Chiba is a sparsely populated area located northeast across the bay from Tokyo. Although it’s close in distance to one of the world’s most densely populated areas, the prefecture seems like a completely different planet. If lush countrysides and hiking are your jam, we think an adventure to Mt. Nokogiri is perfect for you! If you get a solid jump on the day (and have access to a car), this outing could easily be paired with other Chiba attractions!
Nokogiriyama (“yama” means mountain) is often referred to as “Sawtooth Mountain,” a nickname that it picked up from its history as a stone quarry during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). It is a great hike if you want something more challenging than a nature walk, but also something that is far from a rock scrambler (we wore running shoes our first trip and although they were completely fine and did the job; we did enjoy wearing hiking boots during our second go).
Additionally, during our first visit, we used our Deuter Hiking Carrier to carry our three-year-old for part of it and our Tula soft structured carrier for our little lady. However, for our second visit we plugged our two-year-old in the Deuter and our now five-year-old easily hiked. Overall, we would grade the hike as “Easy” and feel it’s perfect for nature lovers who enjoy a side of history and a dose of Japan’s rich spiritual past.
Getting to Mt. Nokogiri
Car: In order to access Chiba’s west coast, it takes about an hour and a half from central Tokyo using the Tokyo Bay AquaLine.
Train: It takes about 2 hours to go from Tokyo Station to Hama Kanaya Station on the Sobu Line (with a change at Kimitsu Station to the Uchibo Line).
Ferry: Although Kurihama Ferry Terminal is accessible by public transport, we chose to drive to the terminal and board the Tokyo Wan Ferry to Port Kanaya in Chiba (for our first trip). The ride is ~40min in length. From Port Kanaya, you can either walk ~10minutes to the cable car station or you can follow the directions below from Hama-Kanaya Station or the cable car station (see the “Hiking” section below for directions).
Cashing in on the Views
As you might have already guessed, we fancy hiking and always choose it over hitching a ride up to the summit unless we are crunched for time. Luckily whether you’re feeling the itch to hit the dirt (err…. mud in spots) and walk your way up to the peak or if you just want to cruise in a cable car Nokogiri is accessible for you!
A short walk (~10minutes) from the ferry terminal will take you to the town of Kanaya which is located on the northern side of the mountain. This is where the ropeway leaves from, Sanroku Station. Fortunately, your plans can be fairly fluid for this (which is always a bonus when traveling with littles) as the cars run often.
Once aboard, it’s a nice (albeit short) 5-10 minute ride up to the top of Nokogiriyama (329.5m) with breathtaking views all along the way of Tokyo Bay across to the Miura Peninsula, as well as the rest of the Boso Peninsula. Quite the panorama!
It should be noted that although the walking is cut down significantly by using the ropeway, there is still a good bit to explore once you reach the top with much of it including stairs. To be honest, there’s no escaping them, so don’t even try, just go ahead and embrace them from the get go. We would most certainly recommend ditching the baby stroller for a baby carrier for this adventure.
Even if the ropeway is open/available, we still recommend hiking if at all possible. Although it’s a good bit more work, the dense vegetation and solitude are worth it as hiking is most certainly the path less traveled here. We’ll go ahead and warn you now that the signage isn’t the best we’ve seen, so there were a handful of confusing moments our first time around. You’ll definitely want a map, so make sure to grab one at the cable car station or you can access the pdf version here. Overall, we found it fairly useful as it outlines the five junctions that you may come across during your journey with time estimations.
How to get to the trailhead from Hama-Kanaya Station:
- Take a left out of the Hama-Kanaya Station (keeping the post office on your left hand side)
- The road will eventually split. You want to head down the road to the right.
- Continue straight across the bridge.
- You’ll spot a restaurant with a red overhang. Take a left there.
- Continue straight and then when the road splits (again) take a left.
- Walk under the railroad track
- Continue on until the road splits (yet again). You’re at the trailhead now!
- There are two trails here (one starts with stairs and the other goes through the woods and appears to be more of a traditional hiking trail) – take your pick! We’ve been told that the one to the far right is not a trail, so choose one of the others.
How to get to the trailhead from the Cable Car Station:
- Exit the parking lot of the cable car station
- Take a right at the light at the bottom of the hill
- Just a bit down the road there will be a split (just look for the sign for Pizza Gonzo). At this split take a right. This road is super small so keep at eye out!
- As you go down the street you will see a building with a big red awning. The road splits here and you’ll want to stay right.
*After you take this right there will be an area to park if you come by car*
- Continue straight and then when the road splits (again) take a left.
- Walk under the railroad track
- Continue on until the road splits (yet again). You’re at the trailhead!
- There are three paths here (one starts with stairs and the other goes through the woods and appears to be more of a traditional hiking trail) – take your pick! We’ve been told that the one to the far right is not a trail, so choose one of the others.
Once at the trailhead you’ll have the option of two routes: Sharikimichi will be to the left and appears like a path (if you follow this trail, you’ll meet up with junction B next – see map) and Kanto Fureai No Michi will be to the right loaded with stairs (if you follow this trail you’ll meet up with junction D next – again, see map). Both will take between 35-50 minutes to reach the top and the routes will meet at the stone quarry that dates back to the Edo Period.
We chose to ascend the mountain via the Kanto Fureai No Michi route both times we hiked the mountain as we are of the mentality that if there are stairs might as well just get them over early while you’re glutes are still fresh! Since we didn’t ascend or descend Sharikimichi we can’t say whether or not you’ll encounter stairs there (if you hike it though, let us know!).
