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Old Japanese Highway
“Kawane Trail”

Trails Deep in the Southern Alps are a Treasure Trove of Fun
Kawane-honmachi, Shizuoka Prefecture

"A trail based on an ancient road has opened at the foot of the Southern Alps." Kawane-honcho, Shizuoka Prefecture, is located in the southern part of the Akaishi Mountains, in the watershed of the Oigawa and Sunmata Rivers. Kawane Honcho is designated as a Minami-Alps UNESCO Eco Park, and the entire town is considered a single expanse of land, where long trails are being developed to connect the various settlements. Walk along broadleaf trails, admire the beauty of the valley, and luxuriate in the hot springs. The perfect recipe for a weekend hiking jaunt!


A long trail where daily lifestyles once thrived

Kawane Honcho is located in the central part of Shizuoka Prefecture, at the foot of the Southern Alps, with the Oigawa River flowing from north to south. During the Edo period, ferry crossings of the Oi River were prohibited, so mountain passes and pathways for daily life were established to convey goods through the vast mountain areas and along both banks of the river. The Kawane Trail is laid out on the basis of these old lifestyle paths. The idea is to develop the Kawane Kaido along the Igawa River, the Kawane Higashi Kaido that used to lead to Sunpu Castle (in Shizuoka City), and the narrow roads that connect these routes to various villages, into long trails that hikers can walk along.

Our course this time is the “Chishayama/Tenguishiyama Course,” which opened as the first leg of the Kawane Trail. From Senzu Station on the famous “Southern Alps Aputo Line,” we ascend the approach to Chishayama Shrine and then gain more altitude to Chishayama (1,291m). The course then follows a forgiving ridge leading to Mt. Tenguishiyama before descending to Okuōikojō Station, a distance of about 15 km.

We are joined by Corey Turpin, a translator/artist who lives in Shizuoka City, as well as some local trail runners. After stashing some yokan made with local tea in our backpacks from Sugimoto-ya in front of the station, we set off for the course.

Local runners Kanna Suzuki (left) and Natsumi Yamauchi (right)
For sustenance on the trail, try tea yokan made with Kawane Honcho’s famous tea. Sugimoto-ya, located in front of Senzu Station, offers tea yokan with fresh green tea flavor.

The tarmac road to Chishayama Shrine is known as the “Route of the 33 Kannon Statues,” with 33 statues of the Goddess of Mercy donated by local believers and enshrined along a 7-kilometer stretch. After paying homage to the Chishayama Shrine, which was once used as a deity for praying for rain and breastfeeding, and in recent years has been the site of many prayers for traffic safety and success in entrance exams, we proceeded to the back of the mountain. There, a trail as steep as perhaps 30 degrees emerged in the midst of the coniferous forest that is typical of a satoyama.

Dashing down the steep slopes of the Kawane Trail like an antelope!

Once up to the ridge line, the trail is gentle in contrast to the vertiginous ascent so far. Walking through a bright broadleaf forest, we reach the summit of Chishayama. We take a lunch break at a spot with a view of Suruga Bay in the distance. Açai, which operates a vegan inn, also serves a lunch box made with healthy brown rice and local seasonal vegetables, perfect for a power recharge. 

The trail bento box at Açai is packed with elaborate side dishes!
A leap of faith in a cedar forest on the “Chishayama/Tenguishiyama Course” of the Kawane Trail

Walking along a mostly flat ridge line festooned with moss-covered rocks, we came to the summit of Tenguishi-yama. The viewpoint in the foreground affords a panoramic view of Mt. Asahi, Mt. Daimugen, and Mt.Tekari. After descending 900 or so meters from Mt. Tenguishi, a steel bridge floating on an emerald green lake, comes into view. It’s our goal, Okuōikojō Station.

Although the course can be traversed in about 7 hours, Kawane Honcho offers plenty of fun before and after the trail, so you may want to spend a night before or after. Once down the trail we hop onto the train and head straight for Sessokyo Onsen to take a relaxing soak in the warm thermal spring waters. 

The red iron Oku Oi Rainbow Bridge stretches over the emerald-green Sesso Lake. Oku Oi Lake Station is situated on an isolated island.
The only apt-type locomotive in Japan pulls into Okuōikojō Station.

