West Japan Explorer Tour - November 2007
A few days have passed now since the tour ended. Although I've had a bit time to relax and reflect on what was another classic two week tour with a very friendly group, being away does not mean that work stops – it just piles up. So I've been busy getting back on track in the office, wondering when I'll get around to writing this. Well, here we are, Tokyo is getting colder, but the memories of the sunny days travelling together in West Japan linger.
On the West Japan Explorer tour we cover a considerable distance, travelling from Osaka to Kagoshima , then on to the island of Yakushima before returning to Kyushu and making our way along the Sanin coast of the Sea of Japan to Kyoto . As well as hiking, we travel by nearly every mode of transport available - plane, bullet train, high speed ferry, local train, tram, bus, and car, during the tour. There is a three night stay in Matsue, and a couple of nights in Usuki in Oita Prefecture on Kyushu , but we pack a great deal into these two weeks and it is pretty tiring. With one or two improvements on the previous tour, I feel that it is well worth the effort, however, as everyone gets to do and see so much of Japan off the beaten track.
As the photos of the tour show, the weather was very kind. The window of relatively dry weather on Yakushima stayed open again and we enjoyed a couple of days traversing Miyanouradake, spending one night in the mountain hut in macaque country. We have to carry larger packs for this hike, and although we had to hire these specially, and walk over considerably more difficult terrain than the members had anticipated, everyone spirits remained high, buoyed up by the magnificent forest scenery and views on the island. The day we visited Inakahama beach was beautiful, but the waves too high to enjoy a leisurely swim. Still, beachcombing and playing in the waves beside the East China Sea in November was fun.
The members enjoyed the wonderful food and drink during the tour. Among other delights, they were introduced to shochu , a clear spirit and a speciality of Kagoshima and Miyazaki , made from potatoes, barley, or rice, and had regular opportunities to sample different labels, and shochu with ice, citrus, straight, and with warm water. It was a revelation, much liked. The fact that drinking shochu doesn't give you a hangover in the same way as sake can is a big plus for those who enjoy it! We were looked after again brilliantly in Usuki by Tom. This small, unassuming port town with important historical links to the early European and American traders, missionaries, and others, is always popular. As with several of the other places we stayed, we were sad to move on so soon.
Discoveries this trip, again partly thanks to the members who expressed an interest in seeing things that weren't on the itinerary, included the Shimane Art Museum on the shores of Lake Shinji, a delicious buckwheat noodle restaurant near the Grand Shrine at Izumo, the Asahi Oyamazaki Ceramics and Art Museum near Kyoto, and a rather cool Japanese paper design and printing family in Kyoto.
We climbed to the 5 th station on Mount Daisen before turning off and descending from the Gyoja turn. The Daisen Okunomiya Shrine was sensational in the afternoon stillness, covered by first snows of winter. There is something wonderful about many of the sacred places we visit in Japan . This is one of the mountain pilgrimage sites that has a mysteriously beautiful atmosphere.
Starting each new day
Taking steps in front of steps
As in life it is
This one of the haiku composed by members on the tour. Read more here .
Although only for an afternoon, we were again graciously invited to the home of Bill and Akio near Mount Aso . The location of their home is so special it was featured in a TV program! We were joined by other friends along the way. Other highlights included an afternoon at a pottery in Kinosaki where we had a creative afternoon session.
Travelling with such an interesting and fun-loving group was great, although the itinerary was hard work. We had many inspirational moments and I hope we can all meet up again soon. Maybe on another Hike Japan tour?