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Roads of Oku: Home

Inspiration ...

Matsuo Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North, Translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa / Google Map: Bashō's Oku no Hosomichi ("Narrow Road to the Deep North")

Journeys ...

Spring 2004: On the Road in Kansai / Google Map
Summer 2005: Roads of Oku / Google Map
Fall 2006: Where Gods Alight / Google Map
Summer 2007: Hōkūle‘a in Yokohama / Map
Winter 2008: Snow Country / Google Map
Spring 2008: Full Bloom & Festivals / Google Map
Summer 2009: Fireflies & Sweet Fish / Google Map
Fall 2009: North Country Colors / Google Map
Summer 2010: Legends of the Land / Google Map
Spring 2011: On the Far Side of Disaster / Google Map
Summer 2012: Travels in the Fifth Moon / Google Map
Summer 2013: Far Roads: Finishing Touches / Google Map
Summer 2015: Saké-Tasting in the Kingdom of Local Brew

Memorable ...

Roads / Seacoasts & Coastal Roads / Bridges / Ferries / Walks & Hikes / Mountains / Ropeways / Rivers / Waterfalls / Lakes / Trees / Rocks / Caves / Hot Springs / Sakura / Fall Colors / Archaeology and History / Castles / Shrines / Temples / Gardens / Festivals / Food / Drinks
Photography: Dennis Kawaharada and Karen Ono

Note ...

On Driving in Japan

Roads of Oku: Journeys in the Heartland

A collection of essays on Japanese culture, history and literature. Available at (Far Roads Press, 2015).


Updated: Feb. 2013

Fujisan, Shizuoka. Fall 2005 / Spring 2008 / Summer 2010

Fujisan, the tallest mountain in Japan (12,288 ft / 3,776 m) is peerless among the mountains of Japan. Below, Mt. Fuji in morning mist, above Lake Yamanaka, Summer 2010.


By mid-morning, the mountain was clear except for a wisp of clouds at the top; by afternoon, it was hidden by clouds. For photos of Fujisan above Lake Kawaguchi and Lake Sai, see Lakes.

Sunrise from Kawaguchiko Fifth Station, Summer 2005:

In the Manyoshu, the first Japanese anthology of poetry, compiled around 759 CE, a poet wrote:

Fuji is at the source of the sun,
The guardian of the land of Yamato,
A living kami, a treasure in Suruga.
Our eyes never grow weary gazing up
At the lofty peak of Fuji

The kami of the mountain, worshiped at shrines around it, is Asama or Sengen, the peaks at the top are associated with various Buddhist deities, and the mountain itself is worshipped as a kami.

Views of Fujisan

From a traffic jam on Highway 2 in Kamakura, Spring 2008:

Over Lake Ashi, Spring 2008:

On the Tomei Expressway to Shizuoka City. Spring 2014

From Nihondaira, Sunset, Shimizu Harbor. Spring 2014

From the Ferry, crossing Suruga Bay, from Shizuoka to Izu, Spring 2014:

Above the rim of Mt. Omuro, on Izu Peninsula, Spring 2014:

From Highway 20, Yamanashi, Summer 2015:

Takachiho-san, Miyazaki. Spring 2011

Where Amaterasu's grandson Ninigi is said to have descended to earth to rule:

So then [the Heaven-Shining-Great-August-Deity and the High-Integrating-Deity] commanded His Augustness Heaven's-Prince-Rice-ear-Ruddy-Plenty; and he, leaving the Heavenly Rock-Seat, pushing asunder the eight-fold heavenly spreading clouds, and dividing a road with a mighty road-dividing, set off floating shut up in the Floating Bridge of Heaven, and descended from Heaven onto the peak of Kuzhifuru which is Takachiho in Tsu-kushi [Kyūshū] (Kojiki). Right: Woodbloock print by Tomikichiro Tokuriki (Sept. 1941).

Mt. TakachihoMt. Takachiho woodblock print

Sakurajima (“Cherry Blossom Island”), Kagoshima. Spring 2011

Located across Kinko Bay from Kagoshima City, Kyūshū, Sakurajima (3665 ft / 1117 m), an active volcano, was an island until the 1914 eruption, when a lava flow connected it to the eastern shore of the bay. Wwe caught the ferry to Sakurajima and drove up to Yunohira lookout to see the face of the northern peak close-up:

Photos, clockwise from top left: 1. Sakurajima at sunrise, from Kagoshima. 2. Coud-capped Sakkurajima. 3. A smoke-plume rising in the afternoon. 4. On the backside of the mountain, the source of the smoke-plume.


