22nd February 2021
An abandoned mountain top stone quarry, a giant buddha carved into the mountain side, a temple precinct, a view of hell, and 1500 Arhat statues. Does it sound like these things should all be in the one place? Absolutely not. But, at Chiba’s Mount Nokogiri (Nokogiriyama), they are. This is an absolute treasure of a place yet we would definitely consider it a hidden gem. Although many Japanese people visit Nokogiriyama all the time, a large percentage of the population doesn’t even know it exists. Therefore, neither do the tourists. Add the fact that it’s a little difficult to get to via public transport and you have an amazing, scenic, and quiet getaway from the city.
Getting to the trailhead
Located in Chiba prefecture, just east of Tokyo, Nokogiriyama is located in a rather secluded spot, just off a small bayside fishing village in Kanaya. By car, it’s about 2 hours from Tokyo but because we wanted to get out for longer than a day, we pulled up in a hotel in Kimitsu for a night to escape the city. Because we have Japanese licenses, it was easy to hire a car for the 2 days which meant we could wake up the next morning and drive straight to the village to start our hike.
One thing to note about parking is there are no big, easy to spot car parks, except for the one at the ropeway station. There is the option to take the ropeway up the mountain which is a good option because there’s plenty of walking and stairs to do at the top! But, if you want to park near the start of the hiking trail like we did, you’ll find a few spots that basically look like a house block that hasn’t been built on yet with a little ‘500yen’ honesty box to pay for parking. If you want one of these parks near the start though, it’s a good idea to get there early as there aren’t many!
To start the hike, you can easily find your way on google maps but you’ll most likely be able to follow the other people you see walking up the road in their extreme hiking gear (Japanese people are always wearing extreme hiking gear that makes you question how intense the hike is going to be). At the very start is a shrine and torii gate so if you find that, you’re in the right place! From there, you follow the signs up, up, and up the road. At the first intersection, you’ll see a big sign that shows you the two routes you can take up the mountain. We chose the Sharikimichi route as there is more to see and apparently, less stairs (yay!). A few hundred meters up the road on the Sharikimichi route, you’ll come across some really cool caves. We’ve tried our best to research and find out what they are but still have no idea. The first was shoe-deep with water so there was no getting in there. And the third’s entrance was blocked by shrubs and fallen rocks. But, the second cave was dry and fully open to climb inside and take a look around. There wasn’t much in there but it did go a little way back and therefore was VERY dark inside with some critters that I don’t think have been discovered yet. But, we got to live our best Indiana Jones life for a few minutes and found some old drums and bottles inside.
Highlights of the Sharikimichi Route
The next intersection you get to, again is very well signed, and will finally take you off the road and onto a hiking trail. This will take you past some key historical spots that were part of the old stone quarry. This includes the bottom of the old industrial cable car (known as ‘Sakudo’), some old quarry stones that show their size and weight, and heaps of information in English (woo!) about the actual quarry and the amazing women who actually moved the stone from the quarry, down to the ships in wheelbarrows. These women were called Shariki and had the job of carry the stones, up to 180kg at a time, down a stone path to the ships, and then walking back up to do it all over again. What incredible women! We were fortunate enough to take this very path to the top of the mountain and gained so much respect for these women.
Depleted Stone Quarry ‘Erabor’
After no time at all, we were surprised by the sudden appearance of a massive corridor of stone walls, also known as Kiridoshi. Kiridoshi are large pathways carved into rock walls to ensure the stone can be transported to the ramps that lead down the mountain. These ramps, known as ‘Toi Michi’ are used to, basically, slide the stones down the mountain. There were stairs built alongside the Toi Michi for workers to use when they controlled the speed of the stone. The massive Kiridoshi were like something you would see in a movie. Low and behold, we were able to wander through them and see some remnants of the old stone quarry. Walking a little further, we literally stopped in our tracks and our breath was taken away. Reaching into the sky, a massive 95m wide cliff-face appeared before us, the largest remnant of the depleted stone quarry. We immediately felt so small, like we were staring at the very gates of Erabor (if you’ve seen the Hobbit, you know). It’s hard to tell how far into the mountain the quarry actually went but there were levels upon levels of it carved into the mountainside. Throughout the day, we came across smaller quarry entrances along the walking trails.
