Mt. Kaimon (開聞岳）
Mt. Kaimon is a perfectly conical dormant volcano rising straight from the sea on the southern point of Kagoshima prefecture, and features a unique trail devoid of a single switchback.
The hike: From the trailhead, follow the trail straight through a somewhat dense forest. The trail is well trodden and there’s only one way to the top, so it’s pretty difficult to get lost. You should reach the 5th stage (五合目) in about 30 to 45 minutes. From here the fun begins, as the trail follows the contour of the mountain in a full circle, without ever doing any switchbacks. There’s no other trail like it in Japan. You will have wonderful views of the surrounding coastline and the crystal clear waters. The trail is quite rocky, so make sure to wear a sturdy pair of shoes. Continue winding your way around the mountain for about 90 mintues or so until the exposed, rocky summit comes into view. In wet weather this final section can be very slippery, so take care. Once on the top, enjoy the amazing panoramic view. On a clear day you can see all the way to Yakushima! After a well deserved break, head back the way you came, and watch out for the crowds if you got an early start.
When to go: You can pretty much do this hike all year round, although it may be a little icy on top during the winter, so bring a light pair of crampons just in case.
Access: From Kagoshima station, take either a local or kaisoku train on the JR line to Yamakawa (山川)station. From there you can transfer to the IbusukiMakurazaki Line (指宿枕崎線) to Kaimon Station (開門駅). Be warned that trains are NOT frequent, so it might be better to either fork out 3000 yen for the 20 minute taxi ride or try your luck hitching. If you’re taking the train, the trailhead is a 30 minute walk due south of the station (just walk toward the towering peak in front of you).
Level of difficulty: 2 out of 5 (elevation change: 764m)