I want to break free

February, 2011, Seoul, Korea

February 2011, Seoul, Korea

Mind of a traveller

I was 23 in Japan, living a life free of responsibility, every young 20 something dream. Yet there I was, residing in a cramped one-bedroom flat, wishing that I made different choices.

A mild state of depression slowly crept over me, causing me to reevaluate my current situation.  The tsunami hitting northern Japan,  causing a radiation leak at the Fukushima plant. The situation made me feel entirely helpless,  for a while I pondered about how my life had led me here, in this tiny bedsit, watching the walls alone. Wishing the time away; hoping something –anything that would come along and put me on the right path towards contentment.

The anxiety didn’t let up when my brother visited me that year, if anything I saw his freedom to explore the world and I envied it. During most March 2011, we were trapped in my flat too scared by all the fear-mongering of the British media about radiation poisoning to venture outside. A feeling of being imprisoned slowly took over, as trains were cancelled, flights delayed and food scarce.

Some might say that I was ungrateful, and looking back at it, maybe I was. But even after the threat of radiation had died down, I woke up everyday almost in tears. I went to a job I had no passion for only to increase my bank balance and secure my visa.

Flights out of the country became too expensive, the low job prospects back at home, promises made to friends I had to keep;  the chains were tight and every time I resisted it only toughened its grasp.

As an expatriate, friends come and go, and there is never a ‘forever’, only for those who have set up shop here with families and I had no temptation to follow, if anything there attitudes towards Japan only made me want to leave even more.

Two years later still miserable I knew I had overstayed my welcome.  Rather than book a ticket straight out of Japan, I opted to visit Fukuoka, costing me no more than a few hundred pounds.  After a brief romantic encounter with an Australian; I was in the air –literally (and figuratively).

Travelling is a life-changing event that affects people’s way of thinking, but you also find yourself appreciating home-comforts. Once I landed at Heathrow, I inhaled the multiculturalism of London and my first week passed in a blur of museums, long walks, and “good ol’ English pubs”. This was home.

The long job applications started and I was working within the first three weeks of being back home.  The job I had trained for and tried vainly to find in Tokyo. An ideal situation to most but it happened again; the stability had started to cause an unease. I was in a situation where I had total control, which ironically made me scared.

I was becoming an “everyday robot” and I ceased the opportunity to fly off again, this time to New York.

But it wasn’t enough, I was travelling to modern cities, while I had always thrived on the historical sites, nature reserves and mountains a country had to offer.  There was no stopping me from climbing mountains, visiting temples –seeing the world.

A few weeks ago, at my computer I scrolled through volunteer opportunities online. With the savings I had accumulated I booked my first expedition to Peru to help on an archaeological dig at Vilcabamba.  It did the trick, and settled my self-induced anxiety.  Jealousy still gets the best of me when I see tourists wandering through London, exploring the hidden  alley ways, or discovering that quaint little pub behind the promenade of shops in Holborn. But, I know its only a matter of time before I’m on the road (again.)

 

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The last of the Incas

This year, sees an adventure begin. My trip to Peru in April, will be one of the biggest events of my life, I see nothing but the land of the setting sun in front of me.  It’s been a childhood dream of mine to visit Machu Pichu, my interest in the Incan empire was sparked when I was only a child, watching the Mysterious Cities of Gold, pretending to be Zia, the Incan princess. Something about the ancient lands of Peru causes a chill down my spine, the good kind, the kind, which kicks you off your seat into action, into an adventure.

I read the Lost City of the Incas by Hiram Bingham last year, it was filled with stories of discovery, the main one being how he found the last city of the indigenous people of Peru, which had always fascinated me. I had no hopes of becoming an archaeologist or historian when I was a child, I had only wished to visit the land of the setting sun so I could trace the same steps of the Incas with my very own footprints.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Last year, after coming back from a four-year adventure in Japan, I felt at odds with the world. It might come across off as little strange, but I left not out of the need for home comforts, but for adventure. Japan had given me all the necessities I would have needed to go voyaging off in some distant land,  money, accessible routes from sea and land, but it lacked the all important key to adventure; opportunity. You see I didn’t want to just visit Peru, I wanted to explore Peru.

