Skip to main content

Hiking along the Mitake Valley in Okutama

I'm lying. Exaggerating. It's not hiking; it's walking.

As a matter of fact, the Mitake Valley Riverside Trail has given me a new definition of walking vs hiking: if you encounter vending machines along the way, it's walking, not hiking.

I've done several hikes in Okutama, but I'm going to start with this walk because anybody can do it. It's exceptionally beautiful, truly pleasant and very easy. You don't need to be an experienced hiker, you don't need hiking boots, you don't need energy drinks – or Scotch – to keep going.

Taking a photo of photo-taking

It starts at Ikusabata Station on the Ōme Line, follows the Tama River and ends about 5 km upstream. It took me about two hours of slow walking, many photos, frequent diversions and arbitrary stops to enjoy the autumn colours.

Let's do this section by section. Warning: this post is photo-heavy!

Ikusabata to Sawai

It takes 90 minutes from Tokyo Station. Take the Chūō Line to Ōme, transfer to the Ōme Line and get off at Ikusabata Station. Walk towards the river. When you get to Ikusabata Bridge, turn right. Walk about 500 m down the highway and watch out for these signs. That's it. Off you go. 

Ikusabata Bridge



(I still don't know how to embed maps I've created myself, but you'll find it here.)

Screenshot of my map

This part doesn't have the best autumn colours, but it's the most interesting for a hiker, since it's along an uneven trail and you encounter few other people except fishermen and genki local old-timers.

Even brick yards are beautiful in Okutama.





Sawai to Mitake

This is the main part of the hike, and also the busiest, especially in autumn. It's all very civilized with a paved path, vending machines and several rustic-with-great-determination restaurants as well as a ryokan, a sake brewer and the Gyokudō  Museum, which showcases the works of Kawai Gyokudō¹  (
川合 玉堂).

I was there early in the season, and it was already buzzing with mostly retired folk travelling – and chattering – en masse. This is a popular spot for canoeing and rafting, and while I'm happy to grant water folk their joy, their web of ropes across the river spoils a photographer's fun a bit.

Standing on a bridge near Sawai Station









Hmph!

Standing on a bridge near Mitake Station

Past Mitake

The trail continues past Mitake to the Okutama Fishing Centre. This section is relatively quiet, and though it doesn't have as many maples, it's still beautiful.


Okutama Fishing Centre

Fishing! ^^



Fashion

I've accepted that appearance is everything in Japan, and that means that every activity has its uniform. A chef wears a white hat, an OL wears an ill-fitting gray pencil skirt with black knee socks, and a hiker … wears an all-weather parka, short cargo pants, compression tights, thick multi-coloured woollen socks and hiking shoes that probably cost half my annual income. This is combined with a backpack crammed full of water, green tea and onigiri; smartphone, mini-tablet and tablet; mascara, tissues and tooth brush. All this is to travel to the destination by train, bus and ropeway; have a picnic at a designated picnic spot with a washroom and vending machines; and return via the same route. They travel in packs.

I observed this crowd in the train, and then watched an ojiisan. He was probably in his seventies, dressed in a raggedy sweater, creased khaki pants and scuffed hiking boots that have clearly covered a few thousand miles. He had a small backpack and a large paper map. He was alone.

If I ever get lost in the mountains, call that old guy, OK?

Hiking vs walking

I've written about this before, but what the heck, here we go again.

This trail is not hiking; it's a leisurely stroll that a Tokyo woman could do in her stiletto boots. Let's face it, a Tokyo woman could do anything in high heels.

It's easier to explain what hiking is not. It's not hiking if …

1) mere mortals, as opposed to Tokyo women, can do it in sneakers
2) you walk past vending machines
3) you get there via ropeway
4) you don't at least fleetingly think of bears, giant hornets and twisted ankles (if you need to consider twisted necks, that's mountain climbing, not hiking)
5) you don't have to carry water and food with you
6) you've never had to pee behind a bush
7) you can get to the nearest station within one hour
8) you don't get sweaty, dusty or muddy
9) you don't know how to navigate without GPS and even, in an emergency, without a map; or the very idea of a pocket knife makes you nervous
10) couch potatoes can do it

Number 9, by the way, is really not that difficult. You can check the position of the sun or stars, shadows fall in certain directions, rivers flow in valleys towards the sea, you can use your watch and the position of the sun to determine direction. Even plants can help you.²

I'd say 99% of what Tokyoites call "hiking" is actually walking. If you want to see real hiking, look at Orchid's blog, Life to reset, about hiking in Nepal.

