We have all seen them – the fantastic views photographed from mountaintops. Surely they must have been edited? Well, now you can find out in the laziest way possible with an easy mountain peak climb!
Mt. Iwaki (岩木山), the highest mountain in Aomori Prefecture is a great mountain to cross off your bucket list! With an altitude of 1,625 meters, this mountain (also known as Tsugaru’s Mt. Fuji) is popular with both trekkers and hikers. If you love climbing, then 5 mountain trails will lead you to the top in 4 – 5 hours. But, if you want to take an easier route, then a bus trip from JR Hirosaki Station and a 10 minute gondola ride will bring you close to the summit (^_-)-☆.
As the tallest mountain in the region, Mt. Iwaki will be the backdrop for all your photos that you take anywhere in Hirosaki city (whether you like it or not!).
The summit overlooks Ajigasawa (鰺ヶ沢), Hakkoda mountain range (八甲田連峰), Lake Jusanko (十三湖), and Tsugaru Peninsula (津軽半島). On a clear day, the summit’s panoramic view stretches as far as Hokkaido (*’▽’)!
Just like with other Japanese volcanos (this one is dormant), there is onsen scattered around the Mt. Iwaki area for the travellers to relax in.
Iwakiyama Shrine (岩木山神社)
Your journey to the top of Mt. Iwaki CAN start from the symbol of the mountain – Iwakiyama Shrine. We say “can” because, during the warmer seasons, Kōnan Bus provides direct bus services to the gondola lift station which does stop at the shrine. In this case, you might want to visit this beautiful shrine that has earned the name of “Oku no Nikko”!
You can, of course, climb your way up from Iwakiyama Shrine. This hiking course is known as Hyakuzawa Route (百沢登山道). This 5 hour hiking course is suitable for those with at least some level of hiking experience.
So How to Get to Iwakiyama Shrine?
The only way to get to Mt. Iwaki by public transport is to get a bus from bus stop no. 6 in front of JR Hirosaki Station (弘前駅) or bus stop no. 3 at Hirosaki Bus Terminal (弘前バスタミナール). You will need to catch the bus bound for Karekitai (枯木平) operated by Kōnan Bus (弘南バス) and get off at Iwakiyama Jinja-mae (岩木山神社前). This trip should take you around 40 minutes if the traffic is clear. You can find the timetable on the right on Kōnan Bus’s website HERE (note only the main bus stops are listed. We have included the relevant bus stops’ names so it is easier for you to refer back to when checking the bus’s timetable in Japanese as there is no English version. If you need assistance to read the website, please contact us HERE and we will get back to you).
Click HERE if you aren’t interested in the shrine and just want to know how to get to the summit of Mt. Iwaki.
How to Enjoy Iwakiyama Shrine?
Iwakiyama Shrine, first established back in the late 8th century, is located at the southeast foot of Mt. Iwaki. The Shrine and Mt. Iwaki itself are places of worship for the guardian deity of agriculture and fisheries.
Throughout its 1,200 years of history, the Shrine has endured all-weather, and been rebuilt. But even so, some of the buildings that we see today are over 400 years old!
This red worship hall (社殿) is also known as Oku no Nikkō (奥の日光). How the building was designed, and the intricate details especially resemble the Nikkō Tōshō-gū (日光東照宮) in Tochigi prefecture. It comes as no surprise that the worship hall and a couple of gates are designated as National Important Cultural Artifacts.
Ancient cedar groves line the pass leading to the worship hall. The solemn but relaxing atmosphere that surrounds the shrine will surely ease the stress of the day-to-day hustle.
Just in front of the worship hall, as you walk up the staircases, remember to look down.
You should find these two stone statues called Tamagaki Komainu (玉垣狛犬) holding on to a stone fence. One is facing up and one is facing down. Taking pictures with them will boost your luck with money (with the one facing up) and relationships (with the one facing down)!
So what does Komainu (狛犬) mean? Komainu is often referred to as lion-dogs in English. It is the name for the lion-like statue guarding the entrance of the main gate in Shinto Shrines (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
Iwakiyama Sakurabayashi Park (岩木山桜林公園)
From the back of the Shrine, if you walk straight for 20 minutes or so, you will find Iwakiyama Sakurabayashi Park.
