Posts Tagged With: World Heritage Site

Where to see all the famous movie sights in Kyoto

Kyoto, the city of samurai moviesIntroduction of Kyoto, a city associated with the master of classic Japanese cinema, Kenji Mizoguchi, and his movies, that even those who are new to Japanese cinema can enjoy

 

Kyoto is the Hollywood of samurai movies so to speak, with many temples and shrines in the city being used for shooting movies and having a studio for Japanese period dramas. Moreover, the city is noted in connection with Kenji Mizoguchi, one of the greatest movie directors in Japan, who influenced filmmakers of the world including Godard with his works such as “Ugetsu”. Nobuyoshi Nishida, a movie and book producer who has worked on collections of the works of Kenji Mizoguchi will introduce sites such as a theme park, movie locations, and a temple associated with Mizoguchi that is registered as a World Heritage site that can be enjoyed by any Japanese period drama fan.

golden templeSamurai movie Hollywood, packed with World Heritage Sites

samurai

Kyoto is one of the largest tourist spots in Japan, where many World Heritage Sites such as Nijo Castle and Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji temples are concentrated. In addition, the city has many sites for fans of Japanese period dramas, as it is the main shooting location for samurai movies.
In particular, the northern part of Ukyo-ku, the largest ward in western Kyoto City, is an area that Japanese period drama fans cannot miss. In addition to a period drama theme park where visitors can take a tour of a studio for period dramas and real movie sets, there is Myoshin-ji Temple, which is the main temple of approximately 3,400 Myoshin-ji branches of the Rinzai School of Zen Buddhism throughout Japan and often appears in Japanese period dramas. If you are a Japanese period drama fan, you might have seen the temple on a movie screen, as it is still used often as a location for filming swordfights or other scenes in samurai movies.
pagodetempleJapanese temple
Ninnaji Temple is also another World Heritage Site, located right by Omuro-Ninnaji Station on the Keifuku Railway Kitano Line, one stop after Myoshinji Station. Ninnaji Temple was favored by Director Kenji Mizoguchi, the master of classic Japanese cinema who won awards at the Venice Film Festival for three consecutive years for his works “The Life of Oharu“, “Ugetsu” and “Sansho the Bailiff”, which were highly praised by French New Wave directors including Jean-Luc Godard. Though the temple becomes crowded in spring as it is famous for beautiful cherry blossoms, it is fairly quiet in other seasons. There are many sights to see within the temple premises, including the Kon-do (Golden Hall), which is a National Treasure of Japan, Nio-mon Gate, located at the entrance, the vermilion-lacquered Chu-mon Gate, and a Five-Storied Pagoda, along with a garden that takes on a different look with each season.

Kenji Mizoguchi-directed film “The Cuckoo” (1927)

Kenji Mizoguchi-directed film “The Cuckoo” (1927)

Kenji Mizoguchi-directed film “The Cuckoo” (1927)Mizoguchi was especially fond of the area called “Omuro”, which includes Ninnaji Temple and its surrounding area. He lived in a rental house near Ninnaji Temple for a long time, and made his home in this area in his later years. He is known for a technique that captures more details including the surrounding ambience using long-takes, and influenced the Greek filmmaker Theodoros Angelopoulos, who directed “The Travelling Players”, which is one of the greatest masterpieces of global film history. Ninnaji Temple and its surrounding area are filled with the graceful atmosphere of Mizoguchi films.

 

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Things to do: Have your dinner blessed by a Koyasan monk

jingumae_koyakun-640Monks have taken over the menus at restaurants in the posh Shin-Marunouchi building in Tokyo to offer real soul food.

Throughout the weeklong Koyasan Cafe event, diners can fill their stomachs and their spirits with Buddhist-inspired dishes.

Koyasan Cafe takes its name from the spiritual center of Japanese Buddhism, Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture. Also known as Mount Koya, it is the last resting place of the eighth-century monk Kukai, the headquarters of the Shingon sect he founded and, as of 2004, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Nankai Railway brought the event to Tokyo six years ago, aiming to attract visitors and pilgrims to Koyasan.

The participating monks also hope to deliver some of the values from their holy mountain to busy urban dwellers who have come to take the dining experience for granted.

“ ‘Shojin ryori‘ doesn’t simply mean abstaining from meat and fish,” for religious or health reasons, says Hogen Yabu, one of the monks. “Behind it is the concept of striving to bring oneself to higher enlightenment.”

buddhist monks

Nine restaurants and bars in the Shin-Marunouchi Building, located opposite Tokyo Station, are involved in the project. In addition to the food, there are chanting performances, meditation lessons and opportunities to sit down and ask questions directly to the monks.

