Monday, September 23, 2013

Busy holiday weekend: Kuroyama

In September Japan has two national holidays falling on consecutive Mondays. For me, the latter of these formed a three-day weekend jam-packed with things to do. This post will be the first in a series of three on the topic of my BUSY HOLIDAY WEEKEND.

I had tentatively planned to do this year's Big Walk on Saturday, but was hesitant to try anything too ambitious. For some reason my work shoes have been causing mysterious discomfort in my left foot. (I mean, I think it's my work shoes that are doing it. My feet don't hurt as much when I wear my sneakers. Funny, though...when I got these work shoes, I remember making comments out loud about how comfortable they were.) So fellow Big Walker Craig and I decided to further postpone the Big Walk and instead take a "leisurely stroll" in Ogose, a town in the hilly interior of Saitama Prefecture, about midway between Kawagoe and Chichibu.

I had visited Ogose once before. It's home to a mountain called Kuroyama, and a collection of waterfalls called Kuroyama Santaki. For residents of Saitama City, it makes for a relatively easy getaway from the suburban sprawl. We decided, rather than use the bus like normal folks, we would walk the 8.5 km from Ogose Station to the entrance to Kuroyama.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Ogose Station on the Tobu Ogose Line
And why not indeed? It was excellent weather and the route was simple, albeit out-of-the-way. The Kuroyama entrance is on the far side of another mountain called Otakatoriyama, which meant (as far as I was aware at the time) that we would have to walk halfway around that mountain to get there. Later I would learn that there are hiking paths over that mountain, but I don't think we'd have had the energy to hike Kuroyama if we had done that.

It was a good couple of hours' walk, but there wasn't a lot to see on the way. Unless you count this Optimus Prime-looking lawn decoration...

...and this giant insect.

Actually, oversized arthropods were a theme on this walk. In addition to the mantid pictured here, we saw more gigantic spiders than I care to count, and a few hornets that I was worried might be this kind of hornet. Luckily we made it all the way to the Kuroyama entrance without being stung, bitten or otherwise preyed upon by bugs.

At the intersection where we leave Route 61 to enter Kuroyama, there is a restaurant/tourist facility called Yozantei. According to this billboard we saw, they specialize in nabe (hot pot) cooking using the meats of all the animals pictured. From left: wild boar, bear, deer, pheasant and duck.

Holy shit, bear meat? I didn't even know that was a thing! I absolutely regret not eating lunch here. Instead we ate at Nekkoshokudo, a zelkova woodwork-themed restaurant where we ate noodles. Little did I know that a big bowl of salty ramen was probably not the best choice to prepare me for the walk ahead.

Here's where our visit to Kuroyama begins to differ wildly from my visit last summer. At a fork in the path, we were faced with three options: an easy walk straight to Otokotaki and Onnataki (the biggest waterfalls in the vicinity), a 1.3-km path to Kasasugi Ridge or a hike of undisclosed length to something called "En no Gyoja Site." We had no idea what En no Gyoja meant, and 1.3 km sounded long, so we opted for En no Gyoja, assuming it would be shorter and easier than Kasasugi Ridge.

What I can tell you is that it was neither short nor easy. It's probably just that I'm out of shape (and that I had a stomach full of rapidly-expanding ramen), but hiking up Kuroyama was the first rigorous exercise I'd gotten in months and I wasn't ready for it. I didn't even get my camera out for most of this part of the trip because I needed both hands to keep my balance. What began as an obvious path quickly dwindled to little more than a the vague sense that "we must be going the right way because we haven't fallen down the mountain."

Ropes and shit? What is this, American Gladiators?
And the worst part of it is, when we finally reached En no Gyoja, which turned out to be a little altar with some stone statues, we couldn't go any further. Our desire to see the top of Kuroyama was foiled by the fact that it was not obviously named; it turns out the peak of Kuroyama is Kasasugi Ridge, which was a shorter distance from the fork in the path than En no Gyoja was.

At least we got to see...whatever this is.
This sign reads, "Do not enter." But the unspoken message is, "Have fun walking back the way you came, sucka."
So, we turned around a walked/slid/stumbled back down Kuroyama feeling like we had just been run over by cars. On the way, we hooked around for a look at Onnataki and Otokotaki (literally, Woman Waterfall and Man Waterfall).

Japanese tourists flock to waterfalls because they are full of mainasu ion! (negative ions) and are supposed to be pawaa supotto! (power spots). I don't know anything about that, but after the ordeal of visiting En no Gyoja, being near a big waterfall did feel nice.

We took the bus back to Ogose Station and returned to civilization by train. After I got home, I was so tired that I slept from 10pm to 9am, which meant I was rested and ready for Day 2 of my busy holiday weekend: Tokyo Game Show. Coming up next.

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