It is a gorgeous park in spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming from late April to early May.
Except for winter, it is also a free campsite that can be used by anyone. But please note no tents are available for rent so it is probably not a campsite for tourists.
Mountain Pilgrimage – Oyama Sankei
Oyama Sankei (お山参詣) is a 3-day pilgrimage event at Iwakiyama Shrine. If you are interested in joining the entire event, make sure you are at the Shrine 2 days before the 1st of August on the LUNAR calendar (meaning some time in September each year).
It is an event for the participants to pray for family safety and agricultural prosperity. The first two days of the pilgrimage are taking place at the Iwakiyama Main Shrine.
On the 1st of August, worshippers get up at 2:30 in the morning and head for the inner shrine of Iwakiyama Shrine (岩木山神社の奥宮) at the summit of Mt. Iwaki.
As the sun begins to break through the horizon, the worshippers join their hands towards it and make their prayers.
On the 1st of January, there is another pilgrimage event at Iwakiyama Shrine. Winter’s Oyama Sankei (冬のお山参詣), the same ritual that is performed on the 1st day of the Oyama Sankei in August in the lunar calendar.
The Easiest Way to Reach The Summit of Mt. Iwaki
Continue the bus trip from JR Hirosaki Station, if you don’t get off at Iwakiyama Shrine, the bus will terminate at the 8th Station – Iwakiyama Hachi Aime (岩木山八合目).
Tips: click HERE and skip to useful bus services information.
In autumn, trees growing on the part of the mountain below you will blend together like a colourful carpet (we wish we were there in between early to mid-October)!
Here, apart from the spacious car park for those who drove all the way up, there is also a viewing deck above the rest area building that you have to drop by for the spectacular view (such as the sunset in the photo)!
Tips: make sure you finish your private business at the toilet here as there is no toilet at the summit!
After you have had your fill of the scenery at Hachi Aime, head to the gondola lift station. The lift will bring you to the 9th Station – Iwakiyama Kyū Aime (岩木山九合目) in 10 minutes. The 500 meters sky journey offers a magnificent view of the Sea of Japan (and the surrounding mountain ranges of course).
But please sit still, you really don’t want to fall off your seat…
Lift’s Operation Hours & Charges
- The lifts are operating as follows from late April to late October daily except for Wednesdays.
- From the 8th station to the 9th station: 9 am to 4 pm
- From the 9th station to the 8th station: 9 am to 4:20 pm
- Adults: 1,000 yen for a return journey and 700 yen for a one-way journey
- High school students: 800 yen for a return journey and 550 yen for a one-way journey
- Primary school students: 600 yen for a return journey and 450 yen for a one-way journey
From The 9th Station to The Summit
From Chōkai Funkakō Station (鳥海噴火口駅) at Kyū Aime to the summit of Mt. Iwaki, it is only a 30-minute climb. If you happen to visit the 9th Station in June or July, you will have more fun around the station because a variety of primroses unique to Mt. Iwaki will be in full bloom!
This part of the track is more like “mountain climbing” than “hiking”. Please make sure you are well-prepared before you depart the 9th Station and climb carefully. It is best to have enough rest here.
Tips: hiking shoes and thick cotton gloves are highly recommended if you plan to complete this part of the track. Don’t be that girl who challenged herself by wearing a skirt and heels. The thick cotton gloves will protect your beautiful hands from injury when you need to push your body up!
That small shed is called Houmei Hutte Evacuation Shed (鳳鳴ヒュッテ). It was built after a tragic accident.
The closer you are to the peak, the more crowded and narrower the steep rocky track will be. So, here is the rule for all climbers – climb right and descend left!
The Summit Of Mt. Iwaki
When you see this triangular monument with a cute bell attached, congratulation, you have reached the summit!
With a great sense of achievement, make sure you give that bell a ring (or even a few rings)!
Depends on which season you visit the summit, it might be super chilly up there. But, we believe the jaw-dropping 360-degree panorama view of all the famous mountains (such as Hakkoda mountain range and Mt Shirakami) is majestic enough to forget the cold (^_-)-☆.
Tips: if it is unbearably cold for you, you can hide in the hut at the peak to try to warm up before you head back out again!
