At the start of July, 1999 I came to Japan for the third time and this time was not for a visit but with the intention to stay at least six months, hopefully longer if the lifestyle and culture agreed with me. Thanks to a woman I had met in Vancouver, I was able to secure a room for rent in Okegawa, Saitama and within the same week I got a job at an English school in Kumagaya, a few stops along the Takasaki Line from my station.
After a week or two of commuting by train and staring out the window at the small cities and suburbs interspersed with remnant rural scenes, I one day noticed that there were mountains to the west. Until that day the haze had remained too thick to see that far, but indeed there was a range of mountains out there. Once at work, I wasted no time in examining the map of Saitama that hung on the wall in the office. I had noticed the mountains on the map before but had not realized just how close they might be. Thus I became acquainted with the proximity of the Chichibu Mountains to Okegawa and Kumagaya.
Perhaps I had mentioned this to my landlord’s wife, because I recall her telling me that Mount Fuji was visible from Okegawa. I went to the rooftop parking of a nearby 3-story department store but saw only the blue skyline of the Chichibu Mountains. Then one clear October day I remember standing in that parking lot and to my great surprise I clearly saw the white tent shape of Fujisan. Though much farther away that the local mountains, Fujisan demanded attention, seemingly to dominate that distant corner of the sky. In August of ’97, during my first visit to Japan, my girlfriend had taken me to Hakone where we had hoped to see Fujisan from Lake Ashi. But the thick haze had dashed our hopes. Now I was getting my first view of the famous mountain, albeit from 100 kilometres away!
Over the next few years, I slowly became familiar with many of the famous mountains in Japan, some of them near, some far away. I began climbing some of those peaks and learned to recognize many more. When I found out about the Hyakumeizan – that special list of 100 mountains in Japan – I was pleased to discover that I had already climbed 13 of them. Then I returned to Canada for 15 months and did some traveling and hiking abroad before returning to Japan. I stayed the first two years in a part of Saitama City before buying a house in Konosu, between my former haunts of Kumagaya and Okegawa. Now with a car for transportation and a family to drive around, I began to notice just how many mountains were visible from this part of the Kanto Plains, and gradually over the last year or so I have started to identify the Hyakumeizan that are visible from here. A couple of nights ago, I spread out on the floor a map of Japan’s mountains, included in Gakujin magazine’s January 2011 issue and I checked which mountains I should be able to see from here. Starting from the east and moving counter-clockwise to the west, here are the mountains I can or should be able to see from around Konosu.
Tsukubasan – The lowest of the Hyakumeizan, Tsukubasan is a small mountain island in the eastern part of the Kanto Plains. Connected to no chain or range, Tsukuba is easy to identify because it stands as an isolated mountain to the east of here. According to my map, Nasudake should have no obstructing mountains high enough between Konosu and Nasu, but I have not yet had the chance to compare a clear view of the mountains out that with the map. From a rooftop parkade or bridge it is possible to make out some distant mountains out that way, but as yet I don’t know what I am looking at.
Nantaisan and Shiranesan – I have known about Nantaisan for many years. Its distinctive volcanic cone rises high over the surrounding mountains and in winter and spring it sports vertical stripes of snow down its flanks. Nikko Shiranesan only just became familiar to me during my visit to Nikko last month but since then I have been able to easily pick out the white snow-covered and treeless cone of that volcano. The to right of Nantaisan is the Nihyakumeizan, Nyohosan.
Sukaisan and Hotakayama – Next, according to the map and what I can find on Google Earth, I should be able to see clearly Sukaisan and quite possibly, in the far distance beyond many smaller mountains, I can see on a clear day Hotakayama. The other day, I looked carefully at the peaks to the left of Shiranesan and indeed there were two high mountains – Kesamaruyama standing in front of Sukaisan. Hotakayama should also be one of the mountains I can see out that way, just to the right of Akagiyama, and last weekend I was indeed able to see a higher peak with snow out that way. Far beyond that lies Shibutsusan, however, unless someone or a photograph could actually point that one out to me I can not confirm being able to actually see Shibutsusan. From around Konosu, if it is visible at all, it is likely that it would appear only as a distant blue hump among other blue humps. (After this post I confirmed that from ground level this mountain is not visible.)
Akagiyama – With out a doubt, the next visible mountain is Akagiyama. Though not the nearest mountain to me, it appears as the largest. From my house I can reach the crater lake of Onuma within two and a half hours. I was first introduced to this mountain in December of 1999 and in September, 2007 my wife and I climbed it together. Farther to the left is another Nihyakumeizan, Harunasan. Both mountains are ancient volcanoes with multiple summits and lakes.