Each trail is marked along the way…sorta. As previously mentioned, this hike can be a bit confusing (even with a trail map), so try not to get discouraged if you have to backtrack a bit here and there. After all with hiking you’ll get to walk through the abandoned quarry ruins and experience the flat stone walls with inscriptions carved into the sides as well as experience the sharp angles up-close and well…that’s pretty spectacular.
Plus, you are rewarded with some beautiful unobstructed panoramic views of the peninsula’s rugged coast along the way. SO. LUSH.
Exploring the Temple Grounds
We loved this hike for not only the beautiful views of the bay and surrounding area, but also for its peek into the close relationship between Buddhism and nature. You’ll see what we mean as you walk down the backside of the mountain winding your way through the temple complex and (of course) the biggest stone Buddha in Japan.
Once you reach the stone quarry, it won’t be long before you find yourself at the entrance to the temple complex. You’ll need to pay an admission to enter the grounds here, however, the exploration and sites are worth it. Additionally, you’ll be given a small tourist map of the area.
As soon as you pass through the gate, you’ll be greeted by Hyaku Shaku Kannon, a 30 meter high image of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. The carving, completed in 1966, stands to remember those that were killed during the second world war.
Before leaving this area make sure to look back towards the temple complex ticket gate and then look up! You’ll get your first glimpse of the protruding rock that many refer to as the “View of Hell.”
After exiting the entrance area you’ll have a choice to either head up to the Ruriko Observatory (left) or continue on to see the rest of the complex. We encourage you to scope out the Ruriko Observatory first before continuing on as this is where you’ll be able to get some fabulous countryside views as well as experience the “View of Hell” first-hand. If there is a long line for the famous protruding rock there are also several other lookout points to scope out in the interim.
The second time we hiked Nokogiriyama it was late-afternoon/early evening, so we were the only ones exploring the observatory which was pretty neat! The temple complex office closes somewhere around 1700, but you can still explore the area after that time (for free) as there isn’t a gate. Just remember that you’ll need to hike down as the cable car will have stopped running at 1700 as well. If you hike up late in the day (i.e. after 1700 or so) you most likely won’t have time to explore all of the grounds, however, so keep that in mind. We would also highly recommend headlamps as it will most likely get dark during your descent. Thankfully, the trail isn’t very technical.
Jigoku Nozoki, which literally translates to “hell watch stand,” is located in the Ruriko Observatory area as well and is sure to make your hair stand on end as it offers a dramatic view that spirals straight down. Don’t freak just yet…there is a safety railing along the cliff’s edge, but you would be a fool not to keep your wits about you. Why head to the edge? Gorgeous views that are sure to make any Chiba tourist brochure await you!
Below are a couple other spots in addition to Jigoku Nozoki that will allow you to scope out the view from other perspectives! Seriously couldn’t get enough of this view.
From here you’ll begin your descent down (mainly on cement steps) through the forest canopy. We encourage you to take the 1500 Arhat Approach down Mt. Nokogiri as it will afford you the opportunity to wander the serene path passing many stone sculptures along the way. As you walk down you’ll pass ~1500 Arhats, Buddhist monks and priests who have attained nirvana, each a little different than the next. We loved looking at the various facial expressions! Unfortunately, many of the originals have been destroyed over the years. Some of the destruction caused by Mother Nature while much due to “Haibutsu kishaku,” the abolition of Buddhist religion during the years of the Meiji Era when the government attempted to adopt Shinto as a state religion.
Eventually you will find yourself at Nihonji. Built 1300+ years ago in 725, this Zen temple is the oldest place of worship in the Kanto region. Like many temples in Japan it has been a victim to earthquakes, fires, and anti-Buddhist movements over the years thus it has been restored several times.
Finally, you will come to the main attraction! Carved in 1783 (after the temple complex was constructed), Ishidaibutsu is the largest Buddha (31 meters high) that has been carved into a cliff in the country. Let’s put it this way, he’s TWICE the size as Kotoku-in’s Great Daibutsu in Kamakura. The Buddha is made from solid granite and took ~3 years to carve. The Daibutsu was most recently restored in 1966, the same period of time that Hyaku Shaku Kannon, was carved. Additionally, there are vending machines in the area as well in case you need to rehydrate, a few benches and restrooms available.
After our first hike, we were graced with one of our first views of Mt. Fuji as we headed back to the Ferry Terminal. One of those moments that you just won’t forget. Goodnight, Japan.
Tokyo Wan Ferry:
- Hours: Operating Schedule
- Admission: 720yen/Adult (one way), 1320yen/Adult (round trip), 360yen/Child (one way), 660yen/Child (roundtrip)
- Admission: No admission unless using the ropeway or entering the temple grounds.
- There is a lot at the bottom of the Nokogiriyama Ropeway.
- Additionally, there is a free lot close to the Daibutsu of Nihon-ji (the big stone Buddha). To access the big stone Buddha from this lot it is a ~5minute walk. The free lot can be accessed by driving up the Nokogiri-yama Sightseeing Driveway (this road is not a toll road).
- If hiking, there is a small lot near the trailhead (pay by honor system).
- Area Map
- Hours: Daily, 0800 – 1800
- Ropeway: Runs every 15 minutes from 0900 – 1700 (February 16 – November 15) and 0900- 1600 (November 16 – February 15).
- Admission: 500yen/Adult (one way), 930yen/Adult (round trip), 250yen/Child (one way), 450yen/Child (roundtrip)
- Parking: Free lot at the bottom of the Nokogiriyama Ropeway
Ropeway Tip: Make sure to be vigilant of the time as missing the last cable car may mean hiking down the mountain (possibly after dark).
- Hours: 0800 – 1700
- Admission: 600yen/Adult (12yo and up), 400yen/Child (6 – 11yo)
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