Saturday, October 8th, 10th, and 22nd, 2016
Having so much fun “hiking” up Mt. Sanbe and Mt. Misen, I decided to try some real hiking. I would go up the little mountain that the Koriyama Castle Ruins sits on and the baby mountain that is Mt. Ozuchi. Mark was out of town so this would also be a solo hiking trip. While doing research on the trails and just hiking in general, I found out that hiking rule number one is NEVER HIKE ALONE.
But… These weren’t big hikes. I would totally stick to the trail. And I would bring my cell phone with me (a thing I am famous for not doing). Plus I would let someone know where I was going, when I was going to be there, and when I got back. Okay, I forgot to do that last thing. No one knew what I was doing , when I was doing it, or that I got back okay.
I’ll just pick up an English guide. No English guide? Well, I’ll just look at the pictures.
I got to the parking lot of the Koriyama Castle Ruins. I found a post with some guide books inside. I picked up several booklets looking for one in English. Finding none I put all the booklets back and walked to the entrance.
What are you trying to say?
At the entrance to the trail I found a “Do Not” sign under the torii. I can’t read Kanji and I had no idea what the sign said. I stood in front of the torii thinking about what the sign was trying to tell me.
I could tell, from the last line, that the sign was put here by the city of Akitakata. One of the Kanji in the second line could also be found on stop-signs. But that kanji could also mean, “don’t” or “stand”. So the sign could mean, “Don’t Enter”, “Don’t Litter”, “Don’t Leave the Trail”, or “Don’t Enter without Standing and Admiring this Awesome Torri first”.
I figured that if they didn’t want me to enter, they would have put a chain gate across the path. They would have also not had free hiking guides. If the sign was about littering, there would have been a picture of a silhouetted person next to a train can. So, maybe it said something about not leaving the trail.
I looked around for other hikers to see if the sign turned any of them away. My car was the only one in the parking lot. There were only 6 or so parking spaces. I was all alone. I turned back to get a guide booklet. Even though I couldn’t read it, the guide had lots of photos of things to see along the trail. That would at least help me know where I was.
It is kind of spooky being the only person on a hiking trail. I knew I was hiking alone, as in I brought no one with me, but I didn’t think that I would be alone on the trail, just me and the bears. I passed a cemetery which only added to the creepiness.
This must be were all the forest folk hang out.
Twenty minutes into the hike and I found some moss-covered ruins. This moss gave the area a carpeted look. It was so beautiful. I walked around taking photos without having to wait for other hikers to move out of my shot. I took this as a sign of more picturesque things to come.
Suddenly hiking alone didn’t seem like such a potentially bad idea.
I continued along the trail to head up the mountain and bumped into these two signs. I’m not sure what the second one is all about. “Snakes in this forest love teddy bears. Wild boars love ladybugs. Monkeys have clean faces. And, deer love green tea.” That sign made no sense to me on any level.
The first sign, however, was very clear. “Watch out for pit vipers.” I have been bitten by a pit viper once already. It was not in anyway fun. It was very painful and I lost my vision. For about two months I could not read or ride in a car without wanting to throw up.
I started to wonder what I would do if I got bitten by another mamushi, the type of pit viper from the sign. I’ve had several people tell me that one cannot survive a second pit viper bite. I don’t know how true that is. But then I saw this…
Another pretty thing in the forest, pushed thoughts of snake bites aside. I would just watch my steps, keeping an eye out for snakes and other wild life. I headed up the trail hoping for more great photos.
I should have just stopped near the mamushi sign. There was nothing of interest further on the trail. I spent 30 minutes climbing up to the top. The ruins of the castle on the peak were a rock here and a rock there. Plus there was no summit view. There was no clearing at the top to look out from.
I’m sure this is important somehow.
I did manage to find 2 snakes. One was very tiny. I thought it was a worm at first. It was kind of cute. The next one, I found when I was about to go off the trail to see if I could get a view of the city. I was about to step over a pile of leaves when something moved from under those leaves. Out popped a full-grown mamushi.
“Nope, nope. Nope, nope, nope!”
I headed back down the mountain watching every step with heighten vigilance. I was the only person on this mountain. There was no relying on kind hikers to find me or by snake bitten body.
This seems simple enough
Next I drove to the base of Ozuchiyama. I parked my car at, what I think is, an abandoned campsite and followed the trail. The hike to the top of Mt. Kori and back took about an hour total; it was around 11:00 in the morning when I started this new hike.
Something about this trail made me think that not too many people hike up this mountain. But as long as there was a clear trail I would climb over fallen trees and keep going further. After 30 minutes of hiking I got to the first reference point, the Takamagahara shrine.
As I came out of the forest, to start my climb to the yellow torii on the hill, I found a startle buck. I looked at him and he looked at me. I thought, “One of us should be running away from the other. I hope it’s not up to me; I’m tired.” After a few seconds of this stare down, I pulled out my camera. The deer was a little camera-shy and ran away before I could take his photo.
