hiking training

Hiking Addict? Perhaps Not…

I must have been truly exhausted last night, because I fell asleep immediately and didn’t wake up until 8:30. It was oddly quiet this morning, probably because the loud and annoying Phillipino people checked out already. Despite having the most solid sleep I’ve had in a week, I still felt tired and,my body felt like a bag of bricks. I guess that’s all the walking and cycling catching up with me. I had breakfast and got ready, then set out for a flea market that the girls last night were telling me about. I wanted to get a coffee from this cafe I saw yesterday, but it was closed. So I got a chilled one from Family Mart. Like I keep mentioning, it’s becoming an addiction. I walked to the temple where the market was held, and was surprised at how big it was. It completely covered the area in front of and next to the temple grounds, as well as spilling out into the streets. The vendors were selling mostly antique things (crockery, kimono fabric, bags, that kind of thing), but there were also some pickle and vegetable sellers thrown in for good measure. One side of the market was great, but the other was kind of tacky, packed with carnival style games and fried food stalls.

After looking around and debating whether or not to buy a hand carved wooden bento, I walked back towards the main river in Kyoto, to a station called Demachiyanagi. This station is the terminal for a special train that goes up into the northern mountains of Kyoto. There are two main towns that are accessible from this train; Kibune and Kurama. It is popular to hike between the two towns via a special route that passes through forest and temples. This is what I planned to do. So I took the train up to Kibuneguchi, where I would start my hike.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a funny little train. It was two cars long, and had different kinds of seats inside. There was a row of single seats, some pairs of seats facing each other, and some bench-style seats facing the window for your viewing pleasure. The train slowly made its way toward the mountain, with voice-overs every 20 seconds that said the name of the next station, and continually thanked everyone for using the train. It said everything in Japanese and English, but the English voice was really slow and annoying. It spoke English as if it was speaking to a non-English speaker. I felt like the voice was being intentionally patronizing.

The train arrived at the station and I got off and collected a free map. I was a bit disoriented, and there was nothing around, so I wasn’t really sure where I was meant to go. I knew that I could either take a bus to the main part of Kibune town, or walk for about 20 minutes. I could see the bus stop, but I wanted to walk, so I studied the map and eventually worked out where I was meant to go. It was much colder up in the mountains, and I wondered if wearing shorts was such a good idea. I had been walking for about 5 minutes when it started to rain. Not heavily, just a shower, kind of. Just my luck, I thought, but it didn’t last very long, and I didn’t get very wet. The walk to the town took 20 minutes, as expected, and was just along a paved road that wound around the hills and followed the river. I was amazed at how tall the cedar trees were, and how clear the river’s water was. The town wasn’t really much of a town, more of a small collection of noodle restaurants and a shrine. And, being Monday, most things were closed. It started to spit again, and I sheltered underneath an overhanging roof to eat lunch. There was a bench there, which belonged to a restaurant that wasn’t open, so I sat on that. I ate a new kind of salad, with sweet potato, walnuts, pumpkin, hijiki and burdock root mixed in with the salad. And I had an ebi-may sushi roll, which I am now a pro at unwrapping (it’s tricky the first time because they are always wrapped so that the rice and nori don’t touch.) Then I was still hungry, and wished I had brought another onigiri as well. I thought there might be yaki-mochi vendours or homemade onigiri stalls in the town, but there weren’t. I did, however, come across a guy selling all kinds of daifuku, so I bought one that was famous in the area, which was brown and filled with tsuba-anko. Super tasty!

