Map number 55 (both hikes)
I can occasionally travel as part of my job. In this case, it was mid June and I had a meeting at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. The meeting was a long one, about a work week, but I only needed to be there until Thursday. Tokushima prefecture is actually and island, about an 8 hour drive southwest of where I live in Kanagawa prefecture. It’s kind of out of the way, there are only two Hyakumeizan hikes in the area, there’s another one, Mt. Daisen, but it’s not really that close to Tokushima prefecture. I thought this would be a good time to get Tsurugi and Ishizuchi done while I was in the area.
I rented a car at the motorpool in Iwakuni. It was $60 a day and I needed it for 2 days. What’s nice about renting a car from base is that they are U.S. Government vehicles and are exempt from paying Japanese tolls. So really, all I had to pay for was the rental and gas. It was 2 days, so it was $120, but I know tolls would’ve been more than that. The Seto Chuo bridge was about 5000 yen alone.
I left Iwakuni on Thursday morning at around 8:30 am, driving through Hiroshima, past the famous Shimanami Kaido, to the Seto Chuo Expressway, which is the only expressway other than the Shimanami Kaido that gets you to Tokushima. It was a little over a 5 hour drive, and shortly after you get to Tokushima, the road becomes very small and really windy. Really only suitable for 1 car to pass at a time.
Normally I wouldn’t attempt a hike after such a long drive, but I knew from Wes Lang’s descriptions that the hike itself was rather easy, only taking a few hours total. The hike itself was rather unmemorable. When I first started, there was a Japanese guy that wanted a ride over to Mt. Miune trailhead, which was probably 30-45 minutes drive one way. I declined because I was on a tight schedule. There were a few others in the parking lot that hopefully could help him get back.
I started the hike, climbing many steps, and passing a temple. Shortly after, I past a chair lift. Actually under it, and there’s a tunnel for hikers. I hiked for another hour and passed the top station of the chair lift. The hike is actually more pleasant past the chair lift station, with many plants, flowers, and a view of the surrounding area. About 45 minutes later, I came to a large mountain hut and a shrine. Not sure why they need a mountain hut for this hike.
The peak of Tsurugi was about 10 minutes away, via boardwalk. Who would build such a long boardwalk up here and why? The clouds rolled in just as I past the huts so when I reached the marker that I assumed was at the top, I couldn’t see much other than clouds. I took my selfie in front of the wooden marker and headed down. Just for kicks, when I past the chair lift I checked the one way price to get back down. 1500 yen. No thanks, I’ll hike.
When I got back to the parking lot, there wasn’t anyone there. I changed my clothes and started the drive back. I needed to get to Saijo. My plan was to drive to Saijo, stay in a business hotel, the Route Inn. It was a 2.5 hour drive from the parking lot and it was getting late in the day. I didn’t want to be on that small road when it gets dark.
When I got to the hotel, I couldn’t believe the number gaijin there. I thought this area was very isolated from the tourist thing, but I guess it was close enough to the Shimanami Kaido that this made a good turn-around spot. I was going to hike Ishizuchi in the morning, which was only about a 45 minute drive from the hotel. The hotel was only about $50 and included free buffet style breakfast. It took me about an hour (in my underwear because it was so hot) to figure out how to turn the a/c on. They kept the room unconditioned when I got inside, and it felt like about 85 degrees. I had to take a picture of the remote and send it to my wife so she could tell me what buttons to push.
The next morning, I got breakfast as soon as they opened, quickly ate, and got on the road. When I got to the trail head, it was around 1000 yen to park, and most people take a lift to get most of the way up. The lift was 1030 yen one way or 1930 yen round trip. For some reason I thought I might hike the trail all the way down when I returned instead of taking the lift so I only bought the one way ticket. Spoiler alert, when I returned I bought the return ticket to take the lift back down. Do yourself a favor and just get the roundtrip ticket in the first place, you won’t want to pass up the lift for another 2 hours worth of mundane downhill hiking, especially if you’re in a hurry. I was because I had to return the car by 6 pm or they would charge me another day.
Beyond the lift, the trail was well maintained, you’ll pass by a large shrine area on the way up. Pay your respects and continue up the trail, it’ll be a couple more hours to reach the top. Shortly before you reach the top, you’ll climb these metal steps. I have no idea how they got these steps drilled into the side of the mountain. Some were sturdy, others were a bit sketchy.
You know your close to the top when you THINK you’re at the top. There’s a big ol’ shrine with markers that appear to be for Ishizuchi, but really, you have to hike this knife edge route to get over to the marker. It’s kind of sketchy, you’ll probably have to scramble in a few places. Its quite exposed on both sides, so don’t be a hero, use your hands. There are no heroes in hiking.
Got my selfie at the marker and headed back. I passed these pilgrims dressed in white. They said konnichiwa to me and I replied “konnichiwa” but they must not have heard me because they said konnichiwa a second time, to which I replied a little louder “konnichiwa.” I don’t want to be rude after all.
So I already told you, I bought the return route lift ticket. On the way back to Iwakuni, I took the Shimanami Kaido. It was alright, I guess 3 pm isn’t necessarily the best time to view all the natural beauty that the bridge has to offer, but I can certainly imagine how this place might look and feel at dawn or sunset.
I got back to Iwakuni while it was still light outside. Even though it was in English, I couldn’t figure out how to turn the a/c on here either, they had to have given me the only room that had a broken a/c. I was on the third floor and it was hot. I called the front desk. They had to call their maintenance people, who didn’t come over, but directed me over the phone how to get it to work. Their was a little switch in the thermostat that I had to get a toothpick to operate. That’s it, no more broken a/c stories [on this trip].