Today, we were driving from Matsumoto to Kamikochi, high in the Japanese Alps and an incredibly popular hiking area. We drove to a car park which was located near the entrance to the valley. Kamikochi is in a high altitude valley and only accessible by bus from the many car parks on the main road. There’s no entrance fee for the area, but there is a fee for the bus. The bus was about ¥4,100 (£23) for a return ticket for two of us. The sun was shining and it was warm, but we had a fleece each because the in Japan the temperature rapidly drops with altitude (a shock after Nepal, Tibet and China where it was still nice and warm even at great altitude). We also had an umbrella each just in case (lesson learnt a few days ago at Kurobe).
We planned on doing just a short half day hike around the area, but many people go there for multi-day treks, mountain climbing, etc. Compared to these others on the bus we looked a little under prepared, they had hiking trousers, hiking boots, three layers of clothing, hats, walking poles and proper backpacks. We had two carrier bags (one with our lunch and one with a bottle of water, fleece tops and am umbrella). The bus ride was only about 20 minutes but by the time we reached the terminal in the valley it was raining hard. We ran into the tourist information centre with everyone else and found somewhere to sit and eat our lunch, whilst looking at the walking maps to decide on a route. Luckily the rain stopped while we were eating.
The route I picked was about 3 hours in total and took us up one side of the river, across a bridge and to a small lake then down that side of the river and back across to the bus terminal. It looked reasonable. We set off walking beside the river. The mountains surrounding us were thickly forested and it was incredibly green. The clouds sat over the mountains. The footpaths were very wet from the downpour earlier and we spent a lot of time dodging these huge puddles, whilst everyone else marched through them. Almost everyone had full waterproof hiking gear on. Bright colours of waterproof colouring covered almost every square inch of the hikers. We were warm in shorts and t-shirt.
After about 40 minutes of walking we reached the junction where most people continued straight towards the mountains and we would turn left to cross the river and walk back down the other side. There was a shop and some toilets. I sat down while Annemarie went to the toilet. As she walked off it started to spot with rain. Within 30 seconds I put the umbrella up as it getting heavier. Within a minute it was heavy enough that I was expecting Annemarie running back from the toilets. Then, after another 30 seconds the rain was so heavy there was more water than air above the ground. I gathered our stuff and went to rescue her from the toilets. But the rain was so heavy it was bouncing off the ground and soaking me, so I found her and we stood by the toilet building in a tiny section of sheltered ground. We stood there for about 10 minutes waiting for the worst to pass so we could continue. It’s not very often we walk in the mountains through a forest whilst carrying an umbrella each, but this is Japan. Whenever we want to walk it rains! It’s too hot for waterproofs so the umbrella was the next best thing.
Over the bridge we saw an old house which was where an American had come. It was he, who named these the Japanese Alps. Behind the house was a lake. The lake was shrouded with a layer of mist, which went off into the trees. It was very quiet and eerie.
From there on it was a wet walk. The footpath was narrow and often flooded. The temperature dropped and we were now wearing our fleeces, for the first time (during the day) since Tibet two months ago. But it was still very nice in the woods. China may have had the dramatic landscapes but this kind of landscape has always been our favourite. Switzerland looks like this, as does New Zealand.
We passed a river and took a few photos of it before deciding to go straight back to the bus terminal and get back to the car.
It’s annoying that in Japan the hiking season is also the rainy season. The temperature here is very cold during most of the year and it’s quite cold here even in now. The Japanese seem to accept this and just get on with it.
We drove though some very nice mountain scenery to the town of Takayama. We had booked a ryokan here. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese accommodation, similar to a Bed & Breakfast in the UK. You must take your shoes off before entering and put on slippers. The room has a floor covered with tatami mats and pretty much no furniture. You must never wear shoes (even indoor shoes) on tatami mats, so there’s a section by the door to leave the shoes. The toilets are shared down the hallway and the bath is communal and single sex. It was OK but not the great experience we were expecting. Doors were locked at 10pm so we headed out to get some food.
After eating we came back and I went for a bath. The procedure is to strip in the changing area, then wash in the washing area. The wash area is a line of knee high stools in front of a handheld shower. All shampoo and body wash is provided. I sat on the tiny stool and washed myself then headed for the bath. I’d checked that the room was empty before getting undressed, not that it really matters, but as of yet I still wasn’t too keen on the idea of walking around naked and sharing the bath with a load of strangers. The rules for the bath are very strict. No clothes must enter the water. You mustn’t put your head in the water. Don’t wash clothes in the water. No bubbles or soap. You must be clean before getting in. They are shallow, usually when sitting on the bottom the water won’t quite cover the shoulders. But the water is nice and hot and it’s pretty relaxing. I laid there alone and relaxed.
Back in the room and we had to put out the bedding. That means spreading the futon, getting the sheets out and making the bed. In a ryokan you pay more and generally get less. But, it’s an experience and something different.
Posted from here.