Off the Beaten Path, Japan #31: Walking the Ridge

Walking the Ridge

The photo connoisseurs of the internet often disparage the snapshot, but in reality some of the best scenes are those most unplanned.

Off the Beaten Path, Japan #29: Morning Light on Kamegamori

Morning Light on Kamegamori

It was the next morning after 萌 and I watched the sunset over Stonehammer together. I rose early as usual the next day to catch the sunrise. This time I looked not west toward that rocky mallet but rather eastwards that vast field of sasa grass spreading out on the slopes high above sheer cliffs dropping a hundred meters or more to the valley below. As I waited, suddenly the sunlight caught the grass on the mountains shoulder, lighting it brilliant gold.

Off the Beaten Path, Japan #28: Sunset on Stonehammer

Sunset on Stonehammer

At the foot of the mountain the sign read, “Watch out for vipers.” The fields of bamboo grass covering the slopes would have been an ideal home for a poisonous snake, but as I crested the summit of the mountain I found no dangerous reptiles but rather a tent already set and waiting for evening though it was still hours until sunset.

The sound of my approaching footsteps brought attention to its occupant and soon there emerged like the budding of a flower not a serpent or medusa but possibly a siren. She said her name was 萌.

And so we spent waning afternoon together chatting idly as the sun settled towards the shoulder of the mountain. Suddenly the light was right and I jumped to work. 萌 stood behind me watching. Almost as an afterthought I said, “Stand over there. The photo will look better if you’re in it.” Then I took the photo.

She was tired and went to bed. I stayed up to watch the moon rise.

Copyright Brian Heise, 2019

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Off the Beaten Path, Japan #10

White Caps in the Distance

Hiking in mid-March following a relatively warm November, and moreover hiking through the foothills of Gunma on the edge of the Kanto, I didn’t expect many fantastic views. Imagine my surprise then when I crested the ridge to see a line of white-capped mountains stretching across the horizon. Needless to say, I was satisfied.

Fureai Trail Saitama Section 11: The Path with Waterfalls and a Yoshitsune Legend

Looking out from Kaoburi Pass (顔振峠), waves of blue mountains roll out across the horizon and into the distance. Warm summer wind caresses the branches of trees and bamboo, who sigh in response. Red, blue, and grey rooftops below stand out amid the greenery, while a curtain of grey clouds wraps the sky. This is the central scene of Saitama Section 11 of the Fureai Trail: The Path with Waterfalls and a Yoshitsune Legend.

Near the crest of Kaoburi Pass

This path spans 8 km through the old state of Musashi from Agano Station over Kaoburi Pass to the Three Black Mountain Waterfalls (Kuroyama Mitaki, 黒山三滝). The pass itself is not particularly high or remote (a paved road runs right over it), but it is known for having a rather charming view of the area to the west, including waves of mountains rising off in the distance, among them Mt. Fuji if the weather is good.

This section is one painted in history. According to legend, the medieval general Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189) crossed over it while fleeing northward from Kyoto. Though the forces of his brother Yoritomo were in hot pursuit ready to take his head if they should capture him, the view from the pass was so beautiful that the fleeing general couldn’t help but looking back at the view again and again. For this reason, the pass was named Kaoburi or “Head Turner.”

Minamoto no Yoshitsune
Painting by Yoshitoshi (1839-1892)

Outside of the above military story, this trail is also a place to enjoy religious history as Black Mountain, the course’s conclusion, was once prosperous as a site for practicing ascetic Buddhism. It’s even believed that one of Japan’s most famous early ascetics, En the Pilgrim (634 – c.700-707), once practiced his mystic arts there. Perhaps the draw to the area was its mysterious deep valleys, within which can be found the Three Black Mountain Waterfalls (Kuroyama Mitaki, 黒山三滝), for which this section is named.

A statue of En the Pilgrim located near Black Mountain

Trail at a Glance

Trail NameThe Path with Waterfalls and a Yoshitsune Legend (義経伝説と滝のあるみち)
MapClick here
AccessStart: Agano Station (吾野駅)
End: Kuroyama Bus Stop (黒山バス停)
DifficultyEasy
Natural BeautyModerate
Ideal SeasonFall for maple viewing at Black Mountain
Camping LocationsNone. Day hike this one
Distance8 km
Time3 hours
Food accessOgawara House in Agano, the tea house at Kuroyama

Trail and Site Map

List of Sites

Haiji’s Fureai Trail Stats

Distance traveled197.1 km 11%
Courses completed17/16010.6%
Days Spent: 13

© Brian Heise, 2018

Support what I do and drop a tip in the tip jar. Be sure to like and comment as well!