Many times on a hiking trail, I would come across hikers with bells tied to their bags. I found these people to be very annoying. The bells can be heard even when the hikers are far away. When hiking with a person like this 15 minutes away it can disrupt a quiet peaceful hike for hours.
But at this moment, I understood what the bells are for and I wish I had one. If I were hiking with someone I would be talking with that person. Our voices would alert us to nearby wild life who would keep away. But, hiking alone, I was too quiet.
I tried to make noise. I started talking to myself, but that felt too weird. Without thinking about it, I went from shouting to whispering within a few sentences. I started to clap. I would clap every now and then on the trail for the rest of the day.
After the shrine I followed the sign back to the trail of Mt. Ozuchi. The trail was literally a long mound of dirt that had trail markers and pink ribbons to show the way. I walked for about 20 minutes on the mound trail when I found the next reference point, the turn near a water shed.
You can’t really see what type of water shed it is. There is just a sign for the trail pointing left, a bend in the mound of dirt I was following, and a tiny sign on the ground with the Kanji for water on it.
I kept on keeping on. This time, I had to walk next to the mound instead of on it. There were trees growing on the mound, but there was a somewhat clear path next to it.
Well, there was, until there wasn’t.
There was no easily seen trail anymore. I only knew I was still on the path when I found markers, like the one in the photo above or a tree with a pink ribbon around it. When I had gone about 5 minutes without seeing a marker I looked around for one. I felt like I was just walking aimlessly in the woods. It was too easy for me to leave the trail and not realize it at this point. I headed back to my car. I would come back when I found a better trail to the top of this mountain.
That night I found a new trail. There was a blogging hiker who made a drawing of the trail. From the drawing I learned that not only was there another way up the mountain, but I could drive to the hill-top shrine. It was a 3-day weekend, so I spent Sunday resting up and tried the hike again on Monday.
That Monday, I parked my car near where the smaller car on the drawing is placed and tried once again to get to the summit.
The trail was fine for walking. Most of it was black top that had been reclaimed by the forest. Everything was going well until I came to a fork in the road. “Which way should I go?” The drawn map didn’t mention anything about trail options. It looked like there was only one path to the top.
I picked the way that looked less jungly. I happily walked up the mountain contented that I had made the right decision. Then it happened again; another fork. I chose one at random then made an arrow in the ground with my foot to mark where I had come from. I continued my hike until the trail just ended into untamed forest.
I turned around and walked back looking for the dirt arrow on the ground. Then I went on the other path. It too didn’t go anywhere. I found my arrow again and went back down to the first fork then up the other path.
This time the way looked promising. The trail even opened up a bit like it was expecting lots of hikers to come this way. It zigged and zagged like one would expect a mountain trail to. I looked at my watch; I had been hiking for about 2 hours and at least one hour on this specific trail. Surely, I was near the top.
I came to another disheartening fork. I had to choose which way to go. I looked at both my options. Then I saw something familiar. “Damn it! Is that my dirt arrow?”
I was defeated for the day. I did not want to keep going in circles. I would try again, but I would take Mark with me. That way, if I died lost in the forest, I wouldn’t die alone.
So that the day wouldn’t be a total loss, I when back to the Takamagahara shrine and ate my lunch. As I sat there eating what was supposed to be my celebratory apple, I noticed that I could see the tower at the top of the mountain I could not find.
Twelve days later on a foggy Saturday Mark and I set out for the summit of this stupid frustrating mountain. We drove to the bottom of the hill the shrine sits on and climb to the top. It was a 5 minute hike and at the top, Mark took out his apple and was about to bite into it.
“Stop! What are you doing?”
“I’m eating my celebratory apple.”
“But you haven’t done anything.”
“We’re here, right?”
I turn around and pointed to the tower on the top of Mt. Ozuchi. “That’s where we’re going.”
Mark was not happy.
I took Mark to where I had lost the trail the first time. I also brought with me a picture by picture view of the trail posted online by some Japanese blogging hikers.
With two people looking out for trail markers we easily stayed on the trail. The pictures help a great deal because there are times when the trail doesn’t look like a trail at all.
There is a section where the trail is right next to a fence giving hikers very little space to move. I would have thought that I lost the trail, but according to the Japanese hiking bloggers that’s the way to go.
There were a couple times when the thought of turning around danced in my head. But that started about 1.5 hours into the hike. I also knew that there was another way to get from the summit back to our car. So, overall, pressing forward was the better alternative to turning back.
We kept on the path looking out for a faded sign pointing the way to Buddha rock, a monolith in the forest erected for some reason. When we found the sign it ambiguously pointed to a clearing off the trail. The sign looked like it had been there for a long time. Who knows if it was even still pointing to its intended direction? But we knew we were on the right trail and that the path to Buddha Rock was somewhere to the left.
We went left and couldn’t find a thing. There was no path. Mark thought he saw a monolith and ran down to check it out, but it was just some other huge rock.
