Five weeks hiking around some of the spectacular mountains and volcanoes in Japan.

Japan hiking notes

12-Jun-2016

We arrived in Kagashima OK and picked up our hire car. Pauline was pretty apprehensive about driving but has since decided that it is all good. We have been hiking at Kirishima Nat park. Climbed Karakanuidaki, a dormant volcano which is part of the Kirishima Traverse. We can’t do the full 3 day traverse as the volcano in the middle Shishikodake is active at the moment. Lots of steam and sulphur. It had a full on eruption in 2102.

Our special car (little Nissan buzz box) has since taken us down to the most southern point of Japan, Cape Sata, then back up the west coast to Miyazaki. We have camped out all nights except one that we spent in an Onsen. The west coast is pretty spectacular. Bit like the great ocean road but on a much bigger scale and a lot longer and has lots of tunnels. The longest was 1.5km.

So the question to ask is how are we navigating as all the maps are in Japanese??? I have a pretty cool mapping app on my tablet that can access about 20 different mapping systems, including Google, Bing and OSM maps. These have enough English on them for us to find our way around. It relies a bit on having an internet connection, so sometimes we have to rely on downloaded maps which is more difficult as they are only in Japanese.

Tonight we are in Kokubu in a hotel. We have to drop the buzz box back to the airport tomorrow morning. Then we are off on the train up the west coast of Kushu to Nobeoka. There are two walks to the north west of here that we will do in the next week or so.

Our Japanese has improved heaps, we can now say “We don’t speak Japanese” and “It was delicious”. 😊

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14-Jun-2106

So, one bus, two trains, another bus and we arrived at Takachiho. We have lost count of the tunnels and huge bridges we have been over. Some of the bridges are over 250 meters above the rivers! This morning we were wandering around trying to find our B&B for tonight and an old guy on a scooter pulled up to help us. He pointed us in the right direction so we headed off. A few minutes later he turned up in his mini-van and picked us up and delivered us to the B&B. No fee, didn’t work for the B&B, just really helpful. The Japanese are so helpful it is making up for our lack of Japanese. All you have to do is be courteous. Domo arigato gozaimas and a bow goes a long way 😊

Tomorrow we will head off to climb Sobo-san, number 97 of Japans 100 famous mountains. The hard part will be the two local buses we need to catch to get to the start. All part of the adventure!

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19-Jun-2016

We have just arrived by train in Beppu in North East Kyushu. Both a bit tired, muddy and smelly, but OK otherwise. We have just completed the SoBo-SAN 祖母山 To KATAMuKi-yAMA 傾山 traverse. The Lonely Planet hiking book says it’s a three day hard walk over the longest hike in Kyushu. We took a hard four days to do it. Must be getting old because I think it would be very difficult to do in three days. Definitely not one for Pete’s knees! Lots of roots, steps, ladders and ropes to lower yourself down the difficult bits. The hut at Sobo-San has room for 40 small people. We were the only ones there. We hung around for a full day waiting for the rain to clear. The hut also has solar power and running water, so pretty comfortable, except there are no seats and my hips don’t cope with sitting on the floor for hours ☹

We are hanging around Beppu for a couple of days to do the tourist stuff and let the legs recuperate. Our packs are bigger then normal as we are carrying everything. It’s too hard to leave stuff at a hotel and come back later for it as we exit the walks in a different valley from where we started, so logistically messy to get back.

The plan from here is to catch the ferry across to Yawatahama on Shikoku. Then head around the north coast via some of the Temples and on to climb Mt Ishizuchi. The book says it’s a three day moderate walk, that you can start with the cable car which gets you most of the way to the summit. 😊

22-Jun-2016

We have just left Beppu on the ferry to Yawatahama on Shikoku. At about $35 for a three hour trip, it’s a bargain. It even has free wi-fi and Internet while we are at sea. The plan is to catch the train from Yawatahama to Matsuyama where we will stay overnight, then pick up a rental car for five days to go and climb Isizuchi-san then on to the vine bridges and Tsurugi-San.

The last few days I have been on Pauline’s cultural tour of Beppu and Usuki. I have spent hours wandering the old streets of Beppu looking at the traditional houses and testing the bakeries and ice creams 😊 The highlight of the tour was at an Onsen that was around 150 years old. However my tour guide had overlooked the fact that it is located in the middle of the brothel area of Beppu! We were surrounded by some interesting advertising 😎 Beppu also appears to be the local Pachinko capital, so lots of poker machines.

Usuki had the ruins of a fort some more traditional housing and have preserved a lot of old buildings. We also went to visit the Stone Buddha’s which are about 1000 years old. They have done a fantastic job of restoring them. The largest one is allegedly the best stone Buddha in Japan.