Among the eateries are Henry Good Seven, So Tired, Tiki Bar Tokyo and Rigoletto Wine and Bar. But don’t be surprised that their names don’t exactly hint at Buddhist ascetic. Each place has gone to town with its own version of Japanese shojin ryori, once simple but now elaborate meals forgoing meat and based around vegetables and tofu. Henry Good Seven for example offers chilled cappellini with yuzu and fruit tomatoes; So Tired offers Chinese-style sweet-and-sour “pork” (made from soybeans); while Tiki Bar Tokyo presents shojin tacos and terrine made from tomatoes, cucumbers and kanten (agar-agar) gelatin. Then there are desserts such as a blancmange of mango, kiwi, kanten and soy milk available at the European-inspired Japanese restaurant Sawamura. Altogether there are 35 original shojin ryori dishes to savor.

It all sounds tempting, but eating the bare minimum is one of the first lessons that the monks hope to teach.

“So much food goes to waste these days,” Yabu says. “We want Japanese to re-examine what it really means when they say ‘itadakimasu’ (‘I receive humbly’) before eating a meal–to show gratitude to the food itself by controlling your passions and taking just enough.”

For details and schedule see the official website at (http://www.nankaikoya.jp/cafe).

 

 

Categories: history of Japan, Japanese customs, Must see, Stories about Japan, Things to do, Where to eat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where to go: Shirakawa-go, a look into ancient Japan

Shirakawago may be considered the starting point for Japanese residential architecture. It is a town once hidden away from greater Japan. A place of thick columns and beams, where the roofs are made from thatched grass.

The village is located within one of the few regions of Japan that experiences heavy snowfall in the winter. In order to make it easier to clear off the snow, the thatched roofs of Shirakawago’s over 100 ancient wooden dwellings have been built at an approximately 60 degrees angle.

Because the shape of each of these roofs resembles two hands coming together in prayer, a motion known as ‘gassho’ in Japanese, building of these types are called gassho zukuri (gassho-style). Although traditional buildings are disappearing elsewhere in Japan, the residents of Shirakawago continue to live in these valuable architectural land marks, much like people in Amsterdam on the canal belt live similarly in houses that are on the world heritage list. Recognizing the importance of this village, in 1995 it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

As soon as my husband and some of his friends and I arrived in the village, the first place we visited was the Wada House. Built over 300 years ago, the house has been beautifully preserved by each successive generation of residents. Looking at the house from the outside, one really gets a feel for how Shirakawago must have looked like in ancient times. The isnide of the building is open to the public so if you go there it is definitely worth a look.

The most amazing thing about this style of architecture is that it is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Alle the pieces are fit together and held in place by fitting exactly or by using rope made of straw to hold things down. No nails are used in the construction process. Enough space is left to allow the wood to expand and shrink according to the seasons because the weight of the house is spread out over the entire frame, it continues to stay strong regardless of the heavy snow and wind that might ravage it each year.

The pillars and beams of the house shine with a black luster, having been exposed to years of smoke from the ‘iroiri’ hearth on the ground floor. This coloring gives the house a magical quality like you have just stepped into a fairy tale and at any moment an evil witch or maybe a fair maiden might pop into the house.

One side of the roof is replaced every 30 years, a process which is said to require enough straw to fill 20 four-ton trucks. This difficult work is done by a village cooperative called a ‘yui’or “connections”. This feeling of brotherhood and helping eachother out in times of need seems to be alive and well in this quint little village.

Beef houbayaki on a magnolia leaf

A secluded area preserved by local cooperation

If you happen to visit this region, I can highly recommend the beef fried in Magnolia leaves with miso. It is a local delicacy of the Hida region. When you have had your fill, walk over to the Heritage museum. Built in 1967 as a model town intended to preserve the architectural style of Kazura village (which was at the time on the brink of becoming a ghost town as all the villagers were moving away), the Heritage museum is home to a number of small and large gassho-zukuri houses and watermills. Inside the Park, you may experience first hand many aspects of traditional Japanese village life, such as soba (Japanese buck wheat noodles) making or straw work.

Shirakawago is dotted with many inns where you can experience what it’s like to sleep inside a gassho zukuri home. Take your evening meal around the irori, and you will no doubt experience how easy it becomes to strike up a conversation with the owner of the inn or other guests that are there.

If you should take a stroll around the area, the only sound you will hear is the creaking of frogs in the night sky. Looking around you can see the silhouettes of nearby gassho-zukuri buildings making a stark contrast with their surroundings in the moonlight. The entire town gives off an even more magical sensation when you walk around at dusk or at night compared to the day time.

