As one old saying goes, “Fuji in the west, Tsukuba in the east.”
Sure Mt. Fuji is Japan’s most famous peak, but Mt. Tsukuba’s beauty is widely recognized as one of Japan’s hyakumeizan or 100 Famous Mountains. Identifiable by its characteristic double peaks – known as Mt. Nantai (871 meters) and Mt. Nyotai (877 meters) respectively, Mount Tsukuba boasts a variety of scenic hiking trails.
Situated in the west of Ibaraki prefecture, some refer to it as the “purple mountain” as it changes colors several times a day, from indigo at sunrise to deep violet at sunset.
From a geological standpoint, unlike a majority of Japanese mountains composed of lava, Mt. Tsukuba is unique; made up of mainly granite and gabbro. One notable site on the twin summit is a famous toad-shaped rock, called gama-ishi, whose froggy formation is simply a big chunk of weathered gabbro.
Another odd-shaped rock (and you’ll notice many as you reach the summit) is the benkei-nanamodori (or “Benkei returning seven times”) located on the hiking trail of Mt. Nyotai.
The rock is named after the gallant warrior priest Musashibo Benkei. The story goes that it took seven times for Benkei to muster the courage to pass through the rock, which looks like it’s ready to pulverize anyone who comes under its path (think: Indiana Jones being chased by a boulder).
An ancient sacred mountain, Tsukuba is also shrouded in myth. Celebrated as a spiritual source of fertility, with its two peaks designated as a “male” and “female”, praying at Tsukuba-san Shrine is believed to bring marital, or if you’re not quite there yet, matchmaking, bliss.
Legend also has it that a deity descended from the heavens seeking refuge first at Mt. Fuji and subsequently at Mt. Tsukuba. While Mt. Fuji haughtily refused, Mt. Tsukuba humbly welcomed the deity to its abode. Because of this selfless act, Tsukuba-san is brimming with an abundance of wildlife while in stark contrast, Fuji-san is forever cold and barren.
From mid-February to mid-March, Mt. Tsukuba heralds the arrival of spring with over 30 varieties of plum trees bursting in white to light pink blooms. Hop on the Tsukuba-san Ropeway from Tsutsujigaoka Station to the top of Mt. Nyotai or opt for the Tsukuba-san Cable Car, connecting the mountain’s matchmaking shrine to the peak of Mt. Nantai. Either way, you’ll be treated to a spectacular view.