That’s when I realised I wanted to be more than a travel writer, visiting restaurants and hotels and giving them a rating out of ten seemed a little mundane, if not repetitive. I wanted to get into every nick and cranny in Machu Picchu and find or notice something that someone hadn’t before.

I started attended seminars at UCL about South American Archaeology, and my interest started to shape into a life ambition. I began applying for internships on archaeological digs in Peru and by some source of divine power I was offered one late last year with a renowned archaeologist in the field of Ancient Peru, finally starting my adventure.

Here I include my 5 favourite civilisations to come out of Peru, and some I hope to delve into more once I become more acquainted with the region.

Top 5 Peruvian Ancient

  1. The Chachapoyas, also called the Warriors of the Clouds, was a culture of Andean people living in the cloud forests of the Amazonas Region of present-day Peru.
  2. The Inca Empire  was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.
  3. The Nazca culture was the archaeological culture that flourished from 100 BCE to 800 CE beside the dry southern coast of Peru in the river valleys of the Rio Grande de Nazca drainage and the Ica Valley.
  4. The Wari  were a Middle Horizon civilization that flourished in the south-central Andes and coastal area of modern-day Peru, from about AD 500 to 1000.
  5. The Chavín were a civilization that developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from 900 BC to 200 BC.

Climbing Snowdon, Wales

Climbing a huge rock.

Climbing a huge rock.

It has been a while since I left Japan and although I’m more than happy to be back, I will admit I felt lost for a time.  There was of course the initial culture shock of being back, but like so many things in life, you just get used to it.  For a few months in the UK, I feared that that bold girl Japan had been crafting for the last four years was disappearing. I no longer went on hikes, spoke to strangers, spoke another language, and I constantly feared the co-dependence which English life offered me.

I knew I had to grab that spontaneous girl back; look for adventure. So I decided to ask my friend to go hiking with me to Snowdon, I had at numerous times during my period in Asia, climbed up mountains -despite my averse fear of heights.

Half-way up the mountain.

Half-way up the mountain.

So I packed my belongings on 8th November and set out for adventure. Wales, has rustic feel to it I assume that’s how Northern England would be had I took the opportunity to venture up there.  For the first night my friend and I decided to stay at hotel so we had enough strength for the climb, the town was called Blaenau Ffestiniog, situated close to Snowdon itself. If only I hadn’t booked my train tickets so late then maybe I could have explored the town in its entirety,  but it didn’t only feel like time was against us, but our own dreaded luck. We lost Satelite Navigation, we couldn’t read the Welsh signs, we got lost at every turn, but we eventually made it to the hotel, the hotel worker waiting patiently as I ran to the doors, shoelaces untied.

The next morning, we treated ourselves to a full-welsh breakfast and made our way to Rhyy Ddu path, which is apparently the most scenic for mountain views -they weren’t lying. As we started our descent I couldn’t help, but stop every 10 minutes to take a picture of the view, on my digital camera, my iPhone, every angle had to be captured.  As we climbed higher the lakes to our left, which had been giant borderless waters became tiny ponds .

Near the top.

Near the top.

Snowdon isn’t tough to get up, but it took a lot longer as I didn’t have the right boots, mine were tearing into the sides of my heels with every step I took, I had to rely on huge boulders and shards of rock to grab onto to stop myself from falling. The ridge on the way to the summit is where my fear kicked in, unlike a lot of Asian mountains which provide fencing or a barrier across the edge, British mountains don’t. Most likely to keep the mountain from looking artificial or perhaps, because the walk along with strong gales are still not enough to stifle a climber, whatever the reason I still feared falling off.

The climb improved once we got shelter from the winds, but unfortunately, the cold started to tear through our coats, my gloves made of insulated wool, became wetter with every shard I grabbed and water began seeping into my skin, causing slight frost bite on the tips of my fingers, we took a few more pictures before arriving at the summit, shivering and barely joyous with our accomplishment.

