Mt. Sanage (猿投山)
Located on the outskirts of Toyota city in Aichi Prefecture, Mt. Sanage is the local outdoor playground for Nagoya hikers, walkers, and trail runners. The peak features ancient temple buildings and fantastic views of the Minami Alps, The Chuo Alps, Mt. Ena, and Hakusan on clear days.
The hike: After checking out the shrine, walk up the narrow paved road to the right of the shrine. After 200 meters you’ll see a parking lot on your left, which is designated for hikers who drove. The mountain has no shortage of walkers, and you’ll be sharing the trail with half of Nagoya if coming on a busy holiday weekend. The official trailhead starts at Gomon-sugi (御門杉), which is a 30-minute slog on the boring paved road. I recommend taking another path that is unmarked on the hiking maps. It can be a difficult to find, but keep your eyes peeled on the left side of the road and you’ll see a faint trail with a small wooden signpost with a red arrow painted on it. If you reach the watermill then you’ve gone too far. This path climbs steeply for 5 minutes before reaching a rolling ridge that runs parallel to Mt. Sanage. Even on weekends, very few people use this path, and it’s a great start to the hike through a beautiful hardwood forest. You’ll reach a junction in about 30 minutes or so. Turn right at the junction (there appears to be a trail that runs directly from Sanage shrine to this point, but I can’t confirm for sure). Anyway, you’ll now start a long climb towards the summit of Mt. Sanage. There are signposts pointing to 山頂 or for 東宮. As long as you follow those you’ll be ok. You’ll soon reach a junction with a signpost pointed for Shiro-ga-mine (城ヶ峰山頂). Drop your pack here and turn left for the steep 2-minute climb to the summit, where there’s a fantastic view of Nagoya city and the Suzuka mountains. After admiring the views, retrace your steps and continue the gentle ascent on the ridge. The views will open up every now and again through the trees. Your next landmark will be a paved forest road, which the trail cuts a path directly across (via a steep descent and climb up the other side). Shortly thereafter, you’ll reach a junction where the main trail coming up from Gomon-sugi on your right will join the main path. Here the crowds will increase tenfold. From here the path is marked as Tokai Shizen Hodo (東海自然歩道). The route is incredibly easy to follow and virtually impossible to get lost. Continue climbing on the wide path towards 東宮, following the signs and the crowds. In a couple of minutes you’ll see a steep spur trail on your right which climbs to an observation point. This is definitely worth the detour for the view of the Minami Alps in good weather. The trail meets up with the main trail after passing by the lookout point. If you want to save a bit of energy then you can simply ignore the spur until it reconnects with the main trail and then backtrack (the lookout point is closer here). You could always hit it on the way back, since you’ve got to take this trail again anyway. After 10 minutes or so, you’ll see a trail on your left, but ignore this and keep following the signs to 東宮. The route will once again arrive at a paved forest road, where you’ll likely to find a few cars parked from very lazy hikers. Enter the stone shrine gate on the other side of the road and continue climbing towards 東宮, which should take about 15 minutes to reach. This is a great place to take a break among the giant cryptomeria trees. From here, the path continues on the ridge for about 20 minutes to the true summit of Mt. Sanage, where you’ll have an amazing view of the Chuo Alps, Mt. Ena, Ontake, and Hakusan if you’re lucky. Most people simply backtrack after reaching the summit, but I recommend continuing on the Tokai Shizen Hodo and looping back to the shrine. To do this, simply continue on the ridge in front of you, following the signs for 雲興寺. After 30 minutes or so, the path will descend to a mountain pass marked at Aka-saru touge (赤猿峠). Instead of continuing to 雲興寺, look for the path that hooks left. There used to be a signpost here but it’s gone. The trail follows a gentle stream before reaching a dirt forest road with incredible erosion problems due to the influx of 4WD ATV and dirt bikes. Turn left when you reach the road and follow it until you reach a paved road. Again turn left, climbing up for about 15 minutes until reaching the west shrine entrance (西宮). The shrine itself is a very steep 1o-minute climb up some stone stairs. It’s mildly interesting but definitely not a ‘must-see’. Only take the detour if you have the energy. Otherwise, continue climbing on the paved road for a few minutes until reaching a trail on your left. Take this trail and it will connect back with the Tokai Shizen Hodo. Turn right when you reach the main trail and descend back to the junction you saw earlier in the hike (near the lookout point). Turn left when you reach the sign that says 猿投神社 2.8km 55分. The path is easy to follow and descends via some wooden log stairs before passing through a small rest shelter. After this it’ll spit you out at Gomon-sugi. Turn right here and follow the road back to Sanage shrine, being sure not to miss the last bus into town. Hitchhiking is definitely a possibility if you make new friends on the mountain. Most people drive here, so I’m sure they’ll be happy to give you a ride to Toyota station if you explain you came by bus!
When to go: This hike can be done year round, but bring some simple 4-point crampons if going in the winter. The best time to view the Japan Alps are in the late spring and in autumn, when the air quality is good.
Access: From Nagoya station, take a train on the Meitetsu line and get off at Toyota-shi (豊田市) station. You’ll need to change trains at Chiryu station to the Meitetsu-Mikawa line. Alternatively, you can take the subway to Akaike station and change to the Meitetsu line there. From Toyota-shi station, take a bus from Bus Stop #5 bound for Fujioka Shisho (藤岡支所) and get off at Sanage Jinja Mae (猿投神社前). Click here for the schedule.
Map: Click here
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change ~500 meters)
Distance: 10km (4 to 6 hours)