Mt. Hiko (英彦山)
Hikosan is a sacred peak nestled on the border of Fukuoka and Oita Prefectures in northern Kyushu. Unlike its volcanic neighbors, the peak is known for old growth cedar trees, rustic shrines carved into cliffs, and an ambiance you’d expect to find in the hills of Kansai.
The hike: Please note that you can also start this hike from the back side of the mountain at Buzenbou, but you’ll miss out on the impressive shrine at the top of the slope car. From the bus stop, walk a few meters in front of the bus and on your right you’ll see a huge bronze shrine gate with the characters “英彦山” carved on the front. Follow this stepped-stone path all the way to the terminus. It should take about 20 minutes of steep climbing to reach the top of the stairs. Here you’ll find the immense, bark-roofed shrine of Hikosan-Jingu. On the stone path to the shrine you’ll find plenty of stone lanterns and a rather rustic thatched teahouse on your left. It all reminds me a bit of the scenery in Kyoto, somehow magically transformed to the hills of northern Kyushu. If you’re feeling really lazy, then you could just skip this first step and board the futuristic slope car up to the shrine, but it’ll set you back 500 yen. Anyway, once at the shrine, you’ll find a path leading towards Nakadake (中岳) just in front of you. The path is very well worn and it’s just about impossible to get lost. You’ll start by meandering through the forest via a series of switchbacks until reaching Chuuguu shrine (中宮). After this, the path starts to flatten out a bit, and it really starts to open up just before Musubi shrine (産霊神社). Here you’ll once again start following the stone steps through a grassy area with lots of dead trees. At the top of the stairs you’ll reach the summit of Nakadake (中岳), where you’ll find a large, weather-beaten shrine building. Take a quick break here and admire the views down the valley. There’s a junction here, so turn left if you want to climb to Kita-dake and descend to the bus stop at Buzenbou. Otherwise, turn right and drop steeply to a saddle before climbing up to Minami-dake (南岳), Hikosan’s highest point. There’s not much of a view here, unless you climb the rusty metal lookout tower that is officially off-limits. I wouldn’t trust that thing with my weight and I really wish the prefecture would spend some money to remove that thing. Make sure you rest the knees here, as things are about to become a bit tricky. If you’ve got vertigo, then definitely skip this next section and retrace your steps back to the shrine. The path drops steeply off of Minami-dake’s rocky face. There are plenty of metal chains to help you through the gnarly sections, but this is definitely not a place you’d want to fall. Take your time and definitely make sure you go down the chains backwards, as it’ll help you with balance. Luckily the chain section is relatively short, and you’ll find yourself back in the forest soon enough. Now, at your first junction you’ve got a decision to make. If you take the path to the left through the downed trees, then you’ll reach an 1200-year old cedar tree. If you ignore this path and continue straight and take your first left, then you’ll reach Daiminami Shrine (大南神社). From the shrine you can take a path down to the cedar tree. I must admit that I took the initial left and ended up missing Daiminami Shrine completely. It helps to have a detailed map in this place. Anyway, the name of the tree is called Onisugi (鬼杉) and it’s a sight to behold. Just to the left of the tree you’ll find a large rock outcrop, and this is the path you want to take. Don’t take the trail leading away from the tree towards the south or you’ll end up on a forest road. The path skirts the edge of the rock cliff before climbing up towards Tamaya shine (玉屋神社). Just before the shrine, you’ll find an unmarked junction. Turn right and you’ll climb a set of stone stairs to the front of the shrine. If you’re staying at Shakunage-sou (しゃくなげ荘), then take this unmarked path down to the forest road and turn right for the easy walk to the lodge. Shakunage-sou is highly recommended, with spacious rooms, tasty meals, and a wonderful hot spring bath. If you’re just visiting Hikosan for the day, then continue to Tamaya shrine and take the path passing in front of the building. This route will take you all the way back to Houheiden (奉幣殿) at the top of the slope car. All in all, it should take about 4-1/2 hours to complete the entire loop.
When to go: This hike can be done year round, but you’ll need to be prepared for ice and snow during the winter months. The autumn foliage is spectacular, but so are the crowds.
Access: From Kokura (小倉) station, take a train on the JR Hitahikosan Line and get off at Hikosan (彦山) station. From there, change to a bus bound for Buzenbou (豊前坊) and get off at Kane-no-torii (銅の鳥居). The front of the bus usually just says Hikosan (英彦山) and it’s usually timed to meet up with the infrequent trains. Click here for the bus schedule.
Live web cam: Click here
Level of difficulty: 4 out of 5 (elevation change 570m)