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Fureai Trail Saitama Section IX: The Path Seeking Masakado Legends (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of last week’s post on Section 9 of the Kanto Fureai Trail in Saitama. Be sure to check out last week’s post for general information, bus timetables, and additional points of interest.

More Points of Interest

A Mountain with a Class-1 Triangulation Point

In 1888 the Department of Land Survey (陸地測量部) set out to produce the first modern survey of the country and so installed a network of triangulation points across the country to serve as a standard of measurement for this endeavor. The 1/50,000 scale maps that were produced from this survey became the gold standards for Japan’s first generation of recreational hikers. Today these original markers are known as Class-1 Triangulation Points and can be found spaced at roughly 40 km intervals all across the country, one of which can be found at the summit of Castle Peak.

A Class-1 Triangulation Point
Modeha [CC BY 1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

In Saitama Prefecture alone there are eleven Class-1 triangulation points. Five of these are located on top of mountains: Three Jewels Mountain (Sanpōzan, 三宝山, 2,483m), Cloud-Catcher Mountain (Kumotori-yama, 雲取山), Mt. Dōdaira (堂平山, 876m), Lookout Mountain (Monomi-yama, 物見山, 375m), and Castle Peak Mountain (1038m). From the summit of Castle Peak, the first three of these are visible. In addition, many other Class-1 points outside of Saitama are also visible from the summit, including Mt. Nantai (男体山), Kesamaru Mountain (袈裟丸山), Jizo Peak (地蔵岳) at Akagi Mountain (赤城山), Hotaka Mountain (武尊山), Komochi Mountain (子持山), Tanigawa Peak (谷川岳), Mt. Haruna (榛名山), and Akakuna Mountain (赤久縄山).

Castle Peak’s Legendary Tragedy

In the first half of the 10th century, the warlord Taira no Masakado, a rebel against the central Japanese state based in Kyoto, subjugated the Eight Kanto States, or Kanhasshū (関八州), which once occupied the broad plain where Tokyo now lies. Shortly after he captured the state of Shimōsa (下総) Masakado established a castle on the top of a mountain far to the east, which was then known as the Peak of Ishima (石間ヶ岳). From then on, the local villagers began to call the mountain “Castle Peak.” At least, this is according to tradition.

Taira no Masakado
(Public domain image)

In those days, the Kanto area was on the hinterlands of state authority and could have been considered particularly valuable in and of itself, but Masakado’s subjugation could not be left unchallenged. Therefore, Fujiwara no Hidesato (藤原秀郷) was dispatched to bring the Eight States back under imperial control. According to legend, the two faced off in Chichibu, with Masakado occupying the high ground at Castle Peak.

Staying in the fort with him at the time was his beloved wife, Bellflower (Kikyō, 桔梗). Unbeknownst to him, however, she would at times disappear from the fort, but for what reason is unclear. Some stories say that she was betraying him, reporting secret information to Hidesato, while other stories say that Masakado, upon discovering her absences, merely assumed this to be the case. Regardless, all accounts agree that Masakado had her executed for this offence. Shortly thereafter, Masakado himself was defeated and executed. Thereafter, bell-flowers ceased to bloom on the mountain.

Taira no Masakado and Mt. Castle Peak

The above legend notwithstanding, there actually isn’t any hard evidence that Taira no Masakado ever personally set foot in Chichibu, let alone Mt. Castle Peak, and yet a great number of Masakado legends have been passed down through the ages all over the region. This appears to be due to the fact that the area became a stronghold of the Bandō branch of the Taira family (坂東平氏). Since Masakado became such a famous figure, the Bandō Tairas likely spread these rumors in order to secure an association with their more famous family member.

