Saturday, September 24, 2016

Climbing Mt. Fuji

I've been living in Japan for over 10+ years and have never climbed Fuji. I thought it was tacky and unnecessary; Fuji is best viewed from below to see it's iconic symmetrical, upside-down V. On the final day of the official climbing season, I was dragged along by a Fuji-loving-climber, and surprisingly, enjoyed the hike immensely. This post will focus on the start of the route, how you can prepare for the climb, and secret tips from insiders.

Sept. 10, 2016 ~ A perfect day for climbing!


First, for the ascent, my hiking partner and I took the Fujinomiya route. It's the shortest, taking 5~6 hours up and 3 hours down. It's also quite steep, and should be attempted by more experienced hikers as there are tough sections where you have to climb up large boulders using all four limbs. Info pertaining to the Fujinomiya route is HERE and a detailed map is HERE (courtesy of Mt.Fuji Explorer & MTG).




Photos at Fujinomiya 5th station, the starting point:





A quick guide before you start climbing:
- You cannot take a car to the 5th station during the official season as vehicles are banned from the national park. You'll need to take the bus. Return ticket is 1,800 JPY ($18 USD). The bus stop looks like this:

- Buses leave every 10~15 from 5:30 AM. After 8 AM the departure times slow to every 20~30 minutes. Don't worry, it's very well-organized and impossible to get on the wrong bus. Japanese + English signage seen. From the parking area (near American army base Camp Fuji) to Fujinomiya 5th station takes about 15~20 minutes.

- Volunteers will give you a detailed map in English (Chinese & Korean may be available too) before you get on the bus. Study it; it has info about where to seek medical attention + approximate hiking times between each station. You can also make a 1,000 JPY donation to the Mt. Fuji Conservation fund. It goes to trail maintenance and is not compulsory.

- All toilets on Mt.Fuji are "tip toilets", meaning you should donate 100~300 yen per use ($1~$3). The money aids maintenance, cleaning & toilet paper stock. So, bring lot of 100 yen coins before you start the climb. You should pay to use the toilets (at the summit, payment is mandatory).


Cutenekko's finger indexes our starting point!
Climbing tips when you get to Fujinomiya 5th station (2,390 meters): 

- Take 30 minutes to an hour to allow your body to acclimatize to the altitude. Many hikers skip this step and the result may be headaches, shortness of breath, and more. Use the time to eat breakfast, see the souvenirs, or use the toilet. You can also stretch your muscles before the climb.




- There is a large souvenir shop and food + drinks are sold at this station. You can stock up on supplies if you forgot something. Frugal climbers should bring all supplies from outside the Fuji area -- much cheaper!


What to bring: 

I cannot stress this enough: Mt.Fuji is a real mountain, so be sure to bring proper climbing gear. These include:
- solid hiking shoes (sneakers are not recommended) + a sturdy backpack
- a warm jacket or sweater; the summit is about 8 degrees C
- a flashlight (during descent, you'll likely be hiking in darkness)
- sunscreen + a large hat that will not blow off in the wind (it's VERY windy at many points)
- about 2 liters of water for one person
- snacks
- hiking stocks (if you have them, they are useful).

Insider secret tips: 
- Bring  a mask to cover your nose and mouth. Why? Fuji is full of ash, and that stuff blows around getting into your nose, mouth and ears.
- Some people recommend snowboard/ski goggles too, especially for contact lens wearers as the ash particles can easily get into your eyes.


The trail from Fujinomiya 5th to the 6th station (notice the ash!): 
The wide trail on the right is not for hikers -- it's for bulldozers which carry supplies up to the mountain huts.


I'll post more pics of the climb itself + photos of the mountain huts. 

~ Enjoy hiking!

Information: 

The official Japan Tourism Office site for Mt. Fuji is HERE

Another great resource for hiking this mountain is Japan-Guide.com's site HERE.

The official climbing season is usually July ~ early September. It is not recommended to hike after October due to heavy winds and snow. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mount Kintoki ~ A 2nd Time!

How does one spend X-mas in Japan? Sadly, I cannot afford a plane ticket home, nor do I have much time off for the holidays, so I did what I love most -- headed to the mountains for a climb! Mount Kintoki has been featured on this blog before (see HERE  &  HERE); I gave it another go and enjoyed a special, yet very nontraditional Christmas dinner at the summit.

Please come hiking with me....!


Kintokiyama is located in Hakone area and is famous for its view of Mt. Fuji on a clear day. The hiking route chosen started in a parking lot, just off the main road where a map informed hikers of the routes available. 

Photos: The start of the trail is marked with Kintaro's axe. 


Mt. Kintoki is thought to be the setting of a legendary folk tale in Japan. A boy of great strength named 'Kintaro' (lit. 'Golden Boy') befriended numerous animals in (supposedly) this area and later, slayed a demon (wiki page with more info is HERE) who terrorized those on the mountain. Regardless of the folk story being true or not, it's commonly told to small children in Japan, who view Kintaro as a hero. 

Photo: Only 20 minutes more to summit! 


