A year back from now, being the ignorant foreigner that I was, my knowledge of Japan was restricted to the following-
1.Japan is very advanced.
2. The Japanese are polite.
3. Tokyo is the capital and the location where the Fast and the Furious was shot.
4. Japan is a country prone to natural disasters.
5. Japan was bombed during the WWII.
6. Japanese babies are adorable.
While they’re all true, my most recent visit to Japan has made me better acquainted with the land and its people. On the advice of my Japanese friend who I had met in Yorkshire, England, I decided to pay a visit to the Japanese Alps and do some more hiking while I was there.
A day after coming down from Mount Fuji, I went to central Tokyo, had a quick breakfast and prepared myself for the five hours bus ride to Hirayu Onsen. An Onsen is the Japanese term for hot springs. Being the geologically active country that Japan is, there are a large number of traditional Japanese towns where you can stay in ryokans (Japanese inns) and experience the Japanese public bath. Hirayu is one such town. It is also a good base for exploring the Chubu Sangaka national park- home to the Japanese Alps!
A ten minutes ride from Hirayu takes you to the Taisho Pond. The trail for Mount Yakedake, a 2455 metres volcanic mountain starts here. More popularly known as the “Burning Mountain”, I could see smoke coming out from the summit. My original plan was to climb Mount Yake. However, I was tired from the Fuji climb and was struggling to walk on flat ground. I’m not the kind of person to shrink away from an honest mountain climb but this time, things were different. My friend was alarmed to see me stumbling upon every rock, pebble and stone; she recommended the steaming Japanese bath at the end of the day.
The area in and around the Kamikochi valley was formed as a result of the eruption of Mount Yake in 1915. It is a popular hiking destination and sees visitors from all over the world. The Japanese are very good hikers and greet you with a friendly ‘Kunichiwa’ along with a polite nodding of the head. By mid-afternoon, it had started to drizzle and the Azusa river looked greener than ever.
Closer to the Kamikochi town, the river winds its way through scenic woodlands, lush green valleys and snow-capped lofty mountain ranges. Kamikochi is home to the Kappa or a green imp who lurks beneath the bluish-green waters of the sacred Azusa river. Rooted in Japanese folklore, rich wildlife and astounding scenery, Kamikochi is a wonder of rural Japan.
Away from the main cities, the language problem can be somewhat challenging. For example, if you’re visiting a restaurant and are given a menu written in Japanese, you just wouldn’t know what to order. Also, Google translate doesn’t perform miracles with the Japanese language.
This one time while ordering supper, I asked a waiter if he could give me a bowl of ramen and beef. He replied with full confidence that he was 26 years old! Sweet chap.