Sunday, 13 June 2010

Mikagura Dake and Honna Mikagura

A 1386m (4,547ft) mountain in Kaneyama Machi, Fukishima-ken, Japan

The view NE from the top accross Nishi Aizu towards Mt Iida in Yamagata

You can climb this impressive, remote and rugged mountain (replete with free hut) from either the north or the south, but climbing it from the south is far superior, as the people are much nicer (as everybody knows through this typically reliable blog). You also get to arrive by steam train (on a few selected days) on the stunning Tadami line should you so desire. Get off at Honna station - there are a couple of small grocery shops in the village for provisions.

It is 10-12km on an unmade road through a beautiful dramatic valley to the start of the footpath. This follows the river on it's right bank NW for a while, passed a lovely waterfall which is climbed to the right on a narrow path above a drop with a small chained crag to negotiate. Through a small but perfectly formed gorge with another chained bit, you continue by the river, which has some sections of flat rock beds and is crystal clear. The path begins to climb, and then turns right directly up a steep pine covered ridge, making for a hard slog up a staircase of tree roots until you reach the left turn along a gentler ridge which leads eventually to the summit of Honna Mikagura (1,266m). You pass the mountain hut on the way, which is visible just off the path (but you could miss it heading south), and there is a bigger chained crag which requires more care in the wet beneath the first summit. The little local mountain guide estimates an adult walking will take at least 4 hours or so to climb Honna Mikagura from the start of the footpath (doesn't include the road in). It estimates at least 2 hours 40 minutes for the descent. Getting to the bigger top takes longer.

Looking S from the chained crag on Honna Mikagura back down the approach route. The mountain hut is hidden in the trees on top of the ridge

This week I met a neighbour and his mates on the way down after they had spent a glorious spring night in the hut. "Were the stars very beautiful?" I asked. "I don't know, we were drinking sake, so we didn't see." All that way, just to do what they do every other night of the week!

The bigger of the two tops is Mikagura Dake itself (1,386m) further on to the north, but the path needs time and care as it is overgrown with bamboo, and you feel it with your feet more than following it with your eyes. It is worth it, if time and fitness allow, for the panoramic views that the bigger top affords. The little local guidebook puts the round trip to the bigger top from the smaller top at at least 1hr 40mins (walking).

Looking S on the 'path' between the tops. It is in the scrub somewhere...

Given good weather this is a wonderful top as it is the highest for some miles and you can see 50 miles in most directions. 

A note on safety
I wouldn't myself take children on the southern approach to Mikagura Dake without ropes for the two or three exposed sections. Anyone going on their own especially should take their equipment, first aid and food choices seriously and make sure someone knows where you are. As with most Japanese mountains, and especially those in quiet areas, should anything go wrong on a quiet day you would be a long way from help. Also, as with most Japanese mountains and wooded areas, there are black bears in the area. I wear bells, shout, and carry a bear pepper spray. Most mountain areas in Japan can also have Mamoshi (poisonous Japanese vipers), so look carefully as you walk. If a hornet approaches, I have been told it is best to keep still and not wave at it, but I don't know for sure! Please do your own research and err on the side of safety.


  1. Hornet is react to specific color. It's black, so it's better to avoid wearing black. They're dangerous indeed. Be careful!

  2. Thanks, that's useful to know - especially as I like wearing black! Someone in our village was stung last year, but they were OK after a trip to the hospital. Wikipedia says this: "An allergic human stung by the giant hornet may die from an allergic reaction to the venom, but the venom contains a neurotoxin called mandaratoxin[6] which can be lethal even to people who are not allergic if the dose is sufficient. Each year in Japan, the human death toll caused by Asian giant hornet stings exceeds that of all other venomous and non-venomous wild animals combined, including wild bears and venomous snakes."