Fresh flower in the spotlessly clean toilet at Ikusabata
Station. Squatting behind susuki not necessary.

Entrance to restaurant in Sawai

I think they meant branches ...

Dru and Japan Australia were here!

The flowers below are called hototogisu (杜鵑草 or ほととぎす) in Japanese. Yes, you're right, it's named after the lesser cuckoo ( Cuculus poliocephalus ), because they're both shy woodland creatures. Its  scientific name is Tricyrtis hirta. Tricyrtis, which is based on the Greek words tri (three) and kyrtos (swelling or bulging), refers to the three sack-like nectaries at the base of the tepals. They're out of focus in my photo, but you can see them towards the base of the flower. The flower's English name is … hairy toad lily. Wait, what? Apparently that's because the nectaries resemble "toadlike bumps" and the petals are spotted like a toad. Read more about the flower here.



You didn't really think I'd conclude this post without a shrine or temple, did you?
This one is in Sawai.


A bell in Sawai (at another temple)

The bell has an unusual, beautiful painted ceiling.

Notes

1) Kawai Gyokudō was born in Aichi Prefecture in 1873. After World War II, he moved to Tama City, Tokyo, where he devoted himself to painting until his death.

2) Recommended books: Come Back Alive by Robert Young Penton and The Encyclopedia of Survival Techniques by Alexander Stilwell.

Popular posts from this blog

Higanbana, a flower of loss and longing

I love this flower. I love all flowers, but this one, ah, this one comes packaged with the most wonderful stories. Its scientific name is Lycoris radiata; in English it's red spider lily; in Japanese it has several names including higanbana (ヒガンバナ), in other words, autumn equinox flower.


It's also referred to as manjusaka (曼珠沙華), based on an old Chinese legend about two elves: Manju guarded the flowers and Saka the leaves, but they could never meet, because the plant never bears flowers and leaves at the same time. They were curious about each other, so they defied the gods' instructions and arranged a meeting. I assume it was not via Twitter. The gods promptly punished them, as gods are wont to do, and separated them for all eternity.
To this day, the red lily is associated with loss, longing, abandonment and lost memories in hanakotoba(花言葉), the language of flowers. It's believed that if you meet a person you'll never see again, these flowers will grow along your…

South Africa is not a safety country (hallelujah)

I did. Smile. Nonstop. Al die pad dwarsdeur end-uit.

The Princess Who Loved Insects (updated)

My blog gets so many search keyword hits about this particular topic that I've decided to update an old post about the Japenese story The Princess Who Loved Insects(虫めづる姫君Mushi Mezuru Himegimi).

It's contained in Tales of the Riverside Middle Counselor (堤中納言物語Tsutsumi Chūnagon Monogatari), a collection of short stories written in the late Heian period. It focuses on the adventures of a young girl who refuses to make herself beautiful and play the courtship game. She doesn't blacken her teeth and pluck her eyebrows (as refined ladies did in those days); instead, she spends her time outdoors, playing with bugs and caterpillars.


I refer to her as Ms Mushi (Ms Insect).  A girl this tough is definitely not a prim prissy Miss, she's a ballsy Ms. She's my favourite Japanese heroine. She's strong, she's rebellious, she refuses to pretend, she ignores society's stupid rules that fetter women. You go, girl! Long live caterpillar eyebrows!

Donald Keene mentions in hi…

Edo wind chimes: air con for your soul

Have you noticed that Japan has a thing about bells?
Watch people's phones: every second phone charm has a little bell that jingles with the slightest movement. There are bells on doors and bells at shrines and bells at temples. There are bells on traditional hair ornaments called bira-bira kanzashi, bamboo chimes tuned DFGA for your garden, bells are a symbol of peace (link) and their sound echoes the impermanence of all things (link).
From which one could correctly deduce that peace is ever transient.
Now, before I get sidetracked down a thousand rabbit holes, let’s focus on the real topic: bells, yes, but specifically wind chimes or fūrin(風鈴).

I would not to mine own self be true if I didn't include a little history lesson. Here we go:
The oldest wind chimes found at archeological sites in South East Asia are 5000 years old. These early versions were made from wood, bones and shells; and were probably used to keep birds out of cultivated fields and/or to ward off evil spirits.
C…

The princess who loved insects

Edit added 8 May 2013: This post receives so many keyword search hits for "The Princess Who Loved Insects" that I've published an updated post (with extra information) that focuses on the book. Click here to read it.)

