Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Tokyo hiking - Mitake-san and Ōdake-san

The Chichibu-Tama National Park is a 1250-km2 expanse of mountains, forests, river sources and rural towns and villages, around the convergence of Tokyo's western extent with Saitama, Yamanashi and Nagano prefectures. These mountains offer many of the more serious hiking experiences within easy reach of Tokyo proper.

Mt. Mitake (Mitake-san, 御岳山) is a popular 929m peak at the edge of this region, in Tokyo's outer district of Ōme. A cable car provides access to the mountain village and prominent shrine, from where paths into forested ridges and gorges connect to surrounding peaks. One of these, Mt. Ōdake (Odake-san,大岳), lies across the district border between Oku-Tama, Tokyo's largest and westermost district, and Hinohara immediately south, and at 1267m commands a view spanning from Kanagawa, via Mt. Fuji, to the heart of the Kanto region's formidable mountainous hinterland.

The area's paths are well-signposted throughout and easy to follow. There are several routes between these two peaks, of varying difficulties, but the one detailed here proceeds through the Mitake-san "Rock Garden", a forested ravine of splendid moss-covered rock formations and waterfalls. Gradients are fair, though there are a number of steep, sustained ups and downs, especially in that ravine and just before the Ōdake summit. While not nearly as murderous as the likes of North Takao, the basic hiking essentials (enough water/food, good footwear, a map and compass, good timing and awareness, and a reasonable level of fitness) are highly recommended.

Maps are available at the Mitake Station information centre (especially of the happy-Japanese-cartoons variety; though closed on Mondays), but obtaining a survey map of the Oku-Tama area in advance (e.g. No.23 in the Mapple series) is suggested too.

Mitake-san – Ōdake-san
Length: Approx. 11km (for the Rock Garden route; shorter paths available)
Hiking Time: Approx. 6 hours
Height: Begins at Mitake upper cable car station, approx. 915m. Rock Garden route requires a descent of approx 1-200m, followed by a climb back up. The summit of Ōdake is at 1267m, its approach posing the steepest climb.
Access (from central Tokyo):
1) Go to Mitake Station (御岳) (Chuo Line or alternatives to Tachikawa Station, then JR Ōme Line to Mitake – make sure your train is on the main line for Oku-Tama, and not the branch-off to Musashi-Itsukaichi!). Depending on where you start, this will take approx. 1h30-2hrs and cost approx. 1000 yen (one-way).
2) A bus just outside the station goes to Ke-buru Shita (bottom of cable car, ケーブル下) in 10 minutes for 270 yen (one-way). Timetable here (out from Mitake) and here (back to Mitake) – from left to right, columns are weekdays, Saturdays, and Sundays/public holidays.
3) The cable car runs approx. every 15 minutes: a ride either way is 6 mins. and costs 570 yen (two-way ticket for 1090 yen). The hike starts and ends at the top.

1) Mitake-san Village and Shrine
2) Rock Garden
3) Ōdake-san
4) Return

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Kanamara Matsuri - 'Festival of the Steel Phallus'

Each year, on the first Sunday of April, the Wakamiya Hachimangu Kanayama Shrine (若宮八幡宮金山神社) in Kawasaki (between Tokyo and Yokohama) holds an unusual festival.

The Kanamara Matsuri, or "Festival of the Steel Phallus", dates back to the Edo period. According to legend, a sharp-toothed demon fell in love with a woman who did not feel likewise to him. So when she married someone else, the envious demon hid himself inside a certain orifice of hers before the wedding. Then, when her hubsand's corresponding organ made ingress, the demon deployed his jaws in such a way as deprived him of said organ, and no doubt inflicted quite considerable pain. Apparently this happened to a second husband too.

This, perhaps understandably, made a lot of people in the village upset. So the woman came up with a plan, and consulted a blacksmith to forge a phallus made of steel. With this they managed to trick the demon and broke his teeth. Angered and humiliated, the demon left her body, though the legend is not clear whether he escaped or was arrested.

Hence, the steel phallus: which has been enshrined here ever since, and whose significance is commemorated each year at this festival. The shrine is said to be especially popular for prostitutes, who pray to it for protection against sexually transmitted diseases; though it also attracts married couples to pray for family harmony, people of diverse sexualities, and businesspeople seeking prosperity.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Hanami 2013 - Kitanomaru Park and Shonan-daira

This year's early sakura season in Tokyo nears its end. Pink petals have begun to fall and carpet the paths and waterways, to be replaced by sprouting greenery. The following images are from Kitanomaru Park and its surroundings, beside the Imperial Palace.

Spot the culprit.