Weekend a Hiking Adventure: Oze (尾瀬), 2 of Japan’s famous Mountains: Shibutsu-san (至仏山) and Hiuchi-ga-take (燧ヶ岳).

Another great experience in the mountains.

Planning
It took me most of the Sunday afternoon the weekend before to plan this past weekend. It started off badly as due to Obon holiday (see separate post) every place I thought about going had no hotel availability – at least on the sites in English! My original plan was to get out if Tokyo on Friday night stay in a hotel somewhere closer to the walk and then do a two day walk returning on Sunday and staying in a mountain hut but without a hotel on Friday most of the walks were just too far away. I kept looking determined to go away as there are not so many summer weekends (Summer is only 2 months here and then there are fewer buses to the trail heads).

Eventually I settled on a different idea to visit Oze, famous for it’s marsh and wild flowers with 2 famous mountains possible with the same walk. The difference here was I needed an overnight bus but to organise that I need the help of the concierge where I live. It took about 45 minutes for the concierge to organise my trip – it should have been 2 simple telephone calls, one to book the mountain hut and one to book the bus but both were much more complicated!

The person at the mountain hut was very concerned about having a gaijin (foreigner) stay especially if my Japanese wasn’t good so I wouldn’t be able to understand all their rules! The discussion went on for a long time with discussion on what I could eat (not helped by my not eating meat) whether I could share a room (in a mountain hut!) and that they couldn’t take my booking if I was planning to break a rule about one way traffic on one of the mountains I was planning to climb – no intention of breaking the rule! I was at the point if giving up and taking my tent when I decided just to go for it and see what happened – it was about a 15 minute call!

The bus was fairly straight forward to organise on the telephone but to actually get the tickets I had to go to the 7Eleven. The manager came with me as he and the person on the phone thought I wouldn’t manage on my own and they were correct! The bus company had logged an incorrect phone number for me so the photocopier where you had to input your detail and answer several questions in Japanese wouldn’t accept my details. Another quick phone call and I had my tickets! I’m lucky to have the support of the people where I live otherwise this trip would have been close to impossible.

 

The weekend

This time I took an overnight bus from Tokyo to Tokura arriving at 0400 in the morning in the dark and rain. I was not alone, there were a number of other hikers and we all waited at the bus stop for the first bus to the trail head at 0440! Japanese hikers like to start early!

It was dark, warm and wet! Only a light drizzle so difficult to decide whether just to wear my shorts or waterproof trousers.

The bus driver from the overnight bus kindly got off the bus and took me to the stop, pointed at the desk with it’s shutters down and told me they would open at 0420 to sell me a ticket to the trail head. On the dot they did!

The bus was the first up the hill, I know because we had to stop at 0459 to wait for someone to open the barrier at 0500 when the road opened. I’ve seen that a few times in a Japan where the road to the trail head is privately owned. What was amazing was that seconds after we arrived another 5-6 small buses arrived and about 100 people crossed the car park to the cafe that opened its door spot in time – all at just after 0500 in the morning on a damp day!

I decided to avoid the crowds and head for my hill straight away. It was one if Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains: Shibutsu-san (至仏山) I was first up it seeing no one on the walk up and summitting just after 0700! It was a lovely peak, less wooded so good views. The weather was a little wet with cloud coming and going but I got some nice views including a view down onto the Oze marshes. The weather was actually really nice for walking, a lot cooler than it’s been, more like mid 20s and I managed the walk in shorts and t-shirt with my waterproof jacket on and off as the level of rain determined!

I retraced my steps as this is the only way you are allowed to come down. The walking was really nice, mostly steps and board walk although the top was rugged with less of a defined path.

Next was the reason that most people come to Oze – the marsh. It’s famous for it’s flowers particularly it’s skunk cabbage flowers in late May and June and has board walks all across making it really good to see. Before I hit the marsh proper there was a walk down through some lovely woods with a great mix of trees.

It was funny, I’d heard it can be very busy and not that nice experience due to huge numbers of people. I started like that walking in a big group wanting to go slightly faster but not sure how to overtake without causing offence, looking around but having to watch my step when suddenly I saw a butterfly on some flowers and just stepped to the side to photograph it and then I had the walk almost to myself – it was like stepping off a tread mill.

Now I took lots of photographs and started to really enjoy it.

I arrived at the hut at around 1100, it’s hard with these very early starts not to finish exceptionally early! It didn’t officially open until 1400 but fortunately had a shelter where I could relax and have a snooze while waiting. It’s typical I have time to relax but am so shattered by the lack of sleep and early start that I didn’t even do my Japanese with my usual enthusiasm! The rain had just started to get heavy and after arriving it just continued. I did get the best weather of the day.

They were friendly although I did have the rules explained twice by two different people and broke the rules (not one they explained) almost immediately by wearing my hut slippers into the tatami room – fortunately I quickly realised and no one saw me! I was put into a room by myself – luxury although it did mean I needed an alarm – I normally just relay on everyone else.