Blogging has been an interesting experiment. I initially started two blogs, Rurousha for personal musings and Sanpokatagata for factual stories accompanied by photos. I've now decided I'll do all stories on this blog, regardless of the content, and turn Sanpo into a supplementary photo blog. I'm not sure it's a good idea, since I'm not a good photographer at all, but let's see how it goes.
It occurred to me that "nomad" is not the ideal name for my blog. I don't wander anymore; I want to live in Japan forever and ever amen till death do us part. Then I remembered that I've already stayed in six different apartments in Tokyo and although most of my income is derived from one company, I've been based in three diff…

The golden flower of the emperor

I never paid much attention to the golden flower, despite the fact that it's the symbol of Japan's imperial family. Chrysanthemums – the English name is derived from the Greek wordschrysos (gold) and anthemon (flower) – were just too uptight. Very prim and proper and fussy and rigid.
They look plastic, I thought, until I accidentally bumped into a chrysanthemum display at Hikawa Jinja in Ōmiya and noticed the wide variety of cultivars. I jumped into my books and went surfing with Google, and think I owe the chrysanthemum an apology. It's a very interesting flower.

It was first cultivated in China in the fifteenth century BC, and was regarded as one of the so-called four noble plants: orchid, bamboo, plum blossom, chrysanthemum. The book Bencao GangmubyLi Shizhen, which was written during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644),lists hundreds of varieties. Nowadays, I understand, there are thousands.
The flower eventually found its way to Japan, where it was called kiku (菊) and revered…

The bamboo grove at Hōkoku-ji in Kamakura

I love bamboo in all its forms: from strolling through a bamboo forest to eating takenoko (bamboo shoots). I also think wind in bamboo is one of the loveliest sounds in the world.

The most famous bamboo forest within reach of Tokyo is in the Arashiyama district near Kyoto, but there's another one – less known, but in a way much more charming – in Kamakura. It's more a grove than a forest, but you can find it at Hōkoku-ji (報国寺)in the eastern part of Kamakura. It's on Route 204 that runs from Kamakura to the Yokohama-Yokosuka Expressway.

Although Hōkoku-ji is tiny compared to Arashiyama, it's better in one way: it's more intimate. Arashiyama is a big forest, but the bamboo is fenced off and you walk along an asphalt road that's wide enough for a car. Hōkoku-ji is small, but you walk through it on a narrow path made from stones, and the only barrier between you and the bamboo is very low rope. The disadvantage of Hōkoku-ji's easygoing approach is this:

I don'…

Yotsuya Kaidan, Japan's favourite ghost story

Kaidan! Ghost stories! You ready?
August is the month of Obon (お盆), a Buddhist festival that honours ancestral spirits, who are believed to return to their birthplaces in this week.  Since otherworldly beings are wandering about, it's also the perfect time for ghost stories or kaidan.
Kaidan (怪談) consists of two kanji: 怪 (kai) meaning "strange, mysterious or bewitching apparition" and 談 (dan) meaning"talk"or "recited narrative". It's a slightly old-fashioned word that conjures up tales from the Edo era, and we're going to start our August Kaidan Series with an old Edo tale of murder, betrayal and revenge that remains the most famous ghost story in Japan.
It's called Yotsuya Kadain (四谷怪談), and it proves that "heavenhas norage like love to hatred turned, norhellafury like a woman scorned".¹ It's roughly based on a real event: a woman called Oiwa² married a man called Tamiya Iuzaemon, but after their divorce, various misfortunes be…

This is what my language sounds like

A while ago I promised I would do a post about Afrikaans songs. Oh dear. It's more work than I thought it would be, and it's aggravated by the fact that I've lost touch with contemporary culture in South Africa. (Please don't ask me about Die Antwoord. I don't get it. I don't want to get it.) So for now, while I continue my research, I've selected two golden oldies that are very natsukashii (that's a Japanese word for "dear" or "missed") to me. You'll notice the central themes that unite these songs: an abiding love for Africa, as well as loss and longing.
Quick recap: Afrikaans, my mother tongue, is a South African language developed from 17th century Dutch. It has adopted words from Malay, Khoisan and Bantu languages, but 90% of its vocabulary is of Dutch origin. Yes, I understand Dutch (with a bit of effort) and Flemish (easily). Afrikaans has about 6 million native speakers.
Tomorrow we return our focus to Japan. Tonight, son…