How to tackle Mount Akagi, Japan's wildest volcano

Mount Akagi is just two hours from Tokyo, and its sheer size means there are many ways to tackle it. Whether you scale its crater or stick to the foothills, here’s what to expect from one of Japan’s biggest volcanoes.

By Akagi Shizenjuku
Published 8 Apr 2021, 09:47 BST
The summit of Mount Akagi is most famous for its trio of vast crater lakes: Onuma, Konuma ...

The summit of Mount Akagi is most famous for its trio of vast crater lakes: Onuma, Konuma and Kakumanbuchi.

Photograph by Akagi Trip Akagi Shizenjuku

Mount Fuji may hog the headlines when it comes to Japan’s mountains, but look to the centre of this volcanic archipelago, to the Gunma Prefecture, and you’ll discover an under-the-radar region full of peaks, hot springs, ancient shrines and forested trails. One of the Three Famous Mountains of Gunma, (also known as the Jomo Sanzan), Mount Akagi reaches skywards for almost 6,000ft. This dormant volcano is the second-widest in the country, its sheer heft meaning that from top to bottom, there are many ways for travellers to tackle it.

It's usually 10-15C lower on Lake Onuma than at ground level, and travellers can bore holes through the ice to fish for lake smelts, with locals always happy to help out beginners.

Photograph by Akagi Trip Akagi Shizenjuku

Reaching the Summit

Head to the summit of Akagi and you’ll get to experience its trio of vast, glassy crater lakes: Onuma, Konuma and Kakumanbuchi. Of the three, Onuma is the largest, and in summer walkers relax on its shores, or putter around it in hired boats, refuelling on steaming bowls of ramen at restaurants dotted around its southern edge. As winter approaches and the temperature dips (it’s usually 10-15C lower up here than at ground level), the water freezes and travellers can bore holes through the ice to fish for lake smelts, with locals always happy to help out beginners.

Akagi’s multiple peaks have become a symbol for the Gunma Prefecture, characterised by their wide, gentle slopes. Travellers looking for a challenge can aim for the area’s highest point, the peak of Mount Kurobi at 5,997ft, and a trek that begins from the Onoko Car Park. From there, simply follow the well-signposted Mount Kurobi-Mount Komagatake Loop Trail, a path that winds through forests of maples, pines and cherry trees, before opening to astounding views of Onuma backed by sprawling greenery.

Perching among the heather at Kurobi’s summit, you’ll be able to make out the small city of Numata, surrounded by a sea of green. Briefly turn back along the same path before following signs for Mount Komagatake, and pause at the vermillion Agaki-jinja shrine at the edge of Lake Onuma. Built to pay homage to the deity of the lake, Akagi Daimyojin, today the shrine is involved in a sacred summer festival where at night, pilgrims make wishes on hundreds of lanterns before letting them float off twinkling across the water.

One of the best ways to explore the southern base is by e-bike, pausing at temples hidden under blossom-heavy boughs.

Photograph by Akagi Trip Akagi Shizenjuku

Exploring the Southern Base

Hiking to the summit of Mount Akagi is undoubtedly a highlight of the trip, but back down to earth, in and around the volcano’s sweeping foothills, there are even more adventures to be had. One of the best ways to explore the southern base is by e-bike, cruising along gently sloping paths and pausing at temples hidden under blossom-heavy boughs.

Pit stops include popular local restaurant, Tonton Hiroba, ideal for a warming lunch of Japanese pork and seasonal vegetables, washed down with a steaming bowl of soup. Afterwards, loop around the foot of the mountain along a waterside road and head towards downtown Maebashi, the leafy, literary capital of the Gunma Prefecture. Time your trip right and your e-bike tour can also take you to local festivals, such as the Akagi Nanmen Senbonzakura (Akagi Cherry Blossom Festival) in April.

Need a break? Head to the Akagi Onsen Area, perched prettily beside the Arato River. Among the scattering of inns is Chujikan and Akagi Onsen Hotel, where guests plunge into healing waters and dine on plates of Akagi beef, as well as freshly-caught trout and char. Travellers can also pick up local produce from the daily farmers’ markets that sell honey, soba noodles and fruits from orchards trees at the foot of the mountain.

This is a region that morphs with the seasons; the foliage blazes with reds and oranges in autumn, and with the arrival of spring, candyfloss-coloured cherry blossom blooms along its lower slopes. The trees were planted in 1956 by local residents as part of a regeneration project. Today, the spot draws walkers, cyclists and locals to perch beneath the boughs and lie among fallen petals.

The summit of Mount Akagi has beautiful wildflower meadows, where azaleas bloom crimson from May to June.

Photograph by Akagi Trip Akagi Shizenjuku

Plan your trip

Flights from London to Tokyo with Japan Airlines start at £596 return. From there, hop on the Hokuriku shinkansen or Joetsu shinkansen to Takasaki (50 mins), then take the JR line to Maebashi Station. From Maebashi Station, local buses (direct buses available on weekends) go to the summit area (60mins).

For destinations along the southern foot of the mountain, including Ogo, walk (10 mins) or shuttle bus (5 mins) from Maebashi Station to Chuomaebashi Station, to board the Jomo Electric Railway.

Once at the summit or any of various train stations, e-bike tours are the best way to explore the local area.

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