Welcome to the last and final account of my adventures in the Japanese Alps. A few days in the country, I was already singing praises of the uniqueness of Japan and the many subtleties of the Japanese culture. During the two weeks I was there, I have had very close interactions with the Japanese and was bestowed with affection, care and kindness at every step of my journey. I cannot recall the last time I felt so welcome, special and loved — all at the same time. As someone once said, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
This year, Japan recorded infernal temperatures. If I had known the outrageous summer temperatures that were in store for me at Yokohama and Kyoto, I would have probably stayed on at the national park. At Hiryau, the temperatures were slightly more reasonable. Owing to the sad state of my health, I decided to cheat and opted for a less strenuous mountain climb. Situated on the borders of Gifu and Nagano prefecture is another Level 1 active volcano, Mount Norikura.
Aren’t they abso-bloody-lutely stunning?
Thanks to the therapeutic properties of the much controversial Japanese public bath, my friend and I were able to freshen up for the next phase of hiking. The Japanese public bath, in short, is a place where people come together to discuss weather, politics and religion of the day – while being naked and immersed in an onsen(hot spring) which (make no mistake) is seriously hot! Thankfully, the wonderful ladies in my pool weren’t politically inclined and decided to tell me about the exquisite Japanese cuisines and where I should go looking for them. In case you’re covered in tattoos, you might be denied permission to enter a public bath. Who knows, you might have some form of deep intimacy with the Yakuza (underworld guys)!
Noticing a remarkable improvement in my health, I set off for Mount Norikura, the very next day.
From the bus stop at 2700 metres, it takes a little more than an hour to reach the summit of Mount Norikura. As mentioned in my earlier post on the Alps, the area is a geologically active region and the terrain for any volcanic mountain can be both challenging and daunting. As Spring gives way to Summer, the snow melts, new plants appear and pretty white daisies cover the peaceful little valley.
Mount Norikuradake is the southernmost and third tallest peak of the Northern Japanese Alps. Surrounded by caldera lakes, gushing waterfalls and alpine meadows on all sides, Norikura stands tall at a height of 3026 metres above sea level. Closer to the summit, the wind intensifies and the volcanic rocks assume a black, brown and orangish colour. During the climb, I came across a large number of Japanese hikers who had golden bells tied around their necks. Unable to solve the mystery of the golden bells, I continued my ascent until I came across a sign board which asked hikers to stay clear of wild bears and carry a bell! Lacking the skills to take on a fully grown wild bear, I was trying to decide whether I should turn back. Later, I decided to carry on with my ascent as I was already at the Asakusa view point and the summit of Mount Norikura was in sight.
The Norikura valley is particularly lovely in July because of the wild daisies that grow for miles under the shadow of the majestic mountain. The fleeting clouds bring scattered showers which in turn, keeps the air mild, crisp and pleasant. On a clear day, one can see the towering peaks of Mount Yari and Mount Hotaka – two of the most sacred mountains. Over a glass of Japanese tea and a bowl of handmade soba noodles, it is possible to have an amazing time at the Japanese Alps.
From mountain biking to skiing, rock-climbing and trekking, the area is known for its adventure sports and begins to gather a large number of visitors from August. Even though the national park is more expensive than other parts of Japan, I wish I had stayed on – amidst the placid lakes, gentle slopes and handsome smelling flowers.