BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) :
Mountain Oyama is an excellent introduction to hiking in Japan and to getting accustomed to the shrines. While not stroller friendly, almost any child of walking age can be brought to the secondary summit with little to no problem.
Total Cost: 1200Yen (12 Dollars) per Adult
Special Equipment Needed: Walking Stick or Stabilization Pole
Mountain Oyama Overview
Shadowed by it’s larger brother, Mount Oyama is easy to miss. Sitting on the border of Isehara City, this 1,252 metres (4,108 ft) high mountain sits prominently in the Kanagawa prefecture of Japan.
The mountain itself is the seat of several Shinto and Buddhist shrines, ranging from small statues along the various trails to a large set of shrines and impressive statues at the middle summit of the mountain. Many hikers climb MTN Oyama during the advent of spring, as I was told by several fellow climbers I spoke with, to pray for their crops at the shrine. According to several cultural sites and some of the pamphlets, the middle summit’s shrine is called Oyama-Dera while the true summit’s shrine is related to the rain gods and called Oyama-Aufri.
Now, to address the strangeness of an above mentioned phrase: middle summit. MTN Oyama has what I would call two summits, the first being at the end of the more predominant trails. The true summit of the mountain sits another hour to hour and a half above the mountain and most travelers do not attempt – some of those that do regret their attempt later on.
Getting to and Climbing MTN Oyama
To get to MTN Oyama relatively easy as long as you can navigate the Japanese’s train system. The first objective is to get to Isehara City, which is a quick hour away by train from Tokyo with only two train changes. One of the best ways to find your way around the train system is to use the app Hyperdia, unless you speak and read Japanese fluently in which case you do not need this blog’s assistance.
From the Isehara train station, simply exit the platform and head out of the station. Upon exiting you will normally see several taxis, I would advise taking them unless you can speak casual Japanese. Straight beyond the taxi’s area is a covered area with, most likely, several buses waiting. The platform to use is Platform 4, which is the closest platform. Normally there will also be a line for Mountain Oyama during the climbing seasons (Late March to Early September). The bus ride is simple and rather quick and will deposit you outside of the Koma-Sando Approach.
Being composed 362 stairs – handily stated on the stairs themselves – the Koma-Sando Approach is a very welcoming introduction to MTN Oyama. To both sides of the well kept stairs are multiple shops, selling goods that range from fish-cakes, tastey treats and polished woodcarvings.
FootStomp: It here that I break the flow of my writing to make one thing very clear, a walking stick or some form of hiking pole is necessary when descending MTN Oyama, especially is one intends to make it to the true summit. Along the Koma-Sando Approach are multiple shops selling wonderful walking sticks – ranging from beautiful canes that cost 12k yen (120 Dollars) to simple wood poles costing 800 yen (8 dollars). Unless you are an frequent climber, do not pass up the opportunity to get this supply early.
The approach quickly splits at it’s summit into two trails and the cable car system. The easier trail is the Otoko-Zama trail and the more aggressive trail is the Onna-Zama trail, the cable car is the best method for young childern or those who want to get to summit early.
Cable Car: The Cable Car is very cheap to use and quiet quick. Costing about 450 yen (4.50 dollars) for an adult on a round-trip, the car’s run about every 20 minutes to the middle summit from 0700-1900 daily. The cars can be rather cramped, so I would advise you to get there early or be prepared to either wait or cram in. The cars are also available to ride down from the mountain and can give rest to tired hikers that came down from the mountain.
Otoko-Zama Trail: More taken care of than it’s brother trail but more work than the Cable Car, the Otoko-Zama trail sits just with the Goldilocks Zone of just right. A simple and winding trail, the Otoko-Zama passes several smaller shrines until it hits it’s rather steep, stone stairs. At 25 minutes climb, these stairs deposit the hiker at the middle summit with little trouble.
Onna-Zama Trail: Being the more adventurous trail, I took the Onna-Zama trail first because it looked less traveled by, as per the Robert Frost poem. The sites the Onna-Zama trail provides are wonderous, full body trees cover the ragged and rough trail or stone stairs and logs all the way to the middle summit. While less inhabited, the trail itself is rougher and a much harder walk, which can still be preformed by novice climbers with only some difficultly.
