West Japan Explorer Tour - November 2008
The last tour the year, and I'm happy to say that we had a big group. The West Japan Explorer is probably our most ambitious scheduled tour. The adventure takes us all the way from Tokyo to the mountainous, forested island of Yakushima, and then on an interesting route via Kyushu and the Japan Sea coast, to Kyoto, and back to Tokyo. We walked in three mountainous regions, including the rim of the crater on Mount Aso, whilst enjoying gentler hikes in attractive countryside. There were many highlights enjoyed by both those who had to returned to travel with Hike Japan – there were five ‘repeaters - and members who were here for the first time. The food, as usual, was excellent. In fact exceptionally good, better than I ever remember for this or any other tour, especially the seafood. After all these years in Japan, I am constantly astonished at the variety and quality of seafood here. The haiku poems written this time dwell on the food, both the challenging and the simply delicious -
It didn't blow me away
But we all survived
Fugu, sweet crab, green roe. Yum!
This year the tour kicked off in Tokyo. The flights to Yakushima via Kagoshima in Kyushu made access quick and easy, and meant we could spend a little longer on Yakushima. In fact we spent five nights there – two prior to climbing Miyanouradake, where we spent a night in a mountain hut – and two in cottages resting after the hiking. I feel that we all benefitted from not rushing before or after the challenging climb over the heavily forested peaks. The weather on the first day of hiking was fair, but deteriorated on the second day, unfortunately, which meant we missed the superb views. We were lucky, however, in as much as the previous week had seen huge amounts of rain on the island – our Japanese mountain guide was leading a group on Yakushima the week before we arrived and had to cancel the proposed walk due to the deluge. When it rains on Yakushima it can be intimidating as the roads and paths often turn into rivers! On previous tours we visited the Mitake Shochu distillery on the island, but this time we had a guided tour of the lesser known Hombo distillery. We were ready to sample the shochu after our sunny morning walk and a delicious freshly made udon noodle lunch.
I was delighted to be invited for a visit by our good friends Bill and Akiko in Minami Aso. They kindly opened their house and after a pleasant afternoon stroll made us a lovely English tea. The following morning we walked the rim of Mount Aso in high winds but did have glimpses into the crater below.
The new minshuku accommodation in Usuki proved popular. We were looked after in what really felt like a family home. Visiting Beppu, we enjoyed the traditional hot sand baths, a visit to a local bamboo craft centre, and delicious ramen noodles for lunch.
It was raining when we visited the Peace Park in Hiroshima
Will the falling rain
Wash away the pain we feel
although the previous day we had enjoyed a trip over to Miyajima where the maples were looking amazing in their full autumn colours.
The tempo of the tour drops a notch or two as we travel to the Japan Sea Coast where life moves at a more civilized pace. We spent three nights in Matsue where as well as visiting the Izumo Grand Shrine and climbing Mount Daisen, we explored the town and enjoyed the excellent local cuisine. The food here was surpassed, however, by the crab feast we all enjoyed at the Nishimuraya Ryokan in Kinosaki. The pottery produced during our visit to the local Tajimayaki kiln was good enough for us to arrange for the pieces to be shipped to the various members in the US and Britain.
Whilst a couple of members visited the Miho Museum, the rest of us strolled Philosophers Walk to Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto. Nanzenji is the head temple of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism in Japan. The autumn colours were wonderful there too.
The farewell party was in Kyoto, with dinner on the last night overlooking the glittering heart of Tokyo and Tokyo Bay. Yakushima seemed distant.
Fresh sea scent, white clouds
Rainbow shines through misty skies
Ginger bursts on my tongue