It was still mid-October, but the chill in the air made me wonder if sleeping in a tent was a good idea. When I arrived at the gyojya (行者) hut, literally “pilgrim hut,” I figured roughing it would do me good. Only three hours had passed since the trailhead, but my pack felt like a ton of bricks and I was pretty worn out. As I put down my pack, I immediately put on gloves and started pitching my tent before the cold got to my fingertips.
It was difficult to concentrate, as the views around me of the high mountains seemed so close and unreal. Suddenly, the many smells of dinner coming from the hut snapped me back to reality, and all I could think about was food. Hmmm, the debate over whether to make ramen or eat at the hut was over quickly as I threw down my pack and went inside. I ordered a curry and a draft beer which, looking around the hut, seemed like the beverage of choice.
I paid my ¥500 for tent space and said goodnight to the hut owner. It was only 7 p.m., but bedtime came quickly in the tent. The owner told me to stay warm, and I could come back and use the light if I wanted to read or warm up. After shivering in my sleeping bag, I concluded the beer was a bad idea. I should have gone for the hot chocolate the owner suggested.
While I was back inside drinking a hot chocolate, the owner told me the tale of Yatsugatake. The story goes it used to be the tallest mountain in Japan until a jealous Mt. Fuji clubbed it in a fit of rage and flattened it a bit. Looking up at the eight peaks of Yatsugatake, I could imagine it quite clearly. The next day I would head for the highest peak, Akadake.
I woke up to a nudging and huffing sound against my tent at 5 a.m. Knowing a hut was near kept me calm, but I took out my bear spray just in case. The east wall of my tent kept collapsing and I could make out a furry creature on the other side. Convinced it wasn’t too aggressive, I unzipped the flap a bit to peak out, and my visitor turned out to be a weird grayish hairy goat-like creature. I stepped out of my tent, and my new friend stepped back quickly and then vanished.
Hut staffers were already outside doing morning chores, and one called out to me, “Are wa kamoshika da yo.” (That was a kamoshika.) Seeing I was still looking confused, he added in English, “Kamoshika is a Japanese deer.” It didn’t look like any deer I had seen, but it definitely was a great way to start off the morning.
The morning sun was brilliant, and I could see why Akadake translates to “Red Peak.” After a breakfast of instant ramen and coffee, I packed a day pack and headed off, hoping to catch another glimpse of the kamoshika.
Mountain: Akadake (Yatsugatake)
Difficulty Level: 3 out of 5
Location: Border of Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures.
Peak: 2,899 meters
Duration: 2-day hike
When to go: July - late October
From Shinjuku Station, take the rapid train to Chino Station. From there, take a bus to Minotoguchi Trailhead (美濃戸口).
Shinjuku→Chino Station→Minotoguchi Trailhead
2 hrs., 25 mins. (¥6,070) → 45 mins. (¥900)
Things to bring: Raingear, flashlight, map, camera, sunscreen, water, camera, gloves, sunglasses, warm hat, food supplies, (sleeping bag, tent and rain tarp if you are camping).
Minotokogen Lodge: (0266) 74-2102
Akadake Sanso Lodge: (0266) 74-2274
Chino Tourist Information: (0266) 72-2101
Shika-no-yu: (0266) 66-2131
Yatsugatake Resort Outlet: (0551) 20-5454
Things not to miss
After the hike, you can relax in a nearby onsen. Shika-no-yu (Deer Hot Spring) is a recommended spot, as it has both a rotenburo and an inside bath for just ¥500.
If you are driving and have a chance to stop at Kobuchizawa, check out the Yatsugatake Resort outlet, which includes more than 60 shops, restaurants and cafes.
Recommended Hiking Schedule
Day One: 3 hours (stay at hut)
Day Two: 7 hours, 50 mins.