Leave worries behind by taking a hike through a cedar forest in western Tokyo
By JOSEPH DITZLER | Stars and Stripes | Published: February 25, 2021
Sometimes a long walk on familiar ground is all we need for a thorough reset. The Ome Hills hiking course, roughly six miles from point to point, fits the bill.
Generations of airmen and their families from nearby Yokota Air Base no doubt have trod the dusty length of this trail that rides the ridge tops above the Tama River and the East Japan Railway from Ikusabata Station to Ome. The trail is easily reached by a train ride of an hour or so, followed by a walk of about a mile to the trailhead.
The trail itself is a roller-coaster ride from just northwest of Mount Raiden to softball fields at the edge of Ome. The walk can be moderate to strenuous depending on your outlook and fitness, but opportunities to bail present themselves periodically on branch paths that lead back to train stations along the way. Signage, starting at Ikusabata, is provided in English and Japanese.
Our day started with a forecast for unseasonably warm temperatures, 70-plus Fahrenheit in late February, and cloudless skies. We set out from Fussa Station on the Okutama Holiday Express at about 9 a.m. but switched to the regular train at Ome because the express does not stop at Ikusabata.
The carriage from Ome was largely empty, but the riders uniformly were dressed for the outdoors. Two Japanese women boarded with the cushions carried by rock climbers; a group of four young men in hiking boots or trainers, light jackets and daypacks chattered between themselves during the ride.
The Ikusabata stop is a starting point for a couple of nearby hiking trails, so log the station for future use. Exit the train and walk to the left toward the end of the platform and look for the sign indicating the Ome Hills Hiking Course. The platform ends with a path crossing the rails and heading downhill past a beauty salon toward the main highway, Route 193, where you turn left and commence uphill to the trail start.
About a half-mile along the highway, a road on the left leads to mountain trails nearby. Save that one for another day and continue along the highway. Be careful. Sidewalks line the highway nearly the entire length of your walk, but there are gaps. The route is popular with motorcycle riders and sports car owners taking weekend exercise.
Right about where the road will start a pair of curves short of Enoki-toge Pass, look for a trail sign in Japanese on the downhill side and follow the path into the forest.
The AllTrails.com directions skipped this entry and directed us farther along to the pass, but taking up that route is a shade more difficult. That trail is a faint path past a small roadside shrine on a steep bank above the highway. This approach is not well marked and skirts the bank edge. Grasping for a handhold, we gripped a vine studded with nasty spikes and learned the hard way something new about Japanese botany.
This path connects with the main trail, which leads up the steep nose of the ridge, zig-zagging along some steps to the level top. Expect more of the same topography ahead of you. Those steps will become familiar, along with protruding roots, but you’ll stride comfortably for long stretches along the ridges and inhale a subtle, fragrant aroma from the predominantly cedar forest surrounding you.
We packed some snacks, plenty of water and light jackets in case the weather turned. Along the way you’ll encounter other hikers and trail runners. We yielded to a platoon of runners who single-filed their way gingerly through a field of roots and steps.
Along the way lie the ruins of the 16th century Karakai Castle, but the stonework is easy to confuse for a natural formation. Signs in Japanese indicate a loop trail that will take you past the site. A last bit of short, steep clamber takes you to a hilltop where the ruins are located.
The din of nearby traffic fades the farther into the woods you go. At one point the trees thinned to permit a view of nearby ridges that summoned a memory of Appalachia. A glimpse of Mount Fuji is available along the way, weather permitting.
You’ll find a small comfort station about three-quarters of the way along the route.
Near the trail’s end is a small Buddhist shrine where offerings of Japanese pennies are left in neat rows.
The trail will terminate in Ome above Nagayama Park Field and Ome Railway Park, a museum that includes some amusement rides for children. Follow the street downhill past the tennis courts into the city. Cross the railroad overpass and look for a right turn that will bring you to the Ome railway station and your ride home.
Directions: From Fussa Station, take the Ome Line to Ikusabata Station and follow the signs from there. On the return trip, catch the train from Ome back to Fussa or your destination of choice.
Times: Make sure you plan to exit the trail before nightfall. We hoofed end to end in about five hours, with side trails and breaks.
Costs: Round-trip train fare costs about $5.
Food: Pack snacks or a lunch. The trail is furnished with way stations, from decrepit log sitting places to a gazebo or two, usually at viewpoints, although you’ll have competition for these spaces around noon. A small shop at Ikusabata sells snacks and drinks. Plenty of cafes to choose from in Ome once the journey is complete.
Information: Google Ome Hills course. AllTrails.com subscribers will find it there.