- A Fuji lookalike that last erupted 4 million years ago
- Climbing Mt Aoba’s Eastern Peak
- Climbing Mt Aoba’s Western Peak
A Fuji lookalike that last erupted 4 million years ago
At 693m, Mt Aoba (Aobasan 青葉山) may seem like a relatively low peak compared to such giants as Mt Fuji (3776 meters) and the peaks of the Japanese Alps (around 3000 meters). However, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re starting from about 100 meters above sea level, so some effort is required in order to overcome the nearly 600 meter elevation gain.
From Takahama’s Blue Flag beach, one look at the cone shaped Mt Aoba rising straight from the sea, will tell you that it’s no piece of cake. Its resemblance to Japan’s most famous volcano, has earned it the nickname of “Wakasa-Fuji”. It may be for this reason, in addition to its picturesque location right on the coast, that it’s one of Western Japan’s 100 famous peaks (Kinkihyakumeizan 近畿百名山).
If viewed from a different angle, Mt Aoba loses its conical shape, and reveals two separate peaks connected by a short ridge. The Eastern peak, (Higashimine 東峰) facing Takahama town, is the highest at 693m. The Western peak (Nishimine 西峯), visible from Uchiura bay (famous for its fugu fisheries), is just one meter lower at 692m. Luckily, the path up the Eastern peak is the easiest and nicest one to hike, so a round-trip to this summit will give you both a comfortable hike and the satisfaction of having climbed to the highest point.
Mt Aoba not only resembles Mt Fuji in shape – geologically it is also a volcano, albeit a dormant one. It last erupted 4 million years ago (compared to 400 for Mt Fuji). You really get a feel of this once you enter the section between the two peaks. Lots of volcanic rocks and boulders lie on the path, and need to be surmounted with the help of ropes, chains and ladders. This section will take you nearly as long as the initial climb, and is another reason why a full hike up Mt Aoba shouldn’t be underestimated!
Climbing Mt Aoba’s Eastern Peak
There are four starting points for climbing Mt Aoba. The path I describe here starts on the Eastern side, from Nakayamaguchi (中山口). The best way to get to the start of the trail is to take a taxi. Alternatively, you could rent a car – the tourist office located inside Wakasa-Takahama station can help you arrange the details, as well as provide you with a map of the hiking trails (with photos of the different sections).
The trail starts on the right, a few hundred meters past the Aobayama Herbal Village (Aobasan Habarubireji 青葉山ハーバルビレッジ) – a nice place to rest and enjoy some herbal tea after your climb. If for some reason you don’t have the Mt Aoba hiking map with you, then I’d recommend taking a photo of the map signboard at the start of the trail, so that you can refer to it when necessary.
The path is easy to follow and has frequent signs indicating the distance in kilometers to the summit. Very soon you’ll find yourself walking up the side of the volcano, along a switchback trail, surrounded by deep forest. Since you are starting low, it would be best to avoid doing this hike in the summer months – head to the beach instead. The middle of winter should also be avoided because of snow. Whatever the season you go, make sure you have good shoes because there are steep bits that require a good grip.
After nearly an hour, you should reach a great viewpoint of Takahama town, the beach and the ocean. There is even a very small wooden lookout tower where you can sit in the shade and take a short break while taking in the fantastic view. Apparently you can see as far as the Japanese Alps when the weather is very clear, although this wasn’t the case the day of our hike. Afterwards, the path continues up a little more before reaching a relatively flat part, from where you can see what looks like the top, but actually isn’t. This fake summit is reached by a staircase of wooden logs that heads straight up through the forest.
At the top there is a rocky outcrop called the Umanose (馬の背) literally “the horseback” with great views of the valley and mountain ranges to the south. If you are sure-footed, you can venture on to the horse’s back for a better view – just be careful of the big drop on the other side. Otherwise you can continue along its base. It should take about half an hour from the observation point to get here.
Another ten minutes away is the true summit, the Eastern peak at 693m. You get a nice view of the valley below on the left, but make sure to stay behind the rope because you are at the top of a cliff. On the right is the summit marker, next to a small shrine. It will certainly feel a bit colder and windier up here than at the start of the hike, so do bring something warm to wear while taking a well-deserved break.
Climbing Mt Aoba’s Western Peak
At this point, if you’ve had your fill of hiking, you can simply head back down the same way. The next part will require the use of your hands, in addition to your feet, and needs a good sense of balance. I’d recommend bringing a pair of work gloves to protect your hands – they can be bought in most convenience stores. At first, the path will descend slightly, and after a few minutes, you’ll arrive at a short metal ladder. After reaching the top, you’ll need to navigate a cliff with the help of a rope, probably one of the trickiest parts of the hike. Be sure to maintain three points of contact at all times, and not get too distracted by the great views.
After this section, there is a long steep descending metal staircase. Be careful when walking down – you don’t want to tumble to the bottom of this! Next, you’ll need to squeeze through a crack in a big boulder blocking the way, before making the final ascent up the Western summit. There is another shrine and good view towards the South. However, the best view is obtained by clambering to the top of the boulder behind with the aid of chains. Here you will get a sweeping view of Uchiura bay, the perfect reward for the effort made to get there.
To go down, continue along the path and take a left turn at the junction. The path will descend quickly along a tight switchback. The ground is quite soft here so I simply ran down this part but it should take an hour at a normal pace. After a while, you’ll cross a forest road and shortly after that you’ll get to another junction – take the right branch. You’ll soon emerge onto an asphalt road which you can follow to a small village called Imadera (今寺). You can return to your starting point by following the small road on the left.
Although it follows a road for most of the way, there are few cars, and the views of the valley are quite pretty. Takano (高野) village on the way, is especially nice. If you don’t have your own transport, then instead of walking all the way back to Aobasan Herbal village (one hour), you can head down to Aonogo (青郷) station on the Obama (小浜) line after crossing Takano village (also about an hour in total). Count at least 5 hours if doing the entire hike, and make sure to bring enough water since you won’t find any on the mountain.
There are many other trails up and down the mountain so if you really enjoy hiking, have the extra time and the weather is good, you could try another route. Just be careful that some signs on the western side trails are missing or broken, so at times you might need to figure out the path with the help of the map.
One last word about the name of the mountain. In Japanese it can be understood as blue leaf mountain which may sound strange. However in Japan the colour green is often called blue. For example a green traffic light is said to be blue. So the trees are not blue coloured, they are a very normal but also very beautiful green.
For another description of the round trip up Mt Aoba’s Eastern summit:
For more descriptions of the entire course along Mt Aoba (but done from the Western peak to the Eastern peak):
For smartphone users, please click the link below to go to the Tadaima Japan website which includes additional location details:
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