Hiking Guide: Hiko-san

Hiko-san 英彦山 (1,200m)

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Hiko-san is one of Kyushu’s finest hikes and, located just an hours drive from Fukuoka, one of the best opportunities to challenge your legs with a slightly trickier day hike. During autumn, the colours of the turning leaves are simply stunning; vivid hues of red, gold and purple adding brilliance to the hike’s many panoramic view points. Hiko-san is notable also for its shrines which line the trail. The largest of these, Hohei-den 奉幣殿 (built in 1616), is the most majestic and can be enjoyed for its history and magnificent sloping roof. One of the more challenging hikes written for Fukuoka Now, Hiko-san is well worth climbing whatever the season.

Route Details:
Kane-no-torii 鐘の鳥居 > Hiko-san Summit > Kane-no-torii

Level: moderate to difficult (dependent on route chosen)
• Time: 5~6 hours
• Distance: 15km
• Peaks: Minami-dake 南岳 (1,200m), Naka-dake 中岳 (1,188m) Kita-Dake 北岳 (1,192m)
• When to hike: Autumn and spring have some of the best weather, but it is still accessible in winter and summer.

Facilities:
• Toilets: At Kane-no-torii and Naka-dake 中岳 Summit
• Signage: Adequate (in Japanese)
• Water: Some natural springs flow but it is best to bring a litre or two per person. Vending machines exist at Hohei-den.
• Other: Map boards exist at Hohei-den shrine and in the picnic area/map board at Onisugi.

Access:
• Car: Hiko-san is an hour and a half drive from Fukuoka. A non-expressway, toll free route exists to the base of Hiko-san which takes you through several mountain passes and past a gorgeous lake. Several large car parks exist at Kane-no-torii (the start of the trail) which cater more to shrine goers than hikers (don’t be put off by the busyness of the car park).
• Train & Bus: Hiko-san Station lies on the JR Hita-Hiko-san line. From Hakata JR Station, journey time can be as little as 1h45 and prices start from just over ¥1,000 one way. Once you have arrived at Hiko-san Station, buses run (though infrequently) to Kane-no-torii. For the bus timetable, please visit this page https://www.town.soeda.fukuoka.jp/bus/

The Hike
From Kane-no-torii there are two options for ascending to the start of the trail. The recommended option is to walk the great stone staircase to Hohei-den, which can be found just to the left of the car park. This ancient staircase, lined by maple and camphor trees, passes under several torii gates and has been well-trodden and worn by centuries of pilgrims travelling to Hohei-den. In 2005, a small mono-rail was built that runs parallel to the staircase and will transport you to Hohei-den in just under 15 minutes.

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Take a moment at Hohei-den to absorb the scenery. The shrine was founded in 750 A.D., reconstructed in its present form in 1616 A.D. and is located on the fringes of a dense forest. Map boards (not to scale) will give you your bearings and some indication of the route ahead.

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Hohei-den

Just in front of the main shrine, a steep staircase runs upwards. This staircase continues to the Naka-dake (1,188m) summit and provides a shortcut if a quick descent is needed. However, only climb the steps to the first landing where there is an obelisk-like monument with a narrow trail behind and to the right of it.

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Take the path behind the monument

The trail traverses around the mountain for some time through a tranquil forest before climbing over two ridges. At the first junction you come to take the left hand path and follow this past a small stream and then over a ridge. Shortly after descending this ridge you will come across another shrine, Tamaya-jinja 玉屋神社, which is built into a sheer cliff that rises impressively over the shrine. A sacred spring lies next to the shrine, where water coalesces in small droplets that drip from the roof of a moss covered grotto.

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Tamaya-jinja

From the shrine there is a great viewpoint over the valley towards several other peaks. The path continues round from the shrine in an easterly direction into a forest populated by giant cedars. Follow the trail until you come to a junction next to a small temple lodging and take the left hand turn. A short climb to a ridge followed by a quick descent will lead you towards Onisugi. Duck under a fallen tree and continue following the path until you find yourself by a small river. Dead ahead of you lies Onisugi 鬼杉, a 1,200 year old cedar tree that presides over the rest of the forest. The path loops round Onisugi to several picnic benches and a map board.

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Onisugi

As you face the map board the path to the first summit (Minami-dake – 1,200m) lies behind you. Follow this path to where it splits. The left hand trail leads to Daiminami-jinja 大南神社 which, like Tamaya-jinja is built into the rock face behind it. A set of chains leads up the mountain to the right of the shrine, aiding the ascent. Follow this trail to the right and you will rejoin the main path to the summit.

