How close have you been to Mt. Fuji’s volcanic crater?
If you’re not game to try scaling Japan’s highest peak just yet, why not start with Mini-Fuji in Fukushima Prefecture?
Protruding from the side of the Azuma mountain range (the mountains separating Fukushima and Yamagata prefecture) at an elevation of 1700m is ‘Azuma-Kofuji’. ‘Ko’ means small, or little, in Japanese. Here’s a snow-capped Azuma-kofuji in winter! It is not difficult to understand how the crater got its namesake.
Photo credit: NPO相双歴史文化保存会
One of the most enjoyable ways to spend a warm sunny day in Fukushima Prefecture is to drive along the ‘Bandai-Azuma Skyline’ sight-seeing road to the ‘Jododaira Visitor Centre‘ at the base of Azuma-kofuji, and take a leisurely 1-hour hike around its crater; taking in the dynamic scenery along the way.
There is a bus service that you can take to the Jododaira Visitor Centre from Fukushima station (see details below), but if you have the chance I HIGHLY recommend driving yourself. The drive to the crater is jaw-droppingly scenic and an attraction in itself, best enjoyed with the freedom to pull over every now and then to enjoy the epic views.
Once you’ve made your way through the tiny hot-spring town of Takayu-Onsen, you will soon be greeted with this stunning view over Fukushima City from Fudosawa Bridge.
The road is actually one of the best places to see Fukushima’s incredible multi-coloured Autumn foliage, usually peaking in October. Just imagine what this will be like in a few weeks time, when the hillsides are a canvas of brilliant reds, yellows and orange! The beautiful green views in summer, though, are a close second!
The road continues to wind up and up a few more hair-pin turns and soon enough you will notice the environment change from forests of summer leaf, to distinctly volcanic rocky outcrops.
You know you’re close when you can see the tiny ant-like people climbing the ridge ↑ !
Eventually, you will arrive at a wide car-park and the Jododaira Visitor Centre. It costs about 500 yen to park your car or 100 yen for a motorbike.
To the right of the rest house you will see the zig-zagging path up to the top of the crater.
Although the hike is not strenuous by any means, we decided it was not one to be attempted on an empty stomach. Luckily for us, the visitor centre has a REALLY good selection of tasty treats for a quick lunch or snack pre or post hike. Most of the dishes on offer are made with local produce and feature some of Fukushima’s famous delicacies (fresh summer peaches!!), including some for the more adventurous; everything from horse-meat burgers to ice-cream sitting in tomato puree. I opted for a safer but super delicious maple-salmon burger and coffee (set cost me 950 yen).
The rest house also sells some great souvenirs, sweets and local produce for you to take back home with you or to reward yourself with once you’re safely back from your hike (open between 9am ~ 4:30pm).
With full tanks, we headed off up the path!
It takes about 10~15 minutes to climb the stairs leading to the top of the crater (depending on how many times you stop to take pictures). The views waiting for you at the top are well worth the sweat!
It is difficult to capture the scale of the crater and the feeling of standing (at a safe distance) on its edge, looking down to its bottom hundreds of metres below. It is one of those awe-filling moments that leaves you at a loss for words.
A fairly wide rocky path runs its way around the entire circumference of the crater (takes about 1 hour to complete if you don’t stop), with dynamic views of the crater, backdrop of the Azuma mountain range and panoramic views over Fukushima City. Of course, being 1700m above sea level, the weather is quite changeable (bring a jacket/windbreaker – I failed here!) and visibility can be affected. We were lucky to visit on a relatively sunny day, however much of the view of Fukushima was covered by a thick layer of mountain mist! It was kind of magical to walk through it though, with the sun poking its rays through every now and then to reveal a different view (and remind us of the drop below!).
Steam from distant hot-springs in the Azuma mountain range.
Fukushima City briefly says hi before the mist rolls in…
Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic…
Without any kind of barriers along the path, it is probably not one for those severely challenged by heights (particularly as it can get quite windy in parts)! But if you are careful to stay in the middle of the path and not do anything too outrageous, you will be absolutely fine! As one of the clumsiest humans to walk the planet, if I can survive the journey, anyone can…
Anyway, if you wait long enough the mist should begin to clear!
We stopped at the highest point for a quick breather and snack!
Aaaand we made it!!
It was such an exhilarating hike. The views are just epic. Despite a few nerve-wrecking moments at the top, I was almost ready to do it again the moment we finished. I can only imagine what it will be like come Autumn (also the best season for clear, crisp weather so you know the views will be top-notch).
We started hiking at around 2pm and after stopping frequently to take pictures, we were safely back at the rest house by about 4:30pm. I would probably recommend trying to start your trip earlier in the morning, as there appears to be less cloud at the beginning of the day.
If you really want to make a day of it, there are other hiking trails, onsen and natural attractions in the surrounding Fukushima area. For more info, check out the Fukushima Guide webpage and the Rediscover Fukushima blog for some great inspiration.
Well deserved Fukushima peach-nectar ice-cream waiting for me at the bottom! Heck yes.
AZUMA-KOFUJI CRATER HIKE: ACCESS INFO
By Bus: Buses run between Fukushima Station and Jododaira between May 3 ~ Sept 30 (weekends and holidays) and Oct 1~ November 4 (daily).
Price: Fukushima Station → Jododaira (via Tsuchiyu Onsen): 1810 yen, 1 hour and 40 minutes. Jododaira → Fukushima Station (via Takayu Onsen): 1330 yen, 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Schedule: Click here
JODODAIRA VISITOR CENTRE
Hours: 9:00am ~ 4:30pm (mid April – mid November)