This mountain is relatively easy to hike, especially for beginners. There is only one section in which you need to climb up a set of steep rocks, next to a tree; however, a rope assists hikers there. 

Photo: At the summit! 


The entire hike to summit takes approximately 1.5 ~ 2.5 hours depending on one's strength. At the top, a mountain hut and coin toilets can be found (cost: 100 yen). There are some picnic tables to rest your feet, but be sure to bring your camera in case of a clear day which will give you beautiful views of Mount Fuji (sadly, on my hiking day the weather was cloudy...). 

Photo: Summit marker

Mount Kintoki reaches 1,212 meters and at the summit marker, hikers can get a photo holding Kintaro's axe! As there were very few hikers on this day, I went overboard and took a lot of photos with the axe....(laugh) 

Photo: That axe was a little heavy...


I mentioned earlier this hike was completed on X-mas day, so I celebrated the occasion with a special dinner at the top ..........Ta-da!

Photo: Merry Christmas to me~!

Thank you Santa.

For those who enjoy the outdoors and don't mind a 2+ hour hike, Mount Kintoki is a lovely spot to visit. On a clear day, close views of Mount Fuji can be seen. 

Enjoy mountains! 

~ Information ~ 

Mount Kintoki (also called Kintokiyama) is located in Hakone, Shizuoka prefecture. English PDF file of various hikes in the area is HERE. English info is HERE

Access: 
Okakyu Romance Car from Shinjuku station to Hakone-Yumoto station. Change to a bus -- use platform #3 -- the "Togendai Line" route (exiting the station, it's across the street on your left). Ride for about 20 minutes. This route will be a little expensive due to the express train fare.

Romance Car info is HERE.

OR

Take an Odakyu bus from Shinjuku and get off at Kintoki-tozanguchi bus stop. It takes about 2 hours one way and costs about 2,000 yen ($20). 

Odakyu highway bus info is HERE.

Bring: 
Good hiking boots or solid sneakers, a warm jacket as the summit is windy, a camera, water and lunch or snacks. No burners are allowed at the top due to the bio-toilets. 

Hiking time: 
Round trip is approximately 4 hours. 

Special Bonus:

Madonna visited to Japan and I managed to snag a ticket to her "Rebel Heart" tour which was held at Saitama Arena on Feb.13th. With thanks from my friend in Chiba, and a radio station supporting the tour, my seat turned out to be an awesome one -- right on floor, two seats away from the end of the runway, which jutted out from the main stage. Woo! I didn't take many photos, because I wanted to enjoy the concert and dance till my little booty shook no more. 

My two photos to share: Cutenekko waits for Madonna / Madonna points to my butterflies.
   

Madonna was actually really funny during this concert. She bantered with the crowd and chatted quite a bit. This point surprised me most. I heard Radiohead will come to Japan to participate in this year's FujiRock festival. I wish I could go!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Exploring Yugawara

Yugawara a small resort town in western Kanagawa prefecture approximately 2.5 hours outside of Tokyo (Shinjuku) by express train (info HERE; map HERE). Famous for its hot springs and traditional craft shops, it is a popular destination for Tokyo-ites to spend the weekend at an inn.

I had the pleasure of visiting this charming town last fall; while there, I did a little of everything: hiking, autumn leaves viewing, and testing the hot springs. Let's take a look at Yugawara!

Photos: waterfall & flowing river
                

This hiking trail was actually on the way to the foot baths park, called 'Manyo Hot Water Park' (site HERE -- translation software activated). It's an easy walking trail, paved for the most part and appeared to be wheelchair accessible. 

Photo: Pink filter

Photo: Completely Zen

Hiking here to enjoy the leaves was wonderful. It's not well known, even among Japanese locals, so this area is a great escape from the city. The best part? At the end of the hiking trail is a hot spring park, with numerous places to soak your feet. Each bath has a unique feature such as bubble jets, stones for foot massage, etc. It's outdoors among the bamboo trees and the perfect way to sample Japan's hot springs without going 'au natural'!

Photo: Jet bath


Photo: Cutenekko soaks amid the bubbles...

If you are in the area of Hakone or Odawara, why not make a side trip to the little town of Yugawara? 

Enjoy outdoor baths!

Special Bonus: 
In Tokyo, there is a Buddhist temple called Gotokuji (read more HERE). It is most famous for housing a mini-army of cats! As my name means 'cute cat', I had to visit. I took two photos showing the power of these felines. Enjoy!

Photos: All hail us me-ow!
   

~ Information ~ 

Manyo Hot Water Park is located in Yugawara, Kanagawa prefecture. Homepage HERE. TripAdvisor reviews are HERE.

Access: 
Take JR Tokaido line to Yugawara station. Catch the Kanachu #2 bus from Yugawara station. Ride for about 10 minutes getting off at 'Ochiai Bridge'. 

Coming by car? Parking is available but there is a charge of 300 yen ($3).

Cost: 
To soak your feet in the baths, you need to pay. I'm sorry I forgot the cost, but I think it's about 500 yen per person ($5).