Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Two Week Report - 28th April 2015

So it has been two weeks since I have started now, with twelve out of those fourteen days actually walking. Here are some stats from my GPS that I have collected:

Total distance travelled:          287km (an average of 23.9km per day)
Total ascent:                            10954m
Total descent:                          11749m
Max elevation:                        1485m

And for whoever is interested, here is some general advice about the trail so far:
  • Apart from the first day on Mt Takao, the trail signs have been pretty much consistent with the odd exception here and there. I would still highly recommend using the GPS file, or at the very least a map of some sort. There are places where construction is going on, or the trail is impassable, and the track has been rerouted. Up until now there have always been signs when this occurs:
    I suggest learning the Japanese characters for detour
    And in many places the track is marked by these ribbons:

  • So far I have not needed to go longer than a day and a half without a food resupply of some sort. The convenience stores are great in Japan with lots of meals and snack perfect for hiking. 

    I highly recommend getting a map that marks where they are. On my GPS I use two base maps that highlight their locations, the OSM map that you can download for free, and also the UUD Japan map you can purchase on their website: http://uud.info/en/map/. I switch between maps when looking at any potential resupply location because sometime one indicates something the other does not.
  • One more thing about maps, you definitely need a topographical map. As I have learned elevation really matters, and you will need to know how far you will be ascending or descending in order to plan accordingly.
  • On money, doing the trail is extremely cheap compared with conventional travel in Japan. As of yesterday, 13 days in, I had spent less than $400 AUD ($314 USD), this was including 2 nights budget accommodation in a private room.
  • If you are hiking alone, take a personal locater beacon. I regret not having one up until now, and I am going to see if I can get one locally. I thought before doing the trail that nothing is too remote in Japan to justify the need for one. But, it has occurred to me that if I break my legs up on a mountain and can't move, it does not matter if I am 2km from civilisation or 200km. Some of the trails I have been on receive little to no traffic either, particularly on weekdays, so you can't count on someone coming along to save you.
  • This Tokai is not for the faint hearted. Whilst it takes you through a town every day or two that you can resupply at, the bits in between, namely the mountains, are very gruelling on the body. Around 70% of Japan's land mass is covered in mountains, and the trail so far has cut a path right through many of them. Just know you are going up and down steep slopes for large amounts of the days you are walking the Tokai.
    Lots of these
  • It can be lonely. I can speak a bit of Japanese, but I still find the experience quite isolating. Some days you go the whole day with having little to no conversation with anyone, then you cook your solitary meal, climbing into your one man tent and go to bed. Personally, I don't mind it too much and have dealt with it much better than I expected. I find being able to watch an episode of my favourite TV show, or listen to some good music, goes a long way in alleviating any loneliness I feel. But just know if you are planning on doing this alone, you will be quite isolated for a large amount of the trip, particularly if you can't speak Japanese.
  • With that said, the people who I have met have been fantastic. The Japanese are often curious about foreigners and I find myself being approached on a semi regular basis and being asked what I am up to. When I have these experiences people have always been very helpful, giving me information or food to help me on my way. Every cloud has a silver lining, and the isolation I have experienced has actually made me appreciate these encounters much more than I would have before. 
  • The trip is kind of like being in a real life RPG. I used to play these a lot when I was younger, and this journey has constantly reminded me of them. You have a epic quest just like you normally do in a game, in this case get to the end of the trail, and you have to travel large distances to achieve this quest, just like in an RPG, and along the way you are helped by many different people, some of them give you items to help you on your way, or information to be used to your advantage, all just like in an RPG. I know it's a little nerdy but I think it's a neat way to think about it, the ultimate real life role playing game.
Anyways, enough of my chatter, I am going to head to that Vietnamese place for lunch to show them how much a hungry Australian can eat.

Short Day and Back to the City - 27th April 2015

I am currently sitting in a hotel room in downtown Shizuoka writing this and enjoying a beer. This morning I decided it was time for a rest, and I knew there was a bus that ran from the town I had to pass through that went to Shizuoka City. So I woke up at the shrine, packed up my stuff, and proceed up and then down the mountain for the next three hours or so. Here are some pictures of what I saw:

Same kind of animal I saw the other day

I'm pretty sure it's a mountain goat of some sort

The top of Mt Ryso

Top of Mt Ryuso

Yes, Japan does have snakes

What I was walking through for a good hour or so

Finally into the town of Ushizuma

Just before arriving at the town of Ushizuma, I saw this beautiful sight:

I’m not sure if the photos have captured it true to its form, but it was an absolutely stunning little sight, like something straight out of a Hayao Miyazaki film.

I then walked around the corner and jumped on a bus and headed to Shizuoka city. It was a little strange being in a vehicle again after walking for so long. I really noticed the ease at which we moved over long distances, and in no less than 25 minutes we were in the centre of Shizouka City, a feat that would have taken me about a day if I had walked.

