During our trip to Japan and South Korea we wanted to combine cycling challenges with small trekking, meeting people in leisurely manner and possible voluntary work. We use the knowledge of our Warm Showers hosts, their friends and neighbours, but also we have learnt to use the knowledge of strangers, as the Japanese have rather good intentions and when they say ‘dame!‘ (what means ‘no!’) it may mean that the road is impassable. Although, our Polish audacity didn’t allow us to believe in it initially, as what it a Japanese ‘dame!’ towards guidance of map application, wheraes it turned out to be the truth guarded by the dense bamboo forest.
Leaving Tokyo behind and wonderful memories of the capital city, we headed towards Mount Fuji in general, to Hadano city. There, in a nice companion of American teachers we discussed cycling and hiking trails nearby (Hadano Hiking Routes) and we exchanged our opinions on the equipment and travelling experience.
Having a ‘day off the bikes’, following the advices about nearby trails and buying cheap mandarins (they were so good…!) we went to Koboyama Park which offers rather short trails but enough for few hours of enjoying the woods away from the city. That was an interesting and important walk for us, because for the first time we could meet the Japanese nature. Although Tokyo impressed us, after staying in such a big metropoly it was really good to go to the forest in the mountains. Not too high but the climate there, 20 km from the seaside allowed us to take a deep green breath. During working hours, you can meet retired Japanese who have their hobbies and many of them take pictures. Nothing peculiar actually but they are equipped with huge camera lens to take pictures of little birds 2 metres away. We all know that the Japanese work hard and when the time for retirement comes they look for a hooby to fill up the time. Then they carry professional equipment but don’t use it for great photo or other challenges; we smile to each other when we pass a group of pensioners with cosmic lens or a group wearing colorful North Face down jackets, mountain shoes, buffs, backpacks and other equipment of Columbia or Mont-bell hiking up 400 metres high hill. Of course we both think that it is positive way of spending time, staying creative is much better than watching TV and boiling legs under kotatsu (typical Japanese electric blanket that covers your legs only while sitting by the low table; it is so hot sometimes that it almost put your legs on fire).
Fuji five lakes
Going back to a phrase that appeared at the beginning of this post ‘dame!’: on our way from Hadano to Lake Yamanaka-ko, application Maps.me guided us with a road that simply disappeared at some point. Asphalt finished and on steep slope were only bamboos and bushes with the road visible in a distance that we were supposed to be on. One and a half hour we pedalled up that hill so I don’t have to describe our faces when we realised that we have to go back! As on the way we met two Japanese men who passionately tried to explain us something adding phrase ‘Dame! Dame!’ every sentence. So, we already know what ‘Dame! Dame!’ may mean, this Japanese lesson we understood really well.
By Lake Yamanaka-ko, where we arrived late evening, exhausted after whole day of uphills and night ride we spent our first Japanese night in a tent. Equally fast as ‘Dame!Dame!’ lesson we received another portion of Japanese wisdom, this time about the winter time here. Our comfort 0ºC sleeping bags are not appropriate for this time of the year even with additional liners. Fortunately, there are 100-yen shops in Japan where we bought blankets and heating pads called cairo (pure magic) that save my (Ana’s) feet every night in a tent.
Lake Yamanaka-ko, the biggest from the five lakes, is of course beautiful and lies very close to the most important and impressive Japanese volcano. We felt like in Georgia when we saw Ushba, sacred mountain, the one that you read about before and you know that everyone respects it. And it is better to respect volcanoes, the Japanese know that!
We cycled along Lakes Kawaguchi-ko, Sai-ko, Shoji-ko, to spend another night by Lake Motosu-ko, where for the first time at our trip it was snowing. Except that it was cold, as simple as that, and the wind didn’t push us forward, the views were stunning and cycling was pleasant (shoulders, tunnels, etc.) although we wore reflective vests for a while because of traffic. I think that pedalling in the area of Tokyo, the road by the lakes is a must. There are also many camping places, not always open during winter 😉 Anyway, I guarantee that you won’t be able to take your eyes off Fuji, there is a power in that volcano!
Mount Fuji is not only the biggest volcano but also the highest mountain in Japan. You can climb it, official season starts on the 1st of June and ends in August, all the infrastructure points work at that time. For us it was enough to look at it, we have never dreamt of climbing it. The picture of Fuji is all the time with us, although moving West we stopped seeing it at some point, the references to its shape can be seen throughout Japan. In Kobe, our friends treated us with chocolates in a shape of volcano cone, in each shop you can find postcards with volcano (the Japanese love giving presents and sending postcards); in Nagoya we learnt a bit about tea ceremony, for instance that the green tea, matcha, is best presented in a cone shape and that while admiring a tea bowl your hands should shape a volcano. What is the best first dream (hatsuyume) of the New Year? The one about Fuji of course! Also 1000-yen bills remind us of Fuji, there is a picture of ‘Kohan no Haru’, a photo taken by Koyo Okada from a mountainous path at the northern side of Lake Motosu-ko.
Different faces of Fuji have their names, these are for instance: Beni Fuji, when snow lying on the volcano seems to be dyed in red by the sunset; Diamond Fuji, when the sun stays right over the volcano, like a bright diamond; Sakasa Fuji, the volcano and its reflection in the lake; or Pearl Fuji – opposite to Diamond Fuji, when over the volcano appears the moon. Giving names to each face of the sacred mountain indicates the importance of Fuji in the Japanese natural landscape and we also respect these symbols and nature rules that have always been here. Although we couldn’t see every face of Fuji-san, its shape has the special place in our memories and anyway, we will see her for sure once again.