Speechless on Shodoshima

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Despite having only recently completed a fair hike of Ishizuchi and my legs screaming in protest, today I set off on the ferry to Shodoshima – the home of olives (in Japan) and one of Japan’s top three most beautiful gorges.

After arriving on the ferry I easily caught a bus up to the ropeway station in Kankakei gorge. But despite my complaining leg muscles, there was no way I was taking the ropeway on this trip, and I’m so glad I didn’t. The ‘hiking’ trail up the omotekakei (front gorge) from next to the ropeway station was only 2km, with a number of key ‘viewing points’ along the way, so that even though it was fairly steep, there was a lot of resting and photo taking. Less than an hour (including plenty of time taken with photo opportunities) and I was at the top, where I sat and had lunch before descending via the urakakei (back gorge), which takes you back to the Inotani bus stop – one stop below the ropeway station.

???????????????????????????????Though there was less to see on this route, I was surprised towards the end when I came across a shrine complex in a large grotto-type area, with the most magnificent Japanese maples I have ever seen. They were huge trees and in huge number, and the colours were unforgettable. Unfortunately, my camera and phone batteries had both run out just before reaching this area, so I was disappointed to not be able to capture the scale and brilliance of the scene other than in my mind. Continue reading

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Icy Mt. Ishizuchi

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With my first amazing WWOOFing experience behind me, it was time to set out on my next adventure: climbing the highest mountain in western Japan, and one of Japan’s seven sacred mountains; not to mention another of the hyakumeizan.

Looking back down the ropeway

Looking back down the ropeway

Still battling a cold I caught while on the farm in Kochi, I decided to ‘cheat’ on this hike by taking the ropeway up to around 1200m, before embarking on the 3.5hr hike to the summit of Mt. Ishizuchi. It was a pretty ride in the morning sunshine, looking over the valley and out to sea beyond the city of Saijo.

At the top, I headed up the trail and before long came to the main shrine, which is as far as many people venture. Coming in the other direction was a guy who asked me if I had proper hiking boots, because the summit was covered in ice, he said. I ploughed on regardless, figuring that I would go as far as I could and turn back if things got slippery and dangerous. Sure enough, a short ways on as the trail started to climb higher into the forest, I noticed that the wooden steps were frozen on the surface, giving them a slightly sticky feel.

I glanced up and some of the clouds parted to allow a smattering of sunshine through and also expose some of the forest area close to the summit, which I saw was covered in a white blanket of snow and ice! No wonder I was kind of cold! Thank goodness I had worn appropriate clothing on the journey, despite my poor footwear choice. Continue reading

WWOOFing with the Watanabes

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So my first ever WWOOFing experience was with a family in Kochi prefecture who live high up in the mountains and run a small cattle farm. The Watanabe family were super kind to me from the beginning and I spent a wonderful week with them – learning all about taking care of cows and about life in a small mountain village. In fact, I don’t think you could even say they live in a village; while there are other houses around on the same mountain, it would take you around 5-10 minutes to drive between each one!

The Watanabe's house, high up in the mountains

The Watanabe’s house, high up in the mountains

View from the Watanabe house, looking over the valley

View from the Watanabe house, looking over the valley

On day one I arrived just before lunch and after some initial chit-chat with Mr. Watanabe and his daughter Tomoko, we were tasked with feeding the cows. The food consisted of some chaff, a small amount of salt, okara (tofu lees) and gluten, which we doled out separately to each cow, followed by some fresh cut mixed vegetation (grasses, weeds and the like). Then Tomoko and I headed up the road to the family’s log cabin, which also serves as a minshuku (Japanese bed and breakfast type inn) whenever guests book it, especially in the warmer months. Since there are no guests now (coming into winter), the family just use it as a lunch place, since it’s much closer to the farm than their actual house.

So Tomoko and I prepared lunch and then Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe (simply called ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ in Japanese) came to eat with us and relax for a while. Since it was our first real time together, we all had a great chat about all things Australian and Japanese. In the afternoon while mum and dad went back to the farm, Tomoko and I made yuzu (a type of tart Japanese citrus fruit) jam. After a short break for yuzu tea (made with some of the jam mixture and hot water), we too went back to the farm, and I helped mum scooping up cow pooh for about the next hour. And all this on the first day!

