Off the Beaten Path, Japan #12

Sunset as the Rain Rolls In

I knew it was supposed to rain when I went out last weekend, but I couldn’t let that stop me from going out. Though the approaching rain clouds blocked out the tall white-capped mountains in the distance, they produced a mysterious red light as the sun dipped towards the horizon.

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Off the Beaten Path, Japan #7

Last View of Kanna Lake

On my first visit Kanna Lake was veiled in mist, such that I never saw it. Rain fell hard, leaving the summer verdure glistening. It seemed like an incredibly beautiful place and I was eager to return again to see it on a clear day. But that day turned out to be in February, and the beautiful green landscape that I remembered was stripped of its color and left seeming drab and dull. And yet, as I climbed up the ridge to cross over into the next valley on my journey along the Kanto Fureai Trail, one of my last clear views of the lack still managed to capture a bit of what I was looking for.

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

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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 Saitama VI: The Path Visiting Bi-no-Yama Park

From the moment I opened my eyes on the morning that I walked the Path Visiting Bi-no-Yama Park, I was in a sour mood. Eyes squinting and brow furrowed, I got my bag packed and shuffled off towards the train station with rough thoughts bouncing around my mind. And it wasn’t just that day — I my mood had been off for more than a week, which was exactly why I set out to hit the trail on that day.

There’s no better cure for a bad mood than spending hours traipsing through the hills by yourself. With nothing to distract you, no phones or computers or internet, you have all the time you need to untie that knot in your mind. And, on top of that, once you get it undone, then you find yourself surrounded by beautiful scenery and fresh air, which is good prevention from settling on something new to be mad about. For me, I was already in a humming good mood before I even reached the halfway point of the trail.

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The view of Chichibu from Bi-no-Yama Park

 

General Info

The Path Visiting Bi-no-Yama Park starts right where the last section ended, at the Highland Ranch Bus Stop (高原牧場バス停) and can be reached by bus either from Seibu Chichibu Station (西部秩父駅) or from Oyahana Station (親鼻駅). The path follows the gentle slopes rising over a low ridge-line leading over to Oyahana Station and the Arakawa River Valley.

The main attraction of this trail is Bi-no-Yama Park, literally meaning “The Mountain of Beauty.” As one might guess from the name, the park is indeed quite beautiful on several levels. In the first place, it provides outstanding views of the Inner Musashi Mountain Range, along which the Fureai Trail has been travelling all the way through Saitama so far, but further off you can also get clear views of the towering mountains of Inner Chichibu and even the distant Nikkô Range in Tochigi Prefecture.

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Chichibu from Bi-no-Yama

On the park grounds itself, however, visitors can also enjoy a wide range of flowers most of the year, though the most famous are the 8,000 or so cherry trees that make the mountain a perfect destination in April. The place has so many trees that it has even earned the “The Kanto’s Yoshino Mountain,” a comparison to the most historic site of Japanese cherry viewing located in Nara Prefecture, not far from Kyoto.

In addition to the park, the trail includes several other attractions, including ancient stone road signs from the Edo Period, traditional houses, two of the area’s most important holy grounds, and also a historic silk textile production site. In all, it’s an easy and quick trail with good historical appeal as well.

 

Old Highways

Though far enough off from Tokyo to be a fairly independent area in the days before railroads, the Chichibu region was nonetheless close enough to benefit from the demand for products generated by that metropolis, which even a few hundred years ago was still one of the largest cities in the world. It is not surprising, then, that multiple byways connected this isolated mountain basin with that city on the bay.

According to The Revised Musashi Atlas (新編風土記稿), published in 1825, a total of three highways led from here to Edo: the Kumagaya Way (熊谷みち), the Kawagoe Way (川越みち), and the Agano Way (吾野みち). Those familiar with the Kanto will recognize the first two as important urban centers on the plain, which these two routes pass through respectively; the third is a more mountainous route that passes over Shômaru Pass (正丸峠) before moving through Agano on the way to the Tokyo. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that the Fureai Trail also passes along this way, although it sticks to the ridge-line whereas the old road follows valleys everywhere except the passes.

The main divergence of these three routes is located near the start of the Path Visiting Bi-no-Yama Park in an area called Misawa, which is a historical site for silk production (see below). Seeing as silk was such a lucrative industry and in high demand in the capital, it’s likely that the crossroads were located here to facilitate transport of this product.