That said, there are many signs of military activity times past. For example, great many military-sounding place names can be found all over the mountain, including “Horse-Washing Pool” (Uma-arai Fuchi, 馬洗い渕), “The Estate Grounds (O-Yashiki Ba , お屋敷場), Bellclad Castle (Kamekake-jō, 鐘掛城), King’s Castle (Ōjō, 王城), Castle Valley (Shiro-no-Sawa, 城の沢), and Castle Flat (Jōdaira, 城平). On top of those places, an excavation survey carried out by prefectural government discovered a flat area on Castle Peak that is thought to be the remains of a lookout site. Despite this, experts believe that these all date to the Warring States Period rather than to Masakado’s time.

Castle Peak Shrine

Shortly after descending from the summit of Castle Peak, the trail visits Castle Peak Shrine, whose founder is said to be Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, the same figure who founded Hodo-san Shrine in the same area. According to legend, he climbed to this point during his famous Eastern Expedition to subjugate western Honshu to the central government in Kyoto in the 1st century CE. According to legend, when he reached the area, he deemed that it would be an excellent place to worship the gods, and so he enshrined an arrow there. Even today there remains a place on the north side of the ridge known as Yanō (矢納), or “Arrow-Offering.”

Castle Peak Shrine

One of the interesting points about this shrine is the fact that it has a campground attached to it. This provides a rare experience for hikers spend the night sleeping on temple grounds. For this reason, I recommend anyone hiking this section to plan an overnight stay so you can take advantage of this chance.

The campground at Castle Peak Shrine

Taira no Masakado in Japanese Culture

As a member of the Taira Clan, Taira no Masakado belonged to one of Japan’s oldest and most distinguished samurai clans, whose pedigree extends back to the earliest recorded history of the country. Thus, though in actual terms he was hardly more than a minor rebel who only briefly defied central authorities, he has nonetheless become an incredibly well-known figure, and has even become the subject of religious worship. This worship has typically taken two forms.

The first of these is the formal worship of his spirit at Shinto shrines dedicated specifically to him. Two prominent examples of these are Kanda Shrine (Kanda Myojin, 神田明神) and Torigoe Shrine (Torigoe Jinja, 鳥越神社), both in Tokyo. The second of these is the worship of Masakado’s severed head. After Fujiwara no Hidesato ended the rebellion and decapitated the rebel leader, he sent the head back to Kyoto to be put on display. Various stories have circulated about mysterious events connected to the head, including that it would laugh and passerby and also that it actually flew away back to Masakado’s hometown. The common people, hearing these stories and believing in the power of Masakado’s spirit, build kubizuka, or “Head Mounds,” to worship this mysterious power. Today you can still find some of these mounds in the Kanto area, for example at Enpuku Temple (円福寺) in Minano Town and another in Ōtemachi (大手町) in Tokyo.

Photos from the Trail


Trail at a Glance

Trail NameThe Path for Seeking Masakado Legends (Masakado Densetsu wo Saguru Michi, 将門伝説を探るみち)
MapClick here
Access:Start: Nishikado-daira Bus Stop (西門平バス停)*
End: Tosenkyo Bus Stop (登仙橋バス停)
Difficulty: Moderate
Natural Beauty:Average (good views of distant mountains)
Ideal SeasonsSpring and Fall
Camping LocationsJomine-yama Campground (城峰山キャンプ場)
Length (distance)14.3 km
Length (time)4 hours and 50 minutes
Food accessnone

*No transit information available from Google. The bus that goes there departs from Minano Station in Saitama.


Haiji’s Fureai Trail Stats

Distance traveled189.1 km 10.5%
Courses completed16/16010%
Days Spent: 12

© Brian Heise, 2018

Support what I do and drop a tip in the tip jar. Be sure to like and comment as well!

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Fureai Trail Saitama Section IX: The Path Seeking Masakado Legends (Part 1)


Overview

On a day in November of 2018 I stood on the mountainside to the east of Nagatoro, overlooking a long arm of the Chichibu Basin stretching out towards the Kanto to the east. Below, the town spread out along the blue line that was the Rough River (Arakawa, 荒川), and past that the wall of mountains beyond which lay Gunma Prefecture, the next stage of the Fureai Trail. For nearly a year now, I had been making my way steadily to this point. And along that ridge, the highest peak rose up, towering over the basin, a perfect vantage point. I had stood there myself some months before. Then it was a peak wrapped in mist so thick that I could hardly see more than a few kilometers. At that time, I had no idea what view was hidden from me, nor how important that view has been in the past.

