Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Autumn Leaves are Coming!

It's time for payback! Back in March, I was depressed at the weather forecasts from England that were announcing glorious warm weather, while we were still shivering and dipping below freezing. However, good things come to those who wait, and whilst England has been having it's first snow flurries of the year, here in Japan I am getting ready to glory in Momiji, the autumn leaves colour change. Whilst they're being shy this year (not to rub it in, but as a result of the gorgeous gorgeous autumn weather we've been having recently), the mountains around my house are getting more orange by the day. Hopefully it won't be too long before they burst into colour, and the trees higher up the mountains are already looking lovely. 

I got to see the first of these lovely colours when my Japanese tutor took me on a quick car trip today to Johgi Nyorai Saihoji Temple, a Buddhist temple in the mountains North West of Sendai. 

The temple is home to a painted scroll of Amida Buddha which was donated to a 12th Century government official, Shigemori Taira. He donated gold to the Chinese temple that held the scroll to pray for peace in Japan, and in return they sent him the scroll. When he died, he gave the scroll to his servant and asked him to pray for his family and peace in Japan. Following the Battle of Dannoura, the Taira clan were defeated, and the servant fled to the temple's current location, hidden in the mountains. After his death, a small temple was built, and much later, in 1706, a local leader formed Saihoji Temple. 

These days, the temple is fairly modern; most of the buildings were built in the 1900's, and the main hall was only built in 1999. It's believed to bring good luck to those who pray for their families happiness, such as weddings, childbirth and business success. 

The main gate, built in 1931

Apparently, if you pray to this tree, you'll get married soon. That's one powerful tree.

Lots of elderly Japanese admiring the carp in the pond, and apparently ignoring the gorgeous pagoda behind them!

Enough of this temple rubbish, look at the gorgeous colour of this Japanese Maple!

Pretty leaves and pagoda. Lovely! 

But a little further down, the trees are only just starting to change. Hopefully only a week or two more!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Mount Banzan

I've been meaning to post about Mount Banzan, a gorgeous walk up a mountain (well, more of a hill really, but I'm from East Anglia so it's a mountain to me!) near our house ever since John and I first hiked it in the middle of August. But then my parents' visit got in the way, and we walked it for a second time before I'd written about the first!

It is a lovely walk, with nice views across Sendai, and should be gorgeous once the leaves finally start changing colour (a few are going round the edges but they're not properly changing yet). It would make a lovely easy day hike coming from Sendai, and for us, living a short bike ride away, we were back home in time for a late lunch!

To get there, take any Senzan line train from Sendai station, and get off at Rikuzenochiai (about 20 minutes), and head south out of the station and follow the map below.

I've recently worked out how to do this, so here is a screen shot from my phone showing where the start of the hike is. 

And here's a photo of the steps up at the start, with the ubiquitous bear warning sign

All of us heading up! The stairs don't go all the way up, but the path remains very easy to follow

There's a small shrine at the top...

...but it's suffered a bit of (earthquake?) damage

A slightly hazy view over Sendai

With a cheeky spider!

View towards Taihaku, south west Sendai

If you keep following the ridge, you get views across the other way, over Ochiai, the town we live in. Our apartment is the one furtherest back in the middle, nestled amongst the trees

John heading down (don't you love his ridiculous head gear?!)

Whole family heading downwards, looking forward to their lunch
(the observant amoungst you might have realised that John is wearing different clothes...he didn't get changed, these photos are just a combination from each time we climbed up :))

Oh yeah, slightly the bottom, at the moment, this is what greets you! The first time we went there was a bridge across which I assume they'll rebuild, but for the time being, as Dad is so aptly demonstrating, you can easily climb round the edge!

Once you're out, turn right and head back along the main road, and turn left down the first main-ish road. Then you're right back at the station! 

Friday, 19 October 2012


I love purikura, and when I promised both sets of parents that it would airbrush all their wrinkles out, they decided it was a great idea too! John isn't so keen, but a few beers soon sorted him out, so here is a collection of our lovely photos!

John's parents

I had to get John very drunk before he'd agree to couples purikura! 

