I satisfied my longing for the mountains. I spent two nights in a bungalow in Kamikochi, a small town (outpost really) in a high valley in the northern Japanese Alps. My initial plan to do a high-alpine trek was thwarted quite quickly as I learned of the 3-5 meters of snow remaining on several passes. Crampons and Ice Axe required which I clearly don’t have with me. My immediate disappointment quickly vanished as I dropped my things off in my bungalow and headed out with a light pack for Mt Yakedake, a ‘modest’ climb of 1400 meters (4500 feet) in 5km. It was a beautiful hike – starting along the river, moving through lush forest, aspen-like groves, then grassy pastures above treeline and finally a craggy scramble to the top winding around volcanic fumaroles. (Yakedake erupted in 1915). The next day I stayed closer to the ground and did a recommended 6 hour loop that finished at the local onsen where I took a dip in the hot tubs and relived my achy muscles. Kamikochi was a fantastic place to get away from it all. Most of the tourists come up for day trips and clear out by 4 in the afternoon. Two nights in a row I watched the sunset from the famous Kappa Bridge with not another soul to be seen. July and August are the true climbing seasons – and if I ever make it back to Japan with my camping gear I will surely be returning. The scenery often reminded me of Colorado except for the family of monkeys I stumbled upon!
After two relaxing days in Kamikochi, I headed down to Nagano, the city that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics. The city has held onto some of its international appeal, but for the most part is a sleepy town famous for its largest temple, Zenko-ji. I only spent 18 hours in Nagano, but caught an amazing sunset (and sunrise!) and enjoyed a stay at another Buddhist temple. I met a couple from California who agreed to the ludicrous plan of getting up at 4:30 to make the morning blessings at the large temple…. somehow we managed to do it and as ‘the faithful’ lined up on the stones on the way to the temple, the priest walked by and wacked each of us on the head with his prayer beads. I am not sure exactly what that was supposed to signify, but the bump on my head has to mean some form of good luck! After the procession I stuck around to observe the morning service and chanting, reminding me of my week in Crestone. There is something very special about the first hour of the day and I only wish I could manage to see it more often!
After Nagano I headed back to Kioko and Flo’s house in Suzuka for a night to relax. I watched Flo and his team practice a sport called Futsol, essentially soccer with a heavy size 4 ball and a small field. Those guys were QUICK. In the same area that had ski jumps into a pool – I enjoyed watching people in full armor pulling 720s and then smacking into the water below! I’m wondering if such an idea would fly in the front range for all of the kids that don’t have anything to jump off of all summer?
Saturday I had my first Japanese Karaoke experience(pictures banned)! A large group got together at a Japanese Beer Garden (essentially a place to have unlimited food and drink for 3 hours) to load up and eventually stumble into a karaoke booth. From what I can remember there was a lot of Michael Jackson and I managed to pull off a little Tone Loc, Wild Thing. Karaoke is big over here, a typical last stop in the evening or even for all nighters. It was a great night, really my only night out in the town my entire time in Japan.
The next day I decided I needed to lay off the booze for a while and made my way to Nikko. I’ll report on that on my final post before heading to Thailand tomorrow. Peace!