At 2568m, Mt. Asama is the largest mountain in eastern Nagano. The active volcano towers over Komoro and Karuizawa, frequently sending up plumes of volcanic ash and smoke. The Nagano Shinkansen is named after Mt. Asama, and riders of the bullet train get a front seat view of the awe-inspiring mountain.
But what does the world look like from the top of Mt. Asama? And can you see into the volcanic crater? I had always been curious, so on a recent day when our oldest son had a day off from middle school, we decided to make an ascent of the volcano.
There are 2 main climbing routes for Mt. Asama. Both involve driving or taking a bus up Cherry Park Road from Central Komoro towards Takamine Kogen. Partway up is a branch to the right signed 浅間山登山口 — Trailhead to Climb Mt. Asama. (If coming by bus, get off here and walk.) That road turns into a dirt track and ends at 1400m Tengu Onsen Asama Sansou hotel and campground. Park your car if you drove (500 yen) and from there, start hiking.
The 2nd route starts at 2000m Takamine Kogen which would seem easier due to the higher elevation, but ends up taking about as much time due to a lot of up-down business and Mt. Kurofu along the way.
We chose the Tengu Onsen start because that route is the original pilgrimage path with Ichi no Torii and Ni no Torii gates. The Kazankan ranger station-like shelter is on the way and we wanted to say ‘hi’ to Kanda-san, the director. Of course, we also were looking forward to a bath in Tengu Onsen’s rusty-red waters at the end.
After leaving civilization (i.e. Tengu Onsen) behind, the trail basically follows a creek through a forest up to the Yu no Daira meadow, a relatively flat bit of respite from the ascent. Along the way to Yu no Daira, there were colorful wildflowers beside the path, spots in the creek where the water was a brilliant shade of orangeish red, a side path to Fudotaki waterfall, the before-mentioned torii arches, and a clearing named Kamoshika-daira, a crossroads of sorts for 4 heards of kamoshika, the ubiquitous stubby Japanese serow.
As the thick forest gives way to a equally thick carpet of sasa bamboo grass, the path turns a corner and you come face-to-face with the imposing Kibayama (“Fang Mountain”). Here the stream bed puts on a show of mineral colors while a strong scent of sulfur fills the air — sure signs you are heading into volcano territory.
Another bend in the path and you arrive at Kazankan. If you speak Nihongo (Japanese), have Kanda-san explain the geological wonders of Mt. Asama. It is actually three volcanoes-in-one, with the three consecutively built on top of each other — the only one like it in the world.
After bidding Kanda-san farewell, it’s another brief incline before reaching Yu no Daira, a wildflower-filled flat meadow. Then the ascent begins in earnest. Once you leave the scraggly pines, you enter the volcanic rock zone and your first views of the barren summit. Actually what you can see is Maekake Mountain, the remains of the 2nd of 3 volcanoes. The path ends at the 2524-meter top of Maekake, giving you an unimpeded view of the 3rd volcano, 2568m Kamayama, formed by a volcanic eruption in 1783.
Currently Mt. Asama’s volcanic activity is at level 1, which means access is technically limited to Maekake. But there is a path up to Kamayama’s crater edge for those brave souls who, taking full responsibility by themselves, wish to peer into an active volcano crater. The path up is well travelled, so apparently there are a lot of brave souls out there.
Climbing Mt. Asama —
Three volcanoes in one,
Three very varied terrains (coniferous forest, alpine meadow and barren volcano rock),
it all makes for an unforgettable experience.
My son Andy and I are looking forward to climbing Mt. Asama again to try some of the other paths and explore areas we didn’t get to on our first ascent.
Before you go, check the Komoro City website for current volcanic activity info.