Everyone knows that a great way to escape the neon lights and crowded platforms of central Tokyo is to head out West towards the mountains. Some of the most often mentioned destinations include the likes of Hakone, Mount Takao and Fujikawaguchiko. However, Kanagawa is home to many potential city breaks, and along the Odakyu line, much closer and easily accessed. The best example of this is Iiyama-Kannon/ Iiyama Hakusan Forest Park: home to Chokoku-ji Temple, Mount Hakusan and some of the finest cherry blossoms in the region.
In 50 minutes and 500 yen from Shinjuku via the Odakyu express line, you can reach Hon-Atsugi Station. Any further in this direction and you run out of trainline, and indeed roads. Hon-Atsugi lies at the gateway to the Tanzawa Mountains, a most overlooked hiking destination in the greater Tokyo area. The highest peak among the range is Mount Hiru (1,673m) and with a number of others in that bracket, it makes the area a perfect spot for day hikers from the city.
However, for those looking for a less strenuous climb, a famous temple and some unique cherry blossom trees, you need to go no further than Hon-Atsugi itself. From the North exit of the station, get on a bus from stop number 5 bound for Miyagase, Kami-Iiyama and Kami-Susugaya. After around 25 minutes, you will arrive at ‘Iiyama-Kannon Mae’ – get off here and cross the bridge to head towards the temple.
A short walk up the hill following the river and you will see the temple ahead. Climb the steep steps up to the top to get a great view of the area: a large park, a stage showcasing lots of different events this season and of course, countless cherry blossom trees.
For those wishing for a perfect spot out of the city for a relaxed Hanami party under the trees, Iiyama Hakusan Forest Park is as peaceful as it gets. Get there on the 2nd/ 3rd April for more festivities – the local community fully gets into the spirit of the season, and while it is sure to be a busy spot, it’s nothing compared to what you might experience inside Tokyo itself.
Spending a day under the trees may not be enough for some people, so for those looking for a little bit extra, and an excellent view of the surrounding area, a short hike is all that stands in your way. Just behind Chokoku-ji temple lies a path that will lead you up Mount Hakusan. Not to be confused with the (much more daunting) Hakusan in Gifu, Mount Hakusan in Atsugi is a mere 284m high but does allow for a great perspective of the area. Following the easily identifiable signs, you should arrive at the peak in a little under 30 minutes – climb up the viewing platform for an even better view or have lunch with a view at the picnic tables.
You can choose to carry on walking along the ridge for a further 15 minutes before you reach another peak, and from here you can descend down a route which will take you slightly further up the road where the bus dropped you off, or return to Chokoku-ji temple the way you came. I would recommend the latter option. Be sure to take one last photo of those cherry blossoms before you leave – they’ll be gone before you know it!