My pursuit of getting stunning imagery from stunningly scenic areas means I have to carry the burden of a few extra kilo’s of weight but it’s all very worth it at the end of the day.  As a photographer in Japan having shot so much of the city, it’s always refreshing to get away from the strobe lights, traffic cones and 10 zillion other bipedals.

If you want to learn more about Japans hidden gems and places you can enjoy from beaches to mountains, cities to backstreets, join my journey on my Facebook fan page because it’s chock full of rarely known incredible places to explore!

Two very different experiences in just as many days, we hiked the west side of northern Izu (Numazushi) in Shizuoka on the first day and Mt. Amagi in eastern Izu the next day, recovering in the evenings with Izu seafood and a private onsen.  It could have been worse!

Mt. Daruma

We started at the Darumayama Resthouse which totalled a 9km hike to return.  The trail is very well maintained, like golf-course level maintenance which makes it an easy hike but uneventful except for the myriad of steps.  Just so many steps and not much terrain to speak of.  The peak does however give you a glorious panoramic, 360° view of the surrounding area.  The ocean and the various bays along the west coast, Mt. Fuji of course and whatever else is over to the east.

If it weren’t for the incredible amount of steps, it would have felt a lot less like walking up to the top floor of your apartment block because the elevator was out of commission but this skyline trail is just as much for the casual viewpoint seeker as it is for the hiker.  Dozens of carparks are scattered running parallel to the trail from which you could jump out your car at any one of them and walk 300m’s and get a breathtaking view – probably the smarter only option in summer since there is no cover.

The trail runs all the way to the southern tip of the peninsula but I am of course carrying my camera equipment again and Darumayama is our target for today.  My dog is also giving me that can I get in your backpack? look again.  It’s already taken us almost 3 hours to get here and my face hurts more than my legs due to it being almost summer like weather at the end of March, no cover on the trail and no sunscreen. Time to hit the onsen and plan for the next days hike.

  • Peak: 981m
  • Ascent/Descent: 547m
  • Average Grade: 9.5%
  • Total course time: 5 hrs 45 mins
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
The golf course-esque Nishi Izu Skyline trail
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Quarter the way up, the view starts to get serious
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
The steps and trail easily seen running off in the distance towards Mt. Fuji
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Spectacular views from the summit of Darumayama
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Sweeping view of the small town of Heda on the coast, running to Mt. Fuji, far right
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Mt. Daruma track from Darumayama Resthouse
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Darumayama Elevation

Mt. Amagi

There are several peaks that are on a trail going around Amagisan and we plan to go to the first leg of a looped trail and double back.  This would take us to Banjirodake, a 1299m peak that’s only 100m lower than the highest peak (Banzaburodake) on the entire trail.

The owner of the onsen we’re staying at told us that it had snowed up there just a few days ago but that it had probably mostly melted by now.  That was good to hear since, it being Izu, a low elevation and the weather how it was, I hadn’t even thought to bring my snow spikes.

As we were winding our way to the trailhead by car, it became evident that the snow was doing just fine, sitting there chilling.  I wondered how my dog was going to handle it, she’s not too keen on things that are cold or wet and definitely not of things that are cold and wet.

Luckily the trail was already well trodden, muddy and slushy for the most part so easy to walk – perfect in summer I would imagine.  Starting at 1000m with lots of cover, it’s going to make for a very cool and pleasant summer hike.  Without snow, you should be able to make it around the entire 8km loop in a day without any problem.  Definitely one I’d like to come back to.

About a quarter way into the trail, we spot some deer and then about midway, some bear tracks looking a day old, though I’m no expert.  Not old enough you couldn’t see any definition whatsoever but not new enough you could see any claws in the tracks.  Nevertheless, I made sure to get the bear bell out.  We already startled one deer that yelped when we surprised it, I didn’t want to surprise a bear and then have my dog go into fits of barking and escalate the situation!