If you don’t already have plans, I suggest that you go to the Ogimachi-joshi Tembodai Viewpoint. Located on a plateau once home to the Ogimachi Castle (Ogimachi-joshi in Japanese), the viewpoint offers a maginficent view of the village many gassho-zukuri buildings and the nearby mountains and for a minute you will feel like what it must have been like to have been the ruling Daimyo (land lord) in ancient times.

It is said that the reason why the ancient houses of Shirakawago are so well preserved is in fact due to the many high mountains that surround the village on all sides, cutting  off it from the outside world.

Another famous site in the neighbourhood is the Myozenji temple, a Buddhist temple with a history dating back to the 18th century. Each building in this Temple was constructed in the gassho-zukuri style. This includes the main hall, which was built out of the wood of the zelkova tree and is said to have been constructed by a force of over 9,000 people, as well as the Temple’s Shoro Gate, which is adorned with truly beautiful and delicate designs. Even the priest’s quarters, which supposedly took a team of local and Hida mountain carpenters three years to build, utilizes the gassho-zukuri style. It is quite rare in Japan to find a temple with a thatched roof.

To watch the way a community lives and views the architechture of its houses is to know its lifestyle. Looking at the gassho-zukuri buildings, I understood how the people there have survived within a harsh natural environment by conbining their knowledge and strength, perservering thanks to a unique lifestyle of mutual cooperation.

Getting to Shirakawago

From the Meitetsu Bus Center in Nagoya Station, take the Gifu Bus Express Shirakawago Route  and get off at Shirakawago (route operates between April 1 and November 30). the journey takes 2 hours and 50 minutes.

More information

For more information, please visit the Shiragawako tourist association (Japanese language only)

 

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Hiroshima, full of charm in so many ways!

Hiroshima is only a four hour shinkansen (bullet train) ride away from Tokyo so a perfect place to go to on a long weekend. (I do seriously advise you to take a bit of time to enjoy not only the war monument this place is famous for, but also some of the other treasures this area has to offer. Hiroshima ken (prefecture) is the place of two World Heritage sites and the senic Setouchi Region located on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea is full of charm in so many ways.

Hiroshima

Located on the western part of the Honshu mainland, Hiroshima Prefecture has its southern part facing the seto Inland Sea and its northern part surrounded by the Chugoku mountain ranges. The prefectural capital is Hiroshima City, which was left in the ashes in the blink of an eye and left many scarred for life, by the first atomic bombing in homan history during WWII, but achieved a remarkable recovery after the war. Now, this beautiful international cultural city attracts many people from all over the world. serving as a hub of developing cultural and international friendships. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which aims to remind future generations of the horrors of war and appeal for lasting peave, are located in the city itself.

Another peculiar aspect of the city is as many as six rivers flow through the city center. Enjoy going through the city on a pleasure cruiser. From the Motoyasu sambashi (pier), you can take a cruiser to the other World Heritae site in Hiroshima, Itsukushima Shrine. You can also take a nice walk on the walking paths along the Motoyasu River, and relax and have a cup of coffee at one of the stylish open cafes near Hiroshima Station.

Founded by a member of the council of five elders, the five most powerful daimyo (territorial lords) chosen by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to serve his son, Mori Terutomo (1553-1625), Hiroshima-jo Castle is also known as Rijo (litterally meaning “Carp Castle”). Ahukkei-en garden is a beautiful circuit-style garden created around a pond, where you can enjoy shopping at department stores, electronics retail stores to stock up on your favourite Japanese gadgets, and shopping malls in Kamayacho and Hacchobori, the city’s central business district, and Hiroshima nightlife at izakaya and bars lining the streets of the Nagarekawa and Yagembori district.

Streetcars help you get around the city. Check out the Hiroshima Omotenashi Pass, a streetcar daypass and special offer coupons for tourist facilities and restaurants.

Itsukushima Shrine 

Miyajima where the World Heritage Site; Itsukushima Shrine, is located, can be reached from Hiroshima Station by train and ferry in about one hour. The hige red torii gate stands in the ocean, and the magnificent shrine building look as if they are floating on the water. Take a ropeway ride to the top of Mount Misen, or if you have the time and energy, hike up the winding path to the top of this majestic mountain, and you can enjoy the great view of islands in the Seto Inland Sea.

