Japanese Summers are super hot and humid. Temperatures can reach up to 38°C (100° F) in some parts, and when living in an urban area such as Tokyo, you feel the heat even more because of the vast number of people. The best way to escape the city is to travel to the open countryside and surround yourself with mountains and calm, cooling water. Akigawa Valley is the perfect place to do this; you can swim, hike, and you may even see some monkeys along the way!
You would not believe it because of how rural it seems, but Akigawa Valley is a part of Tokyo prefecture. It only takes one hour to get there from Shinjuku (central Tokyo) on the Chuo line and a quick transfer to the Ome line at Hajima. As you arrive at Musashi-Itsukaichi Station, you will find lots of information about fun things you can do in the area, including a touchscreen that has many languages available. You will also find some konbinis (Japanese convenience stores) where you can pick up a bento or snacks for your trip.
In the summer heat, it can be challenging to hike or walk for long periods, so to get to Akigawa Valley, I recommend you get the bus from just outside the station. Many buses head in that direction, so just check when you arrive, or during busier days, there is often a worker who will send you on your way! However, if you are up for the walk, the views of the mountains are breathtaking, and there is a shop that sells impressive Japanese ceramics at a fantastic price called Murayama on the way.
In the cooler months, I usually walk with a beer in my hand and you can konbini crawl on the way and pick up more drinks. The final konbini is a 7/11 about 15 minutes from the bridge so make sure you stock up!
When you arrive at the center of the Akigawa Valley there is the beautiful Ishibunebashi bridge that is surrounded by trees and looks out onto the river. If you visit in Fall the leaves are various colors: red, brown, orange and yellow. Make sure you bring a camera or your phone so you can catch some stunning photos of the scenery. If you walk for another 10 minutes after you have crossed the bridge then you will reach Seotonoyu Hot Spring Hotel. Here you can enjoy footbaths, both indoor and outdoor hot springs, and traditional Japanese food. This is the perfect place if you want to take a few days to explore the area.
My usual swimming spot is back over the bridge and through a small grassy patch down the pathway to the rocks just underneath the bridge. Here you can relax in a pool of water, race down the rapids, and also jump from the higher parts. During the peak summer times, you will find many families here with many children plucking up the courage to dive into the water. Many a time I have shouted ganbare “がんばれ“ which means do your best!
No doubt Akigawa Valley is a fun day out for people of all ages, however, there are some dangers to be aware of. Unless you are a strong swimmer do not go down the rapids, or if you do, go down with a trustworthy friend who can help you. Make sure you wear plenty of sun cream, being in water during the intense midday sun can intensify the burn. Luckily at around 3 pm, the river area becomes shaded by the trees and therefore you can relax a bit more. It is also typical of Japanese people to wear t-shirts or even body suits to protect themselves from the sun which is another great option.
Be on high alert of any mischievous wildlife, on my many travels to Akigawa Valley I have seen monkeys, various bugs and I was even ambushed by two snakes. Do not let this put you off, leave the animals alone and you will have no troubles. Except for maybe the occasional pesky mosquito so make sure you bring bug spray in preparation for the ultimate day out.
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