 

The Temple of Common Comfort

The first part of the trail leads gently up a paved road through the Misawa, a scenic hillside village.

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Misawa

Not long after departing the bus stop, you’ll arrive at a small temple known as the Jôraku-ji, the Temple of Common Comfort, which is affiliated with the New Shingon Sect. They say that the temple was founded some 300 years ago, though apparently it was lost to fire during the Tempo Period (天保年間, 1830-1844) along with all of its artifacts. The current main hall was rebuilt in 1852.

Unfortunately, it proved difficult to photograph as it was built so close to the edge of a steep hillside that only a small portion could be caught in a single frame. Hanging above the entrance, however, was the following piece of calligraphy.

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Calligraphy over the entrance of the Jôraku-ji

The principal deity of worship at the temple is Fudô Myô-ô (不動明王), the Immovable Shining King, whose wrathful visage is depicted wrapped in flames that burn away the impediments defilement that block the path to enlightenment. The main hall of the temple is dedicated to him, but next to it is located a smaller hall where the Amida Buddha, the Buddha of infinite life, is worshiped.

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The Amida Hall at Jôraku-ji

 

The Flowers of Misawa Village

Though not noted as particularly famous in the area, many of the locals have cultivated a wide variety of flowers in front of their houses. As you travel along the road through the village, take the time to enjoy their beauty.

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The Weavers of Kami-Misawa

Past the Temple of Common Comfort the trail continues along paved roads through the village. Though many of the buildings are showing their age today, in the past this place was once a area of vibrant economic activity due to local silk production. According to the information signs along the trail, the lack of land flat enough to grow rice in the Chichibu area led farmers to supplement their income with silk production, which could be carried out even on steep mountainsides. According to The Revised Atlas of Musashi, women were those principally in charge of this industry, both raising the silkworms and weaving silk textiles.

At the end of the Edo period in the mid 1800s, the number of villages exporting raw silk in the area expanded greatly, and even out of the way places like Misawa became prosperous. Chichibu is still famous today for its meisen (銘仙) silk, which is popularly used as kimono fabric owing to its durable thick weave. A signboard along the path here states that the sound of weaving machines can still be heard here, but I didn’t notice anything as I passed through.

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The trail takes to the forest

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A ruined old shed

 

The Temple of the 23rd Night

At some point the trail plunges into dense vegetation honing in on the trail such that it nearly forms a tunnel, but not long after it comes out again on pavement, and shortly thereafter you arrive at yet another temple — this time, it’s the Temple of the 23rd Night (Nijûsanya-ji, 二十三夜寺), an affiliate of the Shingon Sect.

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Perhaps it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that “the 23rd Night” is a reference to a specific cultural something that can’t be grasped just by the name alone. I was at a loss at first, but after some digging I found that “The 23rd Night” is a monthly religious ceremony that was once widely celebrated in Japan, though today I suppose few participate. The ceremony was apparently held on the 23rd day of each month by the old lunar calendar. On that day the congregation (that is, the men of the congregation most likely) would gather together to watch the moonrise while partaking in much food and drink, believing that a spirit would manifest itself.

This temple, it seems, has a long history. The temple records hold that one of the most important figures in early Japanese history, Prince Shôtoku, founded the temple. This man is not only remembered as the statesmen who promulgated the first written Japanese legal code but who also the first major proponent of Buddhism who worked to spread it far and wide across the land. They say that Shôtoku himself carved a statue of the Yakushi Nyorai (薬師如来), one of the principal Buddhist deities, and also built a thatched roof hut within which to enshrine it.

After that, Gyôki (行基), a 7th century monk, carved and enshrined a statue of the bodhisattva Seishi (勢至菩薩), who is now the principal deity of worship at the temple. Seishi is a god of wisdom, and his many followers believe that those who suffer hardship on account of their ignorance can be saved by the light of his wisdom.

I wasn’t able to determine the age of the current structures, but it seems unlikely that they’re very old since most temples make a point of promoting that and this temple didn’t make any reference to it. Nonetheless, it is a charming temple built in traditional style, and given the wear and tear on the exterior, it definitely has been around for at least some decades if not a century.