The winter made Snowdon tougher to climb than usual,  as we descended the mountain, we started to slip and buckle over stray rocks, but we still found time (and balance) to take in the views. We roamed from the path and found ourselves quite seriously lost on the mountain, we made our way down despite having a loose idea of where we were going. Jumping over barb-wired fences and falling through potholes and sliding down loose rocks; we made our way to the railway and walked along the line until we came to the comforting view of the car park.

As a girl, who grew up in London and then moved to Tokyo, you can expect how in awe I was of the starry night sky as we pitched our tents under the canopy of pine trees. Of course I had seen night skies like that before, but every time I do get the opportunity, I appreciate them -so very much. That night I must have stood staring at them straight for ten minutes without realising where I was, thinking of an emptiness. I fear losing that feeling of complete immersion with nature as I see so little of it in my everyday life.

The Skirrid Inn scrolls.

The Skirrid Inn scrolls.

The next morning, after putting the tent away, we drove through the rocky mountains of Snowdonia and treated ourselves to another fry-up.  The Skirrid Inn, in the South Wales was our next destination. I had heard about it on the internet and knew that if I were going to be in Wales, I had to visit it.

The Skirrid Inn is located near the ominously named, “Black Mountains,” one of those volcanic peaks was said to have erupted when Jesus died on the cross.  As we entered one of the most haunted pubs in the UK, we were welcomed with a rather medieval tavern, with wall scrolls and a roaring fire keeping the patrons warm. I walked along the back to where the famous noose hung, and looked up through the gap in the staircase. The hearsay was true, a feeling of foreboding lay in that place.

And that’s where the adventure ends.

Adventure near the Base of Mount Fuji (Shibazakura Matsuri)

Photography © Franki Webb

It’s been awhile since my last post, but to be honest it’s been awhile since I’ve done anything remotely exciting. I think about my life in Japan and all the happy times I’ve had, and it’s sad to say; most of those times were during my year on exchange. Working has now has zapped almost all the excitement out of my once adventurous life. Now I’ve turned to going abroad to find my thrills, China, Korea and Thailand seem so much more exotic to me now.
I do have one adventure to share with you though, last week I decided to venture out of Tokyo for a bit. I had seen posters all over the trains promoting the flower festival near Mount Fuji as I was taking the train to work. I needed an escape, I had to leave the chaos of Tokyo and breathe some fresh mountain air.
The festival is located near Kawaguchiko so on Tuesday morning at 6am along with my housemate, I boarded a bus straight there. The journey took almost two hours. We got off the bus welcomed with that fresh pine air, grabbed a coffee and lined up for a bus that would take us straight to the festival.  The humidity was overbearing in our retro 60s bus and took almost as long. I started becoming impatient, but I don’t regret the road-trip though, as soon as I stepped off the bus I could smell the fresh flowers which this festival is famous for. We were lucky enough to have clear day with a mild breeze that kept us cool from the harsh rays. The fields were covered with rows and rows of pink shibazakura, the pink was so vibrant it almost hurt my vision if I stared at it too long, but at the same time I couldn’t keep my eyes away. Two years prior, I had visited Chichibu’s Flower Festival which was equally as stunning. However, the one thing that Kawaguchiko had that Chichibu didn’t was Mount Fuji, standing at 3900m,  the combination of the pink fields and mountain seemed almost too surreal as if one were in a fantasy-setting. We lingered at the festival, trying to take detailed images with our memory and sniffing the fragrance. It wasn’t until almost two hours later we decided to venture around the town. The bus back took a more scenic route, we got off at Kawaguchiko station and found the path towards the lake.
(For 2,700yen I would say you get a good deal, especially if you’re blessed with perfect weather. If you live around Tokyo or Yamanashi, take some time out and visit. I promise you, there’ll be no regrets. )

