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Kitakami Mountains

There are 214 named mountains in Kitakami Mountains. The highest and the most prominent mountain is Mt. Hayachine.

This range extends for 250km from south Aomori to Miyagi prefecture, it passes through Iwate prefecture where most of the peaks are located. It is the second major range of the Tohoku region, together with the Ōu range which lays on the western border of the Kitakami range and it is separated from it by the Kitakami River. On the west side, the Kitakami mountains rise from the east side of Morioka city, in an area known not only for its sansai (wild edible plants) and mushrooms but also for its livestock of Japanese Shorthorns, made famous throughout Japan by Akabeko - a toy of a red cow. On the east side, the Kitakami range faces the Pacific Ocean. The range ends in the Oshika Peninsula. It has a maximum breadth of about 80km and a maximum length of 250km. Alongside with quite smooth topography, which is a result of the last glacial period, there are some wedge-shaped peaks with dissected erosion surfaces. The east side presents a 300m high marine terrace and a greatly embayed coast. Due to the power produced by the Pacific Plate shrinking in the Japanese Trench, this is a highly seismic area. Varied climatic zones of the mountain range allow for ample alpine vegetation, and the valleys in between the rugged peaks are used for breeding dairy cattle.

Kitakami Mountains

Major Hiking Areas

  • Big Peaks

    Mt. Hayachine (早池峰山1917m) consists of a major peak and several minor peaks, such as Mt. Kengamine (east), Mt. Nakadake and Mt. Keito (west). It extends for more than 10 km in the very centre of the Kitakami range dividing it into a northern section and a southern section (see the details below). It also appears in two Japanese classics: the Tono Monogatari by Yanagita Kunio and the poetry of Kenji Miyazawa. Also, the botanists Sugawa Chonosuke and Karl Maksimovič were particularly interested in studying this mountain’s vegetation and endemic alpine butterflies. Like many other Japanese mountains, women cannot climb it because it used to be worshipped as a holy mountain and was a ground for ascetic training. Mt. Hayachine is also believed to be a den of the Rain God, which makes the terrain particularly fertile. Thanks to all these peculiar features it earned a place in the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains.

    Mount Kengamine

    Hikers can approach the peak by six major trails: the Kawaranobo trail (a standard route) is a route for beginners that starts in Kawaranobo Camping Ground and takes 3h. Concerning the descent, hikers may take the Jengotare trail via Mt. Keito, which takes 5h and is a medium-level trail. Kadoma Trail is a well-marked medium-high level route where it is impossible to get lost; it is divided into 9 stages and is feasible in 5h. Yet, not all mountain trails in Japan are marked equally well, unprepared hikers may get lost on The Hiratsuto trail, a less known but very beautiful path feasible in 6h. Another option is the Odagoe trail, located on the same way to Mt. Yakushi (薬師岳1,645m), the second most important mountain of the range usually climbed together with Mt. Hayachine. The name refers to a Buddha who heals all diseases and prolongs people’s lives. The first part of the trail runs on a wooden road, but after 20min of walking, the path becomes rocky and narrow. Hikers who approach the mountain from the south should choose the Umadome Trail, feasible in 5h via the Mataichino Falls. From Odagoe it is also possible to do a 14km traverse via Mt. Keito and Mt. Nakadake which, despite the length, is a light walk.

  • Mount Yakushi

  • The Northern section

    Most of these peaks don’t reach 1000m, so it usually takes less than 3h to complete the longest of the trails.

    For example, the summit of Mt. Nakui (名久井岳 615m) is easily reachable in 1h35m. It is called ‘Little Fuji’ due to its harmonious shape. Mt. Nakui has the most representative features of the northern section. Also, it is possible to find many kinds of fruit trees and temples at its feet, which proves its natural and historical value.

    Mt. Oritsume (折爪岳 857m) is located in a strategic area, inside the Oritsume Basenkyo Prefectural Natural Park. The forest trail takes 2h35m to be completed and it is perfect for beginners due to the presence of an almost all-paved road. Along the way, hikers come across the mountain’s five waterfalls: the Odode-Sama Waterfall, the Esashika Waterfall, the Hime-machi Waterfall, the Orihime Waterfall, and the Isuzu Waterfall. Alternatively, hikers may choose to take a walk through the Koropokkur Land, an outdoor leisure facility on the east side of the mountain. Just beside this peak, the village of Kunohe offers a beautiful seasonal view of the areas nearby. This was the site of the battle between Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Masazane Kunohe and it is said that Masazane Kunohe’s head is buried inside the Kunohe Shrine. The site is also popular for the presence of a ski resort with 3 different courses: The Panorama Course recommended for exciting long-distance adventures, The Dynamic Course that can be also experienced at night, and The Karamatsu Course suitable for beginners. This area is also one of the largest in the Tohoku region where you can spot fireflies.