The summit of 2 peaks
When we were able to get over the pure awe of the quarry, we finally ascended to one of the peaks which gave us a beautiful view of Tokyo harbour on one side, and the beaches of the nearby villages on the other side. After a quick look around, we decided to hike to the summit of Nokogiriyama which was about a 1km round trip. It was a great workout for the legs and a good accomplishment but there is nothing really at the summit and lacks a significant view due to the shrubbery. But, we’re still very glad we can say we officially climbed to the top and of course, got the obligatory summit photo! After returning to the original peak, we trekked in search of all the touristy places our map said there was but unfortunately, our map wasn’t very helpful. We took a trail headed in that direction and got to the end of it…there was a rope stopping us…at the END of the trail!! We could see the main path literally 20m away from us with all the ropeway-people peacefully walking up and down. We were not about to turn around and go back up all the stairs and hills we had just climbed down so after a quick jump of the pretty bad excuse for a rope, we shocked some Japanese people by emerging from the bushes. But we found our way back on track.
View of Hell
From there on, it was all concrete paths and steps and LOTS OF PEOPLE. We’d finally reached the ‘touristy’ part of the mountain where all of the people who took the ropeway can go. But, it was worth it because we got to see 地獄覗き ( (View of Hell) lookout which is probably the thing Mount Nokogiri is most famous for. If you google Mt Nokogiri, a picture of a jagged overhang of rock will most likely be one of the first things you see. But, to get a picture at the special and iconic spot, you need to line up with everyone else. People were probably lining up for an hour or so to get this picture. We weren’t that desperate and were very happy to simply admire it and look at the view. But, it is a very special spot and a real eye opener that we definitely recommend taking the time to see!
A giant buddha and 1500 statues
After the necessary ‘gram’ shots at the View of Hell, we made our way past the hundreds of Arhat statues carved from mountain stone lining the pathway and the hundreds of stairs that led to the Giant Buddha. Majority of these Arhat statues were beheaded due to the anti-Buddhist movement in the 1800s. Originally, each statue had a unique face, shape and size. It was absolutely incredible to see all these stone-statues lining the paths and leading us to one of the largest statues in Japan, the Daibutsu.
This is our second Giant Buddha (Daibutsu) encounter since being in Japan, the other is the famous Kamakura Daibutsu. However, the Mount Nokogiri Daibutsu is a lot larger, standing 31m tall and is the largest stone-carved Buddha figure in Japan. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? It WAS amazing! There was also a small moat around this statue which discourages people from getting close to the Buddha. But to see a statue of these proportions standing in front of you, carved from the side of a mountain was a real eye opener. Many people had chosen this spot to have a rest and some lunch at the picnic tables so we kept moving down to the temple. Unfortunately, due to coronavirus or renovations we don’t know, the temples were closed. So it was simply a matter of admiring them from a distance and having a walk around. After having a wander around, it was time to head back up all the stairs we just came down, to get to the ropeway, which we decided to take back down.
Step aside mochi, there’s a new sweet in town
Lucky we did decide to take the ropeway back down because at the station, we found a little restaurant for lunch and made the most amazing discovery at a small food stall…Sakura dango with Anko jam! To translate, that’s cherry-blossom flavoured Japanese dumpling covered with red bean paste jam. Sounds kind of gross I’ll admit but it was quite the opposite. We think we’ve discovered Japan’s best sweet.
After making it down the mountain on the ropeway and looking at the beautiful scenery below, it was time to find the car and hightail it back to Tokyo before the traffic hit. Our first hike in 2021 turned out to be incredible which honestly, we didn’t expect! There was only limited information we could find on the hike and although it mentioned some of the attractions that were there, we had no idea just how much our minds would be absolutely blown!
Sadly, we missed one big site, the Hyakushaku Kannon statue. This incredible 30m high statue was carved straight into the rockface in remembrance for those who lost their lives in World War II. It can be a bit of a maze to get around the numerous paths on the mountain so we recommend doing some solid research before you go so you don’t miss any of these wonders! We 100% recommend Nokogiriyama as a hike and a tourist trip as it has so much to offer. If you’re an avid hiker, you can also continue hiking through to surrounding mountains in the area and complete an entire day of hiking. If hiking on the weekend, we do suggest arriving as early as possible because it does get busy in the afternoon when the ropeway starts and the tourists start arriving.