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Kawaguchiko translates as Lake Kawaguchi in English, so there is no surprise that there’s a lake in town. I’m not sure if it due to my city upbringing, but I felt tranquil n this environment, no sirens, no pachinko music, no loud voices; it wasn’t just me –everyone seemed to be at peace. There is so much we take for granted living in the city that we don’t appreciate the little perks of the country.
The lake was surrounded by miles and miles of greenery, even the freeway built over the lake to connect the divide couldn’t distract me from the beauty.  We sat down by the lake and ate our energy bars, by the time we got to there our energy had almost run out.  I peered at the tops of one of the shorter mountains close by and noticed a cable car going up to the summit.
“Why don’t we try it? There might be a temple at the top or something?” I said. I wasn’t ready for the adventure to be over, I wanted more.   The two of us pondered over the boat on the lake and whether it would be a better option, but since the winds had become stronger over the past hour we decided against it and took the cable car up to the mountain.  The mountain was called Mount Kachi Kachi. It was famous for tanuki and rabbits or according to the brochure we were given.  I doubt that people went up to the mountain especially to worship the tanuki, rather they went up to see the spectacular view of Mount Fuji.  We were welcomed by a photographer, who eagerly practiced a little English on us before taking our picture in front of Fujisan (as the Japanese say). We went up a little further and saw some more breath-taking views of the surrounding area. It wasn’t just me, everyone eyes were glued to particular areas, the mountain range on our left, Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchi. On top of the summit was a little shrine where we paid our respects (once we caught our breaths). We then climbed down, eager to enjoy the fresh air and get a chance to exercise.  By the time we got down to the bottom, it was time to make our way home, the air became a lot cooler and we started to shiver under our thin clothing. Unfortunately, our quest to find a non-Japanese restaurant failed (we were tired of Japanese food) and we “enjoyed” the cuisine 7-11 had to offer. We took our bus back at around 8.10pm hoping to get home before 10.  I wanted to stay longer, I just didn’t want my little quest to end and to return to the daily grind of city life.

Panda Land

With the pandas in China.

With the pandas in China.

Pandas are indeed cute.  I found this out firsthand when I visited China last month.  China had never been on my list of countries to visit, but that sentiment doesn’t hold true now. After spending seven adventured-filled days in the Sichuan Province I couldn’t believe I hadn’t booked the ticket years ago.  As evident from my previous posts; I live in Japan, a country which isn’t exactly on China’s party guest list when all the cool countries want to hang out with each other.  I had been deterred to some extent by Japanese attitudes towards China, but it’s not something I took on board seriously. Secondly, as much as I like to brag about my spontaneity, this is a trait which I like to exaggerate greatly. My move to Japan was years in the planning and the idea had  intimidated me to the point of severe anxiety at the time.  My trip to China was the exact opposite, there were no plans, I just booked a ticket after a day of thinking, “why the hell not?”

So there I was in the airport taking a flight to China, it happens in an instant as soon as I walked on the plane; everything changed.  I don’t like to make generalisations, but I respect the Chinese attitude in some ways more than the Japanese. Their take no bullshit stance from others and doing what the hell they want to when they want to do it really impressed me.  Air travel is a drain mentally and physically for me. Even with a two-hour flight I need at least a day to recover. Going through immigration and customs where people care little about red-tape made it almost manageable

I feel that holidays and adventures are different, they’re two separate concepts. Holidays are margaritas on the beach, sand between your toes and watching the sun set on a beach with palm trees. Obviously, Chengdu in China doesn’t have any of these things- what I came to China for was the pandas, sacred mountains and temples. Hoping to see some crazy food (I did-cockroach shish kebab). The whole trip reminded me of those roleplaying books I used to love when I was little. Those ones that told you to turn a page when you met someone or had to make a decision. China is like that; you make a move and you could be faced with the worst outcomes, likely sleeping at an inn with the Dutch businessman (Hostel, Eli Roth).

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Near the top of Mount Emei.

