Mt. Myogi 妙義山

by Daniel Simmons

There is no shortage of Top 3 rankings in Japan. Most Japanese and long-term expats can easily call to mind the Three Most Beautiful Views (Sankei, 三景); the Three Most Beautiful Landscape Gardens (Sanmeien, 三名園); and the Three Most Famous Hot Springs (Sanmeisen, 三名泉), among others. The compulsion to bestow Top 3 rankings extends even to areas outside of Japan, as the Three Most Disappointing Sightseeing Spots Outside of Japan testifies. (For the record, these are the Merlion statue in Singapore, the pissing boy statue in Brussels, and the Little Mermaid statue lounging in Copenhagen harbor.)

Lovely Mt. Myogi (1104m), in western Gunma prefecture, enjoys a place on two such Top 3 lists: it is one of the Three Famous Mountains in Gunma (上毛三山), and also one of Japan’s Three Most Beautiful Spots of Rugged Beauty (日本三大奇勝). For all that, it is virtually unknown outside of people living in its shadow, and so it is also, in our estimation, one of the country’s Top Three Top Off-the-Beaten Track Destinations.

Mt. Myogi is a classical landscape painting come to life, presenting a sawtoothed skyline of vertiginous peaks. Mornings often find the mountainside blanketed with clouds, with stone pinnacles stretching skyward out of the mists. On either end of the mountain is a shrine; the one further east was founded in 537 and is especially charming, with a 200-year-old cherry tree that blooms spectacularly in the spring. In the autumn, Myogi’s slopes are awash with gorgeously tinted maples, their branches shuddering under the weight of noisy macaques.

The best way of taking in the scenery, of course, is by hiking. There are a variety of trails on Myogi that allow for exploration, and hikers can start from either shrine. The most exciting of the trails is also the most challenging; it follows the ridgeline from peak to peak and requires a bit of upper-body strength to pull yourself up and down steep precipices via metal chains. This trail, which is totally exposed for long stretches, can be heart-in-your-mouth scary due to the sheer drops on either side of you. You may have to lower yourself precariously over the edge of precipices to advance to the next section of the trail, sometimes with nothing but your hands on bare rock to help you. For this reason we heartily recommend bringing good shoes, a helmet, a rope, and a friend (or two). Do not hike in rainy weather.

For visitors less interested in risking their lives, there are plenty of lower-altitude trails that require only average fitness, many of them with stone steps that lead partway up the mountain. The course along Nakanodake takes hikers through four rock arches and arresting, odd-shaped stone formations like Cannon Rock (Taiho-iwa), Brush-head Rock (Fudegashira-iwa), and Swinging Rock (Yurugi-iwa) en route.

Leaves in the upper reaches of the mountain typically change color from late October to early November; leaf-peepers on the lower trails will be most rewarded in early to mid-November. Hikes on any of these trails will take between 3.5 and 6 hours, depending on your fitness level and pace. Our advice: start early and leave yourself time for a bath at the local hot spring complex (Momiji-no-yu), located within easy walking distance from either trailhead. It’s open from 10am-8pm until the end of November and a bath costs ¥500.

Getting there:

Public transportation to the Myogi trailhead and visitor center is nonexistent (we did say this was off the beaten track!), so you’re better off driving yourself. That said, the nearest train station is Matsuida, on the JR Shin-etsu line (travel time from Takasaki is about 23 minutes), and from the station it’s possible to call a taxi to take you the final 10-15 minutes up a winding road to one of the two shrines that bookend the hiking trails.









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