Feeling slightly better after finding the daifuku, I set off on the hike to Kumara. You have to pay 200 yen to enter the trail, but I have no idea why. The sun had come out (although temporarily), and the forest was incredibly beautiful. The trail was also very steep. It went straight up, and I was panting after about three minutes, thinking how am I going to do this?! I remembered reading about the hike online, and I remembered reading that it’s intimidating at first, but soon levels out. Intimidating, it certainly was! I passed a few people coming down, who told me gambatte! (do your best!) After a while, I got to a small shrine, which also featured this sign…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1915 meters to the main gate at Kurama. That doesn’t sound that far, but you have to remember that this is a climb, not a paved, flat path. I just kept thinking of my grandfather, and how he would be proud if I finished all these hikes that I set out to do. I also thought of my dad, and how he’d want me to keep going and do my best, and never give up. I make it sound like the hie was impossible, but really  it wasn’t that bad. The first bit was steep, but only enough to make my heart rate rise, not enough that I needed climbing picks and ropes. Don’t get the wrong idea here people.

The next section of the course featured a whole heap of tree roots, all over the ground. They were incredible, and looked like a maze. Some parts were really smooth, from being stepped on over and over again. I really had to watch my footing because the roots were really uneven, and some were quite high. The root forest led to another small shrine, and then I had to climb about 400 stairs (steep ones), which seemed to go on forever. I passed a lot of people, all going in the opposite direction to me, of course. I had only gone up, so I thought maybe I should have started from the other end of the course, because it might be easier. Oh well, I liked the challenge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the top of the death stairs, there was another collection of root trees, which snaked across the ground in a beautiful pattern. I have a thing about tree roots- I just think they’re really cool. And then, there were stairs that went down! I was so excited. These stairs led through more forest, and eventually came out at a large temple. I started to rain again, but the view from the temple balcony was so beautiful, and all the mountains faded into the distance in different shades of blue. I felt so free and calm, I think hiking tends to de-clutter my brain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From the shrine, the path kept leading downwards, and I passed more forest and little shrines and lanterns along the way. I happily passed all the people coming up, feeling a bit smug that I had chosen to walk the course in this direction, because I ended up going down a lot more than I went up. He he, suckers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then, I was suddenly at the bottom. I had arrived in Karuma in only an hour, which I thought was strange. I really thought I remembered reading that it would take about three hours. Maybe it does if you walk in the other direction, who knows. Anyway, I was a bit surprised and stunned, but I walked around the small town on Karuma, then headed back to the train. I was actually surprised how easy the hike had been, as I was expecting it to be a bit harder and longer. But I was also happy that I had completed it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The train ride home was fast, and at the station I bought a chestnut flavoured daifuku from a little stall. It was only 3:30, so I decided to catch the subway to Gion, and buy some food for dinner from the department store there. It felt strange riding the subway in Kyoto. I associate trains and subways with Tokyo, so I felt kind of out of place. There was also only 4 people in the carriage, whereas in  Tokyo is would be full at all times of the day. In Gion, I wondered around the basement food level of Takashimaya, then walked through Nishiki market, and all the way back to the hostel. It was freezing, and the wind was icy. My legs got really cold because I was still wearing shorts.

When I got back, Tida the dog greeted me, and I learned that he was about to be taken for a walk. I was invited to come, and I said yes, because they were only going to a nearby park. Tida liked eating the grass. It was freezing, so we didn’t stay out long. I warmed up in my room, and then it was time for dinner.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was so hungry, having worked up a huge appetite from hiking all day. So I went all out and made a huge tei shoku dinner. I made a donburi with brown rice, topped with some cooked spinach and mushroom from the supermarket, and an egg, which cooked in the heat of the other food. I also had a cabbage salad, some miso soup, and the collection of food that I’d bought from the department store. It was amazingly delicious, and I ate everything. I ate dinner with 2 staff members and another guest. I like how everyone just joins each other and talks. It’s really homely, and it feels like a little family.

One of the girls has been learning how to do the tea ceremony, so we had a little practice one, and drank the matcha tea with daifuku ice cream and matcha Kit Kats that I’d bought. I had a go at whisking the tea, which was much harder than it sounds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I can’t believe tomorrow is my last night in Kyoto already. Time is zooming by and I’m gling to be back in Australia before I blink. Tomorrow we are having nikujaga party at the hostel, for my last day. They have last day parties for everyone, so there’s a party almost every day!