One of the best decisions on the trip was to go to the Panda  Breeding Center, which is situated just outside Chengdu.  I always thought that people overplay pandas’ cuteness. This is certainly not true -pandas are just like overgrown babies.  Their mannerisms, their clumsiness, their fondness of working a crowd,  come across so child-like that it’s almost easy to forget that you are looking at animals capable of causing you some serious damage, not stuffed teddy-bears.  My friend and I just stood watching them and their ways, grasping on the bamboo then pulling the shoots apart with the elegance of a hungry infant. It felt like almost an hour each time we decided to move on. They are simply “entertaining.”

Apart from pandas, there are other things to do in Sichuan province in China, actually it holds many of China’s greatest treasures. For three days of my tour I decided along with my fellow traveler to go up Mount Emei. Mount Emei is one of four sacred mountains in China.  It’s a place of enlightenment, and while climbing and visiting some of the temples on the mountains I felt peaceful as if all my worries had simply vanished.  I doubt I reached any form of enlightenment, though it’s nice to think I did feel some power from the mountain. Unfortunately, due to a lack of research on both our parts, we hadn’t realised that the mountain was actually 52km to the top and begrudgingly took a bus the rest of the way.  We hanged out on the summit, talking and drinking baijou (a strong Chinese alcoholic drink) and just nattering about the most mundane things in life, no need for overstatements. The mountain said everything.

Myself at Leshan

Myself at Leshan

Leshan is a few miles away from Mount Emei, which is another Buddhist place and holds the biggest Buddha in the world. The Buddha is carved into a mountain and is supposed to bring protection to the town as the rivers that flow around the town are said to be quite volatile and dangerous for the residents. I didn’t look up to see if the buddha had indeed done what is was built for, one can assume though that it did give the people some sort of peace of mind.  Nonetheless it is still pretty epic to look at once you finally get to it after hours of queuing up. I know that wherever you go in the world, especially places that are said to be national treasures -you’ll find tourist traps.  Though I had hoped that Sichuan wouldn’t be like that, that it was a little area in the corner of the world that was still left unscathed by others.  Unfortunately Chinese tourists are very much like Japanese tourists, which means they are overfond of visiting other places in their own country.  This is acceptable in my eyes since China is so big and filled with various types of cultures and people. In England however, only the elderly vacation around the country and other such trips are seen as “breaks” or” day-trips.” I shudder to think of never leaving England knowing that was my only world.  As much as I love my home-country there is so much to see once you pass the channel tunnel. Even Europe with it’s variety of countries and landscapes can never fulfill my urge to go exploring in other regions of the world.

China had a lot going for it, but I had to say a relief came over me once I had landed in Narita, the courteous people in Japan makes it a country worth living in. There are other things that I could rant about in China; pollution, litter, disregard for animal life, personal space constantly being invaded. I just won’t go there though, it’s not my place to judge another country. Though from my experience in China I hope they do stop building, I didn’t see countryside that hadn’t been scathed by horrid skyscapers and dusty air. It is quite upsetting to see, I know the economy is growing, but at what cost? A negligence for the environment and the planet?  I was happy to check out some historical places, but they were all somehow ravaged by modern architecture that had no real reason to be there. If China does become the number one world power, let’s hope they develop some empathy for a dying planet.

Wanderlust

Another entry about traveling you ask? Yes, sorry to bore you with my great plans to travel across all the continents, but after an eventful January; I’ve come to realise that traveling is my only safe net.  This month was my birthday after all the drunkenness and mishaps I decided to clear my mind from all the nonsense happening around me; to make a couple of much needed adjustments.
I turned the grand old age of 25, it’s remarkable really that I’ve celebrated nearly all my early 20s in Japan. Some would say that is an amazing feat, but now I just feel rooted and I hate that feeling. Sure, I love my friends here and some you could say are almost as close to me as family and that in some ways that -scares me. You see when I was younger, I had always wanted to travel. I was pretty much a loner throughout primary school and secondary school due to my love for academia and other geeky stuff which didn’t have that geek-chic that it does now. I had only a couple of close friends who although were good company, remain little more than acquaintances. During my early years, I was one of those “out of sight out of mind,” people, but as I entered university that person I had molded began to change significantly. The constant need to hide myself, not to reveal too much had broken.  Then in my second year of university I decided that I was due a change, it was one of the hardest things to do, to say goodbyes to some of my closest friends. I couldn’t cope with what that meant to me and I decided to  make them hate me, make them really dislike me. It worked, I left the U.K without any attachments.

