Escape the city, reconnect with nature in Tokyo’s Akigawa Valley
By ALLEN ONSTOTT AND KAT BOUZA | Stars and Stripes | Published: June 28, 2018
Don’t let the Tokyo address fool you, because the Akigawa Valley is about as far away from the crowds and congestion of the city as one can get without leaving the metropolitan prefecture.
Located about 35 minutes west of Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, the Akigawa Valley is a popular sightseeing and outdoor recreation area nestled in the foothills of the Okutama Mountains just outside of the city of Akiruno. The valley, which covers roughly 20 kilometers of the Hinohara Highway, sits along the Akigawa River and is part of Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park.
Akigawa roughly translates to autumn stream, making the area the perfect place to view Japan’s famous autumn colors — but it also offers visitors plenty of entertainment year-round, especially in the summer months.
The best part about a visit to Akigawa? There are no tolls, no parking fees and many free activities for outdoor adventurers of all ages.
Several small towns can be found along the main stretch of the Akigawa Valley, each featuring a surprising variety of quaint shops and cafes catering to the tourists who flock to the area on weekends.
One of the area’s most popular attractions is the Hossawa No Taki waterfall, located in Hinohara village about 7 kilometers into the valley. The falls, which are considered one of the 100 best waterfalls in Japan, are reached via an easy 15-minute stroll through the woods along a shaded, well-maintained trail. The walk passes several deep freshwater pools that look inviting on a warm summer’s day, but are off-limits to swimmers as these are a drinking water source.
The area surrounding Hossawa No Taki is also the perfect spot for trekking, as the numerous hiking trails along the streams will delight many an outdoors enthusiast. Although the area can be partially navigated with the assistance of a smartphone, it’s best to consult the hiking trail map posted in the parking lot near the beginning of the waterfall trail. The tourist information office at Musashi-Itsukaichi Station in Akiruno also offers free hiking maps of the region. Without the help of a map, one can spend quite a bit of time trying to locate the waterfall — like I unfortunately did.
In addition to its famed natural scenery, the region is also known for being a trout fishing hot spot. Visitors can try their hand at this popular activity at Akigawa International Trout Fishing Ground, located just north of the Ishibune Bridge. The fishing ground, which is set up to accommodate both small and large groups of visitors, offers customers their choice of several types of fishing spots located along the river. Users can choose to rent either a simple rod for 200 yen (about $1.75), or a complete fishing kit for 2,000 yen with a 1,000 yen deposit.
Although the fishing areas downstream are cheaper (3,300 yen per person for 10 fish), they are also much more crowded. I greatly preferred the facility’s Yamame Fishing Field, which at 4,000 yen per person is more expensive — but it is also more isolated, allowing customers to hike up and down the stream bed, traversing the rocks and climbing under bridges to find the perfect fishing spot. A fishing hole for children or beginners with no admission fee is also available on the premises, but users are charged 300 yen for each fish caught.
Akigawa International Trout Fishing Ground also offers a barbecue area to cook up your catch after an afternoon of fishing. Larger groups can reserve one of the many barbecue pavilions, which feature an open-air pit, for a low fee — otherwise, bring your own portable grill or stove and any additional ingredients to make the ultimate fish feast. During my visit, the fishing spot regulars were very eager to show off how they grill and convert their catch into a stew with vegetables.
After lunch, I took in the view of the lush greenery and rugged rocks from Ishibune Bridge. This impressive suspension bridge spans the Akigawa Gorge, which in the fall is a popular place to view colorful foliage.
A visit to Kotokuji Temple, located on the outskirts of Akiruno, makes for a nice end to a great day trip to the region. Founded in 1373, this unique temple with thatched roofs is known for being home to one of the oldest trees in Tokyo, which was designated as a natural monument by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The temple is hidden in the hills and is unmarked by tourist signs, several minutes off the main highway — so I had to rely entirely on my smartphone to find it. As the temple’s only visitor, I had plenty of space and freedom to look around and explore this jewel.
Despite spending a full day in the Akigawa Valley, I left feeling there was still so much more for me to explore. I fully intend to return to the area, whether it’s to go camping, or to simply drive along winding mountain roads getting lost and embracing all the adventure Akigawa has to offer.
DIRECTIONS: The Akigawa Valley can be reached by both public transportation and by car. By train, the area is accessible at Musashi-Itsukaichi Station via the JR Itsukaichi Line — about 33 minutes from Tachikawa Station. From Musashi-Itsukaichi Station, visitors can catch one of several buses that service the area, depending on the intended destination. Consult the tourist information office at the station for specific bus information.
TIMES: Hours of attractions vary, but the area is best explored in the morning and daytime. Overnight stays at campgrounds or ryokan are an option for travelers looking to extend their stay.
COSTS: Most sightseeing attractions, such as hiking trails and bridges, have no admission fees. Entrance to the Akigawa International Trout Fishing Ground is 3,300 yen (about $31) for the main fishing grounds, or 4,000 for the Yamame Fishing Field; bait and equipment rental fees are 200 yen to 2,000 yen.
FOOD: Restaurants and convenience stores are located in the city of Akiruno, as well in smaller towns along the Hinohara Highway.