    Among the highest peaks of the sections, there are Mt.Toshima (遠島山 1,262m) and Mt. Akkamori (安家森 1,166m). The former is particularly hard to climb due to the slippery terrain, it takes 4h to reach the top, whereas the latter is feasible in slightly over 1h.

    From the standard trail on the south slope, it takes 2h45m to reach Mt. Anamegadake (穴目ヶ岳 917m) which is the perfect destination for snowshoe walking aficionados. Instead, Mt. Hashikami (階上岳 739m) is accessible from three different trails, the easiest of those is feasible in just 45m. The peak is characterized by clear trails and a stunning sunrise view.

  • The Southern section

    Considering various features, such as the presence of easily accessible parking lots and other facilities along the way as well as the short distance from the trailhead to the summit, these peaks represent a perfect destination for family hikes and beginners who want to experience the beauty of a wild landscape without complications.

    Mt. Murone (室根山 895m) overlooks the MILC candidate site and it is reachable in only 10min from the parking lot. Even though most visitors prefer to a good drive, a 2.5h steep climb from Orikabe Station is well worth a try.

    Mount Murone

    With just 40min walking hikers can reach Mt. Nonodake (箟岳山 220m) which offers a nice view of the surrounding area as well as the opportunity to try exciting activities. On a Bird Watch, you will be able to spot pheasants, white wagtails, Japanese white-eyes and other interesting species. But you can also try paragliding, horse riding or experience the thrill of an astronomical observation at Muronesan Kirara Observatory. If you are planning a camping experience you might like to lodge at Boyotai Campsite (望洋平キャンプ場).

  • Other relevant peaks

  • Mt. Goyo(五葉山1,351m) is the highest peak of the Sanriku Coast, it is located between Ofunato and Kamaishi. During the warm season, hikers can access the peak by car stopping at Akasaka Pass. From the Osawa trailhead, hikers face a 4h walking divided into 9 stages. The walk itself is 10 km long but this is a very picturesque hike thanks to the presence of granite boulders all over the place and wild deer that hikers can spot in their natural habitat. Please beware, wildlife is actually wild in Japan, do not try to interact with animals or take reckless selfies for your own safety.
  • Mt. Aomatsuba (青松葉山1,365m) is located in the northern section of the range. It takes 5h to complete the round trip and the best season is spring since in winter the road is completely covered in snow and in summer bushes are too bulky to pass through.
  • Mt. Rokkoushi (六角牛山1,293m) is located in Tono City on the east side of the Tono Basin. Together with Mt. Hayachine and Mt. Ishigami, it is considered a holy mountain for adulthood rite of passages. Its shape is quite elegant and for this reason, it is popularly called 'The Small Fuji in Tono'. The name 'Rokkoushi' means 'an ox with six horns' but sometimes it is written as “six god stones” and there are many stories and legends connected to it. One says that six people from the imperial family once lived on this mountain. The Rokkoushi Shrine lies on the summit, which is reachable through three major trails: Nukamae trail, Nakazawa trail, and Kuretsubo trail. Nukamae trail is the most popular. It starts from the right side of the shrine and proceeds for 3km to a pass where there is also a parking lot. The trail is divided into 9 stages and becomes steep after the 6th. Regarding the other trails, Kuretsubo trail starts from Rokkoushi Shrine in Ominai area and ends in Seuchi area. Nakazawa trail is the least crowded, but it is also easier to get lost on its slopes due to the wild dense vegetation.
  • Mount Rokkoushi

  • Mt. Himekami (姫神山 1,124m) is located just 40mim from Morioka. Not only it gave its name to a popular new-age band called Himekami, but it is also the main character of a folktale. It is said she was Mt. Iwate's wife, but fell in love with Mt. Hayachine. Mt. Iwate ordered Mt. Okurisen to send her away, but Mt. Okurisen loved her so much that he could not do it. When Mt. Iwate found out, he cut Mt. Okurisen's head. The head Mt. Iwate cut off became Mt. Kurakake, which now lies at Mt. Iwate’s feet. Despite this drama, Mt. Himekami still offers the best panorama of the northern section of the range and the summit is reachable in only 2h. From the parking lot, the path is well-trodden and easy to follow. You can take this trail on your way back down as well, but there is also another trail called the Kowazaka route that will take you back to where you started. However, it involves a long walk along a forest road to get back to the parking lot. Alternatively, one can take the Shironai trail - a longer, less popular approach located on the southwest side of the peak.
  • Mount Hayachine

