5:30 am. I wake up 10 minutes before the alarm. That’s normal. As I walk southwards towards Kinshicho Station, I can see the brightness of the rising sun to the east as I pass each cross street.
The train is packed. I’m surprised. I thought this early on a Tuesday there would be fewer people. I guess they, like me, hoped they would beat the morning rush to Tokyo.
As I ride the train, the landscape changes from city to country. The change isn’t immediately noticeable. You see the city, you doze, and then suddenly you notice there’s more foliage than buildings.
I arrive in Five-Days City (五日市). The train station has stained glass windows like a Catholic Church. It makes me think of that new Scorsese movie, Silence, and the persecution of Christian’s in Japan’s past. I wonder whether this town was a historical bastion of Christianity. Maybe I should look into that.
This is my third time here in Five-Days City. Just last weekend Tianyu and I ate at the cafe/bike shop across the street. There isn’t much to see, but but the town is beautiful. It reminds me of my home.
As I wait for the bus, strong gusts of wind blow intermittently, sending piles of fallen leaves into the air and creating fresh showers from those still clinging to the branches of the trees. Winter has come.
I board the bus to Upper Fostermarsh (上養沢). The bus is backed with old people in hiking gear. It seems like hiking on Tuesday didn’t spare me the crowds.
I hardly recognize where I get off despite the fact that Tianyu and I were here just last week. It’s a small collection of houses along the steep slopes; for once, the word “village” doesn’t seem out of place.
As I walk up the road toward the trailhead, I exchange some light conversation with the crowd of old folks. Their destination is the Venerable Peak as well, but they’re going a different route. I’m thankful. They seem nice but trust me it’s hard to not feel out of place among a group of 10 bantering Japanese geriatrics. It’s fun at first but eventually you reach the limits of your Japanese and their English, and then things get awkward for the rest of the day. Best things end now.
I reach the trailhead. This is the Cedar Shade Path, so named for the last section of the trail, the slopes of the Venerable Peak, a place famous for mountain worship. The slopes there are covered with sacred cedar trees, and penitents pray to each one as they ascend the mountain. I think I read that somewhere, or maybe it’s just my imagination.
The trail ascends steeply from here towards Sunrise Mountain (日の出山). The path is laid with stone steps, and some of the switchbacks are built against cliff faces with unmortared stonework supporting the trail.
About halfway up, I reach the site of Fostermarsh Cavern (養沢鍾乳洞), supposedly the largest of the three in the valley. This cave was apparently the first discovered. As I hear, it goes back 50 meters and is 15 meters wide at it’s widest point. It sounds like a fun cave to check out, but according to the signs, it’s closed indefinitely. On top of that, I can’t tell where the entrance is and I’m not in the mood to bushwack my way up the slopes in order to find it.
For those of you interested in geology and caves, it seems that the Tama Interior has many geologic strata dating to the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras, among them a layer of limestone that stretches from the Sunfield River Basin (日原川流域) through the Venerable Peak and the Fostermarsh River (which I crossed over at the trailhead) and all the way down to Five Days City. The caves in this area all formed in that stratum.
Beyond the cave site, the trail move through an evergreen forest towards the ridge.
I hit the ridge and a sweeping view of the Kanto appears. In the distance, I can barely see the Skytree rising above the cityscape of Tokyo, marking how far I’d come today to reach this point.
The view here is afforded partially by the fact that most of the trees on the hillside are tiny — probably, I stumbled upon a tree farm that had its last cutting only a few years before. I continue on to Sunrise Mountain.
From Sunrise Mountain, the trail descends down the side of the ridge into a shadowy pocket, and the temperature drops noticeably — where before I had worn only my hoodie and been more than comfortable, now I begin to consider putting on my coat. Looking closely at a white patch of ground, I realize that I’m looking at last remnants of a recent snowfall.
From this point to the end, the trail gets rather dull. It’s fairly flat and simple walk over to the Venerable Peak and its collection of buildings, including a somewhat famous shrine. Since I’d been through here on my way to Greatpeak just a month or so before, I don’t linger but pass straight through and down the paved pathway to the bottom. Massive cedars line the way, the namesake of this trail.
At this point I’m feeling rather annoyed with the path. The Venerable Peak was more or less the halfway point and the rest of the trail is on paved roads down to the train station. On the bright side, though, it’s not even noon, so I consider attempting a second section of the trail, though I’m aware I’d be running the risk of getting caught out after dark as the sun sets about 4:30 this time of year.
