Home  >  Magazine  >  Issue 61 (Autumn 2016) : Oct 2016/Jan  2017  > Features >  Aizu Unplugged: Komanokoya

Features

2016
ISSUE
61
Aizu Unplugged: Komanokoya
By Pauline Kitamura

Japan is one of the most plugged-in nations in the world. There aren’t many places in this fiber-optic country where you are truly out of touch. Even on top of iconic Mt. Fuji, you can send a post card to friends or family. So it should not be much of a surprise that many mountain huts in Japan are equipped with modern conveniences such as bathing facilities, hot meals (and cold beer), even satellite TV, computers and WiFi.

Then there is Komanokoya. A rare relic that gets down to basics and is refreshingly unconnected.

Located high along the ridgeline near the peak of Mt. Aizukomagatake (2,132 meters) in Fukushima Prefecture, this rustic mountain hut requires guests to leave their creature comforts at home and unplug from their hectic modern lives. The only way to get to Komanokoya is via a three-and-a-half-to-four-hour hike with an elevation gain of more than 1,100 meters.

There are no cars, gondolas or motorized short cuts. Everyone who visits Komanokoya must do it the oldfashioned way, one step at a time.

The path starts off steep through a beautiful forest with occasional peek-a-boo views of the valley below. As you get closer to the top, however, it suddenly opens to sweeping mountain vistas and vast alpine meadows. From here it’s just another short climb up to Komanokoya.

What makes this mountain hut special, and popular (it books out months in advance), is that it has no modern conveniences such as electricity or running water. This is a high-altitude getaway where people come to leave it all behind and bring with them what they need.

The two-story black wooden building has two large sleeping quarters upstairs and a sitting area downstairs where guests can gather and cook their own meals. There are futons and warm blankets for guests to use, so sleeping bags aren’t needed.

The washrooms are located in a separate building outside of the main hut and, while primitive in terms or “technology,” they are immaculately clean with toilet paper provided. There’s no running water but rainwater is gathered and made freely available to guests (and for a small fee for day visitors) who can boil the water for their meals and the next day’s hike back down.

There’s even a small shop inside where you can buy handmade souvenirs and crafts, unique T-shirts sold only to those who’ve made the climb up to the hut, plus snacks and drinks (beer is available during the colder seasons).

The truly special moments at this mountain hut are when the sun starts to fall and darkness sets in. The only light comes from the moon and stars in the sky and the warm glow of kerosene lamps lit throughout the hut every evening. As you watch the flames flicker, it transports you back to a much simpler and peaceful time. Your internal clock tells you to sleep when the sun sets and wake up when it rises.

Sayuri and Kazuhiro Miyoshi manage Komanokoya. The warm, wonderful couple fell in love with this beautiful mountain and the simple way of life. This is their ninth season up on Mt. Aizukomagatake where they mostly live throughout the year, coming down off the mountain only once or twice a week to take a bath and resupply.

They have no refrigerator, no electric stoves, no computers, no bathtubs or showers and, of course, no TV.

Food and necessities are dropped in by helicopter two to three times during a season. The rest they carry up in their backpacks. It may not be the easiest way of life, but the simplicity of not having everything at your fingertips makes it special for them and their guests.

The premier hiking on this long ridgeline is famous for alpine ponds and the abundance of flowers during the summer. Once you reach Komanokoya, you’ll definitely want to take a hike up to the top of Mt. Aizukomagatake and, if you have enough time, take a quick jaunt out to the scenic Nakamondake, about a two-hour round trip walk.

(Note: In May there may still be snow on the ground, so you might want to bring some lightweight crampons and trekking poles). Be sure to wake up early to catch the sunrise from outside the hut; you won’t want to miss it.

Sometimes it’s nice to have convenience right at your fingertips but, if you can let it all go, even for just a weekend, you’ll get hooked on the wonderful simplicity of the Komanokoya way of life. ✤

Hiking Route Options & Times
To Komanokoya Mountain Hut
••From Komagatake trailhead: Approx. 3.5 hours
••From Kirinte trailhead: Approx. 4.5 hours
••From Ozemiike trailhead: Approx. 5.5 hours
From Komanokoya Mountain Hut
••To the top of Mt. Aizukomagatake: Approx. 20 minutes (round trip approx. 35 minutes)
••To Nakamondake: Approx. 70 minutes (round trip approx. 2 hours, 15 minutes)

Komanokoya Mountain Hut Information
The hut is open from the last Saturday of April until the last Saturday of October. Closed during the winter due to heavy snow. Mountain hut accommodation only. No tents allowed. The cost is ¥3,000 per person (no meals included, so be sure to bring your own food). Japanese-style futons and warm blankets are provided.
This is a popular mountain hut, so hikers make reservations months in advance especially during the summer season. There are no other accommodation options on top of the mountain, so reservations are essential.

Contact Information
Tel: 080-2024-5375 (available until 7:20 p.m.)
E-mail: info@komanokoya.com
Website: www.komanokoya.com

Getting There From Tokyo
Option 1: Take the rapid train from Tobu Asakusa Station (Tobu Kinugawa Line) to Aizukougen-Ozeguchi Station. (Depart Asakusa 6:20 a.m. - Arrive Aizukouen-Ozeguchi 9:25 a.m.). From Aizukougen-Ozeguchi, take the 9:50 a.m. Aizu bus to Komagatake Tozanguchi bus stop (around 11 a.m.).
Option 2: Take the Special Rapid train (Kinu #103) from Tobu Asakusa Station to Kinugawa Onsen Station. Transfer to the Aizu Mount Express train headed to Aizukougen-Ozeguchi Station. (Depart Asakusa 8:00 a.m. - Arrive Aizukouen-Ozeguchi 10:46 a.m.). From Aizukougen-Ozeguchi, take the 11 a.m. Aizu bus to Komagatake Tozanguchi bus stop (around 12:35 p.m.).
From the bus stop, cross the road. There’s a public restroom as well as tap where you can fill up your water bottle. The trailhead is about a 30-minute walk up the paved road where there are public parking spaces available as well.

What to Bring
••Rain jacket and pants
••Warm clothes (fleece/down jacket), it can get cold up on the mountain at night and in the morning
••Headlamp and spare batteries
••Portable cooking stove and gas
••Pots, cooking/eating utensils
••Food (dinner, breakfast as well as snacks/lunch for during the hike)
••Water (enough for the hike up; water for cooking and for the next day is available at the mountain hut)

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