The signage on the trail is a little unclear at the temple, but to find the path again climb up to the front of the main hall and then turn left. The path will continue of the mountainside from there.

 

Cape Lilac

Among the various types of flora to be found along the Fureai Trail, one to look for on this section is the Cape Lilac, or sendan (センダン) in Japanese. This deciduous tree grows wild along the seashores and mountains of Kyushu and Shikoku, but is also often grown domestically in towns and villages. In May and June clumps of light purple flowers form at the tips of their branches, and in extremely rare cases, you can even find varieties sporting white flowers. They also produce elliptical fruits that turn yellow when ripe and often remain in large numbers even after the tree has shed its leaves for the fall, a good tell for identifying the plant. These fruits are called kurenshi (苦棟子) and are used as medicine, which I assume means they don’t taste so good. You can spot a specimen in the parking lot of the Temple of the 23rd Night.

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The Cape Lilac at the Temple of the 23rd Night

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Flowers on the Cape Lilac

 

Mixed Groves

In Japan, there is a variety of forest known as a “mixed grove” (雑木林), which is comprised of several varieties of trees rather than a more pure, single-species forest. Much of this section of trail passes through such a forest, though their are a few predominant species, such as the sawtooth oak (kunugi) and pin oak (konara). The forest floor in this area is also rich, not just in low growing plants but also in birds and insects.

Forests like this have had a close connection with Japanese society over the centuries. For example, villages have historically used sawtooth oak, chestnut, and pin oak to make firewood and charcoal, and even to grow mushrooms. On top of that, fallen leaves were used as fertilizer.

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A small graveyard amid the trees

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A stone monument to the god Asama Taishin

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White flowers

 

The Flowers of Bi-No-Yama Park

Less than 30 minutes after departing the Temple of the 23rd Night you will reach the main attraction of this section of trail: Bi-no-Yama, or the Mountain of Beauty. This mountaintop park provides not just gorgeous views of the high mountains all around from Chichibu to Nikko, but also sports a wide array of flowers that bloom all through the Spring, Summer, and Fall. The mountain is probably most famous for its 8000 or more cherry trees, which make the mountain a perfect destination for the Cherry Blossom Season in April, but you can also see various species of iris blossoms in from April to July, and also hostas and lilies in July and August. There are even some flowers still in bloom as late as mid December.

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The mountains of Inner Musashi

Outside of the cherries, however, two of the mountains most famous attractions are it’s fields of hydrangea (ajisai, 紫陽花) and azalea (tsutsuji, 躑躅). The hydrangea field is located on the east side of the park and contains more than 3,500 specimens over a space of 7.5 square kilometers. On the west side of the mountain, growing with a shady forest, is the field of bright red azaleas. I wasn’t able to find much info on the scale of the field and the flowers weren’t in bloom when I passed through so I couldn’t see for myself, but the pictures in the visitor center suggest that this is also quite a sight to see. Be sure to take your time to explore all the corners of the park to make sure you don’t miss anything interesting.

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A shrine in Bi-no-Yama Park

 

The Temple of 10,000 Blessings

Following Bi-no-Yama Park, the path descends downward more or less directly towards Oyahana Station, the end of the trail. However, once you reach the town below be sure not to miss the last attraction on this path, the Temple of 10,000 Blessings (万福寺). The temple is located fairly close to Route 140, the main highway passing near the station, but it’s easy to miss as the signage isn’t the best at that point. As you follow the road through town after getting off the mountain, keep your eyes on the right.

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Statues at the entrance to the Manpuku-ji

They say that the Temple of 10,000 Blessings was first founded in 1023 AD by the monk Kango Hôin (看鑁法印), but I couldn’t find much more information than that regarding it’s origins. As seems to be all too common with Japanese temples, the original structures and most of the temple’s artifacts were lost to fire in 1882, but miraculously the statue of the Amida Buddha, the principle deity of the temple, survived. The current structures date to 1932.

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The Manpuku-ji

Personally, I didn’t find the temple to be that impressive, but if you’re passing by you might as well stop in to have a look before you catch the train from Oyahana back to Tokyo.