With my parents

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Hikes Round Fujigoko 2: Around Lake Kawaguchi

After our somewhat over ambitious hike the day before, we decided to have a slightly more relaxed walk the following day, a mere stroll around Lake Kawaguchi. Well, so much for that plan. It was (thankfully!) very flat, but it turned out to be about 25km, including the walk to and from our campsite to the lake, and by the end of the day we were all knackered! Luckily, with the help of a noodle break half way round, and an ice-cream one near the end, and lots of sweets and chocolate along the way, we managed to make our way back in time to watch the sun set over Lake Sai.

As with the day before, there should have been gorgeous views of Mount Fuji at lots of points throughout the day, and, just as the day before, there were photos at strategic view points showing you what you should be able to see. Unfortunately, again, as the day before, we didn't get any of those views! Fuji did come out during the afternoon, but unfortunately by then we were on the wrong side of the lake to get a good view! Oh well, we did see it at least! Regardless of Fuji, it was still a lovely days walk, taking in the peaceful gardens of the northern side of the lake, along with the commercialised southern side.

Viewing a rice crop for the first ever time!

The peaceful north western edge of Kawaguchiko

Wandering through some gardens on the northern side

Wall of flowers

Fuji does exist, after all!

Bellringing lesson!

Towards the end of the walk, with very tired legs!

Sunset over Lake Sai...we made it!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Hikes Around Fujigoko 1: Mount Ashiwada and Aokigahara

Through neglect and laziness, my blog is about a month behind me, and I'm starting to suffer the consequences. When looking up hikes around Lake Sai, I'd come across this great post about a walk up to Mount Ashiwada and through the forest of trees. I'd decided that that would be a lovely walk for us all to do, but couldn't find a more detailed map anywhere. Luckily, the tourist information office at Kawaguchiko station helpfully provided us with one, and I made a concerted effort to save it in order to post a photo of it on this blog to help future visitors. Unfortunately, John did a mass clear out of our apartment's paperwork last week, and the map seems to have been caught up in it. So, no map. But I can assure you that the walk outlined below is possible, and you will be able to get a map with vague details from the lovely helpful lady in the Tourism Information office when you arrive at Kawaguchiko!

Just so you've got an idea what I'm talking about, here's a very badly drawn map of our route! 

I don't know exactly how far the walk was, but it was hard work, and took us a long time. We left at about 9am, and didn't get back until it was pretty much dark (so I guess about 6:30pm). We did stop off at an onsen on the northern shore of Saiko on the way back though, to wash (due to our campsite not having any wash facilities at all) and to rest our weary bodies after the day! The initial climb was by far the hardest part of the day. Really steep and really tough, but we made it! The rest of the day was basically a ridge walk, followed by a descent into Aokigahara (the Sea of Trees) and finished off with a walk back along the northern shore of the lake. The ridge walk wasn't quite as flat as we'd hoped, and there were still a lot of ups and downs along it, but it was a very clear path, and we all thoroughly enjoyed our day! The only disappointing thing was that Mount Fuji lived up to its shy reputation, and other than a tiny glimpse of the top at the end of the day, it stayed shrouded in fog all day. Despite that, there were some lovely views over the lakes, and I 100% recommend this hike!

Mum and Dad on the climb up

Our first view of the day, over Lake Kawaguchi

Arriving at the top of Mount Ashiwada (Otherwise known as Gokodai, 5 lake view. We couldn't see all 5 though!)

All four of us at the top! 
If you're wondering what Dad is holding, it's an unidentified berry that he found and wanted to eat. He made me and John ask every Japanese person we found what it was and whether it was edible. The eventual consensus, several amused and confused Japanese people later, was that it wasn't poisonous, but it was very sour!

The view we should have had from the top of Ashiwada...

...but the view we actually had! Stupid clouds.

Luckily, the view the other way, over Lake Kawaguchi, was far better!

View from Sankodai, over the Aokigahara. Aokigahara (Sea of Trees) is infamous as a suicide location, due to its size and how dark it is. Read more about it on this Tofugu article

Looking out over Aokigahara. The trees really do seem to go on for ever and ever.

Heading down the mountain, towards Aokigahara

Gloomy and creepy. We stuck firmly to the main path, but I still found my skin creeping at times. I wouldn't want to be in here near dusk, or alone, or wander anywhere off the beaten track.

View along Lake Sai, from the western end. Our campsite was one of the collection of buildings you can just about make out at the far end.

The day's one view of Mount Fuji! At least we knew it was really there!