Food

The most famous Hiroshima food item is oyster. You can enjoy not only various dishes with fresh oysters, but also the freshest seafood from the Seto Inland Sea. Okonomiyaki (a sort of pancake) is also one of the best known Horishima foods along with oysters. Unlike the famous Osaka okonomiyaki, Hiroshima Okonomiyaki has layers of a crepe like base, a hige amount of shredded cabbage, meat, noodles and lots of sauce. Anago meshi (conger eel fillets cooked in sweet and salty soy-sauce-based sauce on rice) is another popular dish, which is also popular souvenir, momiji manju, a small maple leaf shaped cake filled with sweet red bean paste, will satisfy your sweet tooth. Also, check out Hiroshima’s other newly emerging original dishes, such as gekikara tsukemen (noodles served with an extremely spicy dipping sauce) and shirunashi tantanmen (litterally means tantan noodles with no soup: Chinese noodles topped with a spicy sauce with ground meat and vegetables).

Karuga and Sake

Located in the northern part of Hiroshima Prefecture, Sandankyo Ravine is a famous spot for spectacular autumn leaves. There is a beautiful waterfall surrounded by a deep virgin forest. The northern part of the prefecture is also famous for Karuga. Karuga, which means “God’s entertainment,”is a type of Shinto theatrical music and dance, and the style in this region is charachterized by dynamic yet elegant dancing, colourful costumes, and boisterous music rhythms. You can see it at Kagura Monzen Toji Mura, where you can also enjoy hot springs.

About a 30-minute train ride from Hiroshima City to the east will take you to Saijo in Higashi-Hiroshima City. Saijo is nationally famous for sake brewing, along with Fushimi in Kyoto. There are eight sake brewers around JR Saijo Station. You can sample each brewer’s original sake, as well as look for souvenirs. After walking around the area, you can rest and relax and cafes and restaurants in buildings that used to be sake storehouses. There is an annual festival, called Sake, Matsuri, held on a Saturday and Sunday in mid-October, where about 900 brands of sake from all over Japan are offered for tasting.

Towns in Setouchi

Kure is a port town that was developed as one of the world’s biggest military ports. Mitarai used to prosper as one of the port towns in Setouchi in the Edo period (1603-1867), where sailboats stayed waiting for good winds and tides for sailing to their destinations. You can see the buildings and historical sites which retains the atmosphere of the towns’old days.

Takehara, known to anime fans as a “sacret place” of the anime series “Tamayura”, is called “Little Kyoto of the Aki area”, where houses of former wealthy merchants still stand behind white walls lining the street in a quant atmosphere.

Attracting people with its calm and magnificent natural landscape, Tomonoura is one of the main scenic sites in Setonaikai National Park. The traditional fishing method, tai-ami, net fishing for red sea bream, is still actively performed in this srea. A special tai-ami event is held throughout May every year, where the dynamic, spectacular fishing thrills the audience.

Onomichi

Nationally known as a town of slopes, a town of temples, a town of literature, and a town of movies, Onomichi has mountains standing very close to the edge of the ocean and slopes with many stone steps, making it a perfect place to stroll around in a relaxed and leisurely way. Walk along the shopping arcade Chuo Shotengai (Onomichi E-no-machi street) from JR Onomichi Station, and you will arrive at Ropeway Sanroku Sation in Senkoji Park. From the park, you can have a good view of Onomichi Suido Channel and Mukaishima island.

Connecting Imabari (Ehime Prefecture) in Shikoku and Onomichi (Hiroshima Prefecture) over a total lenght of about 60km, Setouchi Shimanami Kaido Expressway also includes Setonaikai-crossing Bicycle Route, Japan’s first bicycle path crossing the strait. Going through the islands in the Seto Inland Sea connected with ten bridges, you can enjoy cycling while enjoying the views from the bridges. You can rent a bicycle at one of 14 rental stations and drop it off at any of the stations. Enjoy cycling without worrying about getting back to your starting point!

There will be a Destination campaign by the JR Group from July to September, 2013, which is a national tourism campaign. Go on a trip to discover new aspects of Hiroshima! If you want to go to other places around Hiroshima, get “the Next 10 Spots”brochure when arriving at Hiroshima.

Access to Hiroshima

Tokyo->Hiroshima: fastest 3 hours and 48 minutes by JR Shinkansen (Nozomi)

Haneda Airport (Tokyo)->Hiroshima Airport: 1 hour and 20 minutes by plane

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Where to go: Kawaguchiko at the foot of Mt. Fuji, relax and enjoy the region with your five senses

Mount Fuji is the oconic mountain of Japan that has nurtured religions and arts since ancient times. Mount Fuji has recently been formally listed as a World Heritage Site. Visit the asset components that are scattered around the foot of the mountain to see first hand why it deserves to be a World Heritage Site. Kawaguchi Asama Shrine and Fuji Omuro Sengen Shrine, two of the assets, are located in the Lake Kawaguchiko area. This area with its many hotels, is a convenient place to stay and there are many pedestrian only trails around Lake Kawaguchiko. Touring the many sights on foot with a wonderful view of the mountain and lake is sure to make your holiday memorable.

