Hiking at Mt. Nokogiri
Mt. Nokogiri, or “mount sawtooth,” in Chiba prefecture is an easy one-hour trip away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Tokyo. As an antidote to all the shopping, sightseeing and sake sipping, Nokogiri is just the ticket. It offers expansive views to the Miura Peninsula and across Tokyo Bay. But be warned, its wooded beauty and steep pathways are not for the fainthearted.
As the mountain has an elevation of 329.5 meters, we elect to take the ropeway halfway up. This was a good call, as the path immediately takes a steep and, at times, muddy rise. A free map is available at the ropeway station, and following it leads to a trail along the ragged-tooth profile of the mountain. The trail is constructed mostly of concrete steps. With little consistency in size or shape, these steps make the going hard, but the rewards are great. After the first 15 minutes of climbing, a narrow canyon opens up, its sides flanked by centuries-old statues of Buddha carved into the rocks or set on plinths of mossy, giant pavers. Vine tendrils and ancient palms give it the feeling of a lost world. It’s cool, calm and inviting.
Still more concrete steps bring into view a platform suspended from a rocky outcrop. Ahead, a long line of hikers are getting their “I’m the king of the world” moment by hanging over a safety rail, into the void, the wind racing up into their faces. Our map identifies the outlook as “View of Hell.” Being a little disturbed by this and slightly agoraphobic, we forgo the pleasure, and start the descent down the other side of the mountain.
It had rained recently and the muddy slopes and steps required a more dedicated focus, so much so in fact that we were suddenly surprised to find ourselves surrounded by stone statues of all sizes, some hidden in the natural rock grottos, others perched high on rock ledges. These are the arhats of Mt. Nokogiri, over 1,500 stone representations of Buddhist monks and priests. Each has a unique face and expression. A hiker who had shared our slippery descent explained that the longer the statue’s earlobes, the closer to enlightenment they were. Some arhats, it seemed, had a long way to go.
The far side of the mountain is home to the largest pre-modern stone figure of Buddha in Japan. The Daibutsu of Nihon-ji looks away from the mountain, serenely overseeing the gardens and a small but elegant shrine belonging to the Imperial family. Here playful stone foxes guard the shrine and stone lanterns mark the path to the exit and a return to daily life.
Experienced hikers say that the hike across the mountain is an easy one, but being neither experienced or hikers we found all those steps a bit of a challenge. However, the wonderful views and delightful arhats certainly make up for any discomfort.
When to go: The Mt. Nokogiri climbing season is from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 16-Feb. 15, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 16-Apr. 15, and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. in the summer.
Getting there: JR express trains called Sazanami run between Tokyo station and Hamakamaya station, with the journey taking 1.5 hours. Those with a car can drive via the Aqualine freeway from Tokyo in about one hour. In addition, highspeed buses leave from Tokyo and Shinjuku stations and connect with JR trains at Kisarazu station. The journey takes one hour and 40 minutes.