Castle Peak at sunset

What I was looking at was Mt. Castle Peak (Jōmine-san, 城峰山), the focus of Section 9 of the Kanto Fureai Trail in Saitama Prefecture. At 1037.7 meters tall, the mountain is the tallest within Chichibu’s Jōbu Nature Park (上武自然公園) and commands a sweeping view of the mountains of Inner Chichibu (奥秩父), the Chichibu Basin (秩父盆地), Nikko (日光), and also the mountains of Jōshinetsu (上信越). It’s a shame that on the day I passed through it was too misty to see any of that, but such is a common experience for hikers in Japan.

From the summit of Castle Peak; below, you can see Castle Peak Shrine

Given that the peak makes for such an excellent lookout position, it comes as no surprise that over the centuries it has been associated with prominent military figures, in particular the Heian Period (794 – 1185) rebel Taira no Masakado and also the Warring States Period (1467 – c. 1600) general Takeda Shingen. Even today there are numerous place names on and near the mountain that reflect this history: King’s Castle (Ōjō, 王城), Castle Mountain (Shiro-yama, 城山), Bellclad Castle (Kamekake-jō, 鐘掛城), and Castle Valley (Shiro-no-Sawa, 城の沢). As such, this section of trail makes an excellent stop not just for nature enthusiasts but also for fans of history as well.

The trail were Bellclad Castle once stood; now it’s just a flat spot atop a hill

At 14.3 km long, this section is the longest course on the trail since Section IV, all of which have been less than 10 km. As such, those who are more interested in hiking than simply strolling will definitely get their fill on this trip. The trail picks up some distance up the road from the end of Section VIII and is accessible by bus from Minano Station (皆野駅), but Google doesn’t have the bus line in its system yet, you’ll have to rely on this timetable. You should get off at Nishi Montaira (西門平). From the bus stop, walk further up the road a short distance until you see your first Fureai Trail marker.

bus timetable
The timetable from Minano Station to the bus stop at Nishi Montaira.

The first half of the trail sticks to footpaths all the way to the summit of Castle Peak, but shortly after descending down to Castle Peak Shrine, the trail begins to follow predominantly roadways, though there are still some sections of actual trail. Towards the end, this section meets up with Section X before ending at Tosen Bridge (登仙橋). Google can carry you home from there.


Points of Interest

“The Bugs’ Farewell” of Montaira

If you’re planning on hiking this section in mid-August, consider planning your trip for the 16th so that you can witness a distinct local celebration: Montaira Village’s Mushi Okuri or “The Bugs’ Farewell.” In this event, the villagers perform a sort of exorcism to remove evil spirits from the village who were once believed to cause disease, pestilence, natural disasters, and all sorts of other misfortunes. The event features a parade of people in traditional dress marching to the edge of town while playing musical instruments such as taiko drums and flutes or carrying special flags, called segaki hata (施餓鬼旗), all the while chanting a special prayer.

The Bugs’ Farewell
Photo credit: https://paruruharu.blog.so-net.ne.jp/2013-08-16

This parade occurs on the last day of the Bon festival, a Buddhist celebration for honoring deceased ancestors celebrated all over Japan and is often compared to the Thanksgiving holiday in North America. The last day of the festival, on which Montaira’s Bugs’ Farewell occurs, is known as Okuribon (送り盆), or “Farewell Bon,” because on this day people would traditionally hold a ceremony in which they bid the spirits of their ancestors farewell.

What sets the Bugs’ Farewell apart from the more typical version of the festival is that in Montaira the focus of this ceremony is not to see off the spirits of their own ancestors, but rather to do so for the spirits of those who don’t have families to tend their graves. According to tradition, people who die childless or whose family line dies off are left in a deeply unsatisfied state and therefore cause all sorts of trouble for those of us in the human world. To appease these ghosts, the people of Montaira began holding this special ceremony just for them, bringing them to the edge of the town like honored guests on the point of departure. The festival acquired its name because, once these spirits were satisfied, they would quit sending bugs to lay pestilence upon the crops.