Tanigawadake – Perhaps it was last winter (2010/11) that I was surprised one day to see a chain of white mountains far off in the distance behind Harunasan and extending in behind Akagiyama. The only high range I could think of out that way was the Tanigawa Range that borders Gunma and Niigata Prefectures. So, the other weekend, when the range was visible again, I checked with map on my phone and discovered that Tanigawadake was the higher, more rugged looking peak just off the left shoulder of Akagiyama. In fact, I felt I could almost make out the cliffs at Ichinosawa.
Asamayama – The most exciting of the nearby mountains for me is the active volcano, Asamayama. In September of 2004, the volcano coughed and a couple of mornings later I found a thin layer of grey ash on my bicycle seat. Sometimes, even when the view to other mountains is relatively clear, Asamayama is hidden in haze. But it is visible throughout much of the autumn and winter season as a distinctive high cone, often with a small plume of smoke issuing from its crater. Because of its recent and frequent activity, the slopes have no forest cover and thus it sports a stark white cloak in winter, another factor that makes it stand out from the other mountains whose trees hide the snow cover. Just below Asama and to the left of the mountain is the rotten-stump skyline of Myogisan – another ancient volcano and Nihyakumeizan. To the right of Asama and far in the distance lies Kusatsu Shiranesan, however, even though it lies in a direct line from Konosu without any higher peaks in front, since beginning this mountain identity quest in earnest I have not been able to confirm if it is visible from Konosu or if the hulking form of Asama doesn’t block the view.
Tateshinayama? – One day last year I looked over to Ryogamisan on a clear January day and thought I could see some white peaks in the distance, behind the mountain. Were they mountains or just clouds? Because haze frequently obscures views beyond the nearest mountains, it was quite some time before I had a chance to see those mysterious white “peaks” again. I kept it in mind to check the map and last week, after spotting them again, I decided to check and found that in that direction, just to the right of Ryogamisan, I might be able to see the north end of Yatsugatake, including Tateshinayama. I had believed these mountains were just too far away to see but the map confirms that there are no higher mountains between Tateshinayama and Ryogamisan. If I can indeed see a range of white mountains in winter they should be Tateshinayama and its neighbours.
(Update: November 21, 2012. From Gyoda it’s possible to see Tengudake, Ioudake, Yokodake, and the final slope of Akadake. See photo below. From Kumagaya, Akadake should be visible too.)
Ryogamisan, Kobushigatake, Kumotoriyama – Ryogamisan is one of the most easily identifiable mountains around Konosu and the one with the most distinctive shape. For many years I have looked at its serrated incisor-like shape, biting into the sky. I long since thought about climbing it and in September of 2010 I finally did. I returned again in May of 2011 because I enjoyed the short but steep climb so much and the scenery was beautiful on the way up. Kobushigatake and Kumotoriyama I knew should be visible from Konosu because from the upper deck at Kita Konosu Station I have a great view of the Okutama Chichibu Mountains and some peaks in the background are definitely higher than other closer ones. Checking with my phone map the other morning I found Kobushigatake but couldn’t confirm which was Kumotoriyama exactly before my train arrived.
Daibosatsurei 大菩薩嶺 – Left of the higher Okutama Chichibu Mountains are a few more peaks in front of Fujisan. I never paid them much attention until I discovered (just last night) that another Hyakumeizan, Daibosatsurei, raises its summit there. For now I can’t be sure exactly which peak it is, but there are no higher mountains between Konosu and Daibosatsurei, so I think I can count it on my list of visible Hyakumeizan.
Fujisan – Easily identified when visible, Fujisan this morning was a gorgeous white swam wing that looked positively huge in spite of the 100 kilometre distance.
Tanzawasan 丹沢山 – From the roof of the five-story building in Saitama City where my work place used to be located, I could see a crest of mountains just to the left of Fujisan. Were these the mountains of Hakone? Or were they the Tansawa Mountains? Last week I checked the map and learned that they were the Tansawa Mountains. From a bridge in Konosu, I looked over towards Fujisan and to the left of it I spotted the same crest of mountains. Which summit is exactly Tanzawasan I am not sure but I would guess the highest one is.
So, from around Konosu, Gyoda and Kumagaya Cities in Saitama, it is possible to see:
And it may be possible to see:
I will be looking at the mountains carefully when the sky is clear, though spring haze will begin making them harder to see. And someday I hope to add my own photos and re-post this in parts with maps and satellite images. That would be cool.