Here are some more photos from today that didn’t really fit anywhere…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fushimi Inari Epic Hike

I think that the walls of hostel I’m staying in are made of tissue paper. Despite having a private room, I can hear every word everyone in the entire house says. I can hear the people in the group rooms down the hall, and the people in the dormitory downstairs. I can hear any sound that comes from the kitchen, and I can especially hear the loud, obnoxious foreigners in the room next to me. I pretty much know their entire life stories, because they wouldn’t shut up last night. Fair enough that they were excited to be in Kyoto, but after midnight I think its polite to keep your voice down in shared accommodation. But no, they were still yelling and laughing loudly at 2am. I had been trying to fall asleep since 11, and I was so frustrated that I wanted to cry. Or hurl something through the wall. When I finally did pass out, I slept poorly and kept waking up because the futon I was on was very thin, and I could feel the floor beneath it. Then at 6am other people started waking up, so of course I heard the noise. It wasn’t the best start to the day.

I tried to sleep a bit more, but I got up and ready at 8. I had breakfast and made myself a strong coffee with the free supplies in the kitchen. Then I set out for an epic day of non stop walking.

The walking plan basically involved a treck to Fushimi Inari Taisha from the hostel, and back again, with a few stops along the way. First, I wanted to visit Nishiki market during the day time (this is the place I went last night), then go to Fushimi Inari. I planned to hike around the mountain, walk back to Kiyomizu Dera (a temple complex) to see it lit up at night, and then have dinner in Gion (perhaps with a spot of maiko-spotting.) The walking part would take about 4 hours, and then I would need additional time for stopping and eating and admiring. Or so I thought. I ended up being out all day, for almost 10 hours.

So anyway, by the time I set out it was 11am, but I was really sleepy and needed a pick me up. So I stopped at the supermarket and bought a coffee and a salad to take on my journey. I got to Nishiki market quite quick, and wondered through the stalls selling pickles, sweets, fresh seafood, sembei, and anything else you can think of. I talked to a few of the store owners, one of whom wanted me to buy a packet of fried crickets to take home to my family. I would have, but I don’t think they would have made it through customs. At the end of the market street, there were more undercover walkways full of shoe stores, clothes stores and 100 yen stores. I wondered around a bit, then decided to head in the direction of Kyoto station, because Fushimi Inari Taisha is on the opposite side, and I thought I might be able to navigate from there. As I was walking along, I passed an onigiri cart selling all different kinds of onigiri. There was a chicken and vegetable one from Kyushu, which I had eaten in Beppu years ago and loved, so I bought one of those. I have no idea why, but the label features a cartoon picture of an old man with a runny nose. How appetising.

_DSC2817

It took ages to walk to Kyoto station, probably because I went on all these back streets. But it was warm, and the roads are all flat, so it was ok. At Kyoto station, I had one task, and that was to cross the station from North to South. Not as easy as it sounds. I got trapped in a maze of shops and restaurants, and got so disoriented. I eventually came out one exit, but I didn’t know where I was, and I walked for a little while but then I found out I was going in the complete opposite direction to Fushimi Inari. I was also really hungry, so I found a bench and ate my salad and onigiri in the sun. As I ate, I watched the people walking along the street, narrowly avoiding stepping in this big pile of dog poo. At first, I cringed when someone got near, and thought I should warn them about the poop, but then after a while I really wanted to see someone step in it.

I bought a sakura mochi an-pan from a bakery (because I was still hungry and it smelled amazing), and munched on that whilst I decided how to get to the shrine. The roads on my map weren’t detailed enough for the south side of Kyoto station,  and I couldn’t find a big map in the station. So I decided to stop wasting time and get a train to Inari station, which was 2 stops away. That way, at least I couldn’t get lost.

