Hiking Mt. Mitake (御岳山)

It’s time for the next post, this time on the subject of Mt. Mitake, on which I was hiking together with two friends. The mountain belongs to Tokyo prefecture (it takes only about an hour from Shinjuku station to get there by train), but it felt like we were really far away from the city!

But first things first: After arriving at Mitake train station we first checked the local map to find our way to the mountain, which is located in a mountain range in the west of Tokyo. The way up lead us along mountain rivers, narrow valleys and through lush green forests, making us quickly forget just how close we were to outskirts of Japan’s largest mega city.

Further up the mountain we reached the rope way train station, where we would take the train to skip the steepest bit of the way and enjoy the beautiful view from the train windows. The weather was beautiful on that day and we weren’t the only travelers – by far! The train was packed with people who wanted to get up to the top and everyone seemed to be in a good mood, including us :-)

On the top of Mt. Mitake there is a small village with narrow, winding roads, traditional houses and beautiful scenic views. It’s definitely worth it to take your time up there to stroll around for a bit, take a look at the souvenir shops and enjoy a drink or some meal.

At the end of the village we got to the Musashi Mitake srhine, one of the most revered shrines of the Kanto region, as it sits on top of the blessed Mt. Mitake. It is said to have been built in the year 736 and became an important base for worship. When Japan was united under Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shrine was rebuilt to face towards Tokyo, the new capital of the realm. Directly next to the shrine stands the treasure hall, which houses many offerings made by important families in Japanese history, including two national treasures (one of those is the Akaito-oroshi Oyoroi, one of the oldest complete armor sets in Japan – the picture didn’t turn out any good however, so you’ll have to look it up yourself) and a number of cultural properties.

With the shrine behind us we entered the pristine forests on the slopes of Mt. Mitake again. Our way led us downwards to the Nanayonotaki falls, which are the biggest waterfalls on the mountain. The water in the small bassin below was still really chilly and felt very refreshing, which was also quite helpful as the way led us upwards again, over labyrinthine entagled roots to the Tengu rock, which is supposed to be a lair of Tengu – fabled beings from Japanese mythology.

The way led us further up again, while we were following the small river that had been feeding the waterfall we saw some time ago. The river was lined with rocks, overgrown with moss, marking the area as the Mitake Rock Garden. So far away from the village only few other people passed us by and we had the beautiful scenery to ourselves most of the time. The air smelt fresh and spicy, totally different from the air in the canyons between Tokyo’s skycrapers.

However, we couldn’t stay in this green paradise forever, as the city was calling us back with its many duties and charms awaiting us. However, there was still some time to finish the day off with some ramen soup close to the station – what a fine ending!

I hope you enjoyed this article! Leave a comment if there’s anything you’d like to add or ask about! The next article should follow soon 😉

Traveling 2015 – Hiroshima (広島) | Miyajima (宮島)

As always when I come to Hiroshima prefecture, I try to include a trip to Miyajima, if possible. Being one of the three most beautiful natural landscapes of Japan, the island is featured on the front page of many guide books about Japan and draws large crowds of visitors every day. My personal relation with Miyajima started in 2010, when I was doing my first journey to Japan and went there together with a few Japanese friends. Since then, I’ve been enthralled by the island’s beauty and atmosphere.

The 'floating' torii (shrine gate) of Itsukushima shrine - one of the most famous photo motives in Japan.

The ‘floating’ torii (shrine gate) of the Itsukushima shrine – one of the most famous photo motives in Japan.

This time I was visiting Miyajima together with friends from Saijo and from Hamburg (who are now living in Hiroshima). We were walking through the small town along the coastline, which includes a really nice, if tourist-y, shopping street and spent our time to discover the shrines and temples on the island anew. Nothing much had changed since my last visit: the old places still looked the same and the deer were as bold as ever – just the way I like the place.

But Miyajima has a lot more to offer than the area around the famous Itsukushima shrine. The island is dominated by the shape Mt. Misen, who was also declared UNESCO world heritage together with its forests, just like the coastal area. However, most people don’t take their time to get up to the top and miss the stunning view over the islands of the Setō Inland Sea. We didn’t intend to make the same mistake and decided to spent the latter half of the day for this small endeavour.

