September 9, 2021

Scaling Mt. Kumotori

Found in the far west of Tokyo, Mt. Kumotori is the tallest peak in the prefecture. It's also the home of Kamado family in Kimetsu-no-Yaiba.

Sunset as seen from the summit of Tokyo’s Mt. Kumotori

Just how many hours had it been since I started making my arduous ascent toward the summit of Mt. Kumotori (lit. “Cloud Catcher Mountain”)? Somewhere along the way, I had switched off the active part of my mind for the first time in a while. Step after step, I was slowly starting to lose track of both time and reality. Of course, the constant ringing of the bear bell at my side wasn’t helping either and I was quickly slipping into what could only be described as a walking meditation. In between the lapses in consciousness, I caught myself reflecting on why the hell I had willingly signed up to trek to what is the highest mountain in all of Tokyo.

If we’re being honest, most overseas visitors to Japan don’t immediately tend to associate the image of Tokyo with that of rocky crags. While spiritual enclaves like the one atop Mt. Takao have achieved a bit more recognition, very few foreign tourists realize just how rugged the terrain gets in the western reaches of Tokyo. At the center of these rolling ridges sits Mt. Kumotori. Officially high enough at 2,017 meters-tall to poke out above the cloudline, this perapice lives up to the moniker of being a “Cloud Catcher” in that you’ll often find cloudbanks clinging to its steep cliffs.

Now, the sane readers out there are likely wondering why the hell I was even on Mt. Kumotori to begin with. Here, I am ashamed to say that the answer is embarrassingly simple; I was there for anime-related content. You see, back at the end of 2020, I was researching some of the real world spots that served as the inspiration for Kimetsu-no-Yaiba (a.k.a. Demon Slayer). This month-long exhaustive deep dive resulted in this treatise on Yagyu & the Itto-seki as well as this one on a ryokan in Ashinomaki Onsen. Somewhere down in the anime rabbit hole, I also stumbled upon Mt. Kumotori and ever since I’ve been itching to go.

Kamado Tanjiro descends from Mt. Kumotori in the anime Kimetsu-no-Yaiba

So, what connection does Mt. Kumotori have with Kimetsu-no-Yaiba? Well, basically the location is where Kamado Tanjiro and his family reside at the beginning of the series. Those who have watched the first few episodes or have read the manga already know what happens but the site of that tragic scene is actually Mt. Kumotori. When we see young Tanjiro going down the mountain in the very first episode with charcoal on his back, he is quite literally descending down the slopes of Mt. Kumotori. If my guess is right, the town he arrives at is none other than present-day Okutama.

While Mt. Kumotori certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, it was great to have the opportunity to view the real world inspiration behind one of my favorite franchises. Additionally, I am also in awe of how much stamina the cheerful Tanjiro has even before he begins his Demon Slayer Corps training. Simply put, my body still aches even a week later following my hike. It’s amazing what the young protagonist was able to do so early in the series. All in all, while I may not have the fortitude of Tanjiro, Mt. Kumotori is still an excellent hike.

Getting to Mt. Kumotori

A morning train bound for Seibu-Chichibu Station where you can get the bus to Mt. Kumotori trailhead

Any discussion of Mt. Kumotori’s logistics needs to be prefaced by first mentioning that there are two ways that one can approach the summit. The first of these involves starting in the aforementioned Okutama on the Tokyo side of the peak. Alternatively, Mt. Kumotori can also be attempted from a trail that begins near Chichibu’s Mitsumine Shrine. Of the two, I recommend taking the latter as the journey to the top from Okutama is a nonstop ascent. Rather than torture yourself, I suggest that you start at Mitsumine Shrine as the bus ride up to the venerable sanctuary will cover half of the change in elevation.

Assuming that you heed my warning and don’t opt for the Okutama route, you’ll want to first make your way to Ikebukuro Station. From there, you’ll need to take one of the Laview limited express trains to Seibu-Chichibu Station. I suggest getting an early start so that you don’t find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere on Mt. Kumotori as darkness approaches. As always, refer to Hyperdia or a similar service for train schedules. Note that you’ll also want to take heed of the bus schedules as the departures to the distant Mitsumine Shrine are few and far between. If at all possible, aim to be on the first bus out.

The kanji for Mt. Kumotori, the tallest mountain in Tokyo

Once you’re at Mitsumine Shrine, you’ll find the path that leads to Mt. Kumotori in the opposite direction of the main areas. Unfortunately, for those of you who don’t speak Japanese, there’s little if any signage in English. Because of this, I suggest that you etch the above kanji characters for Mt. Kumotori (or “Kumotoriyama” as it’s rendered in Japanese) into your mind. That way, you can at least make out which way you should be going. Additionally, note also that cell phone reception on Mt. Kumotori is lacking to say the least. Therefore, you’d do well to print out a map.