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Deer tracks
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
My dog trying not to let all four feet touch the ground at the same time
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Bear tracks
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
One small step for a man, one giant leap for Miniature Pinscher-kind

My dog is definitely getting used to the hiking thing.  I don’t think I’ve ever been as proud of her this day than any other time.  At the start of the trail, at the first sight of snow she just froze and refused to walk,  but after some dragging, she soon decided to start using her legs.  At times she stopped and just looked at me and my backpack with a look of Why the hell am I not in there?  What’s more important in your life that you carry it on your back but not me, huh?

We all made it to the top and were ready to cook some lunch but the weather had changed since we left.  We knew it was supposed to rain that afternoon from around 4pm but it was only 1pm.  The wind had picked up, clouds were rolling in and I decided to put the dog in the rucksack wrapped in a thermal top I had in there and without much of a rest decided we should start making our way down.  Without spikes, it was going to be slow going down.  Slipping and falling on my arse wouldn’t be a problem but for the dog in the back – she might get crushed, so better to take it slow and easy than to have a pancaked dog.  Just as with the previous days hike, going down was going to be more difficult than going up.

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
The Doggy Bag
© Steven West, Photographer in Japan
Banjirodake Track in red and loop route in blue

© Steven West, Photographer in Japan

  • Peak: 1299m
  • Ascent/Descent: 337m
  • Average Grade: 10.0%
  • Total course time: 5 hrs

I’m not entirely sure why but there are a lot of pet-friendly pensions in the Izu area, especially east Izu.  As you’re driving through the various little towns and villages in the area, there are no end of dog specific facilities.  Dog pensions, cafes, play areas etc.

We stayed at a 5 room pet friendly pension which is run by two of the nicest people you’ll ever get to meet!  The hotel is 110% pet friendly, it seems they have thought of everything.  For starters there’s nowhere the dog can’t go except in the onsen itself and of course the kitchen.  The kitchen was no obstacle for my mountaineering dog however.  As soon as she was off the leash in the dining room, I had lost sight of her and no matter how much I called out in my best I’m really angry and you better come here now voice, she had vanished… into the kitchen of course and after she had secured a treat or two, the owners bought her back out and I locked her down!

They have warm running water at the entrance if you need to wash your dog.  The floors in the entire building are tiled with water repellent carpet slabs so if a dog messes anywhere, it can soon be cleaned up with fresh tiles replacing the soiled ones that are to be cleaned.  The floors are also heated!  In Japan, some people heat their floors – I’ve never found it to be appealing but it occurred to me that that too was for the sake of the dog.  Even if you go to the bath which is private, you can tie your dog just outside and leave the door open so it doesn’t get lonely.  It’s probably the most dog friendly place I’ve ever stayed at.  So if you’re looking for a pet pension in east Izu, check out R65, I’ll definitely be staying there again.

Izu has it all really.  The climate is nice, it’s a stones throw from some of the best diving in Japan, some of the best beaches and snorkelling in Japan, Mt. Fuji, Yamanashi and the Southern Alps.  It’s also a short hop, skip and a jump to one of the 7 Izu islands, one of which I go to regularly, Shikinejima, you can even see Oshima from where we were staying.

I’ve only just started to really look into Izu as a place for activities but this summer I hope to dive along the west coast and maybe kayak and paddleboard further south on the east coast as well as camping and hiking around there too.

It rained hard that night and got even heavier the next day.  I wanted to hit one more place before we started to head home after checking out.  I wanted to see the Wasabi fields that caught my attention from the satellite imagery I was looking at while researching the area.   Have you ever wondered where Wasabi comes from?  No, neither had I.

Whole valleys are lined with these fields throughout the northern part of Izu.  Utilising the water drained off from the mountains, the Wasabi fields need to be constantly wet, like rice I guess.  I’ve no idea how they got there, but for some reason I kept finding small crabs in and around the Wasabi fields.  It’s not the first thing you think you’d find up in the mountains about 700m above sea-level.  I’ve decided to call them Wagani!

Click on the satellite image below to go directly to the map.

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Whole valleys are lined with Wasabi fields in Izu.

If you want to learn more about Japans hidden gems and places you can enjoy from beaches to mountains, cities to backstreets, join my journey on my Facebook fan page because it’s chock full of rarely known incredible places to explore!