Iwaki-san (“Stone Tree Mountain”), Aomori. Fall 2009

Called Tsugaru Fuji, Iwaki-san (5330 ft / 1625 m) rises from the Tsugaru plains west of Hirosaki City.

It’s three peaks are home to three kami: the north peak, Ganki-san, houses Tatsubihime no mikoto, a female kami, the “shining dragon princess.”, a primordial kami. Chokai-san, the south peak is home to Okuninushi, a kami of agriculture and medicine’s also identified with Sakanoue Tamuramaro, a historical figure who is said to have conquered the demons of the north and pacified the area for the Yamato court. He is celebrated each summer in the Nebuta/Neputa festivals of Aomori, with colorful paper floats lit from the inside like lanterns.

Top: from the southwest, above rice fields. Bottom: from the west, the three peaks visible, above apple orchards.

Chokai-san (“Bird-Sea Mountain”), Akita. Fall 2009

Called Dewa Fuji, Chokai-san (7336 ft / 2236 m) is noted for its shadow cast on the Japan Sea at dawn. In summer 2005, it is hidden behind low clouds; in fall 2009, it appeared in the misty landscape below. Omonoimi (“Great Abstainer”), the kami of Mt. Chokai, is the protector of farmers and fishermen of the region.

Road to the lookout below the summit of Mt. Chokai, above the Sea of Japan:

Daisen (“Big Mountain”), Shimane-Tottori. Summer 2009

Called Hoki Fuji, Daisen (5700 ft / 1792 m) is the tallest mountain in western Honshu. On the way to Tottori from Matsue, we drove past in fall 2006, but the mountain was hidden in a yellow morning mist.

In summer 2009, we hiked up to Daisen Falls on the southeast slope, then drove down to the beach at Yonago, on the Sea of Japan.

The mountain kami, worshiped at Okamiyama Shrine Temple on the northern slope, is considered a protector of livestock, so horse and cattle fairs are held in villages around its base on the twenty-fourth day of the fourth moon. The mountain itself is worshipped as a water and agricultural kami and rice-planting festivals are held in honor of the kami in spring.

Ishizuchi-san (“Stone Hammer Mountain”), Ehime, Shikoku. Fall 2006 and Summer 2009

We drove up a narrow mountain road ...

Roadway tunnel

...then caught a ropeway that took us halfway up Ishizuchi:

Past Joju Shrine, the trail to the summit begins:

The trail goes along a ridge through a forest reserve, then climbs steeply toward the summit, with chains laid down on the slope to help climbers get up and down. We walked along leisurely as far as the point where the trail began the ascent.

The mountain was opened for pilgrimage by En-no-Gyoja, the founder of shugendo, who consecrated it to Kumano Gongen. Kumano Gongen is said to have come from Mt. Tiantai (Tendai) in China, stopping at Hikosan in Kyushu, Ishizuchi, and Awaji Island, before settling in Kumano During the Edo period, Ishizuchi-ko (confraternities) formed to make pilgrimages to the summit. After World War II, the pilgrimages were revived. On July 1, a ten-day festival marks the annual opening of the mountain for pilgrimages.

The gods of the mountain at the ropeway entrance:

Dewasanzan (“Three Sacred Mountains of Dewa”) Yamagata. Fall 2009

A pilgrimage route begins at Hagurosan (“Black Feather Mountain,” 1358 ft / 414 m), ascends to the summit of Gassan (“Moon Mountain,” 6509 ft / 1984 m), and descends at Yudonosan (“Bath Chamber Mountain,” 4934 ft / 1504 m).

Temple Bell, Mt. Haguro, where the Pilgrimage Trail Starts

Photo Below, Left: Hagurosan, in the middle ground to the left; Gassan beyond, lightly dusted with snow. Photo Below,Right: The tall peak farthest back, Yudono is a spur on the southside of Gassan. When we visited in Fall 2010, the road and shrine were already closed for the winter.


The Torii at Yudono Shrine, where the Pilgrimage Ends

Hakusan, Ishikawa. Summer 2010 and Summer 2012

Hakusan (“White Mountain”) at the convergence of Ishikawa, Fukui, and Gifu prefectures is one of the Three Holy Mountains along with Fujisan and Tateyama. Hakusan includes three peaks – Gozengamine or Gozenpo, Onanjimine, and Bessan. The tallest peak, Gozengamine, rises to 8,865 feet. We drove up the Hakusan Super Lindō (Forest Road) in the summer of 2012 to view the summit.

