Living in Japan
Futatsumoriyama: Hiking in Japan

Futatsumoriyama: Hiking in Japan

Added In: Living in Japan › Hiking

Richard Harris

The names of most Japanese mountains give little idea of their actual appearance, often either referring to obscure historical arcana or suggesting an over-active, sake-enhanced visual imagination. Futatsumoriyama, however, is a perfectly apposite name for the distinctive, thickly wooded, twin-peaked mountain that dominates the ridge to the west of the town of Fukuoka (福岡町) in the Tsukechi valley. Attractive and easily accessible, it is an excellent introduction to the high country of eastern Mino.

The trailhead is at Kirikoshitoge (切越峠), the high point of prefectural Route 70, the road running between Fukuoka and Shirakawa (白川), on the Hida (western) side of the ridge. There is ample car parking at the trailhead, which, as far as I know, is not served by public transport, although hitchhiking from the main Tsukechi road (Route 257) should be straightforward enough. On the southeastern side of the pass a colourful roadside signboard with a good trail map indicates the start of the hike.

The first twenty minutes or so of the trail are hard work, the path climbing steeply through a fragrant plantation of Hinoki (), the Japanese cypress. The lower slopes of Futatsumori are thickly covered with this tree, a historically important resource of the region, and one that is coming back into favour with the recent resurgence of interest in constructing houses out of domestic timber. Log staircases along the trail help in negotiating the steeper pitches, and a thoughtfully placed bench on top of a prominent knoll affords fine views of Hakoiwayama (箱岩山) to the west as well as a good site for a restorative early tea break.

From this first high point the trail continues through Hinoki woods at a much easier gradient, ascending a second knoll by means of a series of impressive giant rocks that are passed on the left. From this point the plantation cypresses give way to more interesting mixed woodland featuring a variety of flowering shrubs, including the gorgeous Japanese Pieris (アセビ), as well as taller broadleaf trees and the inevitable bush bamboo. At two points the woods open onto rocky platforms on the right (west) of the trail providing views of Kanyoukiyama (寒陽気山) to the north, as well as down into the valley on the Hida side. The trail itself is delightfully varied, picking its way over gnarled tree roots and around mossy rocks, tiny flowers growing improbably from minute crevices and pockets of soil.

At the 1160-meter high point, a sign informs that this section of the trail is known for a particularly colourful rhododendron (ダナのシャクナゲ), and from May onwards these exquisite pink blossoms light up the woods to spectacular effect. From this elevation the path turns sharply to the right (south) and descends slightly, but soon climbs again to become a level ridgetop trail and reaches a clear trail junction in a leafy glade. The summit path continues south, but the route to the right (west) leads down to Koumori-iwa (蝙蝠岩), a large rock which, as its name suggests, is a regular haunt of bats. The path is steep, and not as well marked as the main trail, but from Koumori-iwa a forestry road leads back to Route 70 south of Kirikoshitoge, thus offering an alternative return route to the trailhead.

From the Koumori-iwa junction the trail begins to climb a little more steeply, zigzagging up through old trees and huge rocks, before levelling out on an obvious summit ridge. Another faint trail to the right leads down to Ounara (大ナラ), and then further on to Route 70, presenting yet another potential return route. Through the trees to the left of this junction, though, a large, flat-topped rock is visible: the highest point of the mountain.

The 1223-meter summit is wonderfully open and exposed, its southern side a flat, raised mound of rock with superb views. It is a place made for a leisurely, glorious mountaintop lunch. From this slab eastward, beyond the foreground view of Takamineyama (高峰山) and across the wide Kiso valley, almost the entire length of the Kiso range can be seen, its individual peaks easily identifiable, while below the southern end of the Kiso mountains the more distant Akaishi range stretches toward the Shizuoka coast. In the southeastern foreground Enasan (恵那山) and its flanking ridges invite the eye, while the southwestern vista is of nearby Kasagiyama (笠置山) and the mountains and hills of eastern Mino. At the northern end of the summit plateau, a few meters away from the rock slab, is a wooden shelter with a terrific view of many of the heights of the upper Tsukechi valley including the unmistakeable magnificence of Ontake (御岳), the huge, solitary peak that so effortlessly dominates the other mountains of this region. Further vantage points are to be found at the eastern edge of the summit, and each one of these viewpoints offers its own perspective on the splendours that surround this rather special mountaintop.

Hard as it is to leave this summit, a more pleasurable difficulty lies in choosing a descent route. Apart from retracing the trail used for the ascent, two other possibilities have been mentioned in the side trails via Ounara and Koumori-iwa. Another option is to complete an anticlockwise circuit on the mountain by taking the trail on the east side of the summit. This is a popular route for school parties, especially in the summer, as it is short, safe, and the trailhead features a large car park and toilet facilities. Basically, it is a long log staircase with a side trail to Higashimoriyama (東森山), the eastern peak of the mountain, so this option can be recommended to anyone wishing to climb both summits, and the direct trail is a safe descent route if the weather changes. Otherwise, the only feature of interest along the trail is a (very) small pond, Kourimochinoike (氷餅の池), a haunt of dragonflies, frogs, newts and snakes. From the trailhead it is about three kilometers down a forestry road to a point just north of Kirikoshitoge on Route 70.

 Futatsumoriyama can be comfortably climbed in about three hours, and the trail is well marked and technically undemanding, making it a very suitable destination for hikers of all levels of experience at any time of the year, although the summit in summer is likely to be noisy and crowded. Spring is a beautiful time, as the flowers and trees are at their best, and the autumn colours are always delightful, but my favourite season for visiting the mountain is probably in winter, when the air is crisp and clear, and the surrounding peaks seem etched white on the blue sky as if on Bohemian crystal. The trailhead is easy to reach, and as well as an excellent introduction to the area, it would be a perfect mountain for an introductory winter hike. And on the way home, especially in winter, when the freshly-pressed stuff is still available, be sure to stop at the Kujiranami (鯨波) sake brewery between the trailhead and Route 257. This little kura makes some of the best nihonshu in Gifu.