Cycling trips

Cycling around the Fuji Five Lakes (Fuji Goko) is also fun to do. The 40 km cycling trail from lake Yamanakako, the easternmost of the five lakes, to Lake Motosuko, the westernmost lake is a great ride to take.

Hiking tours

Trekking around the Misaka mountain range on the north side of Mount Fuji offers the best views of the iconic Mount Fuji. The Mitsu-toge route has the easiest access.

Local Food

Hoto is a classic Yamanashi dish. It is a hot stew made with wheat noodles, vegetables and miso. This unique dish was inspired by the climate at the food of Mount Fuji. Hōtō (ほうとう) is a popular regional dish originating from YamanashiJapan made by stewing flat udon noodles and vegetables in miso soup. Though hōtō is commonly recognized as a variant of udon, locals do not consider it to be an udon dish because the dough is prepared in the style of dumplings rather than noodles.

The Lake Kawaguchiko area is home to many Japanese inns (Ryokans) with relaxing hot springs where you can soak while viewing the majestic Mount Fuji. Enjoy the luxurious combination of fresh mountain air, a great view while in a lovely hot spring.

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Things to do: Follow Kii’s path to enlightenment, a beautiful hike and maybe even a state bliss awaits you

Pilgrims have walked the 54-mile Kumano Kodo for more than 1,000 years. Join them on a trip that follows the route through sacred mountains, mossy woodland and heavenly hot springs.

Ryoei Takagi is a 62-year-old Buddhist monk. Every January he climbs the steep snowy slopes near his home in the Kii Mountains of Japan to meditate under the 48 sacred waterfalls that flow into the Nachi Otaki: one of the tallest waterfalls in the country, revered in folk legend as a living god. Despite the icy conditions he is able to remain submerged in the near freezing flow for 45 minutes at a time. “This training has granted me supernatural powers,” he says, leaning in to whisper in my ear. “I can see people’s heart inside.”

But subjecting oneself to hypothermic conditions, he explains, is only a small part of the process. The real business is in the mountains. Takagi is a follower of Shugendo, an ancient Japanese religion that fuses Buddhist ideals with indigenous forms of nature worship. For centuries, devotees like him, known as Yamabushi, have been trekking the Kumano area’s slopes believing that ascetic training in sacred spots can grant magical abilities. Japanese folklore is rich with examples of these monks predicting the future, walking on fire, even flying – and their rituals are still alive today.

If you’ve come to Japan and go on this trip that promises to drop you in the heart of these sacred mountains. Over the next five days you can walk to the Nakahechi section of the Kumano Kodo, a 54-mile ancient pilgrimage path that bisects the Kii Mountains in the Kumano region of the Kii Peninsula, 120 miles south of Kyoto. For more than a thousand years, emperors and peasants alike have been walking these trails in search of enlightenment and healing on their way to the Three Grand Shrines: Hongu Taisha, Hayatama Taisha and Nachi Taisha.

For the first time, this self-guided trip allows non-Japanese speakers to mirror the journey. Detailed route notes are provided and advance bookings in traditional non-English speaking mountain guesthouses are also arranged, so visitors can walk the route without a guide.

By doing so you can experience this ancient ritual first-hand and discover a slice of rural Japanese life, seldom seen by outsiders. “Walk the route, breathe the air and make room in your heart to feel it,” is how Takagi describes it. If there is such a thing as hiking Nirvana, then the Kumano Kodo is surely the place to start looking.

Start the trail at Takijiri-oji, the gateway shrine to the sacred lands of Kumano which was once the site of great ritual offerings of poetry, dance and even sumo. From here, climb three steep miles to the mountain village of Takahara. In the evening, stay at the Kiri-no-sato guesthouse with a banquet of the traditional Japanese country cooking known as kaiseki – dozens of individually prepared, uniquely flavoured dishes – that would prove typical of the trip.

Then head for Chikatsuyu – six miles east – at dawn the next day. This small valley town, bisected by the Hiki River, has been used as a stopover since the time of the first pilgrimages. Devotees – even in the depths of winter – would immerse their bodies in the freezing water to purify themselves from sins and misfortunes. Happily, my guesthouse for the night, the Chikatsuyu Minshuku, was the only one in town to pump these sacred waters through a heating system and into a bath right by the side of the river.

