The Calm of Kamikatsu
By Matt Lindsay
For an obscure little town in the heart of the mountains of Tokushima Prefecture, the town of Kamikatsu is remarkably well known. Its zero-waste management program has attracted international attention, even featuring on BBC television. Domestically the town has become quite renowned for its irodori mountain vegetable leaves which are used as garnishes on Japanese cuisine.
Getting to Kamikatsu is a relatively straightforward mission – from route 55, the main traffic artery of Tokushima, head south towards Komatsushima. When you come to the intersection with route 16 turn right and follow the Katsuura River west through the town of Katsuura. Along the way you will notice numerous signs for the Tsukigatani Onsen hot spring, one of the main tourist attractions of Kamikatsu and a great place to soak tired muscles after a hike if you’re not too shy.
After passing through the Sakamoto Tunnel, route 16 passes high above the Masaki Dam. Perched over the dam is the Ikkyu-jaya teahouse. This is an ideal place to stop before setting off to explore the sights of Kamikatsu. Not only are there fabulous views overlooking the dam from the restaurant upstairs, but also a wide selection of local produce for sale and a wealth of tourist information from brochures and the very friendly and knowledgeable staff if you speak Japanese.
Continuing along route 16, after passing the turn-off for the onsen, the road leads to the Kamikatsu Town Office. Just after the office turn left then left again towards Kashihara Tanada. After climbing a steep slope through forest the road opens out onto the rice terraces of Kashihara Tanada. The views here are quite spectacular in summer looking out over the lush green terraces to the mountain ranges stretching to the horizon. Another good season for appreciating the view from the terraces is in autumn when the surrounding foliage changes colour. On a fine day dusk is a particularly good time of day for taking in the view as the sun casts its glow on this secluded valley.
Climbing further uphill from Kashihara, the road ends in a T-junction. Turn right here and shortly after there is a sign pointing left for the mountain, Yama-Inudake. Don’t bother driving up this road as it is very steep and windy and also happens to be someone’s driveway! Just past the sign the road descends and widens enough to offer convenient parking.
Once you’ve parked, walk up the entrance road cum driveway to the garage of the residence and a map showing the walking trails. From here enter the forest and the beginning of the trail. Before you break into stride you’ll need to navigate your way through a mesh fence put in place to protect crops from wild boar. Having passed through the fence there are two trails to choose from – the hiking course or the pilgrimage course.
The pilgrimage course is a circuit containing 88 altars, a miniature version of the 88-temple pilgrimage of the island of Shikoku. Both this course and the hiking course pass through forest containing moss-coated rocks and boulders, scenery for which Yama-Inudake is best known. The best time to appreciate the moss is early in the morning before the dew has evaporated or else on a rainy day.
The hike to the top of the mountain is relatively easy, taking only an hour or so. (If you’d like to make the hike a little more challenging, there is a section where you can climb up rocks using a chain instead of winding your way up the trail.) Nearing the top, the trail opens out onto a shrine and rest area. This is not the actual mountain summit however – you will need to ascend one more ridge to get to the top. On a fine day it is possible to see all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Kamikatsu has a wealth of other natural treasures besides Kashihara-Tanada and Yama-Inudake. Another excellent hiking venue is Mount Takamaru where native beech forest can be appreciated. If you’d like to get off ‘the beaten track’ and onto a real beaten track, the Super Rindo forest road has some stunning scenery, including crystal clear rivers and some impressive waterfalls. (This road is not paved and gets rough in parts so an off-road vehicle is recommended.) For those that venture to Tokushima Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, Kamikatsu is a must-see destination for nature lovers.