The Northern Exposure Tour - June 2010
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Blessed with incredibly green forests, if not sunshine every day, the Northern Exposure - for clients who had been with Hike Japan before - was another great tour to the deep north. Members rendezvoused in Aomori, where we visited the Munakata Shiko Memorial Museum of Art, before transferring to the Hakkoda Uplands. It was a pleasure to be back in our secret onsen!
Before the tour we'd heard the news that a couple of children had died from asphyxia due to toxic gases in the volcanically active Hakkoda area. This meant altering our route the following day to avoid the danger area. The morning was spent on a beautiful woodland walk through mainly beech forests, and in the afternoon we took the lift up to the top of Hakkoda and walked down. The upland marshes were shrouded in mist which, although obscuring the views, added a special atmosphere and we hiked past ponds dotted with watasuge, iwakagami , and wild rosemary.
Dinner and the onsen were wonderful, and the clients had a cottage each. I got up in the very early morning to watch Japan win a match in the World Cup in South Africa.
After Hakkoda we spent couple of nights in Hirosaki. We found time there not only to explore the town on bikes, but to visit the apple orchards belonging to Mr Kimura on the flanks of Mt Iwaki. His wife kindly showed us around. I translated a book about his extraordinary life and achievements into English from the Japanese last year, so it was most interesting to see the place for real!
The next day we climbed Mt Iwaki. Not easy, as below the summit we had to use crampons to ascend a steep 500 meter stretch of snow. We all made it safely to the top, tired but elated. We opted for the easy way down on the chairlift on the other side.
After saying goodbye to Chris and Tonya at the station, the rest of us continued our journey on to the Shirakami Mountains. Our accommodation there was in a comfortable log cottage. We enjoyed a couple of beech forest walks, the second being a whole day deep into the forest approaching the core zone. On our way out and back we walked through a most inquisitive troop of monkeys.
England lost following a dismal performance.
From the Shirakami Mountains we travelled to Komagatake at the southern end of the Hachimatai Plateau above Lake Tazawa. The clouds persisted and we had a wet walk, but the wild flowers were stunning. This was my first visit and I look forward to returning to this area.
Our last night in the north was in a very special inn that treated us to a really delicious dinner. Iwate Prefecture is justly proud of its produce and food.
The next day I headed back to Tokyo, whilst Theo and Barbara had flew to the Kansai to enjoy the culture and quieter side of life in Asuka and Nara.
All in all another memorable trip to off-the-beaten-track Japan.