Mountains of Central Japan
In peaceful zazen
Sits the weary traveller
Just one of many haiku poems composed on the Hike Japan first Mountains
of Central Japan this autumn.
Rising at 3.30 a.m. in a Zen mountain temple for sitting meditation
(zazen) was a memorable moment. Whether it helped, or hindered,
recovery from jetlag, by breakfast everyone was wide awake. We gained
some insight into life in a Zen temple, even if it was how uncomfortable
meditation in the lotus position can be. We all agreed what an amazingly
peaceful place Eiheiji is, and how serious all the young monks were
as they patiently went about the business of seeking enlightenment.
We ate shojin ryori (Buddhist temple food) and enjoyed a
question and answer session with one of the more senior monks.
It was interesting comparing Eiheiji with another Buddhist temple
later in the tour on Mount Koya. Koya monastery is the headquarters
of the Shingon (Pure Word) Buddhism in Japan. Less formal than Eiheiji,
the temple was an oasis of peace. With a Jacuzzi, which was nice,
even it was a bit smaller than the rather sumptuous bath in Eiheiji
(where we weren't allowed to speak - but we did, very quietly!).
It is easy to overdo the temples and shrines on a visit to Japan.
This is understandable given the significance of the great religions
in Japanese history and culture. On Hike Japan tours we try to balance
visits to sacred places with the secular, and on this tour visited
Matsumoto Castle, Kanazawa's famous Kenrokuen Garden, a very old
merchant house in Kyoto, the old capital of Asuka, and some fine
hot spring onsen baths.
We stayed in an old thatched gasshozukuri home in the village
of Shirakawago, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites we visited.
Everyone was up before breakfast taking pictures. From there we
drove, via Takayama, up into the North Japan Alps.
Our 4-day hike in the North Alps was fantastic. Whilst much of
Japan lay under a blanket of cloud, we hiked high ridges through
trees yellow, red, and gold in autumn colours.
Autumn colours set apart
Maples, bamboo, and mountain ash
Yet hid the shy monkeys of Kamikochi
The high point was reached at Yarigatake peak (3,180m). Yari is
the fifth highest mountain in Japan, and means 'spear' in English.
The peak is a pyramid, with chains and ladders helping hikers get
to the summit. The effort of getting to the top was worth it as
we got awesome views as the clouds shifted around us.
Nights spent in mountain lodges were a good chance to meet fellow
Japanese hikers. A couple staying at Yari were celebrating their
recent marriage with other friends and family members with not a
few bottles of beer, wine, and saké. Lights go out early in mountain
huts in Japan, however, and guests are up and away at the crack
The onsen hot spring baths, along with excellent Japanese
food, are always a highlight of Hike Japan tours.
Hot baths with a view
A quiet time contemplating
The joys of the day
There was a particularly fine view from the outdoor tubs in our
ryokan inn in Yoshino. We were at tree-top level. A typhoon,
which seemed to start building, but then passed quickly, soaked
the trees. We were in the 'Flying Squirrel' bath, but there were
none around that night (grounded most likely), but we saw a variety
of insects scuttling indoors as the wind rattled the sliding temple
screens. Dinner was served as we sat on tatami mats in a
spacious room decorated in a traditionally restrained but sumptuous
style. It was interesting to see how the gold leaf on the sliding
screens glowed as we tried dimming the lights after dinner. Much
of what is wonderful about Japanese culture lives in the dimness,
We were treated to all sorts of delicious Japanese food. Much fresh
seafood, noodles, warming soups, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
We visited the morning fish and fresh produce market in Kanazawa,
where we bought what we needed for a picnic eaten on nearby Mount
Hakusan later in the day.
Late in the afternoon we enjoyed macha, powdered green tea,
in a traditional tea-house in Kenrokuen Park, also in Kanazawa.
There, as elsewhere, we were fascinated by the shoals of koi
carp in the ponds. None could match the overfed whales we saw in
the moat around Matsumoto Castle. I wouldn't be surprised if Nigel
had a carp or two in his bag on the way home to England …
I really enjoyed the holiday with a great group. Sharing moments
like we did in Japan will, I hope, stay long in our memories.
Click to read haiku poems
from this tour.