Mt. Shibutsu is a deceptively rocky peak separating Oze marsh and the rest of Gunma Prefecture. A fair number of hikers also make it the final peak of their Hyakumeizan endeavor, as the Chinese characters translate as “reaching Buddha”.
The hike: You’ve got 2 options for this one. You can either climb/descend to Hatomachi-toge or climb from Yama-no-hana (山ノ鼻) and descend to Hatomachi-toge. The trail from Yama-no-hana to the summit is for climbing only and is “closed” for people descending because of the rocks. I really have no idea why you’re not supposed to descend because it just adds to trail erosion to have so many people going up and down from Hatomachi-toge. Anyway, I strongly encourage breaking the rules and feigning inability to read the signs. Anyway, the trail from Hatomachi is well-marked and oh so trodden. It would be impossible to get lost even in the worst of weather. It’ll take about 90 minutes or so to reach the ridge line. The trail climbs steeply, flattens out a bit with lots of wooden planks to walk on, and then climbs up some more. You’ll pass by a water source at the base of a long set of wooden steps before too long. The map says that this water can become contaminated but I drank it unfiltered in September and lived to tell about it. Just past the water source the trail will flatten out once again and you’ll be faced with more wooden planks. While helping to alleviate trail erosion and protect endangered flora, the wooden planks become absolutely treacherous during wet weather, and I must’ve fallen a half a dozen times on the descent, so please take care. In a few minutes you’ll find a trail branching off on the left towards Mt. Kasa (笠ヶ岳), but just ignore it and continue climbing up. This is where you enter the rocky section, with lots of wooden steps and paint marks to help you find your way. It should take about a half hour to reach Ko-Shibutsu (小至仏山), which has awesome views of Oze and Mt. Hiuchi. Descend to a saddle and continue the steady climb through lots of rocks for about 45 minutes until reaching the summit. Take a break and admire the views, or take a quick photo and get out of there during nasty weather. The top is completely exposed – not the kind of place you want to be in a thunderstorm! From the top, you can either continue down the “closed” trail to Yama-no-hana, or retrace your steps all the way back to Hatomachi-toge, and then take the 1 hour “legal” wooden path down to Oze.
When to go: This hike can be done between mid-April and mid-November, when the road to Hatomachi-toge is open. If you don’t mind snowshoeing/skiing on the forest road from Togura then you can also try a winter ascent. Be prepared for a ton of snow even if you go during Golden Week. Click here to get an idea of how much.
Access: From Numata station (沼田駅) take a bus bound for Hatomachi-toge (鳩待峠). Please note that there are no direct buses, and that you must change to a shuttle bus at Togura (戸倉). The first bus leaves at 8:37am, but buses bound for Oshimizu (大清水) leave at 7:20 and 8:02, but make sure you get off at Togura so you can transfer. Please note that if you’ve got 4 people you can easily hire a taxi for exactly the same price as the bus! The taxi and bus are run by the same company, so you should really consider doing this because it will save you so much time. They may even give you the same price for only 3 people – usually they just turn off the meter when it hits the negotiated price. The bus costs a whopping 3100 yen per person, so you can see why the taxi drivers are eager for the cash. Click here for the schedule. Click on “路線バス” and then select “沼田”. Next, click on the schedule #12 that says “上毛高原”
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~800m).