The inner shrine of Iwakiyama Shrine (岩木山神社の奥宮) is enshrined on the summit. After ringing that bell of achievement, let’s join our hands and pay our respect to god to show our gratefulness for having a safe trip up the mountain and praying for another pleasant trip back down (and anything else you would like god to help you accomplish!).
Instead of public transport, if you wish to drive your way up, then your passengers might need a strong stomach…
As you can see in the photo (and we will count for you), the toll road – Iwakiyama Skyline (岩木山スカイライン) of has a total length of 9.5 km and 69 curves Σ(ﾟДﾟ). This is the only way the construction team found to minimise the impact on the valuable beech forest that we can now drive through.
The Toll Charge and Road Opening Hours
The Iwakiyama Skyline is opened from 8 am to 5 pm (the entry at 4 pm) between late April and late October.
The below toll charges are payable once when you enter the Iwakiyama Skyline:
- Vehicles with two wheels: 1,050 yen
- Small/compact cars: 1,520 yen
- Normal-sized cars: 1,830 yen
- Small buses that fit from 11 to 29 passengers: 4,600 yen
- Anything bigger: 7,300 yen
Mountain Climbing at Mt. Iwaki
Compared to other volcanos in Japan, Mt. Iwaki is a newbie. With the last eruptions that happened in the late 1800s, no coniferous forest can be seen between the alpine zone and the broad-leaved forest zone. Instead, a peculiar sight occurs at Mt. Iwaki. The birch forest is dwarfing gradually.
Apart from the stunning view that continues throughout the hiking trail, one of the other benefits of climbing Mt. Iwaki is you get to meet a variety of alpine plants. A few of the species such as the primroses around the 9th Station can only be found at Mt. Iwaki!
There are a total of 5 mountain climbing courses at Mt. Iwaki, each with different difficulties. The starting point for the below two of them can be accessed by the same bus that goes all the way to the 8th station.
- Dake Mountain Track (嶽登山道): 4 hours course suitable for anyone
- Hyakuzawa Mountain Track (百沢登山道): 5 hours course suitable for the experienced climber
Dake Mountain Track
Dake Mountain Track is the easiest and most popular hiking course. This course is regularly appearing on the excursions of local schools (‘ω’)ノ.
In the autumn foliage season, it is also one the most beautiful track that you can find in the whole country!
It takes around 5.5 hours to start from Dake Onsen (嶽温泉) to the peak and then back to Dake Onsen.
Course Route And Approximate Time Required
Dake Onsen (嶽温泉) → 2 hours → Iwakiyama 8th Station (岩木山八合目) → 40 mins → Houmei Hutte Evacuation Shed (鳳鳴ヒュッテ) → 30 mins → Mt. Iwaki Summit (岩木山山頂) → 20 mins → Houmei Hutte Evacuation Shed (鳳鳴ヒュッテ) → 25 mins → Iwakiyama 8th Station (岩木山八合目) → 1.5 hours → Dake Onsen (嶽温泉)
To start your journey, you will need to find this red Torii gate at the back of the Dake Onsen Town. The gate is just next to a car park and from the Dake Onsen’s bus stop, it is less than 100 meters away.
Important: It is also possible that you will meet a bear during this trip (albeit the possibility isn’t high as they hide from us too). According to the guide who has multiple bear encounters, if you see a bear, DON’T SCREAM! The best thing to do is try not to scare the bear and slowly back away.
From this Torii gate to the 8th station, you will be hiking through the beech forest. There aren’t going to be many views during this part of the journey, but instead, you can enjoy the fresh air and the birdsong (*´ω｀).
In autumn, as you climb further up, the leaves’ colour changes gradually, which further enhances the 2-hour hike in the forest to Iwakiyama 8th station!
Hyakuzawa Mountain Track
The Hyakuzawa Mountain Track is for those who have at least a certain degree of mountain climbing experience.
The starting point is at the back of Iwakiyama Shrine. Before you head off, maybe make a quick prayer to the 2 Tamagaki Komainu for a safe trip (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
This small path should lead you to the Iwakiyama Sakurabayashi Park (岩木山桜林公園) within 30 minutes. In spring, it is another beautiful spot for cherry blossom viewing (^_-)-☆.
