Unknown exiting trail in Mt. Fuji

The season to climb up summer mountains has come in Japan! And Mt. Fuji, highest mountain in Japan (3,776 meters) is filled with so many people this summer as usual. Among 5 trails to the summit of Mt. Fuji, Fuji-Yoshida trail and Fujinomiya trail are two famous trails to both climb up and down. And even though two trails have a lot of mountain huts as well, we need to sleep in very tiny space at night like a photo below.

Nevertheless it’s necessary to stay at such a hut and to climb up in midnight and early morning so that you can see beautiful sunrise from the summit.

But after the sunrise you may feel it’s not exiting to climb down the same trail pushing many people who are climbing up. In such a case I recommend you to climb down Gotenba trail.

Gtenba trail is the longest trail among 5 trails, so it’s not recommendable for first visitors to climb up. But it’s a big fun to climb down the trail. On the latter half part of the trail you can enjoy literally “run” down the trail. The latter part is called as Osunabashiri meaning in Japanese “run in big sands”. As per the name the trail is filled with deep sands and your legs automatically move down even if you don’t put power on legs.

The trail looks as another planet. The trail is covered with volcanic ash created on the latest eruption of Mt. Fuji about 300 years ago. The eruption created another smaller mountain called Mt. Hoeizan.

More surprisingly Mt. Fuji is the active volcano even today. When I saw a crater yesterday, it looked very stable.

But we cannot be too optimistic. It has already taken more than 300 years since the last eruption. When you run down Gotenba trail, please think about the dynamism of nature.

Consider tides when you visit Itsukushima shrine

Itsukushima shrine is the shrine in Hiroshima prefecture in Japan registered as one of world heritages of UNESCO. Even though you have not visited there, you might see an image of a guard frame of shrine sinking in the sea like below.

Many buidlings of Itsukushima shrine were built by a famous samurai in the 12th century in Japan, Kiyomori Taira. Kiyomori was the leader of a samurai group, Heike family at their peak of the family, although the family was beaten by another samurai family, Genji at the end of the 12th century. In the main building they worshiped three goddess of Munekata welknown as protectors of sea.

The shrine is still worshiped by local people. If you are lucky, you can see a local couple having Japanese traditional wedding.

But you need to be careful. The water which makes the scenery of the shrine beautiful changes in accordance with tides. If you visit the shrine at low tide, the shrine looks less photogenic.

But you don’t have to worry. Around the shrine there are many places you can kill time until the tide becomes high. At first you can play with deer living around the shrine.

Furthermore around the shrine there are many restaurants serving local famous food. One of the local specialties is rice bowl of conger eel, Anago-Meshi. Another local specialty is Okonomi Yaki in Hiorishima way. Okonomi Yaki is thin, flat pancake with various ingredients. And the cake in Hiroshima prefecture is unique to include noodle and local seafood.

Now you get a lesson. When you visit Itsukushima shrine, please make a schedule considering the tides.

A road famous due to a novel and a song

Izu is a peninsula in central Japan which is famous for various attractive sightseeing locations such as Atami and Ito. But compared to places along with the ocean, places in central Izu are less famous.

Mr. Yasunari Kawabata is a Japanese novelist who received Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968 wrote a short novel about a road in central Izu, “the Dancer of Izu” based on his own experience there.

Yasunari Kawabata, when he was a 19 year old student, made a short trip to central Izu and met a young female dancer (Odoriko in Japanese) and her family. They spent some days together along Amagi road visiting several places with hot springs and the young man’s feeling changes little by little. 9 year later his experience made him create a world famous novel.

This is the story liked by Japanese in almost 100 years. And the hot springs in Amagi road still preserve their atmosphere in those days. For example Fukuda-ya is a hotel with hot spring in Yugano opened in 130 year ago. Yasunari Kawabata and characters in the novel stayed in the hotel several nights. Now in 2018 the hotel’s wooden bath is almost same as the bath at that time.

It was not only Yasunari Kawabata who made Amagi road famous. 70 year later from the time of Kawabata, a song of Enka, Japanese traditional style ballad, “Amagi-Goe” made Amagi road famous again. It was a love song sung by Sayuri Ishikawa, a famous Enka singer, referring many places in Amagi road. Among those places on the song, a waterfall, Joren fall, is the fall familiar to most of generations of Japanese in present times thanks to this ballad song.

So if you want to know lyrical atmosphere of Izu, why don’t you make a further step from seaside hotels to inland hotels with hot spring?

You might be afraid that you cannot enjoy fresh seafood as specialty of seaside Izu. Don’t worry! The hotel in central Izu also serves fresh sushi.

Can you find out what’s this? This is a sushi without fish. It is a sushi of Wasabi, specialty of central Izu! It was served in the hotel with hot spring in Yugashima in central Izu.

Central Izu still stimulates imagination of local people.

