Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Ōtama Trail, Oku-Tama, Tokyo: Up the Tama River

The return of spring to Japan brings ideal conditions for exploring the mountains and forests. Being several kinds of tired lately (one reason this blog has been slow of late), I started with a very straightforward back-to-basics route in Oku-Tama (奥多摩).

This is an easy and accessible walk, only three to four hours long, with a few gentle ups and downs but nothing really strenuous. It follows the upstream Tama river (Tamagawa, 多摩川), snaking up the beautiful Hatonosu Valley and Kazuma Gorge over bridges, sleepy village lanes and woodland trails. Refreshing views and the sound of flowing water are a constant for most of the way, and unique highlights include a dam with a special “fish passage”, some charming local cafés, and Oku-Tama's celebrated fresh wasabi.

A few of my previous Oku-Tama mountain walks have featured in this blog, such as Mitake-san/Ōdake-san, Takamizu Sanzan and the more serious Takanosu-yama (two others, Kawanori-yama and Gozen-yama, I am saving for my hiking guidebook). But today's route stays in the valley, paralleling the far end of the Ōme Line across its last four stations. As such, it gives you more exposure to the human side of Oku-Tama, to which it offers an excellent introduction for first-timers in the area.

Oku-Tama (yellow, far left) within Tokyo metropolis. Central Tokyo is the purple area on the right.

It may come as a surprise that Oku-Tama is part of Tokyo at all. Although the metropolis's largest subdivision, only about 6,500 people live in it, mostly concentrated into little villages or towns amidst its expansive mountains and forests. Despite its contrast with the world of concrete further east, the two have been connected for quite some time: typically hikers, fishers, campers and pilgrims have come one way, while timber, limestone, drinking water and hydroelectric power have gone the other.