“Farm Cafe Kaze Koubou”, located near Senzu Station, is a cafe adjacent to a farm raising chickens and goats. This self-renovated old house offers dishes using seasonal vegetables and free-range eggs produced on the farm, as well as exquisite ice cream made with goat’s milk – Bleat!!

Lodging was at Açai, which provided us with lunch boxes. The inn is a cozy old house built in the Edo period, and prides itself on its relaxing ambience and vegan cuisine. On this particular occasion, we were treated to a colorful vegan sushi.

Kaze Koubou, a renovated house cafe with a vegetable garden, prides itself on its homemade ice cream made from freshly extracted goat’s milk! Flavors change seasonally. The photo shows vanilla and plum.
“Açai” is a renovated old house from the Edo period. A sunset moment in the garden surrounded by ginger lilies.

Unique “Bon Odori” in a satoyama plagued by deer damage

In the mostly mountainous area of Kawane Honcho, the deep mountains and rivers have preserved unique folk customs and cultures. One such example is the Bon Odori style of dance in the neighborhood of Tokuyama, which was recognized last year as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. “Shikan-mai”, “Hiyai Odori”, and “Kyogen” performed on the night of August 15 every year are collectively referred to as “Tokuyama Bon Odori“. One of the most unique is the “Shikan-mai” (deer dance), which features stag and a doe dressed in white deer heads as well as Hyottoko (a comical Japanese character,) which has been passed down by junior high school students in recent years. “It apparently originated as a way to fend off deer that were destroying crops and to pray for a good harvest, but later changed to a way to guard the “Hiyai” dance performed on the shrine grounds,” explains Hitoshi Sawamoto, vice president of the Tokuyama Classical Performing Arts Preservation Society.

“There are various theories, but it is believed that the dance was orally conveyed during the Middle Ages and gradually adapted to suit the times. In this mountainous community, deer are worshiped as incarnations of mountain deities, and the idea of living in harmony with nature is embedded in this dance.”

Tools and drums employed in “Tokyuama Bon Odori” . Deer masks and red-and-white twill sticks are used in the “Shikan-mai” dance.

“Coexistence with nature” remains a pertinent theme in Kawane Honcho even in the modern age. TONONKA is a satoyama conservation group established by volunteers in their 20s, including Miyu Watanabe. Together, they are engaged in conservation activities and fostering hunters with the aim of coexisting with nature and living in satoyama, which is beset by damage from wild animals. Local businesses utilize the skins and antlers, which are a byproduct of hunting. For example, “reveroots,” which has an atelier in a neighboring town, sells fire starters and other products fashioned from discarded deer antlers, from the viewpoint of utilizing all the life we have been given.  

TONONKA’s Miyu Watanabe is “more than happy to be depended on by her neighbors.” Setting traps at a familiar hunting ground.
Fire starter by “reveroots” made from discarded deer antlers in Kawane-honcho

“Now, thanks to a group of willing producers, deer meat, antlers, and skins can be effectively utilized as a local resource. In the future, we would like to spur an influx of newcomers with activities that take advantage of hunting while addressing the issue of an aging population.” (Watanabe-san)

The rich nature, the folk customs cultivated in the area, and the local way of life that has preserved and passed them on. Kawane Honcho, with its abundant opportunities for trail treks and other fun activities, is sure to become a destination that draws in hordes of hikers.

“Yumeya” is located along the route of the “Kawane Trail.” Practicing a down-to-earth lifestyle as an art form, they grow vegetables using natural farming methods, spin yarn from the wool of their sheep, and tailor wool products.
A tasty cup of coffee at Suzuran, a new roastery and coffee shop opened in the Shimonagao area in the summer of 2023.

Trail Guide
Farm Cafe Kaze Koubou
321 Kamigishi, Kawane Honcho, Haibara-gun, Shizuoka
Açai vegan cafe & ryokan
276-1 Kuwanoyama, Kawane Honcho, Haibara-gun, Shizuoka
Sessokyo Onsen Kaikan
175-2 Umechi, Kawane Honcho, Haibara-gun, Shizuoka
1216-13 Senzu, Kawane Honcho, Haibara-gun, Shizuoka
Suzuran Coffee
218-1 Shimonagao, Kawane Honcho, Haibara-gun, Shizuoka

Kawane Honmachi Machizukuri Tourist Association
1216-21 Senzu, Kawane Honcho, Haibara-gun, Shizuoka