They had a really nice tatami relaxing social room and I spent most of the afternoon there, reading and writing my blog.

The mountain hut had an Onsen/Sento (hot bath)! I wasn’t expecting that at all – 15 minutes for women and then 15 minutes for men all controlled through announcements. After my very hot bath I felt warm and awake and decided to treat myself to a beer. Coolish as the electricity had only been on for about 1 hour but tasted great!

More relaxation, writing mainly while I waited for tea at 1730.  Dinner was delicious and after I went pretty much straight to bed getting to sleep about 1830 after being up most of the night before!

 

I woke early the next day after a long sleep ready for breakfast at 0500.  After another delicious Japanese meal I headed off for my second day of walking.  The rain had stopped but before I headed out the hut owner advised me not to walk up the mountain as it was very difficult.  I headed off and the walking was fine.  Quite steep but much easier than a lot of trails I’ve been on – no chains or steps cut here.  The views were great as I climbed – I got above the cloud and then it cleared giving good views back down to the lake.

I walked back down and around the lake before heading out of the park and walking down to Oshimuzu and catching the bus back to Tokyo.

 

 

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Kamakura Run and Beach Party

A great day out on Saturday!

I had a relaxing morning at the beach hut as due to the approaching typhoon and resulting rough seas swimming was not allowed on the beach. At lunch time we headed out for a trail run incorporating some of Kamakura’s historical sites including Kotokuin Temple with the great Budda and one of the nicest temples I’ve been to with serene gardens. Not too much time to look around as we had a 17.5 km run to do but lovely to take in some of the culture.

After running we celebrated with some beer (Kamakura beer in Kamakura for me!) and then some dinner. A really great day out with some lovely people from Namban Rengo running club.

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Toilets!

One of the remarkable things about Japan is their toilets – they have the most advanced and highly engineered toilets I’ve come across. Almost everywhere the toilets have a bidet system incorporated, very often a heated seat (I’m still trying to work out how to switch my seat off now we are in the peak heat of summer!).

I attach a photograph of the toilet in my apartment to give you an idea.

In some public places like parks, there are ‘old style’ squat toilets, these are less engineered but in my experience always clean.

There are also toilets with a small sink above the cistern so that when you flush the water first comes out a tap and then is reused to flush the toilet! Great idea except it is a little tricky to use a small sink when you have to lean over the toilet to do so.

I haven’t seen any toilets at all in between in style (like British toilets).

The other common feature is a button on toilets that makes a noisy to hide any noises that you might make during your visit! Evidently this started due to Japanese women flushing the toilet while using. Someone then realized they could make an artificial flushing noise! The toilets at work have a combination of running water and bird song added as an extra feature – the toilets already have a flushing sound.

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Hakone – visit in early June with Mark

Back at the start of June when Mark came to visit we went to Hakone near to Mount Fuji and quite close to Tokyo.  It was the start of the rainy season as you can see and rained more or less non-stop for our trip!

It was still great.  We stayed in a ryokan in Hakone-Yumoto which included yukata (the Japanese kimono like wear) and onsen (natural hot baths) both inside and outside, sleeping on futon on tatami mats.

On the first day there we walked along an ancient pathway that connected Kyoto with Tokyo stopping at a very old cafe for a welcome break and some interesting Japanese snacks.

On the second day we took the tourist trail around the crater which involves many types of transport; train, bus, ship ‘The Victory’, cable car.  We stopped to visit the geological museum and see some of the volcanic emissions and eating some eggs blackened by cooking in the hot waters.  We also visited the world class ‘Open Air Museum’ a fantastic sculpture park with many modern sculptures in a great setting.

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Japanese – learning the language – update

I’m still really enjoying studying Japanese!  I have now had 13 x 1 hour of 1:1 lessons (all in Japanese!).  The classes are all about talking which is great.  I get homework every week which is about writing and of course practicing.

My interaction with my teacher is a bit like that of toddler to adult.  She is all knowing but talks to me in a very simple way with plenty of facial expressions, pointing and quite a lot of drawing (she is very good at this!).  It’s really good and I’m so pleased to be improving and managing to put together some simple sentences.

Believe it or not the classes aren’t quite enough for me so I’m also working my way through a book on reading and writing in Japanese which I started before I came out.  This concentrates on Kanji (the Chinese characters) whereas I’ve been working mostly in kana (Japanese syllables) in the classes.  Kanji has just started in class but I’m pleased to report that I can read and write kana now reasonably well.  One form of kana is for words that have come from other languages.  As this is mainly English if you can read it you can work out what quite a lot of words mean.

Japanese people are so welcoming to an outsider speaking the language, even if it is only a few phrases so I rarely feel intimidated about trying which helps massively.

I also have been to lunch a few times with 2 really nice colleagues from sales who want to improve their English.  We talk a mix of English and Japanese (mostly English) but it is another friendly place for me to practice.

わたしはにほんごをすこしはなします。

I speak a little Japanese