The trail becomes steeper from here on, transforming from a solid path to loose stones and rocks. Several ridges must be climbed before truly starting the ascent to Minami-dake. The descents of these ridges are often steep and at least two sections require you to climb down using the ropes and chains provided.

Just short of the summit is a fantastic viewpoint and rest spot. The final leg up to the first summit requires some climbing though this is not too challenging and well worth it for the views at the top. While a dedicated viewing station exists to give full panoramic views from the top, it is currently inaccessible due to the staircase being broken. However, an altitude marker at the top has great potential for photos.

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View point just before Minami-dake

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Left to right: Graham, Alex, Oscar and Joseph at the summit of Minami-Dake

Naka-dake (1,188m) can be reached from Minami-dake via a steep descent followed by a short climb. The pass between them is lined with maple trees which make for quite a site when the leaves turn in autumn. On top of Naka-dake lies Jōgū, the counterpart of Hohei-den. To the left of the shrine you will notice the set of stairs mentioned at the beginning of this guide which lead directly down to Hohei-den and may be a welcome shortcut if the climb has taken its toll. Descending by these steps is by far the easiest route to the bottom and should be considered if the rope sections on the ascent were significantly challenging.

However, for those keen to complete the whole hike, follow the trail past the Jōgū to an area where you will find benches and one of the most pleasant toilets you’ll ever find at the top of a mountain. From here, a steep descent accompanied at points by chains and ropes leads to the final peak, Kita-dake (1,192m). Kita-dake is notable for its small shrine and the beech forest leading towards the peak.

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The turning leaves

From Kita-dake, the descent is steep and loose and much of it is made slippery by the slight trickle of a stream running close to the path. Several sections require fairly long rope or chain descents through narrow gullies. The path is poorly signposted from here so be careful to pay attention to the coloured ribbons tied about the trees.

As you near the bottom of the descent the path junctions once more though not obviously. A signpost exists in disrepair to mark the junction and it is positioned poorly. Pink ribbons suggest turning right at this junction but the correct path is to the left. To the right, and for those comfortable with both heights and steep chain climbs/descents lies an absolutely spectacular view.

*Right path detour, only for very experienced hikers*
Take the path to the right and you will traverse a narrow ridge around the mountain. You will quickly come across a very steep chain section which resembles climbing more than hiking. Take this to the top and take a sharp right (dead ahead is a steep drop). The path descends slightly and then traverses again. Eventually you will come to a steep stone wall with some footholds carved into it and a chain to help. The face is near vertical so make sure you are very comfortable with heights and the idea of descending before attempting it. At the top, a set of railings protects you from a sheer 200m drop to the forest floor below. The view stretching across the valley is stunning and the height will get the adrenaline flowing through even the most acrophilic hikers. We discovered this only by accident but it was one of the most impressive sights of the entire hike. Descend the way you came back to the signpost to rejoin the main path.

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Steep Climbs Ahead

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This doesn’t quite cover how steep the drop is

Left Path, Main Route
The left path will lead you to Takasumi-jinja 高住神社, the final shrine of the hike. Secluded in a forest, this shrine rivals both the majesty of Hohei-den and the beauty of Tamya-jinja. A bronze bull has been made golden by the touch of passersby and is supposed to possess healing powers, which may come in use after the tricky descent.

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Heal me O mighty healer!

A set of stairs, as ancient as those to Hohei-den, leads to the road. Follow the road left until you spot a paved trail running through the forest to the left of the road. The forest is home to Japanese Sika deer which you may spot if you are quiet. The trail runs through a camping ground which is bordered by a great field which, during the autumn, hosts cotton-like grasses.

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The great grass fields

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Crouching Tiger, Hiko-dragon

From here the path follows the road with some signposted shortcuts. Follow the signs to Kane-no-torii or to the Slope Car (スロープカー) to return to your car or to the bus stop.
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Oscar Boyd

Author: Oscar Boyd
Oscar is a student from London, UK. He is a keen hiker and aims to summit every mountain in Fukuoka visible from his bedroom window. If you have any suggestions contact him on Twitter @omhboyd

►Full Hiking Guide here

Originally hiked and written for Fukuoka Now in November 2014
NOTE: The information presented here was gathered and summarized by Fukuoka Now staff. While we have done our best to check for accuracy there is a possible of error and facility details may change. If you notice any errors or changes please contact us.

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