Just Throw Yourself Off
Posted by Heliocentrism on September 11, 2016
August 24 – 26, 2016
Summer was coming to an end. Mark and I had a little over a week between us and the first day back to work. Since we had spent most of the summer at Hamada Beach, we decided to try something new. We went to a gorge.
The Sandankyo Gorge area is a long labyrinth of ponds, streams, and waterfalls. None of which, it seems, you can swim in. There is one long trail that goes through the whole thing, but many offshoots that lead to hidden water falls, springs, and smaller gorges.
On our first day at Sandankyo, Mark and I headed along a trail after setting up our tent at the Ecology Campsite. There was a 20-minute drive between the campsite and this particular trail.
After parking the car, we stood at the start of the trail. We had the choice of going left or right. There were signs on both sides, but there was no English writing. We chose to go right because that side had more signs. That could either mean there were more things to see on the right, or there were more things to watch out for.
The hike itself was not too bad. There was a lot of uphill parts but they were spaced out between many non-uphill stretches. The weather was really nice too. Being the last week of summer vacation, the air was cool and breezy.
The thing that made this trail miserable was the bugs. These weren’t the type of insects content with flying swirls above your head out of view. These creatures wanted to get into facial cavities. Within the first five minutes on the trail, two flies had kamikazeed themselves into my eyes and one tried to take refuge up my nostril.
I waved my hands in front of my face like a lunatic to blow the friends of the fallen away. When the area around my face was clear I put my hands down. Within seconds, more winged bugs approached me. I picked up the biggest leaves I could find and fashioned myself a fan. My face stayed bug free as long as I kept fanning.
Twenty minutes into the hike we came to a sign. The writing, in Japanese, was faded, but it had a picture of what would be at the end of the trail. “We’re almost there!” Mark shouted and ran up the path. I stopped fanning myself to shout back, “This better be worth it,” as I swallowed 2 bugs.
Ten minutes later we came to a pool area in the stream. There were two boats docked and tied up. There was a sign with the schedule time of 10:00 – 15:30. It was almost 17:00. We were too late. There was another sign completely in English that assured us that boat rides would be available every day from 10:00 – 15:30 between July and late August.
I sat on the bench near the boat feeling disappointed. There was a paper fan on the stand nearby and it made its way into my hands. It was far more effective at keeping bugs away from me than the leaves I had picked. I contemplated taking it for my walk back to the car, but decided not to when I thought about the poor boat guy with bugs flying around his face.
Back at the campsite we showered and had dinner. We planned out our next day and I made sure to bring a hand fan with me.
Thursday August 25, 2016
The next day we had breakfast and drove back to the trail. We wanted to get to the boat by 10:00. The hand fan made my hike so much easier. Mark didn’t have a fan. He tried swatting flies away with his baseball cap.
When we reached the boat, there was no one there. There was no boat guy fanning himself as he waited for hikers. There was no line of hikers waiting to be let on the boat. It was 10:15. It was not too early. Since both of the boats we saw previously were still there, we knew we had not missed the first boat ride.
Disappointed we headed back. This time, Mark took the paper fan. Annoyed by all the pointless hiking, Mark angrily fanned the bugs away from his face as he headed back down the trail. I followed with a steady stream of complaints.
When we got back to the start of the trail we found a guy in uniform. We asked him about the boat. “Saturday and Sunday only,” he said in Japanese. Then he pointed to a sign. Sure enough, the sign said something about Saturday and Sunday, but that’s all I could read.
He recommended some other trail back where we had just come from. After an hour’s walk we would see something amazing. “Most beautiful in all Japan!” the uniformed man told us in English, emphasizing each word.
It was tempting. We looked up the trail we had walked twice before with no luck. “One hour,” I said. “We would probably miss a sign and take the wrong path,” Mark added. “It’s almost lunch time,” I stated. We walked back to our car.
We went back to the campsite for lunch. We grilled our meal then played a few rounds of a new board game Mark brought back from Korea.
Around 3 o’clock we went to the main gate of our campsite and checked in for a zip line course. The cost of the zip line course is 3,500 yen per person. But, if you are staying at the campsite you get an 800 yen discount. The cost for staying at the campsite, if you bring your own tent, is 800 per night per tent during the weekday. So, for us it was like the zip line came with two nights of free camping.
The zip line was fun and horrible at the same time. I am afraid of heights. It seems like a sin against nature to just walk off a perfectly good platform that is not even on fire or anything. The instructor, “Dr. Koto”, took us through all the do’s and don’ts and showed us how to do a few tricks.
After each jump we were to get more and more daring. The first jump we were to hold on to the handle of the zip line with both hands and try not to get turned around once we reached the other end.
On the platform I wasn’t too high up. I could probably fall off and only end up with bruises. But the height increased drastically further down the line. I was to go first. I stood as close to the edge of the platform I could make myself go and tried not to look down. The instructor tugged on my belt to pull me closer to the edge.