By then it was dark and time to head back to the house for baths and dinner, which we all enjoyed together (the food; not the bath!). Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe senior (‘grandma’ and ‘grandpa’), who are 90 and 95 years old, respectively, also live at the house, though do not participate in much conversation due to their old age and poor hearing.   Continue reading

Tsurugi Tozan

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Ready, set, hiking!

Despite waking up to cold wet weather this morning, I embarked on a hike of Mt. Tsurugi, in Tokushima prefecture. After all, I had spent nearly 2 hours making the drive up the winding narrow canyons yesterday to get here, and I knew it was a pretty nice hike (having visited once before); it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity. And besides, it’s one of only two hyakumeizan (Japan’s 100 famous mountains) in Shikoku, so I had to give it a fair go, right? What’s a bit of water when you have full rain gear on anyway?

Turns out I wasn’t the only one crazy enough to tackle the mountain this morning, though there certainly weren’t the crowds of sightseers I had come across here previously. So the first 3km or so up to the summit of Mt. Tsurugi were pretty straightforward and I came across a number of other people along the trail. But once I got to the summit, where the surrounding views were essentially a white-out in all directions, there were only 2 other people to be seen.

Despite the inclement weather, I decided to press on to the summit of Mt. Jirogyuu, since I had only been walking for a bit over an hour to get to this point. I had also read that Jirogyuu provides a nice alternative to the development at Tsurugi. While I did not find it to be as ‘disappointing’ as many hikers claim (not even when I ascended the first time), it’s not the pristine natural beauty that one might expect from a mountain on the hyakumeizan list. However, having climbed Mt. Fuji too, the amenities here seem rather insignificant to me; all the boardwalks provide excellent 360 degree views (when the weather is nice!) and also serve to keep people from tramping all over the sasa (bamboo grass) wherever they like, which seems like a good purpose to serve, in my opinion.

Next target: That way!

Next target: That way!

The saddle between Tsurugi and Jirogyuu

The saddle between Tsurugi and Jirogyuu

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Shikoku Sutaato!

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After a great dinner with some JET friends in Bungo-ono (Oita prefecture), it was at last time to get the show on the road, as it were, and head to the ferry wharf to finally leave the relative safety of Kyushu and venture into the unknown.

My van and I boarded a ferry that I had been on once before with my mum, on a previous trip to Shikoku. Pretty soon, the misty shores of Kyushu were out of sight, and we were making our way into port in Misaki, on the island of Shikoku (the smallest of Japan’s four major islands) just 70 minutes later. After a short drive from the port I reached my favourite part of the road, and a big reason for using that particular ferry route: The Melody Road. It’s a section of road that plays a ‘song’ as you drive over it; based on some grooves in the road, your speed determines the pitch of the song and how good it sounds! Unfortunately the noise of the van’s engine made it a bit less impressive than the previous time I drove over it, but still exciting nevertheless!

I had then planned to go to a road station to relax for the afternoon and spend the night, but I took a wrong turn and ended up on the expressway! Since I am trying to save money, I decided to get off at the first available exit, and as fate would have it, that was in Uchiko – a small town that I had driven through previously with mum but not had time to stop. Furthermore, a very short way from the expressway exit was a sign for another road station, so I figured I would check that out… And it turned out to be fantastic! It had a full farmer’s market with lots of fresh produce, and I was able to park the van with the back overlooking a river. Note that it was also raining by this time, so I decided that with such a great spot, I would simply relax for the afternoon, make myself a curry for dinner, and wait to see what the weather was like in the morning. This also gave me a chance to do some research into sightseeing around Ehime prefecture and to plan my trip around Shikoku over the next week or so, before beginning my first WWOOFing experience on a farm in Kochi.

Amazing farmer's market at Fresh Park Karari rest stop in Uchiko

Amazing farmer’s market at Fresh Park Karari rest stop in Uchiko

Just chillin in the van on a rainy afternoon

Just chillin in the van on a rainy afternoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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