It was also a little strange being in a city again. So many people all going about their business in every which direction. I got on the internet at the station and made a booking for a hotel around the corner. The room is a shoes box, but it has all the comforts I have been missing for the past week and super fast internet. I think I will have book in again and have another day off tomorrow. This will give me a chance to buy some trekking poles, and go to the all you can eat Vietnamese place around the corner for lunch. I swear I will eat them out of business.

Distance: 7.87km

Monday, 27 April 2015

Garlic Monster - 26 April 2015

Today started like any other, got up, cooked this yummy breakfast

As I was packing up my things a guy came over and asked me in Japanese about the fish in the river. I told him I had no idea, that I was here hiking, and he just smiled, thanked me and left. It’s little experiences like these that have convinced me Japan has changed in the seven years I have been away from it; I get the feeling now that people expect foreigners to speak Japanese more than ever. In my experience on this trip I get addressed in Japanese almost always, and people definitely don’t seem as shocked when I can speak a bit of their language as they did the last time I was here. I can’t remember it being like this when I lived here before, but it is kind of a nice change. I don't have to keep going through the same routine of them being shocked and awed by my ability to speak a little bit of their language.

So today was mostly about mountain roads. Parts of the track were rerouted for whatever reason so I had to take the mountain roads down.

These road were seriously dilapidated in sections, with obviously no cars coming up them.

 Then you have other sections where it is obvious recent work has gone on.

I don’t really get it, cars can barely get up these roads but they still spend a lot of money maintaining them in certain sections. It doesn’t make sense from where I am standing. With all this said, there is a certain awesome Road Warrior feeling you get when you can walk down the middle of the road without fear of being run over.

The trail led me yet into another valley village. I was getting rather hungry by this point, so I stopped to have something to eat, when this guy came up and joined me.

And then he followed me for a while.

More like me following him

It was nice to have a companion for a bit, somewhere along the road he got distracted, ran off and I never saw him again. So I proceeded through several villages, all as sleepy and harmonious as the next. At one point I saw three people sitting around boiling wood in a big pot (for purposes that remain unknown to me). I was running low on food and looking for a store to resupply when finally I came across this place in the village of Nishizato.

They only sold vegetables and eggs. The lady told me there was nowhere else, so I stocked up on the local produce, including pickled garlic.

I put it all in my bag with great care, but the next time I opened it everything stunk of garlic! It had leaked everywhere. I made my best attempt at cleaning my stuff and ate most of the garlic up because I didn’t want it to go to waste. Lucky I am the only one in my tent tonight because I don’t think anybody could stand the smell of me.

I started up the last mountain road for the day and found this spot half way along to have a wash in.

Yes ladies, I'm naked

It was freezing but I felt great afterwards, particularly my feet. Having them in the cold water for a good ten minutes made them feel like new. I think I am going to be dangling them in river streams more often.

And so I kept walking up the middle of this:

And so I ended up here, the Hozumi Shrine half way up Mt Ryuso.

No one is around, so I think I am going to set up my tent and get some rest. I even have a vending machine to get my morning coffee at.

Distance: 28.3km

It's Getting Better all the Time – 25th April 2015

So I think I broke my distance record today. The GPS is saying 34kms, I will have to check to make sure but I think it’s the furthest I have walked in one day so far. What helped me achieve this feat was the fact I actually awoke, and stayed awake, at 5am when my alarm went off, and thus I was on the trail by around half six. It was a clear day, and this was the view I woke up to.

Mt Fuji

Before setting off up the first mountain of the day, I noticed that there was a box next to the toilet block with a bunch of makeshift walking sticks in it. I have always wanted to try trekking poles, so I grabbed two and off I went. Nothing could stop me! With the assistance of those two sticks I flew up that mountain in record time, and down the other side too. I am definitely going to be getting some real ones the next time I go past a camping store.

After getting down from Mt Shishinzan, I was led into another another Japanese village. 

I spied this little fella in the tea bushes

This one actually had a few people stirring around in it, tending to fields, sitting and chatting, fishing etc. No one moves in a hurry, they just go about their business at their own pace (although this could be because the average age in these villages is around 60). One thing I have noticed is how harmonious these mountain villages are. Everything is clean and in order, trees pruned, nice cars in all the driveways, and almost complete silence apart from the birds and the wind through the trees. It always seems to me that nothing is amiss, everything is as it should be.

I walked a few kilometres further down a mountain road and got into a larger town at which I planned to resupply. First thing I did was get a hot coffee from the vending machine.

Then got lunch.

And got these snacks that would keep me going for the next two days.

My body really can’t get enough food into it at the moment. It feels as though I am burning it off as soon as I put it in me.