Colored grasses in Oku Nikko

When you visit Japan in autumn, you might expect leaves colored in yellow or red such as maples. And you could end up with becoming very tired of too crowed places. But what becomes colored in autumn in Japan is not only leaves. In Oku Nikko, Tochigi prefecture, Japan, in early October you can enjoy another color of Japan.

Nikko is one of the most famous sightseeing places in Eastern Japan. The highlight of Nikko is a magnificent Nikko Toshogu shrine dedicated to Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun of Tokugawa shogunate.

The day trip in Nikko may finish after visiting several temples and shrines around Toshogu shrine, or Kegon waterfall at most. However, if you keep going further, you will arrive the area called Oku (deep in Japanese) Nikko which has another attraction less familiar to the visitors.

The highest season of colored leaves in Nikko is Mid to Late October. However, in Senjogahara Marshland in Oku Nikko it starts coloring a little earlier.

Senjogahara means a battlefield in Japanese. But it’s not related to a bloody real battle but stems from a mystical battle of mountain gods. Now in the 21st century it’s covered with grasses such as cotton grasses and Japanese pampas grasses. So that visitors can enjoy their colors wooden trails are well equipped all over the marshland.

South to Seojogahara Marshland there is another marshland, Odashirogahara. In this place where you can go only by walk or by a special bus, grasses are more vividly colored.

After you enjoy colored grasses in Oku Nikko, you can also enjoy hot springs in hotels located around Yunoko lake. The water in the hot springs in the area contains much sulfur and colored in green. This component flew into Yuknoko lake and colors the lake green as well.

In Japan there are many places where you can enjoy colored leaves in autumn. But I want to recommend Oku Nikko as a place less crowed in early October and as a rare place where you can enjoy colored grasses.

 

 

 

Ogi, Sado island, living by the sea

What do you think they are doing when you see a photo below?

You maybe think that it’s a just attraction for visitors for sightseeing. However, in fact it’s for visitors to experience “Tarai-Bune”, an existing traditional way of fishing in Ogi coast located at the east side of Sado island. Let’s see the life of people living by the sea there.

Sado island is the second biggest island in Japan (except Japanese main islands) located west to Niigata city in northern Japan. Along the coast line of the island there are many villages which have different ways to deal with the sea in front of them.

In case of Ogi, it flourished as a fishing port as well as a port of Japanese freight vessel named “Kitamae-Bune” in Edo era of Japan (from the 17th to the middle of the 19th century). But the big earthquake seriously damaged the village at the beginning of the 19th century. It not only collapsed the buildings but greatly changed the landscape of the coast. The sea bed of the coast was lifted up by 2 meters and it became difficult for the fishermen to fish in such shallow sea with their normal boats.

But they never gave up. They cut their tubs by half, floated them on the sea and rode on them. The shape of half tub was ideal to look for fishes and shells in such shallow water. They named their special boat as “Han-Giri” which means “half cut” in Japanese.

Tarai-Bune is not an only example of people in Sado island living by the sea. West to Ogi port there is a smaller village called “Shukunegi”. In Edo era, it was the village of shipwrights for the freight vessels shipping between northern and western Japan. Since the land of Shukunegi was so small, the shipwrights lived in tiny buildings closely packed with each other.

But they didn’t live small. The local merchant and shipwrights built their own freight vessel and sailed to the sea. They indeed transported a lot of cargo from one port to another port along the coasts of Japanese islands. And another surprise. In the 21st century their descendants rebuilt such a vessel using the drawing at that time.

Sado island is the small island compared to Japanese main islands. But I cannot help admiring people living by the sea there who have been creating new ways based on the local environment.

Yoshinogari, how to preserve the ancient site

Compared to old capitals in Japan such as Kyoto and Nara where there are many beautiful historical buildings, the ancient sites in Japan earlier than the 4th century are not well known by foreign visitors, even the Japanese themselves as well.

Yoshinogari site in Saga prefecture in Kyushu Island was one of such sites. It is a huge site of moated settlements in Yayoi era from the 3rd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.C. found in 1986. But when the local government in Saga decided to arrange the archaeological site as a historical park, it was nothing but a flat land in the middle of peaceful rice fields.

However they tried to bring back the life of the people who lived there in the 3rd century. Late Yayoi Era was the age in the ancient Japanese history when the people who had lived in small villages gathered together and made some “countries” especially in Western Japan. And Yoshinogari is considered as a main part of one of such countries.

Therefore the settlements have double moats surrounding them and watchtowers to protect them from the attacks by other countries. The park developers reproduced these big watchtowers.

It has not been completely investigated that which country in Chinese history books Yoshinogari belonged to. But it’s sure that there was the big community with the head and high class people who governed other ordinary people. They reproduced such a community in Japan in the 21st century.

