Exploring Japan: Hiking Okinawa's incredible Mount Ishikawa
Exploring Japan: Hiking Okinawa's incredible Mount Ishikawa
On a sunny day in November, I headed to Mt. Ishikawa, which borders Uruma City, Kin Town, and Onna Village on Okinawa. Just about a 40-minute drive from Camp Foster, the area is a popular destination for hikers and mountain climbers who are looking for a quick getaway.
For Okinawans, this location is also known as part of Okinawa Prefecture Ishikawa Youth Center, a public institution for students to enjoy an excursion, camping, obstacle courses, etc. for educational purposes. The last time I went there was almost 40 years ago for an elementary school field trip. I didn’t get a chance to make it to the top back then, so I was excited about the chance to reach the summit.
At the gate of the youth center, several signs in English were posted here and there, showing that this place regularly accommodates guests from foreign countries. Though I was ready to start my hike, there were things to do before hitting the trail.
First, visitors must sign in at the youth center’s reception desk. There I was reminded to carry water and to take it easy as this was my first time climbing this mountain in 40 years. I was also given a map illustrating the three routes to the top. I could choose between courses A, B, or C, depending on how challenging and how long I wanted to hike. Course A is the shortest and the easiest, while C is the longest and toughest to complete. I opted for Course B, which runs roughly two kilometers and takes about a two-hour trek round trip.
Now prepared, I made the walk toward the course entrance. All courses start in the same section which includes “Breathless Hill,” a steep slope. Rain from the previous day meant the ground was muddy here and there. As I made my way, I often had to cling to a rope that ran along the trail just to stay on my feet. This hill was much steeper than I had anticipated and soon I was covered in sweat. I had to stop to catch my breath, so whoever came up with the name of the trail did a pretty good job describing it.
Throughout the trek, the buzzing cicadas and chirping birds made it feel like it was mid-summer rather than fall. Since this day happened to fall on “Bunka no Hi,” Japan’s Culture Day, I saw many local families out for a hike as well.
Though Mt. Ishikawa’s 204 meters in height might mislead you into thinking it’s an easy hike, don’t let it fool you— you’ll be sweating a lot along the steep trail inclines.
After climbing for about 30 minutes, I reached a split in the trail. To the left, Course A heads directly to the top of the mountain, and to the right, Courses B and C lead to an adventurous downhill detour.
Though I was already tired and settling for Course A crossed my mind, I stuck with Course B because I needed some adventures to write about before conquering the mountain.
I was bracing for a steep downhill, but the first section of Course B (and C) turned out to be rather a moderate slope. Plus, a breeze was constantly cooling me down, like a natural air conditioner, a relief after the first part of the hike. A sign by the route said, “Suzukaze no Mori” (The Woods of Cool Breeze).
That would be temporary relief because soon I would face the challenging, slippery and steep trail to “Genshi no Mori” (Primitive Woods). Once again, I clung to the rope running along the trail, but at one point I let go and slipped. I lost balance and the next thing I knew, I was on my back. Had I not been wearing my backpack with camera gear, I would’ve been seriously hurt. Some of my camera gear was damaged, but I could live with that. I took that as a sign to take a break and regroup.
After resting for a few minutes, I carried on and the downslope came to an end as it reached a river. Going by the flow for 10 minutes or so, I reached a spot that split courses B and C. By this point, I was exhausted.
From there to the top, Course C ran 1.3 km in total. Course B, on the other hand, ran 0.4 km. The number didn’t sound significant at the beginning of the mountain trekking, but after the struggles I’d encountered so far, I was eager to end my trekking as soon as possible.
However, up ahead “Manryou no Saka” (Ardisia Tree Hill), a steep uphill slope, was waiting to test my stamina. Just like the beginning of the route, I clung to a rope and pulled my exhausted body upward. The sunlight began hitting me again. Standing at the end of the slope was an arrow pointing toward another uphill route. Thankfully, this one was relatively moderate.
After 20 minutes or so, I came to a flat field where a wooden sign indicated “Ishikawa-dake (Mt. Ishikawa) 204 m”; I’d made it! Struck with relief and fatigue, I collapsed on the ground.
The view was worth the effort. I could see the east and west coasts of the island, as well as the deep, lush green surrounding landscape. I was glad to finally see the view I missed when I was an elementary student. And though I still had the descent to look forward to, I was glad to have checked this mountain with its thrills, challenges, and splendid views off my bucket list.
Things to know
GPS Coordinates for Ishikawa-dake (Mt. Ishikawa): N 26.44333, E 127.83489 (Okinawa Prefecture Ishikawa Youth Center)
Parking space is available by the gate of the youth center.
You can begin trekking between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. (The gate opens at 8:30 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m.)
*Closed on Mondays. (If a Monday falls on a national holiday the trails are open, but closed the following day. Closed on Dec. 29 through Jan. 3 as well.)
*Mountain climbers/trekkers who head to Mt. Ishikawa are required to sign in and out at the reception desk. The youth center is responsible for making sure all the climbers are accounted for. In the past, the center’s staff had to wait long after 5 p.m. for the climbers to come back. Please come back by 5 p.m.
*Wear proper attire for mountain climbing. Hat/cap, long-sleeve shirt, long trousers, and gloves are recommended. Please avoid wearing shorts, sandals, and slippers.
*Bathrooms are only available near the reception desk.
*No littering, no pets, and no marking of trails with tape are allowed on the mountain.
*Stay hydrated. There are vending machines near the reception desk.
*Course A runs roughly one kilometer, which will take one to 1.5 hours to complete for a round trip. Course B is two kilometers long, which will require about two to three hours. Course C is a 3-km trail for a 3- to 5-hour trek.
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