For those amongst us who are constantly dazzled by the bright neon glow of downtown Tokyo, the picturesque town Okutama provides a much needed oasis.
Although technically under the jurisdiction of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Authority, this rural district forms part of the impressive Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park; an area famous for its beautiful mountain valleys, river gorges and lush forests.
Unsurprisingly, this environment provides the perfect setting for enjoying many leisure activities including fishing, camping and hiking along some of the many great walking courses on offer. As with all good things in life, too much choice can often be confusing, something which Okutama is certainly guilty of.
The excellent Ootama Walking Course should feature high on anyone’s itinerary. Boasting the famous Hatonous Ravine and Kazuma Gorge, this easy 8 kilometer walk follows the Tama River upstream from Kori Station, passing through many picturesque forests and canyons before entering the heart of Okutama Town. Although the views are impressive anytime of the year, the colorful autumn foliage adds even more beauty and vibrancy to the landscape.
Situated several stops short of the Okutama Terminus, Kori Station provides a convenient starting point for this hike. From Shinjuku Station it`s about a 100 minute commute on the JR Chuo and Ome Line, requiring a transfer at Tachikawa and/or Ome Station. Single fares cost around 1,100 Yen.
As you depart the station through the main entrance make sure you pick up two course maps from the ticket counter. Although written in Japanese they are very usual for finding the start of the course!
Once outside the station, cross over to the convenience store and turn right, following the main road until you see the signs for Suniwa Bridge (寸庭橋). When crossing this bridge, a large sign on the right will point down to a staircase which is the start of the hike.
This narrow trail leads into a forest and passes several small rivers and a picturesque waterfall known as Kami-no-Mizu before ascending up to a rest-hut where you can see some fine views of the landscape below.
Situated next to this hut is a paved road leading down to Unzen Bridge (雲仙橋), which crosses over the river and continues on to Hatonosu Station (鳩ノ巣駅).
Before reaching this station, you will come across a main road running parallel to the river. At this point, turn left and now follow the signs for Hatonosu Bridge (鳩ノ巣橋).
Even before reaching this bridge, the path leading down to its entrance will provide a sneak preview of what`s in store - Hatonosu Ravine!
Standing proudly at over 40 meters high, Hatonosu Ravine is unarguably one of Okutama`s star attractions where, from the middle of the suspension bridge, you can gaze in wonder at the mighty Tama River rushing by below you.
These impressive views continue all the way up to Shinomaru Dam as the trail now passes along the actual riverbank. At certain points, you will have to climb over several large boulders as you pass from one ravine onto the next. Don’t forget to look back occasionally at the bridge which looks equally impressive when viewed from afar.
Before long you will reach Shinomaru Dam. Annoyingly, the trail leading directly onto Kazuma Gorge was closed for maintenance on this occasion. However, this problem can easily be overcome by crossing over the dam and walking along the main road where you can rejoin the trail further up river near Shinomaru Station.
Close to Shinomaru Station you will see many signs pointing to ‘Kazumakyo’ (Kazuma Gorge). This final part of the walk provides some of the best views of the Tama River with its autumn foliage.
Although this route follows a main road, an easy and very worthwhile diversion can be made by descending down to the well posted Moueki Suspension Bridge (もうえき橋), from where you can get some great views over the river.
From the center of this bridge you can see Okutama Station in the valley above whilst towards the bottom of the river bank on the left you will notice a large clearing with several wooden huts. This is the Hikawa Camping Ground and makes a perfect spot for having some lunch whilst watching the river flowing by. During the summer, this area is popular for camping, fishing and having barbecues. Fortunately, on this occasion there were only a small handful of people around.
With such a peaceful and tranquil setting it`s very easy to forget about the worries of life whilst watching the wonders of Mother Nature. When you`re ready to return back to civilization Okutama Station is only a short walk away