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If you’re looking for a day-trip hike in the Hanshin Area, around the cities of Osaka, Kobe, Nishinomiya, or Amagasaki, I recommend heading out to Mt. Kabuto (possibly named for its helmet-like shape). At just over 300 meters (or about 1,000 feet), the mountain makes for an easy climb, and also features a temple with beautiful views of Nishinomiya City and Osaka further east. Also nearby is Kabutoyama Forest Park, which has free admittance and some great viewpoints of Mt. Kabuto, the surrounding city, and Nishinomiya Harbor.
There are a quite a few train stations near Mt. Kabuto, including Koyoen, Nigawa, and Kotoen. For my hiking course, I started from Koyoen Station, walked through a maze-like residential district (bringing a map or a capable smartphone is a must), climbed up to Kannoji Temple, continued on to the peak of Mt. Kabuto, hiked east to Kabutoyama Forest Park and its 6-kilometer trail, then further east toward Nigawa Station and its local branch of a famous bakery/sandwich store called Panelle (パンネル). You could easily take the opposite route (starting at Nigawa Station and ending at Koyoen), but I preferred to finish the hike with a nice pastry as a reward.
Getting off at Koyoen Station, I walked north up the hills through winding neighborhood streets for about two kilometers. After passing through the center of the residential district, there is an abundance of Japanese signs reading “神呪寺”: Kannoji Temple. Also, being Japan, there is a profusion of vending machines selling hot and cold drinks and, just in case you forgot, energy bars for intrepid hikers. Life. Saver.
The way up to Kannoji Temple seems like it’s designed to get worshippers and travelers pumped as they approach the temple because it features concessive gates that offer tantalizing views of the main complex. The temple was originally built over 1,000 years ago, though has since then had many parts rebuilt and replaced. The temple grounds have a fantastic panoramic view of the surrounding area, often reaching far off into the distance past Osaka. I highly recommend hiking on a clear day to fully enjoy the view.
Next up, I took the path from the temple directly up to the summit of Mt. Kabuto. Having expected views as spectacular as those from the temple, the summit was a bit disappointing, but the path upward still has some views to make the extra exercise worth it. Plus, hiking the insignificant extra distance allows you to say that you truly climbed Mt. Kabuto. Street cred.
Descending east toward Kabutoyama Forest Park, I entered the six kilometer light climbing trail. On the way, I stopped off at the park’s viewing area where there are some picnic tables, vending-machine full of sports drinks, and the park’s “Statue of Love” which is pretty cool. The park also features exercise zones to do some outdoor workouts if hiking isn’t enough. There are also plenty of rest-areas and bathrooms.
As frequent signage indicates, wild mountain boars are dangerous and I saw an elderly man reading on bench, utterly terrified of the possibility of their appearance (see photo). Main rules concerning mountain boars: a) Don’t feed them b) Try to leave the scene calmly and quickly if one appears.
Kabutoyama Forest Park has all kinds of surprises like pristine ponds, giant decorative clocks and winter-blooming flowers. I took my time on the trail to enjoy them, and hope you do too. To return home, I took the east exit, and again wandered through the maze of neighborhoods, this time bound for Nigawa Station and the way home. I stopped on the way, however, to pick up a pastry at Pannelle (Open 7:00am-7:00pm except on Sundays and two Mondays per month). The store is a popular bakery chain located all over the local area offering everything from your standard bread loaves (cut thick, in Japanese-style) to black sesame chicken sandwiches, croissants and sweet-potato danishes. I choose a walnut-flavored pastry filled with sweet bean-paste (くるみあんぱん).
Pannelle products aren’t like your standard convenience store bakery fare. They are fresh, cheap, and delicious, with many products running out as the day goes on. My walnut sweet-bean pastry was fresh and chewy on the inside, and slightly firmer on the outside. Success. After reaching Nigawa Station, hunger satisfied, I was done for the day and ready to board the train home for bed.
Editor’s Tip: If you don’t fancy tiring your legs, catch the number 7 bus from Nishinomiya Hanshin (also stops at JR) and be whisked straight to the temple and/or forest park. The park is particularly beautiful during momiji season.