Middle Summit Shrines: The trails and cable car all meet at the middle summit, which is a site to see. You’ll know instantly that you’ve reached the middle summit by the Tori gates, which are very much the gateways to holier sites of Japan.
Upon reaching the middle summit, there are several shops and a small restaurant to reward you for making it this far, for a decent price ranging from 100-1k yen in general price.
FootStomp: Before the set of stairs leading to the shrines, after the restaurant, is a small stone basin. This is a very important ritual of cleansing in Japan and can normally be seen near most shrines. The traditional way to do it is to take the small bowl that rests over the basin and to fill it with water. Clean your hand and face then dry them with a cloth. This is an act of respect before approaching these shrines.
The shrines are beautiful and full of several statues playing respect to a multitude of pantheons, which could be contained in a whole new post. I would recommend at least paying tribute to the center shrine by giving some of your coin yen, but I wouldn’t press you.
Under the central shrine is also a small fountain from which you can draw blessed water into an empty water bottle, which they sell at the entrance for 500 yen (5 dollars).
True Summit, An Unfortunate Climb
The climb to the true summit can be very deceiving. Upon reaching the middle summit, I thought I had reached the top in less than an hour and felt rather proud. Then I saw an odd sign off to the left corner central shrine, which read “Time To Summit 90 MIN”. This is not a lie, from the left of central shrine is the actual MTN Oyama climb.
To address several things, you will see some slightly insane things going up this climb. I watched someone ditch the trail to rock climb down the side of it instead and I saw at least 5 men running down, easily sprinting at 8.5mph, this trail. Do not, as I did, assume that these strange events mean this trail is simple, it is not.
The Summit Trail is not well kept and was clearly made over time by people traveling to the summit, as opposed to the neat and composed stairs of the previous trails. The trail itself is very beautiful, with huge towering trees and sweeping views that only the best cameras can capture.
The trail itself can take about 60-90 minutes to climb to the top with multiple mini-summits that break up the straight climb to the small shrine at the top. The Summit’s Shrine is simple but endearing with a small restaurant selling near it. The view is well worth the pain of the climb.
Upon reaching the climb, the realization of what you’ve done becomes crystal clear, you now have to traverse that rather dangerous trail back down. Going up this trail is not terribly hard as there are plenty of things to grab to hoist yourself up, this is not true going down. Without a walking stick, it is very easy to slip, slide and fall on this trail. Even with a stick, the trail is just uneven and compose of loose rocks in places. During the descent down I fell multiple times or had to half-jog down, using my momentum to keep me stable.
Cost for travelling expenses from Tokyo to MTN Oyama and back
1,200 Yen (12.00 Dollars)
Time Spent Traveling
Time from Bus Station to Summit
2 hours 30 minutes
Seasonal Information:I climbed MTN Oyama at the start of Cherry Blossum Season, the start of spring. Most of the mountain was dry with a decent breeze blowing through the trees. However, the Summit Trail was mostly washed out and some parts had been clearly flooded, covered in mud and ice still. These parts were so dangerous that most of the seasoned climbers, or those not climbing the mountain for the first time at least, climbed around it rather than deal with it.
Night Climbs: Along Otoko-Zama trail were multiple electric lanterns – stone traditional lanterns retro fitted with light bulbs- and none along Onna-Zama. I would, however, advise against night climbs or even climbs near sunset until you are more familiar with the mountain. It is very easy to loose the trails if one isn’t careful and I see little way for rescue teams to easily access the mountain.
Family Fun: As an introduction to climbing or to the Shrines of Japan, you could do worse than MTN Oyama. It has several methods to reach the middle summit and the culture of the people working on the mountain seems to very accepting of children. However, be prepared for very few bathrooms – and yes, going the natural way is seen as very disrespectful to the gods of the mountain.
As an experience, MTN Oyama was very exciting and a blast to just jump into. A few small for-warnings could have saved me some scrapes and bruises but, overall, the trip was very exciting. I would high recommend climbing this mountain, especially if you have your eyes set on Mount Fuji, as this is in a way considered a decent precursor to it’s larger brother.