Despite its antiquity the Kumano Kodo (which was granted Unesco World Heritage status in 2004) has, in many ways, always been the most forward thinking of Japan’s sacred places, welcoming all, irrespective of gender or wealth. So it has always been popular. Records refer to a “procession of ants”: hundreds of white-clad pilgrims scrambling up the steep slopes. But as you hiked to Hongu Taisha the next day – climbing 15 miles of mercilessly steep passes – you might wonder if there was more to the metaphor then just numbers. The experience will make you tiny, and exhausted.

When, finally, you stumble into the courtyard of Hongu Taisha you are surrounded by the golden lanterns, curved cypress bark roofs and hollow ritual bells of the shrine. You might even get to see drummers beat deep Taiko drums with thick wooden sticks. There is always a contained ferocity in the performance that seemed to emanate from the mountains themselves.

From here, pilgrims would follow the Kumano-gawa River to the Grand Shrine of Hayatama Taisha. I advise you to press on to Yunomine, the only Unesco World Heritage hot spring that you can actually bathe in.

In use for 1,800 years it’s also the oldest in the country and, at 34C, one of the hottest too. But that’s not all. As you stroll through the village you might notice an old man hoisting a bag from a hole of simmering water in the central square. Not only can you get wet, you can cook your dinner here too.

Your final two days of trekking to Nachi Taisha would take you through some of The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage’s most beautiful scenery, via mossy stone paths winding through bamboo and cedar forests and statues of dragons, monks and emperors, and giant cedar trees with hollowed out roots for offerings to be left.

Just stay in simple family guesthouses where you will be rolling out thin mattresses on to the floor of your room after dinner each night. Heard the snort and dash of deer. Picnick on a Russian roulette of unidentifiable rice-based snacks and – at sunset on the Kayakan Guru lookout, the most sublime panorama of the entire trip – a Yunomine hot spring hard-boiled egg, the best you will ever have.

Then, as you catch the first glimpse of the Pacific – knowing the end of the pilgrimage is near – something amazing happened. You will hear a sound like nothing you will encounter before: the soft howl of an animal, but earthy too, like wind through bamboo. There, in immaculate white robes, you might catch a real-life Shugendo Yamabushi. They often go on to the last summit ridge and blow their traditional Hora conch-shell trumpet to the wilds, signifying the teachings of Buddha and the summoning of nature’s deities. It lasts only a few moments, but listening to them play is really amazing.

At the end of your journey walk through the Grand Shrine of Nachi Taisha to the Nachi Otaki cascade nearby. Shugendo is a unique form of Buddhism that stresses the attainment of enlightenment through active immersion in the natural world. Staring up at the 436ft falls, cannot simply be put into words.

Connection with nature is part of what makes us human. If enlightenment is to be found inside us, perhaps it makes sense to start looking outside first. Walk down to the base of the freezing waterfall and, if you are brave enough, go ahead and jump in.

More information

Japan National Tourism Organisation: 020-7398 5678; seejapan.co.uk

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Things to do: climbing mount Fuji

Mount Fuji (富士山 Fuji-san, located on Honshu Island, is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft). An active stratovolcano that last erupted in 1707–08, Mount Fuji lies about 100 kilometres (60 mi) south-west of Tokyo, and can be seen from there on a clear day. Mount Fuji’s exceptionally symmetrical cone, which is snow-capped several months a year, is a well-known symbol of Japan and it is frequently depicted in art and photographs, as well as visited by sightseers and climbers. It is one of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains” (三霊山 Sanreizan) along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku; it is a Special Place of Scenic Beauty, a Historic Site, and has been submitted for future inscription on the World Heritage List as a Cultural (rather than Natural) Site.

Since the mountain is so high above sea level, the temperature can drop quite a bit on top of the peak. See table below of the average temperatures.

Climate data for Mount Fuji Averages (1981–2010) Records (1932–2011)

Month

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Year

Record high °C (°F)

−1.7
(28.9)

0.0
(32)

1.0
(33.8)

4.7
(40.5)

12.2
(54)

12.3
(54.1)

17.4
(63.3)

17.8
(64)

16.3
(61.3)

10.4
(50.7)

6.9
(44.4)

3.6
(38.5)

17.8
(64)

Average high °C (°F)

−15.7
(3.7)

−14.7
(5.5)

−10.9
(12.4)

−5.7
(21.7)

−0.8
(30.6)

3.6
(38.5)

7.5
(45.5)

9.3
(48.7)

6.1
(43)

−0.1
(31.8)

−6.4
(20.5)

−12.2
(10)

−3.4
(25.9)

Daily mean °C (°F)

−18.4
(−1.1)

−17.8
(0)

−14.2
(6.4)

−8.7
(16.3)

−3.4
(25.9)

1.1
(34)

4.9
(40.8)

6.2
(43.2)

3.2
(37.8)

−2.8
(27)