Mountain Forts of the Warring States Period

The period from 1467 to roughly 1600 is typical referred to as the Warring States Period, or Sengoku Jidai (戦国) and is marked by a collapse of central authority and the rise of autonomous military states across the country who constantly vied with each other for territorial control. A number of great generals are remembered from this time, among them one Takeda Shingen (武田信玄), who became active in the area around Castle Peak towards the end of this period. For those of you who have followed this blog, you might be interested to know that he was the ruler of the old state of Kai (甲斐), where a certain Peak of the Colt (甲斐駒ヶ岳) is located.

Takeda Shingen by Utagawa Kuniyoshi [Public domain or Public domain]

By 1569 Takeda had established control of western Jōshū (上州), whose southern border happened to be the mountain range on which Castle Peak sits. During that same year he pushed further south, crossing the Kanna River (神流川) into that range (which was then part of Musashi (武蔵) province), where he established a line of forts to secure his frontier. Among the many that he built, the best remembered today are Bellclad Castle (Kamekake-jō, 鐘掛城) and the lookout on Mt. Castle Peak, both of which are located along Section IX; Kanasana Mitake Castle (金鑚御嶽城) Kamikawa Village (神川村); Tiger Hill Castle (Tora-ga-Oka Jō, 虎が丘城) and Kanao Stronghold (Kanao Yōgai Sanjō, 金尾要害山城) in Yorii Town (寄居町); Highpine Castle (Takamatsu Jō, 高松城) and Dragon Valley Castle (Ryū-ga-Tani Jō, 竜ヶ谷) in Minano Town (皆野町).

Near the end of the Warring States Period, rival daimyo managed to capture one of the castles in Takeda’s line, and after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s unification of the country their reason for existence was lost, so they fell into ruin. Today, only their earthwork portions remain.

More to come!

There was quite a lot of information about this section, more than could fit in a single post. Stay tuned for next week’s post, where we discuss more about the history of the area. Until then, please enjoy some of photos from my visit!


Trail at a Glance

Trail NameThe Path for Seeking Masakado Legends (Masakado Densetsu wo Saguru Michi, 将門伝説を探るみち)
MapClick here
Access:Start: Nishikado-daira Bus Stop (西門平バス停)*
End: Tosenkyo Bus Stop (登仙橋バス停)
Difficulty: Moderate
Natural Beauty:Average (good views of distant mountains)
Ideal SeasonsSpring and Fall
Camping LocationsJomine-yama Campground (城峰山キャンプ場)
Length (distance)14.3 km
Length (time)4 hours and 50 minutes
Food accessnone

*No transit information available from Google. The bus that goes there departs from Minano Station in Saitama.


Haiji’s Trail Stats

Distance traveled189.1 km 10.5%
Courses completed16/16010%
Days Spent: 12

© Brian Heise, 2018

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Fureai VI: The Cedar Shade Path

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.

IMG_2833
Houses in Upper Fostermarsh (上養沢)

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.

IMG_2832
A pack of elderly climbers marches toward the trailhead.

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.

IMG_2834
The trailhead of the Cedar Shade Path might as well be leading off into the Ozarks.

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.

IMG_2837
Stonework along the cliff face.

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.

IMG_2836
Towards the ridge, up the stairs.

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.

img_2840.jpg
The Kanto and Tokyo in the distance.

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.

IMG_2844
Down the valley.

img_2848.jpg
Skyline

img_2849.jpg
The buildings atop the Venerable Peak, viewed from Sunrise Mountain.

IMG_2850
The Kanto from 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.

IMG_2851
Cedars line the path down from the Venerable Peak.

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.

IMG_2854
A bridge across the Tama River

IMG_2855
Trout fishers

IMG_2856
Towards Tokyo Bay

IMG_2858
The bridge

IMG_2859
The trail along the Tama River

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.

IMG_2865
Aged 17 years

As I sit, and old man strikes up a conversation. He speaks a little English.

IMG_2866
My elderly acquaintance

IMG_2868
The old guy took my picture, but got his finger in it too.

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.

IMG_2871
Iron bent by floodwaters

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.

IMG_2873
Sunset in the Tama River Valley

Recommendations

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.

IMG_2610
The view from Greatpeak (大岳)

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.

My Stats:

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