The mountainous terrain of Japan leaves avid hikers and nature enthusiasts completely spoiled for choice when it comes to hiking trails. Coupled with a best-in-class public transportation system, getting out of town and into inaka is as easy as hopping on a train and zoning out for a couple of hours. One of our top recommendations for a fun hike near Tokyo is Nenogongen, located in Saitama Prefecture.
The hike begins at Nishi-Agano Station. For us, this meant working our route backward with our last two connections being the Seibu Ikebukuro line and Seibu Chichibu line which we caught from Ikebukuro Station and Hanno Station respectively. Depending on where you live in the Tokyo metropolitan area, Google Maps might offer you different options. Door to door, our total travel time came in just under 2 hours and around ¥1,500 one way (which is fairly expensive) but this could vary as well.
There are several possible hiking routes but we opt for a 9.5-km trail with a 3 to 4-hour duration that peaked at the top of Nenogongen. For something a little more extensive, you could do some research online for a 3-peak 14.5 km trail which starts at Shomaru Station, goes through Izagatake and Nenogongen, and ends at Agano Station.
There are signs right outside the train station which makes embarking on the hike fairly straightforward. The beginning of the hike is mostly flat with some slight inclines so it’s easy to maintain a good pace here while still holding a conversation with your hiking buddies. Interspersed are some steep slopes which will keep you on your toes but the refreshing climate and abundance of greenery are great motivators to keep going.
Towards the top, some interesting landmarks appear on the way up, almost beckoning you towards the spiritual land. A giant pair of straw sandals and the formidable Kongōrikishi statues are just some that you will see. You will also come across a small collection of shops along the path where fresh fruit and snacks are sold, alongside hot tea and simple meals.
At the summit of the mountain is Nenogongen Tenryuji temple. This ancient temple is part of the Tendai sect and has been around for over 1,000 years. Past a short flight of stairs is a bit more of a way to the absolute top where a bell tower sits. Feel free to ring the bell and enjoy the sweeping views, your ultimate reward for the day.
Hikers will come across Asami Chaya on the way down, making it a great pit stop before closing the hike. Tucked away in the mountains, this is a famous noodle shop that’s been serving udon since 1855. The exterior is a gorgeous, rustic wooden house with logs shaped into seats and benches adding to its wilderness charm. Unfortunately the day that we went was a public holiday which meant Asami Chaya was closed. It should operate as per usual on normal weekends as a rest house for travelers looking for a carb-laden feast.
Continuing to follow the path down will eventually lead you back into Hanno. From there, going past Hanno-Hidaka Fire Station and some local general stores will take you to Agano Station. There is a small omiyage store at the station for any last-minute souvenirs from the region to take home with you. Catching the same Seibu Chichibu and Seibu Ikebukuro Line in the opposite direction from which you originally came will get you back into Tokyo.
Read more information about Nenogongen Tenryuji temple here.