We tortured a local with our attempts at Japanese in a local supermarket while we were having lunch. He took such a liking to it all that he bought Pauline a squeeze bottle with a squirter on that you are supposed to cool yourself with. In the hands of a Ferguson of course this becomes a weapon that can be used to torment anyone near you. ☹ Watch out for it in your xmas presents!

Pauline has now worked out the whole Onsen thing. After broiling yourself for a while in the Onsen, you jump out and have a cold shower. She also cant work out why the Japanese have heated toilet seats in the tropics? It’s 25-30 deg each day and up to 100% humidity, believe me you don’t have a cold bottom!

The food experiment is continuing. For cheap good food, you go to any of the bigger supermarkets after about 10am. They all have a chef and churn out Sushi, Sashimi and all manner of California rolls. All fresh, every day and about half the price of the restaurants. The downside is your not always sure what you are getting. Last nights desert looked like a chocolate muffin, turned out to be a rice ball covered in red bean. Not what Pauline expected, but good for me, I like red bean😊 No help for the chocolate withdrawals though.

26-Jun-2016

We arrived in Matsuyama ok. It’s the biggest city on Shikoku, 500,000 people. Our hotel is the smallest room we have had so far. About the size of a small caravan, still, it has everything, including a washing machine.

The cultural tour continues. We wandered up to the fort that is in the middle of the city. The grounds are about 60 Acres, and about 100m above the rest of the city, so it’s big. The buildings are all still intact from about the early 1800s. The fort walls and battlements are stone and over 10m high and are much older. It’s not a ruin like most and well worth seeing.

After we picked up the hire car and supplies from the supermarket we headed off for the next walk. I think we have the food sorted now. It’s always a lucky dip in the supermarket as your never really sure what your buying as we can’t read the packets. Noodles and Miso for breakfast, crackers and dip for lunch.

The start of the climb to the sacred mountain Isizuchi-san is on a cable car which eliminates the first 1000m of the climb. And from there it just goes up, up, up, for another 800m, mostly on steps made of rocks or cedar logs. The weather at the bottom was OK but clouded in, so we took the chance that we may be above the cloud at the top. The weather forecast for the next couple of days was thunderstorms ☹ After a few hours of solid climb, we reached the top, the weather had cleared in the last 200m vertical. So 360deg views from the hut at the top, all the way to Kyushu and Honshu. It’s right up there with the best views I have ever seen.

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There is no where to camp at the top so we stayed in the hut overnight. It was run by four guys who spoke as much English as we speak Japanese (not much). They mainly cater for the pilgrims coming to the summit for prayers. We swapped photos and spent the night with dictionaries attempting to communicate.

Two of the guys are priests for the temple at the top, they invited us to attend the 6am service the next morning. It was pretty cool as we were the only guests on the most sacred mountain in Shikoku with our own personal priests. Lots of drumming, singing and bowing which we had to do as well (except the singing in Japanese). The head priest also used his iPhone to translate the important bits for us!

Not sure if the blessing worked out as expected! We headed off down the mountain in strong winds and lots of clouds that quickly turned to rain. We made a navigation error because we can’t read the signs. The GPS picked it up OK but I waited till the rain dropped off to check, so we walked an extra 5km . There are no short cuts in Japan, the mountains are so steep you can only follow the ridges, so we had to backtrack. The up side of all this is we ended up at the Sanso Shirasa hotel for the night. Not much of a choice – put up the tent in the pouring rain, or a dry bed and dinner. The hotel is an old sort of Art Deco building, it is huge by Japanese standards and a bit run down. The owners both speak good English. They met in Cairns of all places😊 The dinner was the best Japanese we have had since we arrived. So I would recommend it to anyone after an alternate experience.

The Japanese breakfast was as good as dinner, which got us off to a good start as we had a 500m climb, followed by 1500m descent. We got spectacular views from the top before the rain moved in. Down, down, down we went, on ropes, ladders and rocks. It went on forever. Pauline added to the drama by doing a few somersaults off the side of the track. She came to rest about 6m down, a bit shook up and a couple of small bruises, but ok otherwise. The down, down, down continued for about 6 hours before we arrived back at the car!

The next day was forecast as sunny so we moved on to Oku-iya Kazura-bashi and camped for the night next to the famous vine bridges. Bit of tourist thing but spectacular anyway.

Today we caught the chair lift up Tsuruguri-san with everyone else who had the seen the sunny forecast. More great views. This mountain is also the start of a four day walk which we can’t do as there is no public transport back to the start☹ Maybe next time!

