Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Who Says Tokyo has no Trees?

Today I could not have planned it any better. The sun was shining, the wind was non-existent, a great day for hiking. Etsuko, my intrepid companion, and I set off bright and early for a place called Mitake Mountain which is about an hour and a half West of my place. As today was a public holiday the train was literally packed with hikers. Two things I found interesting about this. First that the hikers were all, and I mean all, dressed in basically matching outfits, they had bright coloured gore-tex jackets, thermal leggings, tramping boots, woollen hats, gloves and these ridiculously unnecessary tramping poles (similar to ski poles). The other funny and eventually annoying things was that many of them had these tiny bells attached to their massively overfilled backpacks. I have heard two possible reasons why people carry these bells, firstly and I can understand, they warn bears that you are coming so that the bears have time to run away rather than risk a nasty confrontation. The second reason is that the spirits like the sound of bells, so this improves your safety. Maybe both are correct? Strangely most of these ‘well’ equipped hikers got off the train a couple of stops before what I would consider the main hiking area. On our train there was probably 150 people. So over the course of the morning I would imagine that about 500 people were hiking in the same area as us.


We finally arrived at Mitake and asked the local information officer about some of the walks in the region. He put us on to the ‘Mount Takamizu Sanzan Course’ which roughly translates to the Three Mountains of Takamizu  Course. This is an 11km course that traverses three peaks. The components of the Course add up to about four hours walking time. This sounded like a bit of us we thought and off we set at about 9.30am….we soon discovered why most of the other people on our train had got off at the earlier stop as the course begins with a very steep uphill then downhill then UP HILL section. My intrepid companion became slightly less intrepid and I became the proud wearer of two backpacks. Once we reached the first summit at 759m we were over the worst of the walk.


The scenery was quite lovely, although as the day wore on so did the amount of haze and visibility dropped substantially. For example on the train ride to the Course we could see Mount Fuji, but at the highest peak there was no sign of it. The Japanese are quite fanatical about doing the right thing in the right season, and it seemed that everyone was taking their Autumn leaf watching very seriously!


The walk was fairly uneventful (compared to bear sightings that is). There were a couple of very steep sections which required a bit of care, but nothing which required the brown shorts to come out of the back pack. We thought we would have a nice and quiet peaceful lunch at the second peak. So did the 150 other hikers that were coming from the other direction! It was amazing the equipment that they packed such as stoves and blankets. Unnecessary I thought but after all they were eating hot Noodles when I was tucking into a semi-cold Onigiri (rice ball with some tuna stuffed inside it). Something which we found rather funny while at our lunching ground was that we set the camera up for a self timer photo and a nosy old lady was walking by and saw the camera. The picture below is the end result of this!


Walking the gentle downhill section was rather relaxing although the constant bells gives me great sympathy for Quasimodo.


The Course was littered with Jinja, or temples and shrines (there is a Japanese word but I can’t remember it). These are quite impressive things which are often placed in sacred places such as on the top of mountains.


We continued on our course and finished up at about 2.30pm. All in all a great days hiking. It’s a pity that the sun sets now at about 4.30pm, it was a beautiful area to explore and I would have loved more time. If you are interested in reading about this area then look at http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3036.html


OK better go.