By Ignatius Koh
At 1893 meters, Mount Miune is the second highest mountain in Shikoku’s remote Iya Valley - just 62 meters shorter than its neighbor Mount Tsurugi which is the most popular mountain among visitors in Iya Valley. However, by public transportation Mount Miune is the easiest accessible of the two and being less crowded than Mount Tsurugi it will provide you with a more authentic mountaineering experience.
During weekdays the infrequent buses that run through Iya Valley only go as far as Nagoro, also known as the Scarecrow Village because of the life-sized dolls that populate the entire village. Nagoro is located at the foot of Mount Miune and from here you can start your hike up the mountain along the main trail near a small camp that also functions as a parking lot. Another parking lot is located at the end of a dirt road that leads you higher up the mountain – thus giving people arriving by car the opportunity to start their hike closer to the summit. From Nagoro the climb to the top is about 3 hours, so if you start your climb early you will be able to return to Nagoro and catch a bus back before service ends in the evening. However, at the summit you will also find a mountain hut, where a large group of people can rest and even spend the night. This is a rather new and modern hut that was constructed recently after the old one was damaged during a storm. Right next to the hut is a small lake, that gets covered in snow during winter, so watch out if you visit Mount Miune during this period.
The hiking trails on Mount Miune are poorly marked so you also need to be careful on your way up as you might end up getting lost. Most of the hike takes place in forest surroundings, where colored ribbons around the tree trunks act as your guide. Some places you will even see fences that prevent you from taking a wrong turn, so make sure you end up on the right side of these. On cloudy days you will find yourself getting surrounded by fog when you slowly enter the clouds as you get closer to the summit. At some point you will break free from these and, unfortunately, they will most likely obscure the view later.
As you get closer to the summit of the mountain the trees will gradually disappear around you, and you will be able to admire the rich landscape. But from here on the hike gets serious since the trail now consists of slippery rocks which requires you to look down, as it is very important that you keep your balance. The mountain is very steep, so one wrong step can end up being fatal. During the warm period the summit is covered in high grass that makes it harder for you to locate the trail and see where to place your feet. This grass, however, is what makes Mount Miune a spectacular sight when you finally reach the top, as it makes the entire mountain look like a wavy field. Maybe you will spot some of the deer that live on the mountain and these might be the only living things you get to see during your climb. At the summit you will most likely find yourself alone, so from there you are able to enjoy the silence and the stunning sight of Iya Valley.
Take a bus from either Ikeda or Oboke to Kubo where you change to another bus that will take you to Nagoro. During the weekends and on holidays from April til November the bus goes as far as Minokoshi: the foot of Mount Tsurugi.
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I have a Bachelor degree in Japanese Studies, and every year I go to Japan by my self to experience new parts of the country. I am the owner of Denmark's largest Japan themed homepage Japanoholic, where I write about Japanese culture, history and local attractions.