Rather than viewing Hachimantai as a mountain, think of it as a series of rolling marshlands, with excellent views out to its volcanic neighbor, Mt. Iwate. Avoid the weekends if you want to escape the crowds.
The hike: From the bus stop, follow the trail up to the summit of Mt. Chausu, which has excellent views across the valley to Mt. Iwate and over to Mt. Chokai on a clear day. The 200m vertical ascent should take about 20 minutes or so. There’s a hut near the summit which I think is free to stay in. Continue on the main trail towards Kuroyachi Shitsugen (黒谷地湿原), a wonderful marshland area. The trail is relatively flat and very easy to follow. You’ll reach a trail junction, with a trail branching off to the left. Ignore this trail because it leads back down to the road. If you’re in need of drinking water however, walk a short distance on this trail and you’ll find 熊の泉, the bear’s spring. Anyway, keep traversing west towards the summit of Hachimantai, and you’ll reach another trail junction marked 安比岳分岐 (Appidake-bunki). The trail to the right leads to the summit of Mt. Appi, which will take about a half an hour to reach. You can actually take this trail, soak at Appi hot spring, and return to Mt. Chausu by turning right at the only trail junction you find. This would make for an interesting detour if you’re staying at Chausu hut. Otherwise, just ignore this trail and head towards 源太森 (Genta-mori), which has nice views over the marshlands. Stay on the same path, and a little further along you’ll come across yet another trail junction. You can actually go either way. but I recommend staying straight, on the northern edge of the lake until reaching Ryoun Hut (陵雲荘). This is another mountain hut which I also think is free to stay in (most people just use Hachimantai as a day hike area except in the winter when they stay in the huts). Soon after passing the hut you’ll find yet another trail junction (Hachimantai does not have a lack of hiking options!) Stay to the right for the easy stroll up to the summit. This is the only mountain in Japan that has a wooden viewing platform built right on top of the summit – otherwise you’d have no views! From the top, turn left and follow the paved path past a couple of small lakes until reaching the massive parking lot. Enjoy some curry and rice in the huge rest house while waiting for the bus back to Morioka. Alternatively, you can easily hitchhike back to the city on the road.
When to go: This hike can be done from Golden Week to early November, when the road to the summit is open. Alternatively, a winter snowshoe trek is also possible via Hachimantai Ski Resort. A trail leads off towards Mt. Chausu from the top of the final chairlift.
Access: From bus stop #3 of the east exit of Morioka (盛岡) station, take a bus bound for Hachimantai (八幡平) and get off at Chausuguchi (茶臼口). As of 2011, there are 3 buses a day, running from Golden Week until the beginning of November. Click here for the schedule.
Map: Click here
Level of difficulty: 1 out of 5 (elevation change ~250m).