But it’s another point which distinguishes Yoshinogari from other ancient sites. In order to show visitors not only the life at that time but also how to investigate the ancient time for archaeologists, they also preserved a dig site as it was being dug. The site was a tomb of a high class person and many earthenware and burial accessories were buried with him. They fixed all the items and kept the site well air conditioned.

When I stood in the preserved tomb, I felt like I were one member of the archaeologist group who is digging the site.

I believe that the value of the archaeological site should be evaluated by not only its historical value but how the people around there try to preserve it for visitors and future people.

A unique experience to climb Mt. Fuji

If someone asks me to recommend some mountains in Japan for climbing, I might recommend some mountains in Japanese Northern Alps or South Alps where you can enjoy beautiful and various geographical features from peaceful streams with flowers to steep rocky peaks.

However, it doesn’t mean that I don’t recommend to climb Mt. Fuji. It’s different from climbing other mountains in Japan, it’s a unique experience to climb Mt. Fuji.

First of all, time to climb is different. Most climbers of Mt. Fuji start their climbing from 5th stations of either of 4 climbing trails. The altitudes of the 5th stations are different in each trail from the highest of 2,400 meters of Fujinomiya trail to the lowest of 1,450 meters of Gotemba trail. This time we chose Fujinomiya trail. (The photo below is the 5th station of Fujinomiya trail covered with fog.)

When I was a member of the alpine club of my high school, I learned that an important rule of climbing is to start early and rest early in order to avoid bad weather change. However, in case of Mt. Fuji we arrive at the trail head in the afternoon. And after taking short sleep in a mountain hut on the way, we restart climbing in the midnight !

A main reason to climb at night is to see sunrise from the summit of the mountain. The sunrise seen from Mt. Fuji is called “Goraikou” in Japanese and has special (often spiritual) meanings for climbers.

However, the weather at the summit of Mt. Fuji is very unstable. From my experience I feel like that the possibility to see the sunrise would be 50:50. For example, this time, when we restarted climbing around 0 A.M., the sky was very clear and we could enjoy numerous stars. But after we passed the 8th station around 2 A.M, heavy rain and strong wind started hitting us. And even though we could arrive at the summit before sunrise, we could not see anything and just realized the sunrise when it became bright.

Nevertheless, I believe for most climbers it would be a special unique experience to climb Mt. Fuji even in case of bad weather. Unlike other mountains there are no ups and downs in Mt. Fuji. Once they start the climbing they just keep climbing up to the summit. Even if they realize that they cannot expect the good sunrise due to bad weather, the most of them don’t give up climbing up. They just keep climbing up resisting harsh rain and wind. Such experience would give some confidence on their lives after climbing.

Furthermore, as I wrote, the weather at Mt. Fuji is unstable. While we couldn’t see the sunrise, she showed us a wonderful view of Lake Yamanaka reflecting the morning sunshine which finally showed up from thick crowds.

Okinoshima, value of worship from afar

As of today July 8th 2017, World Heritage Committee of UNESCO is discussing in Krakow Poland to register new World Heritage sites of 2017. And from Japan, the Sacred Island of Okinoshima and Associated Sites in the Munakata Region is recommended as a new site.

You might think the description of the site is too long and we should simply call it as Okinoshima island. But it’s not right. The full description of the site has an important meaning for local people. We also realized it when we visited there in May this year. (Below is a photo of a shrine which is included in the Associated Sites.)

Okinoshima is an island located in Genkai-Nada sea close to Munakata in Fukuoka prefecture in the southern Japan.

In the geographical point of view the island is located on the sea route from Japan to Korea and China and thus; it has been very important for cultural exchange in East Asia in more than a thousand year. It’s said that the ancient Yamato dynasty of Japan started a ceremony to worship in the goddesses in the 4th century. And as treasures on the ceremony made in the 4th to 9th century many masterpieces from all over the ancient Asia were found.

ICOMOS, a global network of cultural experts which recommends candidates of new World Heritage sites to the UNESCO committee, recommended Okinoshima earlier this year, evaluating it as an untouched archaeological site which shows change of ancient ceremonies. On the other hand, they excluded other associated sites which Japan had applied with Okinoshima.

Local people strongly disagree to such a decision.  A goddess has been worshiped in the shrine of Okinoshima, and also her two sister goddesses has been worshiped as well in the shrines in Munakata city and in Oshima, another island closer to  Munakata. (Below is a photo of the shrine in Munakata city.)

For local people, the three sister goddess, and the three shrines worshiping them are united inseparably. And more importantly it’s prohibited to land on Okinoshima island even now except local male priests. (Women are prohibited to land on completely.) So for normal people in order to worship Okinoshima island it has been a only way to “warship from afar”.

In Oshima island there is a special sacred place to worship the Okinoshima island from afar.

Even from there Okinoshima island is located in a long distance. So even in a sunny day we can merely see the island.

