Sunday, 11 May 2014

Japanese Walks - Images and Reflections

At the time of writing, I have been in Japan for four months since returning here in January. My search for ways to obtain a visa and suitable work, despite considerable struggle, has so far not been successful, and becomes deeply frustrating and embittering.

Nonetheless. When I opened this blog in 2011, nothing portended that so much of it would come to be occupied by the rocks, trees, rivers, animals, temples, shrines, and miscellaneous spectacularness of Japanese mountains and forests. Indeed, it was with lamentations on the England Riots that year – or rather the appalling reactions to them in the UK – that I created this blog, and I fully expected that politically-charged, contentious topics like that would remain its constant focus.

To an extent, this has been the case. It has accumulated commentary on the madness of humankind and a broken reality; on our species's problems of gender, and failure to come to terms with its own sexuality; on heroism, and on suicide; on the political and social concerns of human rights, or of neckties, or of video games. Even when suffused with two and a half years of Japan, the focus has often been on burning historical problems, sometimes unresolved and still menacing today, or otherwise constituing layer upon layer of fascinating heritage or fuzzy animals.

But I notice, especially in recent times, the explosion of nature walks I have posted here over these years. Perhaps this reflects the impression Japanese walks have made on me – for it is a unique thing, walking in Japan, in regions so wild yet so accessible, each place with its own secret stories and shapes. And at times like these, beset with humanity's malevolent creations like visa regimes and pitiless economic structures, these wild places offer some of the last respites available into an Earth which, so mercifully, still connects to a beautiful universe, unsullied by prejudices, conformities and submissions.

In tribute, then, I post here some of the best images from each of the natural places in Japan I have had the privilege to walk. Some I have written up on this blog; click the links for guidance, in those cases, for how to explore them too.

Oku-Tama, Tokyo Metropolis
The wild western reaches of Tokyo, around and beyond the far end of the JR Ōme Line.

Mitake-san (御岳山), a sacred and popular peak, with a cable car and a village centred around a big shrine.

Ōdake-san (大岳山), a distinct pointy peak with a scenic “rock garden” in a deep ravine.

Sengenrei (浅間嶺), a ridge in sleepy Hinohara village near the legendary Hossawa Waterfall.

Takamizu Sanzan (高水三山), or the Three Mountains of Takamizu, a relatively easy climb in Ōme with intriguing local shrines and temples.

Kawanori-yama (川乗山), a steep and stunning ascent up narrow ridges and mossy river valleys.

Gozenyama (御前山), a triangular peak that looms above Lake Oku-Tama, one of Tokyo's major reservoirs.

Takanosu-yama (鷹ノ巣山), an unforgiving 1,737m peak along a high ridge deep in Oku-Tama.

Takao-Jinba area, Tokyo Metropolis
The area around Tokyo's most popular mountain, which accommodates thousands of visitors every day.

Takao-san (高尾山), with cable cars, chairlifts, eight hiking courses, and a long association with tengu and ascetic mountain hermits.

Jinba-san (陣馬山), a good day's hike along the ridge from Takao, well-known for the white horse sculpture on its summit.

South Takao Ridge (南高尾山稜), much quieter than the main Takao-Jinba ridge, perched on the boundary of Sagamihara amidst evergreen forests.

North Takao Ridge (北高尾山稜), a much rougher ridge on Takao-san's northern deciduous flank, with unrelenting ups and downs above the haunted grounds of Hachiōji Castle.

Tanzawa Mountains, Kanagawa Prefecture
A dense cluster of mountains overlooking the suburban expanses of Kanagawa.

Kōbōyama (弘法山), in the hills above Hadano city, which erupt in pink blossoms during the sakura season.

Tōnodake (塔ノ岳), an archetypally classic Japanese mountain.

Nabewari-yama (鍋割山), with a tough climb to the summit and its famous cabin, where Mr. Kusano has served Nabewari udon for almost fifty years.

Hakone area, Kanagawa Prefecture
A great caldera in the corner of the Kantō Plain, filled with hot springs, heritage sites and natural beauty.

Komagatake (駒ケ岳), a grassy hilltop on the central lava dome near Hakone's highest point of Kamiyama (神山).
Kintoki-yama (金時山) on Hakone's northern rim, birthplace of Kintarō (“Golden Boy”) in Japanese folklore and – on a clear day – one of the best vantage points towards Mt. Fuji.
Myōjingatake (明神ヶ岳), along a ridge of towering bamboo and golden-rayed mountain lilies.

Yaguradake (矢倉岳), outside Hakone proper, a strategic peak overlooking Ashigara Pass, the old way in and out of the Kantō Plain.

Oku-Musashi, Saitama Prefecture
The mountains north of Tokyo, rising to the high wilds of Chichibu.

Hiwada-yama (日和田山), a pleasant hill above the flower fields of Koma, a sleepy village of ancient Korean secrets.
Izugatake (伊豆ヶ岳), a formidable peak in the Oku-Musashi mountains, known for its chain-assisted rock face climb and Ne-no-Gongen Temple.

Yamanashi Prefecture
A landlocked province of mountains surrounding the fertile Kōfu Basin, the first place you come to west out of Tokyo. Not had much experience here yet.

Kuratake-yama (倉岳山), a well-rounded mountain in Ōtsuki city, lower Yamanashi, which offers a bit of everything – mossy streams, an open ridge, and good views of Mt. Fuji.

Ibaraki Prefecture
The mostly flat expanses of towns and farms northeast of Tokyo, save for one distinctive mountain in the middle.

Tsukuba-san (筑波山), the somewhat touristified double-mountain of Tsukuba science city, decked in ancient temples and curious rock formations.

Mount Fuji
And of course – Japan's highest mountain, at 3,776m.

And to finish, a special bonus, perhaps the most magical mountain experience of them all: Kurodake, in Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaido.


  1. Hear, hear...

    You are doing us all such a huge favour with these amazing walks and posts - I really hope there will be a book about it. - Martin Frid

    1. Thanks Martin :) The book is in progress, though will take a little while yet to fill up.

  2. Loved this Chaobang, beautiful overview and really clears out what is where. :D