  • Mt. Sakainokami (堺ノ神山1,318m) is a peak with an impressive shape that stands out of the surrounding landscape. Two trails go up this mountain: one is located on the south side and starts in Niisato village, while the other is in Iwaizumi village, on the north side. Both trails get linked on the mountaintop just in front of a Shinto shrine. These trails have the perk to be feasible in winter as well, but unfortunately, the view of the area around is not as rewarding as imagined. The southern trail is the most challenging, full of ups and downs, but the ascent is mitigated but the presence of a paved road. The round trip takes about 3h, but the ascent is shorter than it seems and it takes more strength to reach the trailhead from the parking lot since it is not directly accessible by car. Being located not far from Mt. Tobetsu and Mt. Akkamori, hikers can climb the three peaks on the same day, but they have to move by car to reach each peak since there is no direct way to connect them.

Major Cities and Facilities

If you are travelling by plane, JAL flights to Iwate Hanamaki airport are available from Sapporo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoko. Travellers who have chosen train as their means of transport can reach the area leaving from Tokyo, getting on Tohoku Shinkansen to Shin Hanamaki station or Kitakami station. Tohoku Expressway or Tohoku Odan Akita Expressway may be used to move from other prefectures nearby. The southern part of the range is also crossed by two major railways running from the Pacific coast and connecting to the main railway lines in the Kitakami River valley.

Between the big cities and the isolated mountainous areas, there are many facilities offering outdoor experience. Just to give two examples, in Kuzumaki Town there is a ranch where visitors can take care of the animals, milk cows or make ice cream. For a more adventurous experience, the village of Ichinoseki hosts the 2km Geibikei Gorge, formed by the Satetsu River and surrounded by cliffs of over 50 meters. It is famous for its 90min round-trip boat ride, with a great view of waterfalls, impressive rocks and a limestone cave.

Major Cities

  • Ishinomaki is a large port city east of Sendai and the hometown of prominent manga artist Ishinomori Shotaro, the creator of the influential Cyborg 009 and Kamen Rider manga. The city survived a devastating tsunami in 2011, now there are plans to open a memorial park in 2021 in the coastal district that suffered most losses. From Hiyoriyama Park, located on a hilltop near the city centre, visitors can look out over the affected waterfront districts. Speaking of the waterfront, there is the Sant Juan Bautista - a replica of the Japan-built, Spanish style galleon that embarked on a diplomatic mission across the Pacific Ocean during the Edo Period. Visitors can see a museum dedicated to the ship and the voyage and board a life-size replica of the Sant Juan Bautista itself.
  • Ishinomaki

  • Hanamaki
  • Ichinoseki is not very big, but still worth a visit for its Genbikei (厳美渓, Gorge of Harsh Beauty), a gorge which has white water rushing over rocks, a few waterfalls, hot spring hotels, and Dango which is made in a shop across the river and sent to customers via an overhead cable. During the cherry blossom season in early spring, Tsuriyama (釣り山), a large hill on almost a straight path west of the station, offers an astounding panorama of the blooming trees.
  • Oushuushi
  • Morioka
  • Ninohe
  • Rikuzentakatashi
  • Ofunato
  • Kamaishi is a famous rugby town, hosting world rugby events, it is the birthplace of Japan's modern iron industry, Kamaishi has been producing iron ore since the late Edo Period and is the site of the country's first Western-style blast furnace which received world heritage status in 2015. It is now a cornerstone of the modern iron and steel industry in Japan.
  • Kunohe is more of a village than a town, but it is the heart of Mt. Oritsumedake, designated as one of Iwate Prefectural natural parks. Kunohe also has its own locally-run ski resort, open 24/7, day and night.
  • Tono is notable for its rustic landscapes and traditional farming culture. It is also best known as a repository of Japanese folklore due to its legends of spirits, animals and supernatural creatures. For example, figures of Kappa can be found all around the town. Kappa is one of the most widely known folk creatures of the region, a mystical water sprite that resembles a small, humanoid turtle and is believed to lurk around rivers, lakes and ponds. Kappa serve as a reminder of the dangers of water, as they are said to be fond of eating children and cucumbers, and also beloved ones.
  • Kuzumaki
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