With this hike done, it was time to return to Hiroshima city, where my night bus was waiting for me to take me back to Tokyo. It was a sad feeling to leave Hiroshima again after such a short time, but I know I’ll be back!

I hope you enjoyed reagind about my trip to Hiroshima. Leave a comment, if you have any questions. You can expect the next posts to deal with activities in and around Tokyo again :-)

Farewell, Miyajima!

Farewell, Miyajima!

Traveling 2015 – Hiroshima (広島) | Ōkunoshima (大久野島)

As promised last time, I’ll continue to tell you about my trip to Hiroshima with this article. This is going to be the second of three posts, so you can expect another one to appear soon! For now I’d like to tell you about my day trip to Ōkunoshima together with Chad – enjoy reading!

Ōkunoshima

Ōkunoshima as seen from the ferry.

The island of Ōkunoshima is located in the Japanese Setō Inland Sea and belongs to the prefecture of Hiroshima. It has been famous for its abundance of rabbits that live there without any natural predators that decimate the population. Still, due to the slightly remote location of the island not many tourists ever found their way there. This changed recently, when the neighbouring town of Takehara became the setting of a popular anime and anime fans started to travel to the region. Being close to Takehara, Ōkunoshima received its share of tourists too – like me.

On the island!

On the island!

Already shortly after arriving on the island by ferry you could see rabbits everywhere. Due to it being a hot day, most of them spent their time in the shadow of plants, rocks or anything they could find. The remaining rabbits were completely occupied with eating all of the food that the other tourists had brought for them. They were all really used to humans and tried to beg for food whenever they had the feeling that you were about to eat something. At the same time, the local souvenir store and café had specialized on selling various products and foods related to these cute rodents.

Now, you might ask, where did these rabbits actually come from? And that’s a good question! There are a few theories, but the one that seemed most plausible to me (incidentally that’s also the one that makes for a better story) is related to the past of the island. Before and during the Second World War Ōkunoshima was actually used a the location of a poison gas factory for the Japanese army. The factory was destroyed after the war, but the rabbits, who were used as ‘guinea pigs’, where set free. Without any dangerous predators on the island, they could easily reproduce and began to populate the whole island. The result of this process can be seen on the pictures above.

However, the ruins of the poison gas factory and the attached military facilities can still be found all over the island too and make for a particularly eerie feeling when you get close to them. Nevertheless, they can still be explored (though you might need to ignore a few warning signs) and I found them to be much more interesting than the rabbits, to be honest. I’ll show you some of them, to give you an impression of what the island is like as well, once you get away from the main rabbit spots.

The first one is the former power plant building, which also included some of the factory’s offices. The ruin can already be seen from the sea, once the ferry gets close enough to the island. I was told thatyou were still allowed to go inside a few years ago – nowadays you have to climb a small fence. Being made of concreet and steel, the building didn’t look like it was going to fall apart anytime soon, so entering shouldn’t be too dangerous, despite the official warnings.

Next on the list were the locations of the poison gas tanks. Those have obviously been removed (as in: dumped into the Pacific Ocean), but the concrete foundations and the storage facilities are still visible. If you take a look at the second picture, you’ll see that the size of the tanks must have been huge!

The main military facilities were located at the highest point of the island to be more easily defendable in case of an attack. Several former barracks as well as artillery replacements can still be seen, even though the emplaced weapons were distroyed along with the poison gas facilities. None of these structures are closed of at all, so you can even walk into the old ammunition storage (though I’d recommend a good flash light – you’ll want to see the huge insects living in there before they appear right above your head).

In my opinion, these ruins could and should be promoted a lot more. They could be used to teach people about the war (even in an interesting and entertaining way, if you consider nightly hikes with flash lights and camping on site), as well as expanding Ōkunoshima’s image beyond that of the “Rabbit Island”.

