There’s something magical about childhood friends and beautiful places.
David and I have the same travel style. We don’t plan much. With just a loose idea in our heads of what might happen, we have the freedom to be spontaneous.
Last year, David took a solo six-month trip traveling overland from Israel to Japan. He walked, hitchhiked, took buses, and boats while passing through Egypt, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, and China, until he finally took a ferry to Japan. He slept on beaches, in caves, and in strangers houses (as well as the occasional hotel!) During his trip, he carried a tiny backpack that contained a sleeping bag, a change of clothes, a water purifier, and a few other necessities.
I’m lucky to call this adventurous soul my friend. Our parents have been close since we were babies, so we know each other pretty well. David is currently living near Shizuoka on the east side of Japan with his Japanese girlfriend, so we decided to meet up and travel together for a few days.
At first we were going to tackle Mount Fuji, but after hearing tales of how painfully crowded it would be, we decided to find another hiking spot. A fellow English teacher recommended we check out Mt. Tate, so off we went.
The drive was supposed to take 4 hours, but we added a fair few since we stopped so many times. Whenever I see something that looks interesting, I like to investigate.
At a roadside orchard, we were gifted a few nashi. We tried to pay for them but the saleslady wouldn’t hear of it.
We soaked in the Sea of Japan, letting the water splash us to cool us down from the hot and humid day.
From the highway, we noticed a big statue on a hill. We decided to drive closer to check it out. It was eerily deserted, and I still have no idea what it represents.
Our weirdest stop was for a tour of some random Styrofoam dome houses. These houses are supposedly earthquake resistant, retain heat in the winter, and stay cool in the summer. Also, they’re cute.
Finally, we reached Tateyama station, where dozens of Japanese hikers decked out in gaters, wide-brimmed hats and hiking poles were getting off buses. Upon further investigation, we realized that most people pay to take a bus and cable car up the mountain, a 37 kilometer, 1 hour journey, that takes you up to 2450 meters. Then all you have to do is walk for two hours to the top of Mt. Tate, which is 3015 meters tall.
We decided to find a place to camp, and postpone our decision about what to do the next day. Neither of us were thrilled about the idea of paying 4000 yen (about 35 dollars) apiece to get us up the mountain. We would both rather use our legs.
We saw a sign for Shomyo Waterfall (350 m), so we decided to explore. Since we were there on a Monday late in the day, the place was almost deserted. As we trudged up a winding road to view the falls, we noticed an inconspicuous trailhead. The sign next to it (all in Japanese) informed us that we could follow this path for a multi-day hike to various huts. Hooray! We had found an alternative plan.
After a night sleeping outside – no tent necessary, it’s so hot here at this time of year – we awoke with the sun and were on the trail by 7.
The first stretch was a series of crumbly stairs and ladders that brought us up to the same ridge as Shomyo waterfall. Once we were on that plateau, we had a nice flat section that took us to a mountain hut (9000 yen per night), where we exchanged photos with some Japanese hikers.
It was there that we discovered we could continue up a different mountain, Mount Dainichidaira. So we grabbed our packs and kept trekking!
The scenery reminded me of my gallivants in New Zealand. My multi-day backpacking trips in the South Island were some of the best moments of my life. It came back: the feeling that I’ve only experienced while hiking. I find it to be almost trance-like. My thoughts melt away. All that matters is the fact that I’m walking. There is no need to think about anything else.
I felt something that I hadn’t felt for a long time, a sense of stepping away from reality. Everything dissipates except for the scenery and the silence.
The cool clouds are drifting through me, but I’m sweating up this mountain. Up and up and up – passing mysterious purple berries and trees with red papery bark. The strange alpine flowers with translucent jellyfish petals. The moving blanket of fog covering the mountain as I watch, a silent and empty observer.
We reached the top at about noon, and took a half-hour to admire the view and eat our lunch. By the time we headed down, I had the same feeling as when I first jumped out of an airplane: when can I do this again?
I want to backpack in Japan as much as possible. I hope to climb something at least once a month. And when I return to the USA, I want to backpack there too. The Pacific Crest Trail. The Appalachian Trail. Something big! Who wants to come?