Takao-san Guchi

Today was one of those beautiful, clear, sunny Autumn days that you get here so we decided to go out for lunch to Mt Takao and enjoy some of the Autumn leaves. It was actually still a bit early for the full Autumn colours but it was probably for the best – the crowds were bad enough as it was!

This is the ropeway station. The queue was about 1-hour long so we decided not to bother:

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Still, there were some nice early flashes of colour:

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Some jizo statues near the station (had the ISO up a little too high here):

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Leaves on a pond:

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Down by the river:

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We had a delicious lunch of tempura and soba noodles at this restaurant. One of the tempura was made with dried persimmon which we’d never seen before. If you look closely the restaurant has been built around a tree that protudes from the roof:

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The inside, with tree:

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Foliage near the station:

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Mt Kikka – Mt Gozen – Mt Kagura Hiking

We had a bit of an adventure at the weekend. We wanted to go for a hike up Mt Shoto but we missed one train connection just as the doors were closing which meant we also missed the bus connection – the one bus per hour! We decided then to keep going down the same line to Otsuki station which had a short three-hour hike on the map.
We should’ve had some idea something was up by both the “You want to go where?” look the tourist office lady gave us and the fact that we couldn’t find the start of the trail! Lost before we’d started. This was a small temple that was not the start:

Mt Gozen 1

We found the start of the trail which, after a short flight of steps, turned into a 60° climb pulling ourselves up with ropes:

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Some mushrooms along the trail:

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This was not the smartest thing to be doing in 33° heat and humidity but we managed to reach the top of that peak where, if you look closely, you can see Mt Fuji:

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That was the first of the three peaks and was relatively straightforward. Generally after the initial climb you can walk along the ridge line with only some up and down:

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There was some quite nice hiking in places – well I’m sure it would be enjoyable in Autumn anyway:

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But it soon became clear that the city council, figuring no-one in their right mind would go hiking in the middle of summer, didn’t bother to maintain the paths and just let them grow for those months. It was like a jungle! The paths were criss-crossed with spider webs, we literally had to slash our way through overgrowth in some places, we lost the path a couple of times. We were like a pair of Dr Livingstones! Eventually, we made it down the mountain only to find the last stairs so completely overgrown we couldn’t even see the path. Here are some iPhone snaps.

This is the ‘path’:

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At some point what goes up must come down – then get lost, then go back up again, find the path and come down:

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Somewhere in here there were stairs:

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Moral of the story: don’t go hiking in Summer (and if you do wear long pants)!!

Kamikochi – Day 1

We decided to escape the 35 degree heat on the weekend and go camping up into the Japanese Alps of Nagano to the Kamikochi area. The area is a National Park where cars are prohibited from entering for ‘preserving and maintaining the virgin nature’. Which, of course, brings bus-loads of tourists. But, once you get further up away from the crowds (and don’t look too closely at the bulldozed river), it really is a very scenic and beautiful spot.

With the soaring mountain peaks, it is truely deserving of its tag ‘The Japanese Alps’:

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Once past the bus-stop and main tourist area, the hiking course winds up the slope along the river:

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And then back into a birch forest:

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There are small streams running through the forest – I imagine in spring they would be flooded with melt-off from the snow:

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Every now and then we could catch a glimpse of the mountain peaks:

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After a couple of hours walking through the forest we came back out towards the river and eventually the campsite:

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Sunset:

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Mt Takao Hike

We went for a short hike on the weekend up Mt Takao. It’s easy to see why this got 3 stars in the Michellin Guide – there’s not many other major world cities where less than two hours on the train, and still technically within the city, you can find yourself walking up mountain trails. We went on Trail #6 which runs along a small stream, so it was wonderful to escape the summer heat if only for a short time (though not the humidity!).