 

Trail Info

Trail Name: The Path Visiting Bi-no-Yama Park (Bi-no-Yama Kôen wo Tazuneru Michi, 美の山公園を訪ねるみち)
Map:
Click here
Access:
Start: Highland Ranch Entrance Bus Stop (高原牧場入口バス停)
End: Oyahana Station (Oyahana Eki, 親鼻駅)
Difficulty: Easy
Natural Beauty: Medium
Ideal Seasons: Spring-Fall
Camping Locations:* None
Length (distance): 8.2 km
Length (time): 2 hours and 40 minutes
Food access: Bi-no-Yama Park (seasonal only), Oyahana

*Note that these are not officially designated camping locations but simply places that I judge would be nice to put down a tent. Camp at your own risk.


My Trail Stats

Distance traveled: 161.7 km (9%)
Courses completed: 13/160 (8.1%)
Days Spent: 10.5


© Brian Heise 2018

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Down the valley.

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Skyline

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

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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.

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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.

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A bridge across the Tama River

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Trout fishers

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Towards Tokyo Bay

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The bridge

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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.

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Aged 17 years

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

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My elderly acquaintance

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Like this post? Want to make sure I can keep on providing you with beautiful mountain picures? Consider supporting this blog on Patreon or sending me a donation direct to Paypal using bnheise@gmail.com.

© 2017 Brian Heise

Fureai IV: The History Path

I’ve been sitting at the bus stop in a small village called Upriver Mount (上川乗) for a while now, but it’s time to begin the next stage of the Fureai Trail: The History Path, so named for its role as a trade route between Tokyo and Koshu during the Edo Period. I follow the trail markers off the highway and up a steep paved path that passes narrowly between the houses a short distance before turning to dirt and disappearing into the trees. An old man is sweeping the path in front of his house.

“Good morning!” I call out smiling.

“The bears are out,” he replied.

“Is that so?” I said and continued on without a beat.

The trail ascends gradually and easily towards Shallowgap Ridge (浅間尾根), less than an hour. As I crest the ridge I see a meadow ahead of me and a panoramic view beyond. The landscape is clearly maintained here with all the fallen sticks neatly piled under trees, the brush between which has all been entirely cleared. What’s more, the trees are cherries. I’m disappointed that I’m not passing through in the Spring.

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The view from Shallowgap Ridge

From here the trail descends gradually and gently. Later I’ll learn that this is the reason why the ridge is called Shallowgap.

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Descent from Shallowgap Ridge.

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A view of the valley.

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Easy descent.

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Sun through the trees.

After about an hour I pass a traditional style tea house. It looks like a great place to end a hike, but it’s closed today. I take a moment to rest before continuing on. Not long after, the trail meets the road and for the next 40 minutes or so I descend the winding mountain road.

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Houses dot the mountainside.

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A tree getting in the way of my shot.

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Fall colors on the mountainside.

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A bright orange maple.

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A cluster of maples.

Finally I arrive at Clearmarsh Falls (払沢滝), the end of the journey. No bears.

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Clearmarsh Falls (払沢滝)

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Post hike udon

Recommendations

This section of trail makes a great day-hike. It’s pretty short and the slopes are easy, so you could finish it in just a few hours, maybe only three. This actually works out pretty well once you reach the far side since Cypress Moor Village (檜原村) is a decent tourist destination in its own right, featuring quite a few waterfalls and cultural activities to participate in. I won’t list them all here, but check it out if you’re near Tokyo and you want to take a weekend trip. After all, they recently commissioned an English guide map and they’re so proud of it that they force me to take one every time I come despite my protests that I can read the Japanese one.

If you plan an overnight trip, definitely definitely definitely camp at the shelter on Shallowgap Ridge (浅間尾根). The view is great (it’s the featured image at the top of this article), the ground is flat and soft with grass, and there’s even a small pavilion. It might be frowned upon to make a fire, but I will say there’s tons of branches pruned from the cherry trees that are piled up at their bases. Would anyone notice if a few went missing?

Access: 上川乗バス停
Ideal season: Spring

My Stats:

Distance traveled: 58.3 km (3.2%)
Courses completed: 4/160 (2.5%)
Days spent: 3


This post is part of an ongoing series on the Fureai Trail. To view the other posts in this series, click here.

Like what you just read? Consider supporting this work on Patreon or sending me a donation direct to Paypal using bnheise@gmail.com.

© 2017 Brian Heise