I doubt this is going to happen anytime soon, but one can hope, right?

Traveling 2015 – Hiroshima (広島) | Saijo (西条)

The second time that I was able to travel for a few days during my current stay in Tokyo I decided to go to Hiroshima prefecture. A few very good friends from the time that I studied at Hiroshima University are still (or again) living in the area and I wanted to take the chance to see them again. It’s still quite a bit from Tokyo to Hiroshima (13 hours by night bus in fact), but it’s definitely less of a distance than if I were to go there from Hamburg 😀

I was really happy that I was able to stay at a friends place for the days that I was in town. This made the whole trip really relaxed, as I didn’t have to care about bookings and reservations at all. I stayed in Saijo, which is a mid-size town in the east of Hiroshima city where I also studied from 2011 to 2012. It’s actually one of the few places (apart from mega cities such as Tokyo or Osaka) in Japan that are still growing and developing, so a few things had changed since I was in town the last time. Most notable were the new train station and the new town hall.

Still, the atmosphere of the town remained unchanged and it felt really good to walk the same streets again like in those years. Being famous for its sake, I also had to visit the brewery district and taste a few of their brands again. The summer varieties were also already on sale and fit the mostly sunny weather really well!

Saijo's first beergarden

Saijo’s first beergarden

The big reunion took place at Saijo’s first beergarden on the 10th floor of a hotel close to the place where I was staying. Beeing a roof terrace, the place was a bit windy, but the view over Saijo was beautiful. The bar also featured a very special machine to pour beer into the glasses – but just see for yourself:

YouTube Preview Image

I would consider this machine to be quite a useless invention, but that might be the traditionalist (when it comes to beer) in me speaking. Though it has to be said: the whole process worked out to be really fast and looked entertaining on top of that 😉

In any case, it was a really enjoyable evening, which was later topped off with some great karaoke singing! Thanks for all the fun, guys: Cheers!

Some of the most awesome people in the world!

Some of the most awesome people in the world!

That’s it for this post. The following two posts will deal with two trips I undertook while staying in Hiroshima. You should be able to read those on Thursday. Until then enjoy the current posts (or any of the older ones) and feel free to leave a comment :)

A Day in Chiba City (千葉市)

Living in Chiba prefecture, I also felt the urge to check out the prefectures main city, which conviniently goes by the name of Chiba City and was just easily reachable by taking the train for a few stations. I decided to meet there with my former language tandem partner Masako and her friend Nami, at whose house my brother and I stayed when we were climbing Mt. Fuji in 2011 – it already feels like ages ago.

For our day in Chiba City, we decided to go to the zoo first. From my past experiences with Japanese zoos this one stood out to me as actually using cages that weren’t too small (as far as zoo cages go – for the animals every case is too small, of course) and feeling very much like a forest, due to the large amount of trees everywhere. The zoo is especially famous for its lesser pandas who are now already in their third generation, as far as I remember. The oldest one of them even got to be a TV star by being able to stand on his behind legs. Though those weren’t the only animals, of course 😉

The next spot of our day trip was the port area. Chiba has one of the bigger ports in Japan and also boasts the port tower, from which you’re supposed to be able to see until Mt. Fuji if the skies are clear. We didn’t happen to be that lucky, but it was nevertheless a cool sight. The area around the port tower even felt a bit like the Elbe beach in Hamburg :-)

With the sun slowly setting the three of us decided to head back to the city centre to go to an Izakaya and let the day come to an end there. The bar was one of Nami’s recommendations and it was definitely worth it. A huge selection of great food accompanied by nice drinks and a cool atmosphere. While we were in there and having fun, a strenght 8,4 earthquake struck Japan, but luckily several hundred kilometers below us. The bar shook quite a bit nevertheless, but the other customers didn’t seem to mind too much, so we didn’t either. When in Rome…

All in all I really enjoyed the day in Chiba with Masako and Nami. Just the right mixture of sightseeing and fun. We already have some more meetings planned :)

That’s the end for this post. I hope you enjoyed it. Leave a comment if you like or if there are questions!