I kept going up and down some mountain roads. At one point I felt an itch on my leg. I pulled up my pant leg and found a bug I pulled off, but on closer inspection I realised it was a tick. Oh no, aren’t you meant to remove them in a certain way? I had a closer look and it seems it did not leave its snout (I think that's the word) in me so I think I will be okay.

I got spat out at another village.

And then I powered on another 6km up a mountain road and got treated to these sights.

It led to a campground that turned out to be closed. I’m hoping they won’t mind me just setting my tent up and leaving early…

Someone left a present in the bathroom

Bacon ramen dinner

Back into the Hard Stuff – 24 April 2015

Luckily my fears were unfounded and no one from the golf course came to hassle me awake in the night. I had set my alarm for 5.20am to be out of there early but when it woke me I just turned it off and went back to bed. I just didn’t care if someone was going to come and tell me to clear off, until then I was sleeping as much as I could! So I got up at 7am and walked over to the 7 Eleven, got some supplies and a coffee. I tried to use the public phone to call my mother, but there was no dial tone when I picked it up. A few kilometres down the road I remembered that with Japanese phones you need to put the money in first! It was a bit too far to go back.

So after a short walk through the township surrounding Asagiri, I arrived at Mt Chojagataje. FYI there is a shelter at the bottom of this mountain that you can spend the night in for free. I wish I had known last night as I would have used it. It took me about an hour and a half to get to the top, on the way it provided some great views of Fuji.

An elderly gentlemen I met told me that many people had come earlier today to get a glimpse of the double diamond Fuji. I think he meant that you could see Fuji’s reflection in two of it’s five lakes at the same time, something which happens only a few days a year and today was one of them. There were also people at the top with huge cameras taking photos of tiny flowers. The lady explained to me that the mountain we were on was home to a extremely rare kind of flower, and that she had driven from Aichi (quite a ways away) to get a photo of it.

The trail split after the top and I had a choice, follow my GPS route or follow the sign that says “Tokai Shizen Hodo THIS WAY.” On closer inspection it turned out they were both part of the trail, on was just much older than the other with a very faded sign. This should have been the first indication that I should not have taken this trail, but, the GPS trail had not led me astray so far so I decided to go with it. About 300 metres down the path it became obvious that it had not been used for a while. Leaves and rocks littered the path, and as I moved further down it, the conditions became more and more treacherous. Often the path was only a foot or so wide, consisting of loose gravel, with a wall on one side and a steep drop on the other.



In other sections land slides had taken it out completely, and I had to shimmy across, grabbing onto roots and handfuls of gravel.

So for the large part of three hours I had to give my full attention to the path to make sure I did not slip of the edge. It was an extremely stressful descent to say the least, and I would advise against anyone else to take it, especially if it were wet. Take the other path or go around the section entirely. It was simply not worth the risk.

When I finally did get down it, the trail led me to a river valley with a seemingly deserted Japanese village in it.

Don’t get me wrong, there were signs of life, clothes hanging on the washing line, freshly ploughed fields etc, but there were just no people around. I didn’t see one person while walking through it. I did see these stunning tea fields though.

It was about 3pm and I thought I could get one more mountain in before days end, Mt Shishinzan. So once again, up I went. The forest was typical of what you find around here, rows upon rows of thin straight trees, the kind that get logged every 20 or so years.

There were also signs telling me to be careful of bears.

At one point there was a rope going across the path with some kind of warning sign. I have come across many warning signs on this trip, they seem to love them here. The problem is I don’t read Japanese, so whilst I have not exactly ignored them, like, I acknowledge they are there, I simply can’t understand them, therefore, I just keep trekking and hope for the best.

So I ducked under the rope and kept going, and a few hundred metres up the path I came to this:

I walked into the area and found huge logs blocking the path. I was standing there wondering what to do when I spied a worker scrambling over logs trying to get somewhere.

I shouted “Hello” which startled him.

“Oh shit, a foreigner. Uh, Hello “ he said.

I think he was a bit bewildered as to how or why I was there, in his logging operation. He explained to me how to get back onto the path, gave me some gum, and wished me luck.

I climbed another few hundred metres and came across too good an opportunity to pass up. So I originally planned to just camp on the mountain top, but I came across this instead:

A toilet block! You know you’ve been trekking on mountains too long when you get excited coming across a toilet block at the end of your day. They provide four walls you can get out of the cold from, running water, and, if they are clean enough, a place to sleep. This one proved to be perfect with a disabled washroom I could set my tent up in. I don’t have to worry about bears coming to eat my food (and me) in the middle of the night either!

Shortest walk to the toilet I've ever had
So now, in what I consider to be relative luxury, I am going to go to bed.

Distance: 20.1km