−9.2
(15.4)

−15.1
(4.8)

−6.2
(20.8)

Average low °C (°F)

−21.7
(−7.1)

−21.5
(−6.7)

−17.8
(0)

−12.1
(10.2)

−6.5
(20.3)

−1.6
(29.1)

2.4
(36.3)

3.6
(38.5)

0.4
(32.7)

−5.8
(21.6)

−12.2
(10)

−18.3
(−0.9)

−9.3
(15.3)

Record low °C (°F)

−37.3
(−35.1)

−38
(−36)

−33.9
(−29)

−27.8
(−18)

−18.9
(−2)

−13.1
(8.4)

−6.9
(19.6)

−4.3
(24.3)

−10.8
(12.6)

−19.5
(−3.1)

−28.1
(−18.6)

−33
(−27)

−38
(−36)

 % humidity

58

60

61

70

79

73

68

53

50

47

Source: JMA

When to climb?

Official Climbing Season

July and August are the official climbing season. During these two months the mountain is usually free of snow, the weather is relatively mild, access by public transportation is easy and the mountain huts are open. Everybody without much hiking experience is advised to tackle the mountain during the official climbing season.

The Crowds

Climbing Mount Fuji is very popular not only among Japanese but also foreign tourists, who seem to make up more than a third of all hikers. The peak season for climbing Mount Fuji is during the school vacations which last from around July 20 to the end of August. The peak of the peak is reached during the Obon Week in mid August, when climbers literally have to stand in queues at some passages.

While you may want to avoid the Obon Week, we believe that by avoiding the crowds in general, you would miss out one of the most interesting aspects of climbing Mount Fuji, which is the camaraderie and unique experience of ascending the mountain among hundreds of equally minded people from across the world.

In order to encounter neither too large nor too small crowds, we recommend to climb Mount Fuji on a weekday in the first half of July before the start of the school vacations. The downside of a climb in early July is the weather, which tends to be somewhat more unstable than later in the season.

Off Season

Some mountain huts open a few days before the start of the official climbing season and/or remain open until around mid September. Public transportation, is considerably less frequent or non-existent outside of the official climbing season, although off-season service has improved in recent years, especially during September.

While there is usually no snow on Mount Fuji from late June until October, temperatures at the summit can drop to far below zero in the shoulder seasons. Only experienced hikers should consider the ascent in late June or September. If there is snow on the mountain, appropriate mountaineering equipment and experience is required.

From October to around mid June, climbing to the summit is highly perilous due to extreme wind and weather conditions, snow, ice and a risk of avalanches.

The Trails

Mount Fuji is divided into ten stations with the first station at the foot of the mountain and the tenth station being the summit. Paved roads go as far as the fifth station halfway up the mountain. There are four 5th stations on different sides of the mountain, from where most people start their ascent:

Kawaguchiko 5th Station (Yamanashi Prefecture)

Altitude: about 2300 meters
Ascent: 5-7 hours
Descent: 3-5 hours
Trail Name: Yoshida Trail
This is the most popular base for the climb to the summit, and the most easily accessible 5th Station from the Fuji Five Lake region and central Tokyo. Lots of mountain huts line the trail around the 7th and 8th stations, and there are separate trails for the ascent and descent. The sunrise takes place on this side of the mountain.

Subashiri 5th Station (Shizuoka Prefecture)

Altitude: about 2000 meters
Ascent: 5-8 hours
Descent: 3-5 hours
Trail Name: Subashiri Trail
This 5th Station is located only at 2000 meters above sea level and is the base of the Subashiri Trail. The Subashiri Trail meets the Yoshida Trail around the 8th station.

Gotemba 5th Station (Shizuoka Prefecture)

Altitude: about 1400 meters
Ascent: 7-10 hours
Descent: 3-6 hours
Trail Name: Gotemba Trail
This is by far the lowest 5th Station, and the ascent to the summit is accordingly much longer than from the other 5th stations. The Gotemba Trail leads from the Gotemba 5th Station to the summit. There are about four huts around the 7th and 8th station.

Fujinomiya 5th Station (Shizuoka Prefecture)

Altitude: about 2400 meters
Ascent: 4-7 hours
Descent: 2-4 hours
Trail Name: Fujinomiya Trail
The closest 5th Station to the summit, the Fujinomiya 5th Station is the base for the southern approach via the Fujinomiya Trail. It is easily accessible from stations along the Tokaido Shinkansen. There are about half a dozen mountain huts along this trail.

How to climb?

Is it difficult?

