Nestled on the prefectural border of Hyogo and Tottori, and a bit further north of Hyogo’s highest peak Hyōnosen, lies the graceful, ladylike curves of Ōginosen. What the mountain lacks in height it more than makes up for in subtle beauty, according to reports from other Japanese hikers, that is. With so few foreign climbers venturing that far north into the deepest reaches of the Kinki region, it was time for an investigative look.
Simon, Ritsuko, Kanako and I cruised north along route 9 through dinosaur country, at least that’s what it used to be millions of years ago when the fearless creatures roamed the earth. Nowadays the area is teeming with dinosaur statues, thanks to the discovery of fossils in the area and an even more recent uncovering of fossilized theropod eggs. From the look of things, you’d think that Hyogo Prefecture was the dinosaur capital of Japan, but that distinction goes to Katsuyama in Fukui prefecture.
We based ourselves at Yumura onsen, a hot spring town whose popularity peaked in the 1980s as the location for the popular television drama Yumechiyo-nikki. During that time, the town was bustling with tourists flocking here to get a taste of rural life, but now the concrete hotels and souvenir shops lay abandoned, the victim of the bursting bubble and nearby Kinosaki onsen, which is now the ‘go to’ place for hot spring enthusiasts. Still, the town provided the closest base camp for our target peak the following morning, and a hot spring bath is a hot spring bath, no matter what the rest of the town may fail to offer.
The next day, after a modest breakfast at the inn, Simon navigated our vehicle up a narrow, hard surfaced forest road that weaved in and out of cedar plantations, skirted the edge of an abandoned dairy farm, and finally crossed a thick yellow line painted across the road that marked the prefectural border. We parked the car in front of an artificial pond and geared up for the easy stroll to the summit. With only 200 vertical meters of elevation gain spread out over 3km, we knew we were in for an easy day.
The trail immediately ducked into an enormous virgin Siebold beech forest, perhaps the finest of its kind in the entire Kansai area. The path was completely flat for the first kilometer of the pleasant stroll, as our eyes were constantly drawn upwards to the verdant greenery of the foliage set against the muted overcast sky above. From the lush canopy the spotted gray trunks of the towering trees pierced the forest floor like telephone poles lined along a city street.
Soon Simon and I split up from the ladies, opting to get a little cardiovascular workout as we approached the first rise in the contours. We coasted to the crest of the first hill, but had to ease back the pace a little as my heart went into palpitations. Ever since my surgery the doctors had warned me not to get the BPMs up to dance music level for fear of overworking the mechanical valve, so I took a rest until my pulse dropped back down to under 100.
After this first climb, the path dropped gradually to a long saddle through more thickets of beech and other hardwoods before climbing the crest of the ridge over a gentle rise to the high point, which was dominated by a wooden emergency hut in immaculate shape. The builders had taken great pains to build the rustic structure directly on the high point, even going so far as to include a ladder to the second floor for mid-winter access. Indeed, it seems that snowshoeing is a popular activity in the colder, frostier months, and the soft gradient helps keep the avalanches at bay. We checked out the views northward to Hyōnosen while waiting for Kanako to Ritsuko to catch up. Once reunited, the summit was invaded by a group of 50 walkers that were part of a guided tour. They snatched up every available inch of soil space while we beat a hasty retreat back to the car.
In a village at the foot of the mountain we paused for a bowl of udon noodles and chatted with the vivacious elderly women working the kitchen. The owner, a man in his early 80s, showed off a picture of an asiatic black bear he had taken while walking in the beech forests in early spring. Apparently the nuts and acorns make it a prime habitat for the ursine creatures, and they sometimes venture a little too far into the village in search of extra nourishment. Our host explained: “Last autumn a bear wandered into a trap set up for wild boar and became stuck. We called the animal rescue office, who tranquilized the animal and transported it back into the forests far away from here.”
With the mountain safely behind us, we took the slow road back to Osaka, stopping at Takeda castle for a short side trip. Dubbed the “Machu Picchu ” of Japan, the castle ruins sit perched on a mountain plateau high above the valley below. To compare it to the lofty Inca settlement is a bit of a stretch, but there’s nothing that the locals won’t do to attract the tourist dollar.