Getting into the spirit of it (recently trail running has become popular):

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The Seven Gods of Luck stand watch:

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The start of the trail proper:

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The mountain was a popular pilgrimmage site – devotees would stand under the waterfall and pray:

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Ladies enjoying a day out:

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The mountain is covered with old growth forest – amazing that it’s actually inside the City of Tokyo:

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There are stepping stones up the middle of the stream:

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 Camouflage:

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Summer flowers along the trail:

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View from the top of the mountain:

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And then back to the concrete city…

Okinawa – Gusuku Road

The south-east corner of the main island of Okinawa is relatively little visited but does have some interesting sites along what’s called the Gusuku Road. ‘Gusuku‘ is a bit of a controversial word as there is some debate among archeologists as to what it actually refers – it may be a stone fortress/residence, a defensive site, or a place of ancestor worship or burial place – and the period referred to as the ‘Gusuku Period’ pre-dates the Ryukyu Kingdom, possibly as far back as the 12th or 13th Centuries. Along the Gusuku Road, there are sacred sites and the ruins of several castles.

Starting by the ocean on the eastern coast is Sefa-utaki, one the most sacred sites on Okinawa and now a world-heritage site:

Gusuku 2 - Seifa Utaki

Continuing further down the road is Tamagusuku-jo Castle (there’s actually a couple of other sites on the road before that but we missed the turn-off), the oldest castle on Okinawa and said to have been built by the legendary creator of the Ryukyus, Amamikiyo. An amazing natural stone circle forms the entrance:

Gusuku 3 - Tamagusuku-jo 2

From the 16th Century or so on, the site was used more as a sacred place of worship. This is the remains of an alter:

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Just up from here is Itoman-jo Castle, built in the 14th Century. It is the largest in the area and is relatively undeveloped so it feels a bit like stumbling onto an undiscovered ruin in the jungle:

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Most of it is built from volcanic rock:

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Mt Takao

On the western edge of Tokyo city there is an oasis of greenery amoung the grey: Mt Takao. A sacred mountain for over 1000 years, it’s amazing that an area with a network of hiking trails through wooded slopes lies within metropolitan Tokyo. It was awarded 3-stars in the Japan Michelin guide and apparently holds the Guinness record for the most climbed mountain in the world.

Unfortunately, when we went last weekend, it seemed they all decided to come at once. As the cable-car more resembled Shinjuku station, we joined the crowds shuffling up the hill:

Luckily, there were some jizo statues to keep watch over everyone:

Now that the haze of summer has started to clear, there are some great views back over Tokyo along the way:

On the way to the top of the mountain is the temple Yakuoin.  The sacred deities associated with the temple are tengus which have either long noses or beaks:

I’m not sure who this little guy is:

The main hall of Yakuoin:

The temple is richly decorated and colourful:

Temple priest. They blow horns made of giant conch shells that echo around the mountain:

Around a smaller out-building of the temple are a series of small jizo statues. If you can manage to place a 5-yen coin on the heads of all of them you will have good luck:

Although it can get a bit tricky:

Of course, the real reason for the hordes of walkers is the autumn leaves (and the fact it was on TV that week). They really are quite spectacular:

And another view from the top across Tokyo:

Kinugawa

Taking the Tobu Line from Asakusa in Tokyo north towards Nikko, the train branches at Shimo-imaichi station – the left takes you to Nikko while the right goes to Kinugawa. Kinugawa is an onsen hotspring town that inevitably became over-developed during the Bubble years of the 1980’s/90’s. Now, twenty years later, it has settled down into a quiet getaway from the tourist-bustle of Nikko itself with wonderful onsens, some stunning autumn foliage (although we went in Summer!) and boat rides down the river.

The name, 鬼怒川 Kinugawa, means devil or ogre river, which of course is reminded to visitors with all the subtlety one might expect in an ogre:

The Kinugawa river runs through the centre of town and down out to the rock formations of the Ryuou-kyou Ravine, which you can take a boat ride down:

You can do that, but we decided to hike it down. Following the left bank along the river affords some spectacular views of the ravine:

After a while you pass a small shrine with a waterfall:

Further along there is a bridge that crosses the ravine (with a soba noodle shop on the other side!):

From there you can hike back to town along the opposite bank. The path is dotted with summer wildflowers and even the occasional wildlife. After that, it’s time to enjoy a rewarding soak in an outdoor onsen over-looking the river.