The station is right at the entrance of the shrine, and there were about a million people there, which kind of shattered my serene memories of the place. I always held Fushimi Inari Taisha in my mind as a place of incredible beauty and serenity. After my first visit there, back when I was a gangly teenager, I always referred to it as my favourite place in Kyoto. But today it was absolutely packed with tourists and school kids, and the illusion of spiritual peace and harmony was shattered for me. Fushimi Inari Taisha (can I just refer to it as FIT now?) is an important shinto shrine, built around a mountain in Southern Kyoto. There is a large hall and shrine at the base of the mountain  and a hiking route that leafs to the top. Doing the rounds at this shrine is said to benefit health. But the main thing that attracts me to the place is the thousands and thousands of torii that line the hiking trails. They are literally everywhere, and sometimes so densely packed in that they create a tunnel of red that the sun cannot penetrate. There are also small inari shrines scattered around the mountain, with small statues of inari foxes and offerings of sake and fruits.

_DSC2819

_DSC2825

_DSC2826

_DSC2835

_DSC2838

_DSC2841

_DSC2861

_DSC2864

_DSC2883

_DSC2872

I don’t think that I walked all the way to the top of the mountain last time I visited FIT, so I was determined to reach the summit this time. The path to the top is about 4km long, but twists and turns around the mountain. And it’s covered in torii the entire time. I think there’s something like 30,000 of them, and most are payed for by businesses. I saw a few that had been recently installed, and some that must have been there for a long time because they were starting to rot at the bottom, and the shiny red and black polish had given way to the raw wood beneath. The climb is pretty easy, and lots of little kids and older people were making it to the top without much trouble. I even saw a small Japanese mother carrying her infant in a carrier on her front, and a 4 year old on her back. But luckily for me, a lot of people gave up before the half way point, and the crowds thinned out. That’s when it began to feel more like the FIT I knew. I passed tea houses and udon shops on the way up, as well as lots of small shrines and lit candles. Then all of a sudden I was at the top, which didn’t seem that triumphant because there wasn’t a huge sign or anything, just more clusters of shrines. But I liked that, it seemed more legit without the fuss. I stopped at the top and looked around, then continued down the other side of the mountain. The trail makes a loop, so you don’t have to see the same thing twice.

I got about half way back down when I came to a fork in the road. One path completed the mountain loop, and headed bac to the station, and the other apparently led to Tofukuji, another large temple complex. I asked a man selling shots of espresso how far that hike was, and he said it was about 40 or 50 minutes. I was planning to walk in that direction anyway, so I thought I’d follow the path through the forest to Tofukuji. It was downhill all the way, but by that time my legs had started to become shaky and a little weak. I had been walking since 11, and it was about 3:30pm. How the hell am I going to do Kumano Kodo, I wondered. Although there was only one trail, I kept getting paranoid that I was going the wrong way, and that I might end up lost in a forest. Eventually I passed a grove of bamboo and came out in a residential street, which had huge houses with modern Japanese facades. I wasn’t really sure where I was, so I just kept walking in what I thought was the direction of the train line. I stumbled across a little rock garden, where I stopped for a rest. It was on top of a hill, and I could see Kyoto Tower and Kyoto station, so I was able to gain a better sense of direction. Then a man and a women walking dogs passed by, and I asked them where the closest station was. They gave me directions, and I patted the dogs, and then I kept walking down the hill.

_DSC2899

_DSC2902

As I was walking, a huge temple complex came into view, and I wondered into the grounds to have a look. There were beautifully manicured gardens surrounding the huge buildings, and a group of middle aged Japanese tourists were talking excitedly and taking photos in front of the buildings. That’s when I realised I’d accidentally found Tofukuji. So I had a quick look inside, then continued down the street towards the station. I thought I might get a train back to Kyoto station, then walk from there, but I actually ended up walking the whole way to Gion. It was a nice walk along the river, where the cherry blossoms were blooming. All the Japanese people who passed stopped to take photos on their mobile phones, and there were people sitting along the river enjoying the late afternoon sun.

_DSC2936

_DSC2915 copy

_DSC2938

_DSC2929

Around 5, it had already begun to get cold, and the wind picked up. I had reached the main intersection of GIon, and I was freezing and a bit tired, so I went into Takashimaya department store to look around and warm up. I walked around the book and stationary level, and the top floor restaurants, then switched to the basement and did some food admiration. I was trying to kill a bit of time before 6:30, when I wanted to head over to a street in Gion where you can sometimes see maiko walking around.

