My Sweet Hououzan (Part I)

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji from Mount Houou blue sea of clouds dawn long exposure_4E02109Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA ART 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM

The South Alps (of Japan) is sort of a sacred area for landscape photographers specialized in Mount Fuji. Fuji does look really awesome when seen from other high mountains.  Needless to say that the most important sacred place is Mt. Fuji itself for us. But we can’t shoot Fuji when we are on the top of Fuji, you know?

According to my brief research on the South Alps, the Mount Houou is the best destination for me, because it isn’t too hard to get to the top even if you aren’t very experienced in climbing but the view of Fuji from this mountain is really superb.  I concluded this mountain should be my first target in the South Alps area. There are some course options. The easiest route runs from Yashajin-Touge but I chose the Dondokozawa (ドンドコ沢) route, which features a couple of waterfalls, for ascending, and the Chudou (中道) route for descending. As I forgot to record a GPS log, the line showing the route in the map is not very accurate.

スクリーンショット 2014-10-15 午後2.16.23©2014 Google, ZENRIN

It took nearly two hours from my house to Aoki Kousen where I parked my car.  I arrived there at 6:30AM and started walking up the trail. The Dondokozawa route features four spectacular waterfalls, namely, Minami Shoujin, Houou, Shiraito and Goshiki waterfalls. According to the course map provided by Houou Mountain lodge, it takes two hours to reach the first waterfall, the Minami Shoujin waterfall.

IMG_0027Canon PowerShot S200

I walked across a stream after walking for 90 minutes. It looked like a small waterfall. So I thought it should be the first waterfall and the course may be easier than I originally thought. But I was wrong. It was just a rapid stream. I had to walk some more to get to the first waterfall.

南精進ヶ滝 ドンドコ沢 鳳凰三山 Minami-Shoujinn-ga-taki IMG_0036Canon PowerShot S200

I arrived at the Minami Shoujin waterfall at 9:00AM. Honestly speaking, I wasn’t very much interested in the waterfalls as my main purpose is shooting Fuji from the peaks of the mountain. I expected they would be small waterfalls like Kaneayama waterfall in my neighborhood. But it was spectacular! If you like waterfalls, choose this route when climbing Mt. Houou. AU’s 3G connection was available at this place. So I called the Houou lodge to reserve my bed and made a tweet.

The next milestone is the Shiraito Waterfall (of Mt. Houou). There are many Shiraito waterfalls in Japan. Shiraito means white threads. So it should be made of multiple waterfalls. The standard time spent to reach there is 90 minutes according to the route map. Shortly after I left the first waterfall, I found a guide post saying that there is another waterfall called Houou waterfall. But I decided not to go there and took the path directly leading to the destination, because the post didn’t say how far I had to walk. I googled it  after I returned home. It looks like a very charming waterfall too.

Dondokosawa Shiraitonotaki Yuga Kurita IMG_0044Canon PowerShot S200

I got to the Shiraito Waterfall at 11:15AM. It took just 30 minutes more than the ‘standard time’ but steep slopes made me very tired. I ate lunch here. It feels really nice to take lunch seeing and feeling the beauty of nature.  I wanted to have a longer break but I left there after eating lunch because it gets cold when not walking.  The next milestone is the Goshiki waterfall (means the waterfall of five colors).

Yuga Kurita Goshikinotaki Dondokosawa 五食の滝 ドンドコ沢 IMG_0049Canon PowerShot S200

According to the route map provided by the Houou lodge, it should take 80 minutes from the Shiraito waterfall to Goshiki waterfall. But I arrived there within an hour. It was easy. I was nearly finishing today’s course. I felt encouraged and went ahead.  I spent 90 minutes to get to the Houou lodge. It was pretty easy hiking after passing the Shiraito waterfall. The standard time of the course is 6 hours but I spent 7 hours and 30 minutes. I want to shorten the time next time I try this route.

Yuga Kurita Mount Fuji Sea of Clouds Hououzan Jizoudake Fujimiiwa_4E02015Nikon D800E w/ SIGMA ART 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM

By walking down the trail leading to Gozaishi Kousen from this lodge for 5 minutes, you will arrive at a place called Fujimiwa, which provides a nice view of Mt. Fuji. I left my luggage at the lodge and went there only carrying my D800E with me.  Then I eventually saw Fujisan for the first time in this mountain over a huge sea of clouds. I’m moved by the view as I was struggling through that sea of clouds.  After I took this shot, the clouds moved up and hid Fuji. I gave up and went back to the lodge.

I relaxed at the lodge. I was very tired but wasn’t sleepy at all. I decided to go up to the top of the Jizodake peak (the closest peak to the lodge). I just put my Powershot S200 into my pocket and left the lodge.  The signpost says it takes 50 minutes to the top. I don’t quite trust it but I will probably reach there by the sunset.

IMG_0077Canon PowerShot S200

I anticipated it would be easy to get to the top as I didn’t carry my backpack. But the slope towards the peak is made of sand and very steep! I saw the peak just there but I couldn’t get closer to it. The sky was gradually getting dark. I turned around to see the landscape behind me and realized that Fuji was gradually emerging from the left shoulder of the Kannondake peak as I go up. It must be clearly seen from the top. I hurried. I mean I try to hurry up but my body didn’t move up quickly. The time went by and the sky got darker.  When I somehow reached to the top, the sunset is already ending. Oh I had only a PowerShot! I didn’t carry my tripod! It was too late. I had to do something. I placed my PowerShot S200 on a rock  to minimize camerashake and took this shot.

IMG_0089Canon PowerShot S200

There was no time for me to regret. It’s getting darker and darker. I gotta return to the lodge! Needless to say, I brought my headlight. I’m not that reckless. In addition, the moon was rising from the eastern horizon. I got back to the lodge with no problem. Landscape photographers often need to move about in pitch darkness to shoot sunrise or sunset.  We must be very careful when do it in a mountain. I immediately slept after taking a meal at the lodge. I’m gonna wake up at 3:00AM to shoot Fuji tomorrow.

By the way, the first picture on this page was taken in the second day’s morning.

Continues to My Sweet Hououzan (Part II).


  1. Raymond Lara says:

    Great story Yuga san! I am glad to have found your website. You have taken some outstanding photographs of Fujii! I am totally impressed and now understand what you meant on FB by being self employed. Are you a well know photographer in Japan? Forgive me for asking, as I am only a beginning amateur who has recently fulfilled a long time dream of visiting Japan. I want to come again! The food was delicious! Your country is beautiful and so different from the quiet island that I live on. There is Mauna Kea mountain, but perhaps I don’t see it as I should. I enjoy your FB posts and look forward to seeing what you have next….