My toes hung off the side of the platform. “This is safe, right?” I asked Dr. Koto. “Okay,” he replied. I paused wondering if he really understood what I asked him. I was about to ask one more time to make sure, when he and Mark started my count down. “3,” they shouted cheerfully. “2,” they both screamed in joy. “1,” they enthusiastically bellowed. “Go!” I looked at Dr. Koto and he mimed jumping off the platform. I leaned slightly over the side and pulled my legs up.
“AAAHHHhhhhhhhhh! I’m flying!”
I looked back at the platform. Mark and Dr. Koto were waving their hands and cheering me on. I turned back to the direction I was going. I was speeding to the landing ramp. I pulled my legs up in anticipation for landing. My legs hit the ramp and stopped. The rest of me kept going. For a split second I lay face down on the ramp with wood chips in my hair, clothes, and shoes. Then the pulley of my zip-line tapped the end of the line and yanked my back. I hung from the line helplessly watching my landing ramp get smaller. Then I stopped, in the middle of the zip-line and out of reach.
I dangled in the air, waiting for Mark to come get me. He had to get a long orange pole that could be hooked on my foot. He would pull me to the ramp so I could get off.
Then Mark went next with Dr. Koto behind him. None of them had problems landing. Dr. Koto ran up the ramp and jumped to a stop like he had done this a million times already.
The next jump, I was supposed to hold on with just one hand. With my free hand I was to try to pick a leaf from the surrounding trees. I did not. I held on with both hands. My landing was only slightly better. I still landed flat on my face, but this time I did not bounce back. I unhooked myself and called for the others to zip over.
Of course, Mark managed to pick his leaf then executed a perfect landing. Dr. Koto had a bouquet of leaves and did a very showboaty landing.
The next jump I was to let go both hands and stick them out like needed them for flying. I did let go for a second. Then I held on again. Then I let go for 2 seconds. Then, feeling a little braver, I stuck my arms out all the way and screamed. The boys were cheering for me. As the landing ramp approached I stuck my legs out and came to a sudden halt.
“Hey, I didn’t fall!” I heard screams and whistles from across the zip line.
The other jumps involved spins and flips and other things I didn’t want to try. I focused on landing. Sometimes I landed correctly, other times I landed flat on my face.
The last jump was to be the Superman jump. Mark and Dr. Koto took off their belts and put them on backwards. Mark was to fly through the air on his belly, like Superman. He pulled off the stunt flawlessly and landed with a little jump.
When we were done we took a few photos and returned the equipment. I was happy to be back on the ground again.
We drove to another part of the trail and walked until we were tired. We passed a few hikers going in the opposite direction, but there was hardly anyone on the trail. The path can be very narrow at some spots and sometimes there is a shear drop on one side. Hikers should always watch their steps on these paths.
So I was quite taken aback when I saw not one, but two scooters heading towards me. There was one person on the first, and three people on the second. There was nowhere for Mark or me to move to so we leaned hard to the mountain side flattening our bodies on some trees, letting the scooters balance their way on the cliff side. We watched them turn the bend, a little wobbly and wondered if they would make it to safety. “Surely there must be better places to go on a scooter ride.”
That night after dinner, we wanted to look at the stars. We had suspected that the two of us were the only people at the campsite. So, we moved around the site looking for an area with no light. There was none.
We found a spot with the least amount of light and laid on our back staring up into the heavens. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Even with some light pollution, we could see more stars that either of us had seen in a long time.
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.
- Emergency Numbers:
- Police 110
- Ambulance and Fire 119
- Important phone numbers to know while in Japan
- Comfort Woman
- The Commoner
- Empire of the Sun
- Flyboys: A True Story of Courage
- Geisha, a Life
- Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission
- The Last Concubine
- Memoirs of a Geisha
- Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath
- Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
- 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.)
- Coordinates 34°36’00.1″N 132°12’28.7″E
- Hiroshima Prefecture 731-3813, Yamagata gun, Akiota cho, Yokogawa, Sandankyo
- Free Entrance
- 400 Yen/ day at some spots
- Free at others
- 500 Yen Adults
- 300 Yen Kids
- A lot of the boat rides are only open in the weekends and holidays between 10:00 – 15:00.
- The area is never closed, but you should never go after sunset. There are many sudden cliffs.
- Be very careful when driving here in the winter.
Osorakan Ecology Campsite
(Osorakan Ecology Campu)
- Coordinates 34°36’03.6″N 132°08’33.8″E
- Yokogou, Akiota, Yamagata District, Hiroshima Prefecture 731-3801
- 〒731-3801 広島県山県郡安芸太田町横川
- Late April – Mid November
- Check-in 14:00 to 19:00
- Check out 13:00
- There are many things to do on the campgrounds.
- You get a discount at the zip-line when you stay at the campsite.