura trees in full bloom throughout the mountains.

Very interestingly, we came across a very beautiful rest stop as well as a little bonzai collection.

We had to find dinner ourselves and went to a place across the street for meat and noodles. I eat dessert typically twice a day, so I’m a little thrown of my schedule on this trip. When we asked the restaurant owner if they had anything sweet they gave us these as a present!! The white cube is a kinstuba (gelatinized coarse red bean paste) and a white bean flower namagashi, they were perfect!!

The place we stayed was really incredibly special with private outdoor onsens overlooking the river and mountains. It was really hard to beat this onsen experience, even if I was nearly boiled alive. The perfect was to unwind and prepare for the last day of our trip.

And of course here is our course on Yamap!

Hiking the Kohechi Pilgrimage Trail: Day 2

For our second leg of the trip we woke up in Omata, went over Obakotoge Pass, and finished at Miura-guchi.

For the start of our second day, we emerged well fed and to better weather. Still a little cloudy but not too bad. This hike as well wasn’t that challenging. But without question the most snow we had the whole time.

Some earth angel has invested in this property on the mountain so we were able to have lunch hidden away from the wind which was very much appreciated. It got a bit colder before it got warmer.

At the peak, you can perhaps get a sense of the weather. You can see the wind marks form along the ice on the branches.

We stayed at a very, very remote lodging with some interesting interior decor. The food was absolutely incredible and it was very cozy. A good place to rest up before the most difficult and longest hike that was coming up the following day.

Here is day 2 hiking course on Yamap!

Hiking the Kohechi Pilgrimage Trail: Day 1

We began the Kohechi trail at Koyasan, made our way over the Mizugamine Pass and onto Omata. It poured rain the whole day but luckily we were very prepared and honestly, mountains are always quite beautiful when they are foggy.

This was definitely the easiest day, theoretically. It was hard because we both had new backpacks, at least 15L larger than what we were used to carrying. Of course the weather made it a little challenging but it was very beautiful.

We were very lucky and didn’t run into too many wild animals but did find quite a number of skulls. March is still much too early for hibernating bears, right?

As with every hike in the world, the sun came out as we finished our 17km first day and we stayed at a charming lodging where we were promptly driven to soak in the onsen baths to regroup for the next day.

Here is day 1 on Yamap!

Adventures in Koyosan・高野山

Vacation! What better way to relax than walking 75+km over 5 days? This was the longest I had been away from my laptop in a long time, by a huge amount. My friend and I went to Koyosan, an incredibly special area south east of Osaka. It is famous for being the birthplace of zen Buddhism and its pilgrimage hikes, one of which we did. This was my second time in the area, I went in the summer of 2020 for a temple stay and really fell hard in love, but it was even better this time.

The first day we walked around the town and relaxed as much as possible. We stayed at a beautiful temple that had an onsen (hot spring bath). Unsurprisingly, I found sweets immediately. Counter-clockwise from the top there is kinako walnut mochi, white sesame tofu pudding, and red bean namagashi styled to mimic the first sakura falling among the snow.

All the food served was breathtaking and vegetarian, called shojin ryori, it is Buddhist cuisine and I absolutely adored it. The place was truly like stepping out of reality.

Koyosan is also home to one of the largest cemeteries in Japan. We walked along and took in the atmosphere, soaked in onsen and got ready for our pilgrimage hike the next day.

Hiking in Dazaifu: Sangun-san & Hōmanzan・三郡山 & 宝満山Edition

It’s been ages since I’ve been to Dazaifu! Hōmanzan is one of the most popular hikes in Fukuoka but there’s always lots to see.

What I wanted to do was start a few train stations north and walk my way down south to the temples. However, what I actually really wanted to do was eat umegae mochi・梅ヶ枝餅 for breakfast. This is about as quiet as it gets here. Plum blossom season is finishing up but I got treated to a lovely display of them.

After looking around the temples I made my way up to the trailhead. The way up is a lot of stairs. A lof of stairs. The elevation changes pretty quickly and you can use the views as an excuse to catch your breath.

The views at the top of Hōmanzan are some of my favourite in all of Fukuoka.

Onwards and upwards, there’s a few more peaks I hit on the way to Sangunsan.

I had blocked Sangunsan out of my memory but halfway there it came back to me. This is, without question, one of the ugliest summits of all time. It’s a defense base, there’s electric fences, barbed wire, and pylons. Whatever, the loop I do to complete it is very, very beautiful. Another thing I blocked out, getting really lost last time I went down to the waterfalls. This time I faired quite a bit better and stayed focused. The yellow symbol written on the rock means ‘mountain’; helpful!

Whenever I leave Japan I will truly miss stumbling into scenery like this. At this point, I’m a little under 6 hours into the hike and have only one focus: getting back to the main street before the snack shops close.

Good news, lots of snacks to be had! The pink thing is a strawberry mont blanc, from a super popular shop that magically had no line up so I rushed in. It was really good! There is a meringue underneath, topped with soft serve ice cream and finally strawberry paste. In the cup in ume ( sour plum) flavoured amazake (fermented rice beverage)・梅甘酒 that was truly amazing. It’s a really popular thing to eat and drink tea under the flowering trees but I was on a mission. I picked up a couple things to take home for later and went back to the very adorable train station.

You can see my route as always on Yamap!

Hiking in Itoshima: Kanodake・叶岳 Edition

I went to Kanodake・叶岳 last year for New Years and it was a really nice hike and its extremely accessible by public transit so it was a good candidate for the first hike in a while.

I took a different trail entrance and got up the the main shrine really quickly. The last time I was here there was snow everywhere and I ate cold salad and cold hard-boiled eggs and the next day I bought a camping stove.

