Hike to the Source of the Shinano River

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Discover the source of the longest and largest river in Japan as you hike through the magical forest of Mt. Kobushi in the heart of the Honshu Alps.

A trickle that springs forth from the deepest bowels of Mt Kobushi winds down the string of rocky shelves and slabs to eventually become what is the longest and largest river in Japan. 367km (228mi) long, Shinano River is the lifeblood of Central Honshu (the biggest of Japanese islands) and its unique ecosystem is home to nearly 1130 kinds of plants, 55 kinds of fish and over 130 kinds of birds - from colourful and vocal starlings to cheeky hokekyos. For centuries, the river has been an important inland waterway and sites dating back to 3500BC have been excavated along its course.

The mountain presents us with a choice of 2 trails - the longer Nishizawakeikoku trail and the shorter Moukidaira trail which this guide will focus on. The hike starts from the spacious Moukidaira car park (bathrooms available) and winds its way up along a well-marked route with red ribbons tied around the trees. Once you leave your car, the omnipresent signage will make it very obvious as to where the trail starts. 

At the first junction carry on straight without turning left and follow the path through the forest, keeping an eye on skittish deer, majestic Japanese Serow and curious ducks which can be seen by the water. Thanks to its proximity to Tokyo, beautiful setting and accessibility, the walk is quite a popular one so expect to see other hikers on the trail. Considering the high annual traffic, the path is very well maintained and the hike itself doesn’t present any major dangers but be careful as the rocks along the river bank can be extremely slippery!

It is customary to have a sip of water from the source and a little metal mug on a chain is attached near the spot where the stream surfaces although given the number of tourists drinking from it every day you might want to consider using your own water bottle or a cup. Once you’ve reached the river source, the summit of Mt Kobushi (one of the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains) will be within 30 minutes’ walk and for this be prepared to hike up a short but slightly steeper section where dense forest gives way to the scree-covered summit from where, on a clear day, you get a stunning view of Mt Fuji! Sadly (or not), when I was there, the view was obscured by a blanket of thick milky cloud but that created a magical, out-of-this-world atmosphere all its own.

Obviously, nothing stands in the way of linking the two trails up to create an unforgettable hiking experience with an overnight stay at Kobushigoya (Kobushi Mountain Hut) and some late night stargazing with your friends or a loved one. Tanken shitsudukeru, friend.

  • Distance from Tokyo: 201km (125mi)
  • Total Distance: 6km (3.7mi)
  • Altitude Gain: 2475m (8120ft)
  • Time: 3.30h
  • Terrain: Easy (well defined path)
  • Navigation: Easy (clearly marked route)
  • Accessibility: Good (car park at the trailhead)

Pack List

  • Map & Compass
  • Suitable Clothing
  • Walking Boots
  • Food & Drink
  • First Aid Kit
  • Phone & Camera
  • Crampons & Ice Axe (if hiking in winter conditions)
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How to Get There

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Added by Jakub Konieczynski

To create a global network of like-minded artists, athletes and adventurers focused on using their outreach to help communities and individuals live better lives, discover their potential and make a positive change on the planet while creating unforgettable memories.

Activities:

Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

Skill Level:

Intermediate

Season:

Year Round

Trail Type:

Out-and-Back

Distance:

3.7 Miles

Elev. Gain:

8120.1 Feet

Features:

Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Forest
Groups
River
Romantic
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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