From the first photo in the tweet on the top left-hand side, you will go past the second photo on the top right-hand side, then the bottom left-hand side, and lastly the photo on the bottom right-hand side.
This is the first 90 minutes of your hike!
From there, it is another 100-minute climb before you get to the Houmei Hutte Evacuation Shed (鳳鳴ヒュッテ) close to the 9th station.
Winter Mountain Hiking
The above 2 mountain courses can also be accessed in winter. You will, however, need to bring your own equipment.
Things to Note Before You Climb
- Don’t forget to bring water, small snacks, and rain gear. A backpack is always recommended
- Wear clothes that can be worn and taken off easily as the temperature can change rapidly in the mountain. The best clothes are those that are made of quick-drying material
- For shoe wear, hiking shoes that cover up to the ankle and thick socks are better
- As there are branches from the main track, a map and compass are always useful. Dropping by the Iwaki Sanpo Kan (岩木さんぽ館) may be useful
- You might want to consider mountain insurance just in case
Dake Onsen (嶽温泉)
This onsen spot was discovered by a lumberjack about 350 years ago. When he was tracking the fox that stole his lunch, he spied a small onsen in the middle of the snowfield.
The onsen here has a strong smell of sulfur. It is said that water can cure skin diseases and mycoses.
As the starting point of the Dake Mountain Track is just at this onsen town, you can stay in one of the 6 onsen hotels before or after your Mt Iwaki journey!
Tips: don’t forget to try one of their steamed corn. The locals call them “Dakekimi (嶽きみ)”. Freshly harvested from a nearby field, they are extremely delicious!
Iwaki Sanpo Kan (岩木さんぽ館)
Close to the Dake onsen town, there is this small hut. It is basically a visitor centre that introduces the tourist attractions in Hirosaki and Tsugaru region. You will also find information on Iwaki’s nature, history and culture.
But most of the information is in Japanese, so if you don’t know the language, you might instead enjoy the stunning scenic photos and Mt. Iwaki’s Topographic model inside the hut.
Most people, however, like to hang around at the free foot spa in the outdoor area!
- The opening hours are 9 am to 5 pm from Apr to Oct from 9 am to 5 pm daily except Thursdays
- If the Thursday is a public holiday, then it will close on the next non-public holiday
- No admission fee will be charged upon entry
Useful Information About The Bus Services to Mt. Iwaki
As mentioned earlier, there are direct bus services that will carry you all the way up to the 8th station. The special return bus ticket – Skyline Return Bus Ticket (スカイライン往復乗車券) will only cost you 2,550 yen (normally one-way ticket from JR Hirosaki Station to Dake Onsen (the bottom of Mt. Iwaki) is 1,060 yen). What is even better is, with this bus ticket, the lift to the 9th station that usually costs 1,000 yen return will be half price (remember to keep your bus ticket to show to the staff at the lift’s ticket office though)!
Important: Please note this ticket is only available between early May to mid-October each year (the exact dates change depends on the snow condition), when the bus service operating in between Karekitai (枯木平) and the 8th station.
The World’s Longest Cherry Blossom Road
In early May, before you climb Mt. Iwaki, how about a slight detour to admire this 20 km long road full of cherry blossom trees (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ?
This 20 km road is located at an elevation of 200 – 450 meters. This means the timing of the blooming is a bit later than Hirosaki city. Although it is harder to say when exactly the blooming peak each year, the good thing is, because the altitude of the road affects the bloom, you will have more than 10 days to enjoy these blossoms!
Tips: The best photo opportunity is in the morning. When the morning sun shines, the pink of the cherry blossoms and the green of the trees draw a beautiful contrast. Also, the green of the lawn looks darker during the time before sunrise when the sky is bluish. It might be another great time for photos!
Lastly, the next day of a rainy day is a great day for stunning photos. because the puddle on the ground will reflect the beautiful flowers on the tree (^_-)-☆.
The stunning road is in both Kareki area and Hyakuzawa area with Kareki area locating at the higher altitude.
You can take the same bus that heads to the 8th station to access both areas.
- Hyakuzawa area: please get off at Komoriyama Iriguci (小森山入口)
- Kareki area: please get off at Karekitai(枯木平)
For those that read Japanese, HERE is the entire map of the road.