Nokogiriyama: A Hike to Hell (And Back)

Lily Crossley-Baxter

Hiking provides a much needed escape from Tokyo, and although plenty of mountains have great views, not many are quite as death-defying as Nokogiriyama.

Located in the Boso Peninsula in Chiba, Nokogiriyama (aka Sawtooth Mountain) is a relatively easy hike, with a lot more than a view to reward you at the top. With two giant Buddhas, over 1500 arhat (many of which have been beheaded), temples and incredible quarry caves, this mountain is home to a myriad of adventures. The mountain derived its unique saw-tooth shape from years of quarrying and has been a Buddhist site for over 1300 years. One great thing about the mountain is that if you don’t fancy a hike in the hot sun, there’s a cable car to the top so you can save your energy for the explorations above. For options between hiking and taking the cable car, skip to the bottom of the page—but for all the reasons to go up in the first place, read on.

Jigoku Nozoki aka “View of Hell”

Probably the most famous view of the mountain, this vertigo-inducing drop is safely railed off, but still has an element of risk, making your heart beat just that little bit faster. The incredible view encompasses Tokyo Bay, the Boso Peninsula and Mount Fuji, with incredible greenery and swathes of autumn leaves in fall.

There are multiple viewpoints here and a restaurant with glass walls so you can enjoy the view and not the wind, as well as a more open seated area.

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Nihonji Temple Complex

The oldest place of worship in the Kanto region, Nihonji Temple is a Soto Buddhist temple built over 1300 years ago in 725 CE. The temple was originally a monastery and was home to well-known figures such as Roben, the founder of Todai-ji in Nara and Kukai, the founder of Shingon. Having changed from the Hosso Sect to Tendai and now Soto Zen, the temple has been abandoned and revived multiple times throughout the ages. With the anti-Buddhist movement leading to attacks and high levels of damage as well as fires breaking out after a large earthquake in 1939, the temple  has been undergoing restoration for most of its existence.

There are numerous halls across the mountain slopes, with the main building under restoration and inaccessible at this time, although there is still plenty to see. Entry to the temple grounds costs 600 yen for adults and 400 yen for children up to the age of 12. 

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Ishidaibutsu

As the largest cliff-carved Buddha in Japan, the Ishidaibutsu is an impressive sight, surrounded by trees and blue skies (if you’re lucky)—to call it imposing doesn’t even come close. Carved in 1783, the granite giant is twice the size of his Kamakura-counterpart and is a relatively new addition, built 1000 years after the temple was founded. As the healing Buddha, he holds a container of medicine in his hand and if you bathe in the radiance of the emerald contained in it, your illness will be healed. There are wisteria-covered seats nearby that are perfect for picnic, drinks machines and a small counter selling charms and seals, so this is a good spot for a break on your walk.

To the left of the Buddha is a smaller Jizo statue surrounded by hundreds—if not thousands—of small white Onegai Jizo statues. Jizo is the guardian of children and the Bodhisattva of Hell. If purchased, the smaller statues can be used to wish upon before being placed at the foot of the larger Jizo.

The 1500 Arhat

The 1500 arhat are mortals who have attained enlightenment, and each has a unique facial expression, making them more interesting than you might expect. Perched along the rockface along the winding paths on the mountain slopes, the 1500 statues vary in size and shape, with many beheaded.  During the anti-Buddhist Haibutsu Kishaku movement of 1868-1874, after the Meiji Restoration, many Buddhist sites were attacked and damaged.

The statues here suffered greatly, with many beheaded, but their bodies remain, some with repaired heads and some without. This adds to the uniqueness of each though, with the scars and cracks slowly growing over with moss ad softening over time. The trail requires a lot of steps, so you’ll be burning the next day, but it is worth it for the sheer creepiness of some of the faces, as well as the poorly considered “Mind your head” signs that rest above any cave-topped tunnels along the route.



Hyaku-Shaku Kannon

Built in remembrance of those killed in World War II, the 30-meter depiction of the Goddess Mercy stands below the Jigoku Nozoki. Carved in 1966, the statue was carved straight into the rockface. If you stand just at the right angle you can see both her and the famed observation point at once.

Hiking routes

There are two main hiking routes up Nokogiriyama, both taking around 50 minutes to reach the top and ascending the same side of the mountain. There are a few sites along each route but your decision may be made by the first glance at the steps vs. the winding path. The Sharikimichi route is to your left on the photo above and the Kanto Fureai No Michi route is to your right, up the steps.  Since both meet at the top, you will see the Edo-era quarry ruins on both.

The two trails are signposted but are quite unclear in some key spots, enough so that the map provides photo instructions as to what paths to follow at the key junctions. If you are hiking, try and make sure you have the section on the top right corner of this guide to keep track of where you are turning. Without it you may end up trapped in a vicious cycle of dead-ends and come stumbling out of a closed-off path past danger signs 2 hours later, much to the horror of a Japanese pensioner’s hiking group. You know, not that that’s ever happened to anyone here…

One of the best reasons to hike is to see the beautiful quarry ruins which have been taken over by nature and are pretty breathtaking in their enormity. The faint imprint of kanji on the walls and small Buddhas carved at impossible heights add to the abandoned feel, plus there are great opportunities for perfecting your echo voice. Along the Sharikimichi trail you can see the old transportation route for the quarried rock, with English information provided about the different techniques.



There are also viewpoints at the top of the hiking trail, woth more fantastic views across the bay.

The Ropeway

Since there is so much walking to be done at the top of the mountain, there is no shame in catching the handy ropeway to the top. Sanroku Station is about 10-15 minutes from the ferry port and has cars leaving every 5 minutes.

A return ticket is 930 yen and a single is 500 yen. The ropeway only takes about 5-10 minutes and you get some great views of the bay and mountain. The ropeway starts at 9am and runs until 5pm in summer (Feb 16th – Nov 15th) and until 4pm in winter (Nov 16th – Feb 15th).

Make sure you don’t miss the last one though, or you’ll end up having to take the final car with the station staff and all the trash, if you’re lucky. Again, that definitely did not happen after a near-vomit-inducing sprint once the time was noticed. You’re taken straight up to Sancho Station where you can begin your walk across the mountain to see the sights, with a full circuit taking about 90 minutes.

Getting to Nokogiriyama

Tokyo to Nokogiriyama

By train, the journey takes 2 hours from Tokyo Station to Hamakanaya Station. Catch the Keio or Sobu Line rapid for Soga or Kimitsu respectively, changing at the final destination to the JR Uchibo Line to Tateya or Awa-Kamogawa. In full it costs 1,940 yen one way. The ropeway is a short walk from the train station as are the hiking routes.

You can drive using the Nokogiriyama Tozan Expressway from coastal route 127 if you have access to car, and there is parking around the town.

Yokohama to Nokogiriyama

From below Tokyo, it’s actually easier to travel to the island by ferry. Simply catch the Keikyu Line to Keikyu-Kurihama Station and catch the bus  (number 8 right outside the station, number 7 on your way back) to the Tokyo-Wan Ferry Port. This takes about 10 minutes and costs 190 yen. Once there, you can purchase your ticket from the desk or vending machine (English available) for 720 yen one-way or 1,130 yen return. These last for 2 days and 7 days respectively, so if you’re planning to stay overnight you can still travel back. The ferry times and information can be found here. Once you arrive you can follow the road to your chosen route, or to the ropeway, which is signposted. (Basically, turn right out of the port car park and follow the road, turning left when you see the sign, around a 10-minute walk).

For more trails to blaze, see our post on 10 popular Tokyo hikes.

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