Because its so accessible, you can get some nice city views. Admittedly, not my favourite type of view compared to ocean or mountain range but, hey, variety is nice.

It’s that time of year when it’s no longer wintery cold but not too much is blooming yet either. Which is great, not too hot or cold or too many people around ( I saw 5 people). Took a little coffee and snack break before getting a few little peaks in.

The earlier part of the day was overcast but the sun came out when I got to my final summit. A lot of the mountains in Itoshima have these 山ナビ Box・Mountain Navigation Box that have little wooden tokens with the summit info on them for free and some maps. I got mine last time I was here so I will save them for future hikers.

Every time I’m out hiking I seem to find these massive abandoned structures and facilities from sometime ago when it used to be a popular area for something or other. I’m not super certain what these buildings were for but it was a beautiful area.

The way back to the station was lovely, and as always there were vegetable stands and flowers and it’s nice to look back on what you’ve just hiked. Also, I almost never get these hot canned soups from the vending machines (which are everywhere) but this corn potage really hit the spot.

If I’m being completely honest, I came to this area because I wanted to come get this taiyaki sweet from Nippon Ichi Taiyaki. Typically I get the sweet potato filling but their farmer was out so I got the white bean paste instead and it was so good. It was just so good, I ate it as slowly as possible to really savour it. Taiyaki is typically red bean paste or custard filled so its great to try new flavours. Perfect end to the hike.

And as always here is my route on Yamap!

Hiking in Itoshima: Raizan・雷山 Edition V2

After a very busy October and rather rainy November, I finally got outside again. A last minute decision to go to Raizan, which I went to last winter as well, was exactly what I needed yesterday even if I am more sore that I should be this morning.

We took the opposite route as I did last time and started past the abandoned pool and campsite. Very quickly there were lots of berries, shrines and mini waterfalls.

Even though it’s December, it wasn’t that cold and we had great weather heading up to the top.

There were beautiful clear views from the top, you can even see the ocean peeking out a bit. For lunch I had a famous Fukuoka instant ramen, Ichiran and it was way better than I expected but so is everything you eat at the top of a mountain.

We took the river path down and were treated with countless little streams and wateralls and just really incredible scenery. As you can maybe tell, I was having a great time. It had been nearly 2 months since my last hike! Way too long and it was nice to remember how much I love cooler weather hiking.

This year I was a liiiiiittle bit too late for the autumn leaves but we did see a couple! And of course, no day is complete without snacks. Fresh umegaemochi (toasty mochi filled with red bean) after the hike, then zenzai (red bean and toasty mochi soup) and tea at cutest old school kominka closer to town on the way back. A beautiful, wonderful day! Need to plan for the next hike ASAP.

And as always here is my course on Yamap!

Hiking in Munakata・宗像市: Mt. Yugawa・湯川山 (471m) Edition

The first sunny weekend in August! Here we go, off to the north where I read about a hike that ends at a beach. Here is the first mini mountain range I will climb, its only about 300m high. On the way up I pass through temples and chestnuts.

I was a little worried it would be too hot but it was much, much cooler once I got up a bit. Unsurprisingly, the path was very beautiful and not too bad after the rain we’ve had.

There’s walking sticks, a tiny river and some awfully cute views from the top of Mt. Yugawa・湯川山! I was hoping for a few more views but maybe I need to explore around more.

On the way down I passed though some farms and abandoned cafes. No one reading this will be shocked, but I also found an amazing sweets shop on the way to the shrine at the peak of the cape. The picture taken from the top of the stairs shows the mountain I just came down from.

This is the funniest structure I have ever seen in Japan. Well, I’m happy someone built it so I could see the ocean. I was almost 6 hours into the hike, mid-day at 35 degrees and I was a little tired and evidently too tired to take a single photo of the ocean from up there!

But don’t worry, here’s the snack I got: chilled strawberry warabi mochi. It was the best thing I have ever eaten in my life (it was the first cool thing I had consumed in many hours).

Finally! I made it to the beach. For the first time this summer I kicked off my shoes and went swimming in the ocean. Hard to beat. When I finally got out and made my way over to the bus I met these funny veggies sun-bathing on the street. I might come back next weekend, it was a lovely, easy hike with the perfect ending (and snacks).

And of course, here is my course on Yamap!

Hiking in Shiretoko, Hokkaido・知床、北海道: Mt Shari・斜里岳 Edition

Mt Shari (or Sharidake) seemingly pops out of nowhere and reaches up to 1547m. This is one of the more challenging hikes I’ve done, mainly because it was my first time hiking up a waterfall. There were several hours of boulder hopping along the river and scrambling up waterfalls. It was definitely one of the most fun hikes I’ve ever done, plus there was much less of a concern about bears here.

We were warned about heat stroke (about 15 people have been helicoptered off the mountain during July for heat stroke or injury) but there was enough shade, water and breeze to keep cool.

At the top of the waterfall we had reached the end of the old trail and began the ascent up to the summit.

The way up was absolutely stunning. Without a doubt these are some of my favourite views I’ve had of hiking in Japan. At the top we stopped for lunch and the skies completely opened up in the coolest way.

We were just in the perfect place at the perfect time and the clouds were rolling over us so quickly, there wasn’t 5 minutes that the landscape didn’t change.

Pretty hard to beat. We came down just as the sun started to set. If we didn’t have perfect luck on the previous hike in Rausu, we got it all back here.

The woman who runs the place we were staying is an avid star photographer and when we got back she took our picture with the milky way. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the stars so clear and bright. This was after a 10 hour hike so we were slightly tired.

If you ever get the opportunity, Shiretoko is a must visit and these were some of the most beautiful and challenging and fun hikes I’ve done. I cannot wait to see where we go next.

See the course on Yamap!