Tonight we have moved on to Takamatsu in the north of Shikoku to look at Ritsuen Japanese gardens.

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For food we are still frequenting the supermarkets, cheap and good quality. Every time we go I do a science experiment. You pick an item of food that you have no idea what it is and try it. Last night it turned out to be a red bean cup cake with a sticky rice cake coating. Tonight it was lemon cheese desert. Bit like a circle of Brie and about the same consistency, but it tastes like lemon tart filling. I like it, Pauline is not convinced 😉
5-July-2016

We have been doing the tourist thing for a week. Two days in Nara and four full days in Kyoto. I have now seen the largest Buddah in Japan, I’ve also seen the largest wooden building in the world. I’ve lost count of the temples and shrines. In fact I think I’ve seen enough to last me a lifetime.

We are staying in AirBnB in Kyoto. Half the price of a cheap hotel and we have a studio apartment to ourselves. It’s right near a supermarket and a bus stop. FYI if you are ever in Kyoto, the bus service is excellent. You buy a day pass each day for 500 yen from the bus driver and can get on and off busses all day. Did I mention there are more temples here than you can poke a burnt stick at😊 and you can get a bus to all of them, Heaven ☹.

Tomorrow we are off on the Shinkasen again to Matsumoto and Omachi to do the final hike. It’s a six/seven day traverse of the Northern Japanese Alps. See map below. Again we are not too sure of the weather, just taking it as it comes. Buying food for hiking is still an issue, hard to get a lot of carbs in a dehydrated form. We still have enough left from what we bought with us for a few days. Fortunately there are huts each day on this trip that sell food and accommodation, one of them sleeps 650 people (most don’t come from the direction we are). So we are planning on buying some meals on the way.

To warm you all up a bit it’s 35deg here today with thunderstorms. Feels like 40deg. So we are hiding in the aircon busses, supermarkets and the flat.Colin and Pauline…

Ps Interesting Japanese stuff

·       If its raining, most shops and hotels provide a plastic bag machine at the door that will gift wrap your umbrella so you don’t drip water everywhere. No plastic waste here 😊
·       The best seats on the local busses are the two up front behind the driver. You can see what the next stop is (on the screen at the front) and you don’t have to fight your way through the crowd to get off. You have to be quick to get these as the locals dive on them.
·       If you are westerner and eat lunch in the supermarket with the other oldies you soon become the centre of attention. Especially if you can show some photos of our house and mention a few sacred mountain names. We always seem to gather a crowd.

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9-July-2016

The master plan to do the 6 day traverse of the Alps had to be aborted. We got to the first hut on the traverse and discovered there is still a lot of snow on the passes. These are too dangerous to cross without crampons so we had to bail out☹ The plan is to come back next year in the last half of September. The guys in the hut said this was the best weather and most of the crowds have gone. Might make it the second half of an autumn trip to Hokkaido.

For now we are doing day walks out of the alpine village at the end of the traverse. Got here by bus ☹ Bucketing rain today so not much walking. Spent an hour or so watching the monkeys amuse themselves in the trees around the village. Home next week!

16-July-2016

The last hurrah!

We spent a couple of days hiking around Kamicochi. The mountains are amazing. It is the mecca for hiking in Japan. One ‘day walk’ turned into a nine hour epic with 1000m climb and descent. We discovered there is a cable car on the other side of the mountain once we got to the top ☹ Pauline has also managed to befriend the local artist who lives in a tent, it’s a bit like Irene’s place, stuff everywhere! From the cuttings in his photo album we think he is in his eighties. Still pushing his cart around complete with easel and paint. He has given us two of his paintings and a DVD.

From Kamicochi we headed to Jimbocho via an express train and the Tokyo underground. Jimbocho is the area in Tokyo where all the ski and outdoor shops are. Lots of looking, but not much buying. It’s about the same price as Oz for gear. Most of it too small for me. We also did the Imperial Gardens and a few museums and art galleries. The highlight of Tokyo was a morning at the Tsukiji fish market. It’s the biggest fish market in the world. Organized chaos!!!! They even have security guys to guide the tourists through the truck parking so they don’t get run down in the mayhem.

We are getting the hang of the underground, managed to make it from Jimbocho to Narita on local trains without getting lost. Did I mention how good the public transport is!!

So the story has come to the end, we are on the plane home now. The contrast between the Japanese transport and Jetostar could not have been more stark. The queue to check in luggage was a mile long as Jetostar have under staffed the whole operation. The plane left 45 minutes late because the baggage guy (I’m assuming there is only one) too so long to load the plane. We will be avoiding Jetostar from now on. I’d rather pay a little more and get some service!

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