I walked around until I found a tree with a pink ribbon. “Hey Mark, I found something!” The pink ribbon led to another pink ribbon and another that led to a rope. I held on to the rope and climbed down the step path.
From Buddha Rock it looks like you are in the middle of thick forest. There is no evidence of any hiking trails or civilization near by. If you stand still and are absolutely quiet, you can hear nothing but the faint forest noises. It’s very creepy.
“Do you think there are any Totoros around, Mark?”
“No. I think they only live in forests in Miyazaki Prefecture.”
It’s that fog that turns people inside-out
Once back on the trail, the tower was only 10 minutes away. We found it and walked past it. The trail picks up on the other side of the tower. We started to walk along the black top road near the tower, when I noticed the bloggers in the photos were not on a paved road. We went back to the tower and walked along its fence to get back on the trail.
We found Kuguriiwa, Passable Stones. Supposedly, even though the gap is very tiny, a full-grown human should be able to fit in the passage. My 5’9″ frame could not. But, the hiking bloggers could.
Then Mark tried his hand at Nariiwa, Sounding Stone. Nariiwa is the stone caught in a gap. It is said that if you can move it and get the stone to make a noise in so doing, you will have happiness. Mark tried with no luck. But, Mark seemed pretty happy just trying.
The top of Kuguriiwa was the highest point on our hike, so we sat down and ate our celebratory apples. Then is started to rain, so we got down and looked for the other trail down the mountain.
This is where it would have helped if I could read Japanese. There is a written explanation on how to find the other trail down Mt. Ozuchi given by the hiking bloggers, but no pictures. There was a sign, but we could not find that particular sign.
Mark was so convinced that the black top road we almost took earlier was the way down, I just followed him. I didn’t think it was right, but he was so sure, I second guessed myself. Besides, walking on black top is so much easier than walking on the obstacle filled path. That’s when we found the Bear.
On our walk down the mountain we spotted a blue truck. Then we found a man working in a machine moving giant mounds of dirt around. We were going to just walk pass him with a simple, “Kanichiwa!” But, he seemed so surprised to see us.
He stopped us and asked us where we had come from. “Ozuchiyama,” I told him. He still acted like we had just materialized right before his eyes. I pointed down the road we were on and asked, “Takamagahara?” I wanted to know for sure if this road would take us to the shrine near where we parked our car.
He had never heard of it. I showed him my map and then the pictures of the blogging hikers. He kept shaking his head. “Oh well,” I thought. I told Mark that we should just keep heading down the mountain and hope for the best. Surely, this road would lead to our car eventually.
The man would not let us go though. He got out of his dirt-mover and started his blue truck. He called for us to join him inside. We didn’t want to bother him or waste his time. A part of us wanted to tell him, “It’s okay. We’ll figure it out.” But, it was cold and rainy and we were very tired from all that hiking.
He drove us down the mountain partway. Then we stopped and changed vehicles. We drove the rest of the way in a black kei-car. The drive down the mountain was long and arduous. I don’t think Mark and I would have made it off the mountain by nightfall if we had kept walking.
The road dumped us out at some random place in town that I did not recognize. We hit a main road that looked sort of familiar. Then we passed a turn that I thought was the way we took to drive to the shrine, but I was not sure.
The man took us to a lady’s house. She had an i-Pad and looked up this shrine we told the man about. She had never heard of it either. Sure enough, there was a shrine called Takamagahara up in the mountain. “Well, I’ll be!” the man said in Japanese. He spent another 10 minutes looking for a road to get us to our car.
“He is a kind man,” the lady told me. “He is,” I agreed. “Do you know his name?” She asked me.
“No. I don’t know.”
She told me his name and she added “Kumoyama”. She switched to English. “Nickname… Mountain Bear.” She smiled and put her hands up curling her fingers imitating a bear. She laughed, “Nice Bear.”
After driving around some more, we came to a place I recognized. I gave the Mountain Bear directions and he took us to our car. Mark and I were very lucky to find this Bear on the mountain.
How to get there:
You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.
Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.
- Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan. Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
- International ATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask what ATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
- ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
- The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
- You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)
Koriyama Castle Ruins
(Yoshida Kōriyama Jōato)
How to get there:
- Coordinates 34°40’24.9″N 132°42’34.3″E
- 〒731-0501 広島県安芸高田市吉田町吉田郡山
- 9:00 – 17:00
- Closed Monday
- There are free guide maps available in the little hut. (Picture to the right.) The information is all in Japanese, but it comes with pictures of stuff to look out for.
How to get there:
- Coordinates 34°38’31.6″N 132°46’07.2″E
- 〒739-1102, Kodacho Kamiobara, Akitakata, Hiroshima Prefecture 739-1102
- Gods are said to descend from heaven to this place.
How to get there:
- Campsite parking 34°38’31.9″N 132°45’41.0″E
- Parking near the Shrine 34°38’31.6″N 132°46’07.2″E
- 24 Hours
- Can, but shouldn’t hiking here at night.
- I rate this hiking 3 out of 10. I don’t recommend this hiking.