The ascent to the summit does not pose any major difficulties regarding climbing skills. Only at some points, the terrain is rather steep and rocky. Abundant signs along the trail warn the hikers of other minor problems such as sudden wind gusts and falling rocks. However, the main challenge of the climb is the fact that it is very strenuous and the air gets notably thinner as you gain altitude.

Timing

Most people try to time their ascent in order to witness the sunrise from the summit. Also, the chances of the mountain being free of clouds are highest during the early morning hours.

The recommended way of doing this, is to climb to a mountain hut around the 7th or 8th station on the first day, spend some hours sleeping there, before continuing to the summit early on the second day. Note that the sunrise takes place as early as 4:30am to 5:00am in summer.

Another popular way is to start climbing the mountain around 10pm from the 5th Station and hike through the night to reach the summit around sunrise. Obviously, this is a more tiring way of climbing the mountain and brings an increased risk of suffering from altitude sickness (see below).

A walk around the crater of Mount Fuji takes about one hour. The mountain’s and Japan’s highest point is located immediately next to the weather station on the opposite side from where the Yoshida Trail reaches the peak.

Mountain Huts

The Yoshida Trail is lined by more than a dozen mountain huts between the 7th and 8th station. Other trails have fewer mountain huts. An overnight stay typically costs around 5000 yen per person without meals and around 7000 yen per person with two meals. Expect the huts to be extremely crowded during the peak. The Fujiyoshida City website (see below) lists phone numbers for reservations.

Dormitory in one of the  huts on Mount Fuji

Climbing Equipment

In order to enjoy a safe hike to the summit of Mount Fuji, it is crucial to bring the proper equipment. Some of the most important things to bring are listed below:

Proper Shoes
The rocky, steep terrain in some sections and the potential of sudden, strong wind gusts are reasons to bring proper hiking shoes which protect your ankles.
Proper Clothes
Bring proper protection against low temperatures and strong winds. It can be below zero at the summit, and strong winds often make it even colder. Bring rain gear, as weather conditions can change very quickly on the mountain. Gloves are recommended both against the coldness and for hiking the steep, rocky passages.
Flashlight
If you hike at night, a flash light is highly recommended in any season and essential outside of the peak season, when the trail is not illuminated by other hikers. Most people choose head lamps, as they leave both of your hands free.
Food
Particularly on the trails where there are few mountain huts, it is important to bring enough water and food. Mountain huts offer various meals and drinks. Note, however, that prices increase with the altitude. Also, be prepared to carry home all your garbage as there are no garbage bins.

Altitude Sickness

The human body requires some time to adjust to a sudden increase of altitude, otherwise there is a risk of headache, dizziness and nausea. Quite a few people, who climb Mount Fuji, suffer from altitude sickness.

To avoid altitude sickness, you are advised to tackle the mountain at a slow pace and make frequent breaks. An overnight stay at a hut around the 7th or 8th station is recommended as opposed to a straight climb to the top. Small bottles of oxygen, available at the 5th stations and mountain huts, can be an effective tool in preventing and fighting altitude sickness, however, the only reliable treatment of the sickness is to descend the mountain.

ACCESS:

How to get to mount Fuji:

Buses to Kawaguchiko 5th Station:

From Shinjuku Station (Tokyo):
2600 yen (one way), 140 minutes
6 round trips per day during the climbing season
2 round trips per day on weekends/holidays in the off-season (daily during most of September)

From Fujisan/Kawaguchiko Station:
1500 yen (one way), 2000 yen (round trip), 50 minutes
11-16 round trips per day during the climbing season (some depart from Fujisan Station)
5 round trips per day in the off-season

Buses to Subashiri 5th Station:

From Gotemba Station:
1500 yen (one way), 2000 yen (round trip), 60 minutes
7-12 round trips per day during the climbing season and September
3 round trips per day on off-season weekends

From Shin-Matsuda Station:
2000 yen (one way), 3000 yen (round trip), 90 minutes
2-5 round trips per day during the climbing season and in early September

Buses to Gotemba 5th Station:

From Gotemba Station:
1080 yen (one way), 1500 yen (round trip), 40 minutes
4-7 round trips per day during the climbing season and September
3 round trips per day on off-season weekends

Buses to Fujinomiya 5th Station:

From Shin-Fuji and Fujinomiya Stations:
2310 yen (one way), 120 minutes from Shin-Fuji Station
1970 yen (one way), 90 minutes from Fujinomiya Station
3-11 round trips per day during the climbing season and September
3 round trips per day on off-season weekends

From Mishima Station:
2390 yen (one way), 120 minutes
1-6 round trips per day during the climbing season only

USEFUL INFORMATION:

Visit this page for more information in regards to time tables for the bus and such.

Information on the Yoshida Trail, including a list of mountain huts and phone numbers.

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