We’ve been in Japan for a couple of months now, and we’ve already hit a lot of the most popular destinations in Kanagawa: Enoshima, Odawara, Kamakura, etc. We were looking for something new to, so I Googled “day trips Kanagawa” (Kanagawa is our prefecture, which is sort of like a county). Mount Oyama popped up right away and was only about about an hour drive. It was a beautiful day for a hike, so we plugged the destination into Google Maps and headed that way.
Vic and I took this trip without the kids. We learned early on that we are much more tolerant than the kids when it comes to getting lost, meals on the fly, and more strenuous activities than planned. (It’s a good thing they opted out, because today’s adventure had all three!) We also find that it’s worth the effort to do a little recon on our own so that we can plan a day that works best for the whole family.
Anyway, like I said, we plugged our destination into Google Maps. Mt. Oyama is in Tanzawa-Ōyama Quasi-National Park, so that’s where we headed. It took about 45 minutes to get to the town of Hadano, and then we started driving up a very narrow and twisty mountain road. We eventually reached a fairly busy parking lot (lots of cyclists and runners out on this beautiful day!). We climbed the observation tower and took in the beautiful view. We were excited to get started!
But then…we noticed a surprising lack of trails. The only trail we could see was roped off. And where were the restaurants and souvenir shops that we’d read about? Hmm…it would seem we were in the wrong place.
There was a road going further up the mountain, so we thought maybe it would lead us to the right place. This road was even more narrow and twisty. We drove and drove…and nothing. Eventually Vic pulled over, checked Google Maps…and realized that we were off by about 20km. It would take us another 40 minutes to drive to the right spot. But we were determined not to waste this beautiful day.
We arrived at a different entrance to Tanzawa-Ōyama Quasi-National Park (this time we plugged “Mount Oyama” into Google Maps). This time it was obvious we were in the right place – there was a huge sign, lots of restaurants, and heavy traffic. We followed the other cars into the park and eventually found ourselves sitting in a long, line of cars waiting to park. We sat in the line for at least 30 minutes before we were finally directed into the parking lot. Parking was ¥10,000 (about $10).
Note: you can also get there pretty easily by train. Take the Odakyu line to Isehara, then you can catch a bus at the station that will drop you off at the base of Mt. Oyama.
From the parking lot, we walked uphill about 15 minutes to the Oyama Cable Car Station. It was a bustling area with plenty of souvenir shops, restaurants, and an onsen (hot spring). From there you have the option of taking a cable car up the mountain.
Right outside the cable car station, the path splits in two directions. Toward the left is the “women’s trail” (Onna-zaka) This is a gentler slope and is lit at night. Toward the right is the “men’s trail” (Otoko-zaka), a steeper path with no lighting. We chose the left.
Despite being the gentler of the two slopes, we still found it pretty challenging. It’s almost all rocky steps, with some loose branches and rocks thrown in there to keep you on your toes. It was a good workout, that’s for sure! (Note: When researching Mt. Oyama for this post, I learned on the women’s trail, you will pass “Seven Wonders,” spiritual power spots. I’ll definitely look for these next time!)
The women’s trail leads to Oyama-dera Temple, a Buddhist Temple founded in 755 A.D. It took us about 20-30 minutes to arrive at the temple, and then we climbed a steep staircase lined with bronze statues to reach the entrance.
Oyama-dera Temple is devoted to Fudo Myoo, a powerful guardian deity. It is designated as a National Cultural Property and is especially known for its view in autumn.
While there, Vic and I rang the bonsho (Buddhist bell).
We also participated in the ritual of Kawarake Nage, the throwing of an unglazed dish or cup from a high place to request protection from evil.
Going Up, Going Down
After exploring the temple, we continued climbing, following the signs to the next cable car station, which lets off at Oyama Afuri Shrine. I’m not sure if this portion of the climb was more difficult than the first or if I was just worn out, but it was a challenge.
After about 30-45 minutes, we reached a sign telling us that the shrine was another 15 minutes away. At this point it was 4:00 p.m. (our false start probably cost us about two hours), and the sun starts to set here around 4:30. We didn’t want to get stuck in the dark (and the cold!) so we started heading back down the mountain before reaching the shrine. We’ll have plenty of opportunities to go back over the next three years – no need to take the risk.
We decided to take the steeper trail (the men’s trail) down. This trail is not lit at night, but the sign told us that it was about a 30 minute walk; this would give us enough time to get there before dark. And I would not recommend this trail after dark, because it is STEEP! But we made it back down with time to spare. At the end of the day, I was drenched with sweat, despite it being pretty chilly out. What a workout.
Future Visits and Takeaway
First of all – we didn’t make it to the top of Mt. Oyama on this visit. Not even close. From what I’ve read, it was at least another hour hike from Oyama Afuri Shrine to the summit. The view from the summit is supposed to be beautiful on a clear day. The entire ascent may take 2-2.5 hours, and I read a suggestion that if you hope to make it to the summit, you should start the climb no later than 10:00 a.m.
Vic and I plan to return to make the entire climb, but if we bring the kids back, I think we’ll opt for the cable car. The cable cars looked pretty packed to us, and since I’m writing this during COVID times, a crowded, enclosed space is not going to work for us right now. Perhaps by next autumn we’ll be able to enjoy the leaves AND the convenience of the cable car!
Know Before You Go:
Cable car: operates from 9:00 a.m. – 4:30/5:00 p.m.; runs every 20 minutes; a one-way trip to the top costs ¥630 (adults) and ¥320 (children)
- snacks (or possibly a picnic lunch)
- yen for food and activities (e.g. two small plates for Kawarake Nage ritual are ¥300)
- trekking poles
- good hiking shoes – stairs and rocks can be slippery
- bags for trash (there are no trash cans)