While the route to the summit of Mt. Kumotori is rather straightforward, the hike is generally thought to be a multiple day endeavor. Most hikers who challenge the so-called “Cloud Catcher” do so over the course of two days and spend the night in one of Mt. Kumotori’s mountain lodges. For convenience sake, I’ll leave some links to the operational ones below but keep in mind you will need a Japanese speaker to make a reservation. That said, the lodges seem to be a much welcomed reprieve for weary souls looking to catch a few hours of sleep before completing the climb…

  • Kumotori Sanso
    If you’re coming from Chichibu and Mitsumine Shrine, Kumotori Sanso will be the first of the functional mountain lodges you will encounter. While it’s the more fancy of the two, it is located just before the summit and therefore not ideal for those who are looking to get to the top on day one.
  • Nanatsu-Ishi Goya
    Found somewhat closer to the Okutama side of Mt. Kumotori than the Chichibu side, this mountain lodge is preferable for those who want to push it as hard as they can on day one and then crash. Assuming that you’re not ascending from Okutama, this one might be a stretch for some.

Now, unless you’re absolutely battshit insane like I am, I highly suggest that you opt to spend the night at either of the two mountain lodges. Seeing as I am certainly not right in the head though, my deranged mind somehow came up with the idea to do Mt. Kumotori in one go. Truth be told, I had originally planned to overnight on the peak but my swift progress towards the summit filled me with a false sense of zeal and I ultimately decided to soldier on. In total, the grueling ordeal amounted to 60 kms hiked over the course of seven or eight non-stop hours of pain.

Should you think you’re up to the challenge of doing Mt. Kumotori, please be aware that the final bus from Kumosawa at the base of the mountain departs a little before 7:00 PM. You’d be well advised to have your sore behind off of Mt. Kumotori long before sunset as this area of Tokyo is quite rural and gets extremely dark at night. Additionally, if you’re considering a one-day attempt, do please have an honest discussion with yourself as to whether or not you’re in good enough physical condition to do so.

Preparing for Mt. Kumotori

A deadly suzumebachi on Mt. Kumotori in Tokyo

If you’ve never hiked a proper mountain like Mt. Kumotori before, you’d do well to read up on the basics. I’m never one to do my due diligence so rather than infect you with my lackadaisical attitude, I’ll just encourage you, the reader, to head on over to Google. That way, you don’t do something stupid like attempt a 60+ km hike with no water, food or gear and only three shots of electrolytes to help get your behind back to civilization. Not saying I did anything silly like that… Did I mention that I was fasting for several days before the hike too?

Anyway, instead of focusing on what you should bring along for the climb, I want to use the few moments of your time that I have to warn you about some of the dangers you’ll encounter on your journey. First and foremost, know that the most precarious part of scaling Mt. Kumotori is the narrow paths. Approximately a shoulder’s width in diameter, the drop to the side of this narrow strip is a real doozy. Particularly on the way down, I recall several places where I thought my legs might give out from fatigue. Had I fallen, it would have been the end of me and this blog so do be careful.

In addition to the precipices, I also want to call your attention to the lovely suzumebachi pictured above. Often referred to in English as the “Asian murder hornets,” these freaks of nature are not to be trifled with. Active from late spring through the early autumn (you know, like when you’d want to climb Mt. Kumotori?) the suzumebachi are definitely not something you’d want to mess with. Should you cross paths with one, run. They are known to attack and sting anything that moves and their poisonous stings can even cause death.

As if the hornets from hell weren’t enough, Mt. Kumotori is also home to bears. While not the massive Ussuri brown bears found up in the hills of Hokkaido, the smaller black bears that sometimes can be seen on Mt. Kumotori can still be deadly. Luckily, these bears are supposedly more afraid of you than you are of them and will run at the sound of humans. Still, Japanese hikers never set off on a trail without a trusty bear bell so be sure to pick one of these up unless you want to end up in Yogi Bear’s picnic basket.

Are you absolutely sure you still want to climb this mountain? 😘

Attractions Near Mt. Kumotori

Chichibu’s Mitsumine Shrine at the trailhead to Mt. Kumotori

Frankly speaking, you’re not going to have too much time to dilly dally with other allures if you’re serious about climbing Mt. Kumotori. That said, if you’re following the suggested course, you’ll be starting the ascent at Chichibu’s Mitsumine Shrine. Dedicated to Japan’s wolves (which thankfully no longer exist — no need to worry while on Mt. Kumotori), this ancient sepulcher is one of the most architecturally interesting that I’ve come across in all of my many travels.

If you want to learn more about Mitsumine Shrine and its history, be sure to check out my standalone guide. Seeing as it’s but a short detour from where the trailhead is located, why not stop by and pay your respects before starting your hike. At the very least, it would be good to have the god’s on your side lest you run headlong into a suzumebachi!

Until next time travelers…