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The Path to Eiheiji Zen Monastery

Lunch on Hakusan

Rice ready to harvest in Shirakawago Village.

Autumn colours in the North Alps

Leaving Yarisawa Mountain Lodge

Nigel and Neil in Yarisawa

Yari Peak Sunrise

Early morning objective achieved - Summit of Yarigatake

Misty Mountain Omote Ginza path

Trekking down from Tsubakuro Dake through Autumn colours

Koi Carp vie for attention with Matusmoto Castle

Getting all fired up in Kyoto

Rainbow Bridge Koya

Celebrating renewal of connection with Buddha Mount Koya

Assaulted by Sacred Deer in Nara Park

Jizo Statues on Mount Koya

Walking in Asuka

Mountains of Central Japan

Autumn 2004

In peaceful zazen
Sits the weary traveller
Restful Eiheiji

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 of dawn.

 

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, in shadows.

 

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.

Ridge Path to Haku San in Mist

Moss Micro-Gardening in Kenrokuen Gardens

Water Lily Pond in Shirakawago

Group take a short pause on Yarigatake Peak Climb.

Looking for those elusive Japanese Macaque Monkeys in Yarisawa

Ladders up from Yari Lodge to the peak

Yari in early morning mist

Mount Fuji peaking above clouds seen from Hotaka

Yari Peak just visible from Tsubakurodake

Autumn foliage

Not quite sure what it is but its yummy

Guided Tour of Todaiji Temple Nara

Deer at the Nandaimon Gate Todaiji Temple Nara

 


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