Day hike from Tokyo: Mount Tanigawa

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Many people don’t realise that Japan is 70% mountainous. When Madeleine upped sticks from the UK, hiking this unexpected landscape became her favourite new pursuit. Here are her top tips for hiking Mount Tanigawa – perfect for a day hike from Tokyo.

Before moving to Japan I never dreamed that I’d go off hiking mountains on my own. But buoyed by my success on a three-day group hike in Kamikochi, I decided to go it alone and do a day-trip hike from Tokyo to Mount Tanigawa in Gunma Prefecture.

Mount Tanigawa

Mount Tanigawa (or ‘Tanigawadake’ as it’s known in Japanese) is one of the 100 Famous Mountains in Japan; a list compiled almost a century ago by a prince who wanted to write down his recommended peaks for posterity. The 100 Famous Mountains are now ‘The Bucket List’ for any hiker in Japan. I was determined to hike at least one of them on my own. Owing to its location near Tokyo, Mount Tanigawa was my peak of choice for the day.

I chose a clear, crisp autumn day in mid-October for my trip, and plotted out the route and timings well in advance. A rather early start, then a bullet train to Takasaki and a local train to Minakami, followed by a short trip on a local bus. After two and a half hours I was there.

Incidentally, I’d been to Mount Tanigawa once before the previous year in November when it was under heaps of snow. It’s amazing how quickly the mountains can change in a month!


Hiking up Mount Tanigawa in the snow


Hiking up Mount Tanigawa in October

Although it’s possible to hike the entire thing from the foot of the mountain, I opted to follow what everyone else was doing and take the Tanigawa Ropeway up to Tenjindaira ski resort, then start the hike from there. It’s a bit shorter and more scenic that way.

The whole route is pretty clear and easy to follow – there was never a point when I thought, “is this the right way?” It helped that there were a fair few other hikers on the route too, and while it was never crowded, it was good to know that there was someone behind and ahead of me, even if I couldn’t see them around the bend in the path.

Hiking solo

One of my favourite things about hiking on my own is being able to set my own pace, and take breaks when it suits me. There were plenty of good spots to choose from to stop for a glug of water, a sugary snack, and a quick photo of the incredible scenery. Although Mount Tanigawa isn’t particularly high (1977m / 6486ft), it’s the highest of the peaks in the area so you get fantastic views of the mountains of Gunma and Niigata prefectures, especially in autumn.

Hiking up Mount Tanigawa

Toma no Mimi

After a few hours of solid walking along the ridgeline, and some mountain goat-esque scrambling up rocky faces in some parts, I finally reached my goal: Toma no Mimi, the closet of the two peaks. I was feeling pretty puffed by then so stopped there to have my lunch – homemade rice balls – and take in the views.

Views over Mount Tanigawa

After a pat on the back and some more chocolate to fuel me, I started off on the return journey to the cable car. At one point the route branched off and led me along a wooden boardwalk through the forest, which was a nice change of scenery.

The total hike took me around 6 hours at a fairly leisurely pace (including stops), making it easily doable as a day hike from Tokyo.

My top three tips for tacking Mount Tanigawa:

1. Bring plenty of water

There isn’t anywhere along the route to fill up, except at the ski resort at Tenjindaira.

2. A hat and sunglasses are a must

Particularly in sunny weather. A lot of the route is along a ridgeline in the open and it can get pretty bright.

3. Don’t do it during the snowy season

Unless you’re an accomplished hiker of snowy terrains – it can get treacherous! I’d highly recommend September and October for the clear skies and autumnal colours.

Most of our self-guided adventures spend time in Tokyo, follow in Madeleine’s footsteps with a break from the skyscrapers. Get in touch for more information.

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