Next, I wondered along the banks of the river, where there are a lot of little restaurants. There is a street called Pontocho, which is tiny and narrow and brings to mind historical Kyoto. I loved just exploring all the tiny streets, keeping an eye out for somewhere to eat later on. Then I headed back across the river to the main area of Gion, which was all lit up and reminded me a bit of big city America. Like, broadway kind of. Not that I’ve ever been.

_DSC2973

I walked around the ‘maiko spotting street,’ but it was freezing and there were only tourists there. I think it might have been too early. It was around 7, and I was already hungry (must have used a lot of energy today), so I went into a restaurant selling reasonably priced teishoku (set meals.) I had to wait for a little while for a place, but that was ok because it was warm inside. I was seated at the counter, which was great because I could watch all the staff preparing the meals. I ordered a set that had chicken soboro as the main dish, with a lot of little accompanimnets. It came really quickly, because most things were already prepared (like the pickles, for example.)

This is what it looked like…

_DSC2965

And then you opened it all up…

_DSC2966

The big bowl contained minced chicken (soboro) and shredded tamago on top of rice. There was miso soup with mushrooms, pickles, chahan-mushi, which is a steamed egg custard, and then a little tier of mixed dishes. They included some kind of meat with a mini potato and pumpkin, some tamagoyaki, sweet beans with tiny shrimp, and some slightly chewy and slightly sweet things on sticks (I had no idea what they were, but they were really tasty!) I ate everything really fast, because it was amazing. And the whole thing cost less than 2000 yen!

_DSC2964

_DSC2971

Next, I made the treck back to the hostel, which was freezing, but didn’t take that long compared to the first time. Probably because I walked really fast to stay warm. I stopped at a convenience store on the way to get some breakfast supplies and an azuki cream daifuku for dessert. When I got back, I ate the daifuku with a few cups of hot Japanese tea, and talked to everyone in the hostel. I had walked so far, and my legs were finally tired. I think I fell asleep immediately  despite the noise of everyone moving around.

Hiking Training?

I’ve been finding it hard to sleep at night here. I find that no matter how tired I am, my brain just won’t switch off at night, and goes into overdrive. SO I end up tossing and turning for about an hour and half before I even get close to falling asleep. Then I wake up and I’m tired. Why?

This happened last night, and it ended up being an effort to get up at 9. I didn’t know what I wanted to do today, so I spend a bit of time working on some client images that are way overdue, whilst munching on some tiny bananas and some coffee in a bottle that didn’t really taste like anything. My laptop has become frustratingly slow, clogged up with a bunch of client images, as well as all the shots I’ve taken in Japan so far. So I decided to go to Akihabara to buy a hard drive. I’d had enough!

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 6.12.57 PMI got ready to go, then looked at Google maps to see just how far I had to ‘hike’ to get there. It was only a little further than Ueno, and about as far from Ueno as Asakusa was (where I went yesterday.) All layered up, I headed out with my iPod, which I haven’t listened to in ages. I actually really liked walking along to the music, and it put me in a really good mood. It made me feel like making a few short (like, really short) videos about the trip. Maybe just picking a random day and shooting the whole day to see what I get. Or making up a little story. In any case, I kept seeing great compositions as I walked, and matching them to the songs I was listening to. Before long I was singing out loud. I probably sounded really bad, but I couldn’t hear myself because I have noise cancelling headphones (really really expensive ones that cost 9 dollars.) It was strange hearing so many English voices, so much so that it kind of mangled my Japanese when I first switched back upon ordering lunch.