Finally I reach the valley and the main highway. The footpath crosses it and descends down steeply to the Tama River, whose shallow blue waters flow noisily over rocks and boulders southward toward Tokyo Bay. A footbridge extends across the flow, and I stop to examine the scene.
To the north, trout fishers dip lines into small man-made pools constructed of large rocks, like the ones my brother and I used to make in the creek when we were kids. To the south, the river flows on. The sun is warm on my face and I hardly notice it’s winter. Down the footpath I go, passing kayakers on the rapids and climbers on the boulders. The environment is perfect. I abandon my plans to continue the hike and instead decide to relax here.
A guidemap indicates the presence of a sake brewery further down the river. I walk the path until I find it. I take a free tour of the facilities, where I learn that the place has been in operation for more than 300 years, and the sake cellar where today modern tanks store the fermenting beverage is still the same one that was made when the brewery first opened all of those years ago. I also learn that apparently the process of sake-making is unlike anything I’ve ever read about. Apparently the starches in rice are converted to fermentable sugars by a special fungus before the yeast and process the liquid in alcohol.
Afterwards, I make my way to the tasting room where I sample 17 year old sake. I never imagined that sake could taste this good.
As I sit, and old man strikes up a conversation. He speaks a little English.
Finished with the sake, I go back out to the river to cook some ramen. As I walk, I find the bent iron frame of an old hiking bridge, testament to the power of water.
Whenever I see things like this, I’m reminded of a time when I was living in Korea and some other foreigners and I planned a float trip, but a big rainstorm that lasted a few days came up in the middle of the week before we left. As we stood on the bridge looking town on the muddy torrent, the group began to debate whether we should do the trip or not. I, who grew up on a river, was vehemently against it. I knew well, as the above picture illustrates, what floodwater can do. The fact that there was any debate at all shows that this isn’t obvious to people who haven’t spend a lot of time on rivers. In the end, I flat out refused to go regardless of what everyone else decided, and in the end we went up to a waterfall in the mountains. It was nice.
Finally, I seek out the station. The sun has set, leaving power lines as nothing more than silhouettes.
Personally, I found the Cedar Shade Path to be somewhat lackluster. The only good views were of the Kanto, and I don’t really find cityscapes to be that interesting or beautiful, so naturally I can’t say that I enjoyed this section so much. Personally, for those who are more interested in mountainscapes such as I, I recommend rerouting through Greatpeak (大岳) and hiking down the ridge to the Venerable Peak (御岳). This is particularly ideal for those interested in hiking longer distances as it combines the previous section of the trail. In order to take this amended path, follow the Cave and Waterfall Path past Fujiview Point and then, when you reach the split where the trail descends towards Greatpeak Cavern (大岳鍾乳洞), instead take the path along the ridge to Greatpeak. For camping along this path, there’s a nice spot by the ruins of an old mountain hut just below the summit.
For those of you who do want to take this path, I will say that it is comparatively easy and so makes a good day hike for those who aren’t in a hurry and don’t want to work to hard. Along the way, I encourage you to spend some extra time exploring the village on the Venerable Peak and also the Tama River Valley. The whole hike only took me around 3 hours, so the whole event would make a great day trip any time of the year.
A point of interest not to be missed is the mountain lodge just below the summit of Sunrise Peak. This place features a restaurant and also lodgings for the night, so for anyone interested in getting a view of sunrise over the Kanto, I recommend it. Keep in mind, though, that it isn’t open every day, so please check in advance. Unfortunately, the website isn’t in English nor is it particularly well organized, so if you don’t know Japanese you may need to ask someone to help you out.
Down in the Tama River Valley, please do walk the length of the path along the river as it’s really beautiful and, if you’re there anytime other than the winter, enjoy one of the many tea houses and coffee shops located right along the path. And, last but not least, check out the sake brewery. The tour isn’t in English (it’s free though!), but they will provide you with an English pamphlet so you can get the gist of what’s being discussed at any moment. Tours run one per hour or so from around 11 until 4 or 5. While you’re waiting for the tour to start, drop into the tasting room and sample some of their fine beverages. I’m telling you, if you think you know what sake tastes like but you’ve never been to a craft brewery of this kind, then forget everything you think you know and prepare to have your mind blown.
Distance traveled: 78.8 km (4.4%)
Courses completed: 6/160 (3.8%)
Days Spent: 5
This post is part of an ongoing series on the Fureai Trail. To view the other posts in this series, click here.
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© 2017 Brian Heise