Celebrating my 25th Birthday

Celebrating my 25th Birthday

It was a childish idea, however after contemplating my actions for a long time, I knew I couldn’t do it any other way. The honest truth is that when I decide something mentally after hours of consideration, it’s done; nothing is changing my mind. This is one of the few traits that I have kept from childhood and possibly why down the line I have made some foolish choices.

The story begins when I was walking to work in Ikebukuro, I take the same trip everyday, I see the same shops and speak to the same people. “Black coffee please.”  I’ve never been a great fan of repetitiveness;  unlike others I find no comfort in a habitual life. The same reason that I wanted to escape the U.K came surfacing up on my journey to work, why am I here if it’s not for adventure? I had always had an ideal of being a nomad, a traveling tramp with just my backpack and some money, but alas my upbringing and my love for modern comforts had made me realise that I couldn’t live that sort of existence even if I tried.  Though the idea of acquiring knowledge has always appealed to me, I mean that is one of the reasons I came to Japan, to learn the language, the culture and its history and I couldn’t careless about grades or pieces of papers that are suppose to somehow make me feel verified.  Though I knew that I would be wasting an opportunity if I didn’t change my route. If I stayed in Japan and studied I would be missing out on some adventure somewhere else. The idea of studying in Sweden popped into my mind, whilst being rammed by yet another leather handbag on my commute to work. Japan has made me grow as a person, there’s no denying it so I’m not demeaning my experiences here.  I’m more confident with who I am, despite the obvious flaws. There’s a belief inkling at the back of my mind that I could develop even more someplace else, with more space for creative expression. I won’t deny that I also have a thirst for culture and history and I believe one country isn’t enough to suffice this urge.

Japan was a challenge. Although in some ways completely westernised, in other ways so strict and traditional that it can be suffocating. Many of the nuisances started to grate on me after a while. I wanted more liberation, I did my research and found Sweden. I won’t deny that I find life in Japan comfortable, everything is easy. I never wanted easy though, liberal-yes, but not -easy.  A friend recommended I read Into The Wild by John Krakauer.  One lazy afternoon in the staff room twittering my thumbs, I noticed a copy lying on one of the top shelves apparently disregarded by one of the other teachers. I couldn’t put it down, I read it on the train, between breaks,  before bed. It is one of the few books that has altered my views about traveling, in a better way of course. Christopher Mccandless died in a bus in the middle of the wilderness in Alaska; with nobody.  Getting rid of all my belongings and living off the land in the middle of nowhere with the chance of impending doom doesn’t exactly appeal to me, but whilst reading it I couldn’t help but empathise with Mccandless, his constant frustrations of his dreary middle-class existence, his pent up dissatisfaction with society.  Mccandless did something, he made that change although it cost him his life, given another chance; he probably would do it exactly the same, make the same mistakes.

It’s possible like Mccandless that my idealistic views of the world could end up getting me into some trouble: debt, stress, and possible loneliness.  Though to say I never took the opportunity would be a greater disappointment, at least for myself.

Climbing Mount Takao

Summit of Mount Takao

One pastime, which I acquired in Japan is the joy of mountain climbing.  England has a real lack of places to climb and for those who wish to try out the dangers of some serious rock-climbing one only has to go to Scotland to fulfill such an endeavor. For me though, I had always wanted to see what the thrill was of going up high (secretly I always dreamt of being Frodo on Mount Doom, cue dramatic music).  Even when I moved to Japan in 2009 I had moved to a part where there was relatively few hills, let alone mountains and although on a clear day you could see Mount Fuji as though it was only a couple of miles away, it didn’t satisfy my urge.  So when I moved to West Tokyo, I’d decided to take full advantage of my close proximity to Chichibu, famous for its temples and mountains. I went mountain climbing at least once a month, a straight train on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line to a completely different world.

