Friday, 30 November 2012

Momiji Walks

I've been a bit useless on my blog recently, mostly because I'd run out of space in my picasa album, and I had to delete all the photos I didn't need before I could upload any more. But I finally got round to doing that, so now I can spam you all with our gorgeous autumn leaves photos!

We've been hiking a lot recently, making the most of our last bit of time in Japan, and admiring the beautiful colours of autumn. It really was beautiful around here from the end of October until the middle of November. Unfortunately, last weekend we had a really windy couple of days, and all the leaves disappeared overnight. Now, it's cold and wintery, but these photos really bring back the lovely weather of autumn!

View from Mount Izumi, over towards our house

John bullying small children!

It was a little early for the lovely colours just yet, but I love how the colours change as you get down the mountain.

I went on an early morning hike up the mountain behind our house, and although it was a bit hazy, the hills around were gorgeous.

This amazing tree and adorable little shrine are hidden away in someone's back garden!

Japanese maples are the most beautiful trees ever!
Our apartment is snuggled up in these beautiful hills

I've been to this reservoir in Spring and Summer, and we went back to enjoy the autumn leaves around its shores. There were so many beautiful trees, and John was saying continuously "I think autumn is my favourite season in Japan, I love autumn"! 

The trees that are all colours at once are the best!

We found a lovely little riverside spot near our house that I wish we'd found earlier!

This was after the wind storm that blew most of the leaves off, but these ones retained a few!

This amazing tree is in a tiny little children's park, next to our supermarket. It still has some leaves, and is continuing to make me happy every day!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Zao Onsen: Hot Springs!

Aside from skiing and hiking, Zao is mostly famous for its hot springs (onsen). Apparently, they were discovered in 110AD, when a wounded warrior pulled an arrow from his arm, and washed it in the stream. The injury recovered overnight, and since then the springs at Zao have become famous. Although miracles are scarce these days, the really acidic waters (we read ph1 somewhere, but surely that would burn your skin?!), which have an average natural temperature of up to 52ÂșC, are supposed to be great for skin conditions and stomach problems. I can't honestly say that either my stomach or my skin felt noticeably better afterwards, but after a long day hiking, they certainly did my muscles a world of good! 

We relaxed a lot in the onsen at our hotel, as well as heading to the Dai Rotenburo, a famous open air bath that can apparently hold up to 200 people. Personally, I don't relish the idea of squeezing in with 199 other naked bodies, so I'm glad it was fairly deserted the day we went. It's built right into the stream, and it was gorgeous! As with all onsens, there were seperate male and female sections, and you go in naked. Because of that, photos are strictly not allowed, but since there was nobody else there when I was, I took a couple of sneaky ones on my phone, both at the hotel onsen, and the public one. Shhhh, don't tell anyone! 

Walking through the gorgeous town, there is steam rising off every stream, including this water wheel!

Entrance into the hotel's onsen

The indoor pool in the women's onsen...

...with lots of rubber duckies for playing with! 

The women's outdoor onsen at the hotel. It was a perfect temperature, and sitting in it and looking up at the stars was blissful! 

View from the hotel, across the mountains

On the morning before we left, we went to Dai Rotenburo, 

It's really simple and natural, and on this quiet Tuesday morning, it was perfect! 

Sitting in the onsen, looking up this lovely river :)

Friday, 9 November 2012

Zao and Okama Crater

We went to Zao Onsen back in February, and spent a lovely weekend skiing and relaxing in hot springs. Recently, we repeated the exercise, except we replaced skiing with hiking. It was a brilliant weekend. We stayed in a Ryokan and ate lots of beautiful and delicious Japanese food (if I ever get round to it, there'll be a post about this on my food blog). Then, during the day, we hiked all over the ski slopes, marveling at how different it all looks without the snow and skiers everywhere, before collapsing into a marvellously relaxing hot spring at the end of the day. 

We did some other bits of exploring, which I'll blog about in another post, but on our full day there, we went on a very long hike up to the top of the mountain. The onsen town is at about 750m, and the highest point we reached was the top of Mount Kumanodake, at 1841m. Just beyond Kumanodake is Okama, the crater lake from when Zao last exploded. That was our final destination. There is a ropeway, and a bus that take you up to Okama, but we are never ones to take the easy route! 

It was a pretty long way up, but not too difficult to follow. You can get hiking maps from the tourist information in Zao Onsen, near the bus station. We had a little trouble finding the start of the trail: in the end we had to follow the main ropeway up a little way until we saw the path on our right. We also made a small accidental detour along a river, but when we headed back we realised that there was a sign at the bottom that was telling us which way we should have gone! We had some gorgeous views on the way up, but unfortunately, as we reached the top of the mountain we found ourselves inside a rather cold and damp cloud. You could only see a couple of meters, and we were both freezing and miserable, thinking that we weren't going to get any view of Okama at all. Luckily, as we huddled in a restaurant and had some delicious curry, the clouds did clear enough to give us a decent view. And, even better, as we descended down the mountain, we emerged out of the cloud to beautiful views over Yamagata. 

Being the idiot I am, I forgot to pack my camera this weekend, so all these photos are unfortunately off our iphones. I don't think they're too bad though, considering! 

Although I know that the hot springs in Zao are natural and must therefore come from somewhere, it was still really odd to find a steaming river in the middle of the wood.

Carrying the bag for me on the way up, isn't he a good boy?!

John at the shrine at the top of Kattadake peak, right near Okama crater

Here's a photo of a photo inside the restaurant of what the crater should look like...

...and here's the view we got. It was still beautiful though! 

The water is just so blue!

We made it to the top of Kumanodake, but were so fed up of cold and fog by this point, that we'd mostly given up with photography! 

Emerging out of the clouds... views like this down the ski slopes

Lovely autumn colours

Wandering through the autumnal woods (note that I'm carrying the bag now it's flat, hehe)

So pretty

So many gorgeous views to make up for aching feet! 

Ski slopes with no snow are just weird! 

As we got near Zao, we sat on a ski slope to watch the sunset. What a lovely days hiking!