Road to the Summit View:

Hakusan is worshipped by fishermen, seafarers and farmers of the surrounding region. It’s said to be inhabited by suijin, or water gods, and dragon kami, as well as spirits of the dead.

Pilgrimage routes (ascend Hakusan from the three surrounding prefectures, with seven shrines along the ridgeway; women are allowed to go only as far as the middle shrine. Those who make it to the top and drink the snow-fed waters of Midorigaike are said to be rewarded with long life.

Mt. Bandai, Fukushima. Summer 2010

Mt. Bandai (5,968 ft, 1,819 m) is a stratovolcano in Urabandai, Fukushima Prefecture. On July 15, 1888, a major eruption caused the north and east rims of the caldera to collapse. The massive landslide created two lakes, Hibara-ko and Onogawa-ko, along along with smaller lakes and ponds, including those called Goshiki-numa, or the "Five-Colors Ponds." (See Summer 2005).

Hida Mountains, Nagano. Spring 2008 and Summer 2012

The Hida Mountains include the highest peaks in Japan after Mt. Fuji. From Shin-Hodaka Onsen Station (3665 ft / 1117 m above sea level), a spectacular ropeway, two miles long (3200 m), takes you in two stages to Nishi-Hodaka-guchi Station (7073 ft / 2156 m above sea level), with a view of Nishi-Hotaka-dake.

Hida mountains ropewayHida mountains

Beyond Nishi-Hotaka-dake is Mt. Oku-hotaka (10,466 ft / 3190 m), the third tallest peak in Japan after Mt. Fuji and the second tallest mountain in the Hida Mountains, after Mt. Kita, in Yamanashi (10,476 ft / 3,193 m).

Farther north is the famous Tateyama, included with Fujisan and Hakusan in the triad of "Three Sacred Mountains of Japan." Tateyama was still covered with snowwhen we went there is the Summer of 2012. From the Tateyama train station we took a cable car up to Bijodaira, from where a bus transported us to Murodo, just below the highest peaks. (To protect the environment, private cars aren’t allowed on the road.)

Asahidake (“Morning Sun Peak”), Hokkaidō. Summer 2005

In Daisetsuzan National Park, Asahidake is Hokkaidō’s tallest peak at 7500 ft (2290 m). It was still covered with snow in early summer.

Rishiri-san, Rishiri Island, Hokkaidō. Summer 2005

We caught a ferry from Wakannai to Rebun Island, then hiked up the hillside from the harbor. Called Rishiri Fuji, Mt. Rishiri (5650 ft / 1721 m) floats on the sea at the horizon.The mountain flowers were just starting to bloom.

Aso Crater, Kumamoto, Kyūshū. November 2006

Aso is the largest active volcano in Japan and one of the largest craters in the world, with a circumference of about 75 miles. We drove south on the Yamanami Highway to Daikanbo, a lookout on the north crater rim. Inside the crater are five volcanic cones, the tallest Takadake (“High Peak,” 5223 ft / 1592 m).

Mt. Kinran, Tsugawa, Niigata. Summer 2010

Mt. Kinran is at fork of the Agano and Tokonami Rivers. Because the water temperature of the Agano river is lower than that of the Tokonami River, the area where the rivers met is often misty. The following folklore is associated with mountain:

On misty nights, kitsune-bi ("fox-fires") may be seen on the mountain. Because a line of kitsune-bi looks like a wedding procession whose participants carry lanterns, people began to call the fireballs “kitsune no yomeiri,” or fox-bride procession.

Mt. KinranFox-bride procession

At the beginning of May, the townspeople paint fox features on their noses and mouths, with whiskers around their noses, then hold a fox wedding parade. A couple who intends to marry that year play the groom and the bride. The parade goes from Sumiyoshi Shrine around the town, then across the Agano River in a boat and ascends Mt. Kirin. People believe that lots of kitsune-bi on the mountain means a rich harvest the following fall; hence they enact the parade of lights each year to ensure the fertility of the land and people.

Mini Fuji-sans. Spring 2011

Mt. Kaimon on the southern tip of Kyūshū is known as Satsuma Fuji. Mt. Iino in Sakaide on Shikoku is called Sanuki Fuji.

Mt. KaimonMt. Iino