Mount Takao, which this post is about, is situated in Tokyo, it’s only 50 minutes away from Shinjuku on the Keio Line or the Chuo Line. I live relatively close to Mount Takao and I had never climbed it before so I decided to do so this week. The idea had crossed my mind a couple of times, but I was always too busy or there was something more pressing that I wanted to do.  Though when I eventually got around to doing so; I  wished I’d done it sooner.  The mountain is full of life and I don’t mean Japanese people paying their respects at the temple at the top of the mountain; I mean nature.  Nature is everywhere.

As I said in my previous article I am essentially an urbanite, but my time in Bath, Somerset made me appreciate the great outdoors. Somerset with all its green hills, woods and free roaming deer is probably my spiritual home. Now, I sound like a New Age Pagan, so moving swiftly on.  Mount Takao is also the spiritual home to many Japanese, it’s closely associated with tengu.  Forgive me, because my Japanese folklore has become slightly sloppy of late, but I believe tengu is depicted as a crow like creature who’s initial job is as a messenger to the deities and Buddhas. Tengu carries a fan to sweep away bad fortune and bring those around him good fortune, so not an oni (Japanese demon), but to be frank looks almost as terrifying.

Yakuo-in Temple

I have to admit something before I continue; I didn’t climb up Mount Takao, since time was limited I had decided to take the cable car to the half-way point.  However, I did walk all the way down and even though Mount Takao is relatively easy in comparison to the likes of Mount Fuji, you can get easily tired if you take it too fast. I took it quite slowly as I wanted to absorb as much of the visuals as I could. The path to the temple is rather underwhelming, since most of the way is concreted and heavily crowded, since I went during koyo (red leave) period.  Once you get on one of the nature trails though, it all becomes worth it. I was a little surprised to see how few Japanese people actually decided to go back on one of the trails, since one would think that’s why they went there. Alas, it seemed the majority only came for the temple as the trails were sparse with walkers.

A friend and I chose the Inariyama trail, not because we had been sensible and thought ahead; we were just being in the moment. We were lucky, the views and backdrop were breath-taking, sometimes a cliche is needed when words fail you. The trail was covered in deep forestry and although the path that laid before us was relatively easy;  if the casual walker didn’t prepare decent boots one could find it rather hard to maneuver over rocks and tree roots.   The trail starts slightly steep, but eventually evens out, so you can admire the panoramic view of the mountain range as you descend. In some ways, some would say it’s a more worthwhile hike than Mount Fuji.  I’ve been told Mount Fuji’s climb is comparatively dull, with rock and dirt being your companion for most of the way.

Warning of poisonous snakes.

The mountain is rich with wildlife. During our walk, there were plenty of signs to inform us about the plantation or poisonous snakes. Once we got to a mid way point, we decided to take a rest.  It wasn’t because we were tired, but more due to the fact that we kept stopping to take pictures of  the woods or the views from the edge of the trail.  I thank God we live in an age where we can easily capture a memory, yes I know a rather cheap sentiment, but sometimes the brain with all it’s marvelous functions still hasn’t evolved enough to give us a photographic memory. We got to a split in the road, and though I’ve been studying Japanese for almost 4 years now, I still couldn’t make out the Chinese characters. Fortunately, there was a nice Japanese family who directed us on the right path.

One of the pathways.

When we got our rhythm back,  it was a straight down direction.  As we neared the base of the mountain, towards Kiyotaki Station, which loosely translates as “clear waterfall,”  we found that the steepness was getting the better of us as we started to trip over large tree roots and forgotten walking sticks.  Momiji trees line the walk down, and one could forget that the heart of Tokyo was only a couple of miles away. As we walked over the bridge, which signaled the end of our trail; I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed, not because the walk was a let down in any way, but because it took me so long to realise that there was such natural beauty right on my doorstep. I had been too involved in the delights of modern day living, that I forgot all about simple pleasures like this. The train station across the bridge shook me back to reality, a little victory pose was needed as it marked completion of our hike and then we were on our way.