Ōyama is an accessible day trip from Yokohama or Toyko

Entrance to Tanzawa Park.

Entrance to Tanzawa Park.



On the commuter train through Kanagawa’s expansive suburbs I wondered if there was indeed an end to the sea of houses and industry. That’s when the fellow next to me tapped my shoulder. I had asked him about directions earlier. Now he pointed out the window behind our seats, where mountains loomed up through the haze. Ōyama (which simply means “big mountain” in Japanese) is part of the Tanzawa-Ōyama Park in the Kanagawa Prefecture. It’s an accessible day trip from Tokyo or Yokohama, and definitely a good destination when the mercury gets up over 30.

I had been suffering from a bad head cold, and a much worse bout of cabin fever from a week spent loafing around the house. With only an old electric fan and iced barley tea to keep me cool, a good mountain was exactly what I needed. I got off the train at Isehara on the Odakyu Odawara Line and hopped a bus to the cable car station. I was a little worried about the solo mission as I didn’t know the Japanese for “cable car.” Turns out it’s in Katakana: ケブル


The city quickly became rural as the bus neared the mountains, the land dotted with small farms and old houses, almost all with new-looking solar water heaters on their roofs. The narrow road twisted and turned up the base of the mountain, through a little village engulfed by lush bamboo forest. Quite beautiful. The bus let me off about a 5-10-minute walk from the cable car station. Those ten minutes were spent walking up hundreds of steps through a little tourist market area. The region is well known for hand-made spin tops. The motif shows up all over the town on tiles and fences. If your life is lacking in the spin-top department, Ōyama is the place for you. 


Saving your knees is worth 800 yen, right?

Saving your knees is worth 850 yen, right?

The mountain stands over 1200 metres tall. But for the faint-of-knee, or time-crunched hiker, a cable car brings you to your choice of two shrines: the Ōyama-dera around the middle of the mountain, or the higher Ōyama-Afuri. 


My goal was to reach the top, so I made my way through the small crowd of shrine-goers and hit the trail. After the scenic bus ride, Ōyama itself, beneath the canopy of trees, is not particularly inspiring. Terrible erosion has left the trail looking more like a river bottom, with large rocks. Roots exposed, many trees are on the verge of tipping over. The vistas were obscured by haze. But it was worth it? Yes. An hour from Toyko, I met only a half dozen people on the trail. The air was cool and fresh. Amazing.

The Oyama-Afuri Shrine. Farmer pray here for rain.

The Oyama-Afuri Shrine. Farmer pray here for rain.

Nearing the summit, thick cloud billowed up. I initially thought something was on fire, but quickly realized it was actually cloud forming as the hot summer air was forced up over the peak. It didn’t matter I couldn’t see the land below. The cold fog was refreshing and such a relief from the city. I didn’t want to leave the summit. 


Info on the mountain says the hike from the upper cable car station to the summit takes 90 minutes up and 60 down. With a head cold it took me 50 up and 30 down — a much shorter hike than I had hoped for. The mountain is steep, but so to is the cable car ticket. 850 yen for a round trip. I’d recommend taking the car only to the first shrine, or in one direction. 


Oyama wasn’t mentioned in either of my guide books and, on a weekday it was not crowded. Many shops weren’t even open, though the shop keepers who were working were friendly and happy to chat. On my way back to the bus, I had a choice of several restaurants with reasonable prices. I chose one with all its windows folded open, overlooking a really pretty stream. Fortified by the tasty udon and fresh air I was feeling both healthier and ready to take on the big city again.


The view through the rain and haze.

Half-way up: the view through the rain and haze.


Arriving at the summit

Arriving at the summit. This was the most interesting section of trail.At the summit a cat keeps watch over a closed-up noodle stand.