However, for local people it has been having a special meaning in a long time to see the island with their own eyes and worship from afar. And that’s why Japan applied these sites together.

Japan is a country with some main islands and numerous small islands. And in some areas old people refrained from landing on some tiny islands thinking the whole islands as sacred places where gods and goddess lived. I believe such a sense of taboo related to islands has been shared in a long time of Japanese culture.

Therefore I hope Okinoshima be registered as a new World Heritage site as a package with associated sites.

Yui, old post town loved by the Ukiyo-e painter

I believe you have seen Mt. Fuji, painted on Ukiyo-e, kind of art made in Japan in Edo era (from 17th to 19th centuries) as woodblock prints. Especially Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi, series of Ukiyo-e made by Hiroshige Utagawa, one of masters of Ukiyo-e, featuring travel scenes on Tokaido road, old main road of central Japan from Tokyo to Kyoto included several beautiful paintings of Mt. Fuji seen from different places.

Now in the 21st century, the most of the places painted on Ukiyo-e had been modernized and lost such scenery loved by the painter. However, in Shizuoka prefecture, there is an old post town, Yui, which still keeps the scenery of the era when Ukiyo-e flourished.

Once you arrived at Yui station, you can see old houses which had been used as hotels in Edo era.

Near Yui town there is the place called Satta Pass, a traffic difficult point on Tokaido road. Therefore in Edo era travelers between Tokyo and Kyoto stayed here to rest before or after passing such a difficult point and Yui thrived as a post town.

However, the steep terrain also provided the travelers with a fantastic viewpoint of Mt. Fuji with Suruga bay. Hiroshige Utagawa loved this scenery and included it in his series of Ukiyo-e about Tokaido road.

Even though we see modern highways, with Mt. Fuji and Suruga bay unchanged this point is known as only a few points which still preserves the scenery of Ukiyo-e.

Nowadays there are not many hotels in Yui town,  but this town attracts visitors as a town of Sakura shrimp, kind of small shrimp fished in Suruga bay around Yui town.

At restaurants in Yui town you can eat a variety of dishes of Sakura shrimp, such as tempura of Sakura shrimp. The shrimps are crisp and tasty.

On the way from Tokyo to Kyoto how about dropping in such an old post town to see the scenery loved by the Ukiyo-e painter?

Hawaii in Fukushima

Unfortunately Fukushima, a prefecture in the northeast of Japan, became world famous due to the accident of nuclear power plants after the big earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

However, Fukushima has not only nuclear power plants but also many attracting places. One of them is Spa Resort Hawaiians, a theme park featuring Hawaii inside of the northern province of Japan. The story of this park is a story of hope.

img_0680

In early 1960s, Iwaki city in Fukushima suffered from the decline of coal industry, which was the main industry for the city until that time. In order to create jobs for the workers in the coal mines and their families, Joban Colliery, an operator of the mines, made a very creative and challenging decision.

For coal mining, hot water springing out from the underground of the mines was not more than the nuisance. But the company’s idea was to heat up a dome with the heat of hot water and create a theme park featuring “Hawaii” inside the dome. At first many people including some employees of the company thought it was too unrealistic. But Mr. Yutaka Nakamura, one executive of the company led the company very strongly and made it decide to go ahead.

At that time Hawaii was the most popular foreign place for Japanese and the symbol of the oversea, while foreign trips were too expensive for ordinary Japanese. But they made a Hawaii in only 2 hour drive from Tokyo. Joban Hawaiian Center opened in 1966 attracted many ordinary Japanese dreaming a paradise and it became popular soon.

img_0681

In order to make the visitors feel like as if they were in Hawaii, the company recruited several girls in the city none of which had been overseas and gave them lessons in hula dance and other Polynesian dances so that they performed the dancing show in the park like the dancers in real Hawaii. After hard lessons they became the symbol of the park called “Hula Girls”. Their story became a movie in 2006 and made a big hit in Japan.

img_0691

Even after foreign trips became much less expensive for ordinary Japanese, the park had been surviving with some new ideas such as making the biggest hot spring in Japan and changing its name to Spa Resort Hawaiians.

Then, the big earthquake happened in the northeast region of Japan in March 2011. And the dome was seriously damaged and they were obliged to close the park in the long time.

However, the employees of the park didn’t forget how they overcame the serious decline of coal mining industry 50 years ago. Hula Girls visited all over Japan and performed their show believing that they could open the park again. One year after the big earthquake they reopened the park and had as much visitors as they had had before the earthquake.

img_0707

Again, when I heard a name of Fukushima in foreign countries, in many cases they mention the name related to the earthquake and the nuclear accident. I really hope Fukushima got more attention about the people who have strong mind to overcome many hard times.

Below is the website of Spa Resort Hawaiians (sorry only in Japanese).

http://www.hawaiians.co.jp/