While stuffing myself with onigiri…

Enjoying the beautiful sunrise at the summit of Mt. Fuji.

Back from Japan with a few tales to share but there’s a few bit of catching up I have to do so here’s a brief set of highlights.   Despite having arrived in Osaka right at the tail end of the supertyphoon, it was a crazy hot and humid adventure.  Apparently, hiking is an activity the Japanese primarily partake in during the spring and autumn season so most folks thought I was pretty crazy.  Mt. Fuji was the only place I visited in Japan that was actually cool (thank you elevation).  It made enjoying the sunrise from Mt. Fuji’s summit that much better.

Nonetheless, what can a typical gaijin (foreigner) do?  I only have so much vacation time from work and I was restricted to visiting within the months when hiking up Mt. Fuji was possible.  One of the first and most memorable things that I discovered while spending time in the cities is that streets weren’t nearly as popular as covered arcades.  These were pretty much streets running through buildings or pedestrian pathways that incorporated some sort of cover from precipitation.

Forget the streets!  The covered arcade intersects with many streets and is the preferred route.

Aside from doing a lot of walking, I had the opportunity to fully experience the train system.  The train system was — to say the least — overwhelming for someone like me.  In Toronto, directions provided are usually bundled up with one or two recommended routes.  My experience in Japan is that there are likely 6 or 7 ways to get somewhere but it’s a challenge to figure out which one is the 6 hour route vs. the 10 minute route.  Nonetheless, it was one of the defining experiences of spending time in Japan.

Waiting for the train in Kyoto

While many folks enjoy time in the city, I much preferred life outside the urban centres.  Koya-san (aka. Mt. Koya) was one of the first places I visited on my trip.  I found that it was immediately cooler than other areas up on Koya-san.  With Okuno-in and many ancient temples in the area, there was much to see and learn.  In addition, I had the opportunity to stay at Saizen-in, a local monastery which also had guestrooms to for travellers to stay the night.

Visiting an old temple in Mount Koya

The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail was by far my most ambitious objective for my trip to Japan.  I decided to tackle 5 days worth of this ancient pilgrimage trail system.  I soon discovered why the local Japanese thought I was crazy to hike at this time of year.  With some days of the trek involving up to or over 20km and sometimes three or four ascents or descents of 800m — I was pretty tired to say the least at the end of each day.  That said, the ryokans and minshukus that I stayed in along the way were wonderful in the sense that you would feel refreshed the next day and with a full stomach!

The Kumano Kodo climb from the town of Koguchi is tough but it is beautiful to look at.A great view overlooking the rice fields and mountains from a rest area along the Kumano Kodo trail.

The Kumano Kodo ancient trail was by far one of the most memorable hikes or treks that I have attempted and one of my favourite parts of visiting Japan.  I had the opportunity to trek through small mountain villages and enjoy the very diverse natural environment that the ancient trail took me through.  I will post the days on this trek in more detail in the near future once I get organized again.

Signs along the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail

In case you don’t know what onigiri is — it’s a type of rice ball, often made in many varieties of shapes and flavours.  Simply delicious.  My trip to Japan was not just about hiking, it was also about eating!  That I did … as well as visiting an old friend.

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Author: Ehren Cheung

An explorer of life and data. Reluctantly philosophical. A seeker of the ultimate cookie. Another tree-friendly soul with an affinity for hiking and sketching.

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