Japan encompasses tradition, and some of the world’s greatest environmental wonders. Unfortunately, for a lot of people when they think of Japan, they think of Tokyo. They think of unusual outfits in Harajuku, the chaos associated with the Shibuya crossing or the seizure-inducing lights of the Red Light District . They don’t think of Mount Nokogiri or Kamakura. I spent a mere few hours within Harajuku, Shibuya and the Red Light District. For the most part, I couldn’t wait to escape. I felt incredibly out of place and disconnected. Walking underneath Prada and Louis Vuitton skyscrapers wearing my North Face thermoball and Salomon trail runners, I didn’t exactly fit it.. Nor did I want to.
I chose to explore Japan in a less than typical fashion. I escaped the city, I fell in love with Japan, my eyes wide open mesmerized by its beauty, culture and rural surroundings. I ventured away from the city to see what rural Japan had to offer. With the hopes of escaping the high end stores and even higher buildings. I learned awhile ago that I prefer to experience a country by immersing myself in their culture and enjoying the beauty of the back-country. I set out in search of just that, and was headed to climb Mount Nokogiri in Chiba prefecture. Located just an hour and half train ride from downtown Tokyo; this hike was set to incorporate culture, wildlife and nature. My favorite things. Japan was only supposed to be a “pit-stop” on my way to Indonesia, but it turned out to be an amazing adventure.Within days of returning to Canada, I was already planning my return to “the land of the rising sun.”
I started out on my rural adventure, anticipating a quiet and probably lonely commute. Given that I am a tattooed, fairly muscular female I stood out like a sore thumb throughout Japan. The majority of people in Japan had previously chosen to avoid me or take pictures of me on the trains. I knew prior to traveling to Japan that tattoos were still discouraged, and in many places it is required to cover them up. However, I made the assumption that younger generations would be more accepting towards this western form of expression, than older generations. To my surprise, an elderly gentleman boarded the train about twenty minutes after I did. As the train was headed away from Tokyo, the train was rather deserted and many seats were open. A phenomenon in Japan. The gentleman proceeded to take the seat right next to me. Now those who know me, know I am not very good at hiding my facial expressions; I gave him a confused look and a pleasant smile then proceeded to listen to the Eric Church soundtrack that was playing on my iPhone. Moments later, I felt a tap on my shoulder and the older gentleman was signalling me to take off my shoes and place my feet on the seat directly in front of me. Thinking “why not”, I followed his directions. Soon after he had taken out a bag of Japanese crackers and cookies from his bag and was encouraging me to try them. His English was extremely limited, and my Japanese was worse. Our interaction turned into an hour of charades, laughing at the confusion while enjoying each others company. As the train approached my stop and I started to put back on my trail runners, and gathered my hiking gear, he packed up the remainder of the Japanese treats and proceeded to give them to me. “Arigatou gozaimasu”, I said with a smile and proceeded off the train. Knowing that regardless of how the hike turned out, it had already been a good day.
I got off the train at Hota station, and started my walk to the trail head. In Japan most of the popular hikes also have rope-ways that allow individuals who don’t wish to hike, to reach the top of the mountain. The majority of people chose to take the rope-way, that day I was the only person on the trail head. Despite being a rather small mountain, Mount Nokogiri is a unique outdoor adventure that offers breathtaking views of Tokyo Bay and the Boso Peninsula’s jungle. Every mountain you climb will be a different experience, but sometimes there are mountains that simply exceed your expectations and naturally stand out. The diversity of this trail, put Mount Nokogiri into that category for me. Hiking through the lush forest, passing through temples, immersing yourself within the Japanese culture. Climbing stair after stair… there was so many stairs. At the midway point, you pass through the Nihon-ji Temple, which still holds great cultural significance within Japan.The temple houses Japan’s largest stone-carved Buddha image (Daibutsu) reaching up to 30 meters at its highest point. The Daibutsu carving is majestic in nature, a true representation of beauty and serenity.
After more stairs the trail leads you underneath a canopy of trees, light rays glisten through creating a sense of awe and wonder. This wonder acted as a gateway to the Hundred-shaku Kannon, which was carved as a memorial and prayer sanctuary for victims of WWII. This incredible monument leaves you speechless, you can’t help but be mesmerized by its beauty and reflect on what it represents. It’s a place that forces you to stop, that is so quiet you can hear your own breath sounds. It’s a place that is so serene you don’t want to leave, but if the trail encompasses this much beauty, the summit will be mesmerizing, so the climb continues; stairs, stairs and more stairs.The stairs finally came to an end, the path levels out, I had reached the summit and the views were as amazing as I had predicted. The thick mountainous groves spanned out for miles towards the east, with ocean views of Tokyo Bay to the west. Two completely different vistas, equally beautiful in there own way. The natural beauty seen from the summit viewpoint makes you reflect upon your journey thus far, and appreciate the imperative role that hiking and travel has played in my self discovery. As I ventured down the mountain still mesmerized by the trail’s serenity, I came across an elderly gentleman who had also just completed the hike. He spoke decent English, we conversed about the beauty encompassed within Mount Nokogiri. He asked me about my adventures. As we boarded the train and advised me of destinations that I needed to visit on my next trip to Japan. As the train approached the gentleman’s stop he grabbed my hand, smiled and said “ less adventure, you should find a husband.” I belly laughed and responded “ Sorry, I’m already married to the mountains.” He laughed, shook his head and proceeded to leave the train. It was the perfect end to an incredible day.
Mount Nokogiri is a lush, vibrant trail that is captivating on its own. The fact that it encompasses so much history alongside with the sheer beauty of the natural environment, makes this hike a Japanese wonder- at least in my opinion. It was a perfect day. That day I gave a piece of my heart to Japan. I am elated to be heading back next year to experience it to the fullest. I want to fully embrace the culture, and the raw beauty that this amazing country has to offer. Japan is not a “pit-stop”, It’s a country that deserves the full attention and appreciation of its visitors. It’s a miraculous place. The countdown is on to my next adventure in Japan.