I got to Ueno really fast, and was already hungry as I began to cross the park. I thought I’d better stop for some lunch before continuing the treck to Akihabara. So I went to the little corner of 4 stores where I got the mushroom dish that I ate with dinner last night. I picked out a bento from the salad place next door, and happily took it to Ueno park, where I found a spot to sit and eat. A dodgy looking pigeon tried to come close to me as I unpacked my lunch, but he didn’t get to close because I freaked out and kind of spasmed, which scared him off because he thought I had ADHD.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The bento was so tasty! On the left was some braised chicken and a salad with marinated vegetables and broccoli. The centre was brown rice sushi that had chicken and vegetables inside, and salad underneath. Then on the right was a chicken, cabbage and sesame salad, some simmered sweet potato and citrus pumpkin, and a cherry tomato. It was so tasty, and just what I felt like!

After depositing my rubbish in a heavily decorated panda bin, I headed back in the direction of Akihabara. As I was crossing a street, a flash of bright orange caught my eye, and I had to go down an alleyway to investigate it. When I came to the end of the alley, I was at the lakeside of Ueno park, but the lake was filled with heaps of (dead?) wreeds. The colour was so pretty, and I could see a shrine poking up from the other side. I couldn’t believe how vibrant the burnt orange colour was.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From the lake, it only took about 20 minutes to get to Akihabara (with a small detour to the basement food level of a department store, where I filmed a sneaky video from hip-level, even thought cameras aren’t allowed.) I just followed the train line from Ueno, so finding Akiba was easy (locals now call it ‘Akiba’ instead of Akihabara, apparantly.)

As I was nearing the station, I walked past an onigiri store selling brown rice onigiri. I haven’t seen very much brown rice in Japan, so I jumped on the change to buy some. I got a brown rice and konbu onigiri to have for lunch tomorrow (when I plan to make a bento to take to the zoo!) Luckily I was full from lunch, otherwise I would have devoured it on the spot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I won’t describe the next few hours in intricate detail, because all I did was roam around the electronics stores hunting for portable hard drives comparing prices. I also wanted to buy an mp3 player for my dad as a gift, but they all cost over 100 dollars, and he would definitely not approve of that (“don’t buy me anything expensive! Only spend ten dollars!”) They only seemed to have 3 kinds of music player, no matter where I looked. iPods, a rectangle iPod rip off, and a thin voice recording mp3 player thing. I was also tempted to buy a macbook air again, because 30,000 yen is pretty hard to pass up. But I actually don’t need it, so I was a good girl and saved my money. I did get a hard drive cheap though, so I was happy. I also found a post office by accident, and posted the birthday card I had written for my grandfather.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Most of the stores in Akiba are multi storey, and my legs were getting pretty tired. I actually felt a bit tired from walking around all day, so I have no idea how I’m going to cope climbing mountains. That training is starting to sound less like a ‘good idea’ and more like a requirement. It was almost 5pm and was starting to get cold, so I walked back to Ueno and bought some things for dinner. There is a store where you can get a container of any size and with numerous amounts of compartments, and fill it with any kind of dish you like. I wanted to do this for dinner, because I got to sample lots of different dishes. This is what I bought…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After taking a million years to decide what I wanted, and paying for it, I caught the train back to Nishi-Nippori and walked home from there. At home I edited the last batch of client images for the day, and talked to my mum on Facebook. I hadn’t heard from her for a while, so it was good to know what was going on.

For dinner I had stir-fried tofu, vegetables and kinpira (which needed eating) with a fried egg, rice, and the okazu I bought today. That included nikujaga (a beef, onion and potato stew), hijiki and bean salad, some nimono vegetables (simmered in soy and dashi, etc.), mushroom and burdock root with pinenuts, and a kind of spinach thing with sesame seeds. Everything was really tasty, especially the nikujaga.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was still hungry after dinner, having spent all my energy walking, so I ate some cereal with sliced banana that I bought from the market, as well as the last yoghurt in my fridge, which had gotten a little too close to the freezer and ‘grown’ sheets of ice in vertical lines throughout the yoghurt. Kind of like a vienetta, but with yoghurt instead of ice cream, and ice instead of chocolate. Then I craved dorayaki, so I raced to 7/11 and bought an anko and chestnut one, which wasn’t great. I need to go back to the old lady in Nippori and buy one from her- that thing was amazing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA