After my first hike out to Lake Okutama, I’ve been a little anxious to get back out into the areas of Japan relatively untouched by human development. However, most of the week following that trip was spent touring around the Tokyo/Yokohama area. Talk about an urban jungle! Needless to say, it’s pretty refreshing to be able to hop on a train and within an hour be in the dense Japanese wilderness. I’d been searching through different websites, trying to find some interesting hikes that aren’t as congested with people as the more popular sites in the area. I came across this obscure website talking about the beauty of the trail connecting the towns of Kori, Hatonosu and Shiromaru. However, whoever had written the little blog about this trail didn’t seem to have a strong grasp on the English language, so it was a tad difficult to determine how to actually get to the trail or if it even existed. A picture with a curvy red line connecting two dots was masquerading as a map, yet no other reference points were visible. I tried to find other pages with information about the trail, but to my knowledge, none existed. It didn’t help that I had no idea what the name of it was. The only thing I had to go off was a rough English blurb promising a great adventure. So, what the hell?, I thought. Armed with a gallon of water, a sesame seed bagel, some White Cheddar Cheez-Its and Jaime’s camera at my hip, I caught the JR Ome train and set off on what I hoped would be a worthwhile journey.
The train ride did wonders for my confidence level as swarms of hikers piled on and headed in the same direction I was. However, that quickly evaporated as the train pulled into the Kori station and I was the only person to get off- really, out of hundreds of people on the train, I was the ONLY person to step out of the doors. Outside of the station I came across a large map of the area. Normally, maps can be quite helpful. This one, not so much. Everything was in Japanese and I wasn’t able to make out any landmarks or even where I was on the map. Eventually, I settled for a random guess of where I was and where I wanted to go and set off in what I hoped was the correct direction (although I had no idea what that was). After about 15 minutes of walking through Kori, I came across a little wooden arrow with the words “Ootama path” painted on it. Figuring that this would at least take me somewhere, I followed the arrows and wound up on a huge bridge overlooking the Tamagawa River as it lazily drifted through the valley below. The trail took me down to water level and then followed the Tama upriver. Around the first major bend in the trail, I was delighted to see a couple of waterfalls cascading down from the rocks above. Looking for a different perspective, I decided to scramble down the 20 or so feet from the trail to the pools the falls were emptying into. Actually, with my first step off of the trail, my foot slipped and I slid on my butt all the way down. Brushing myself off and checking to make sure no one was around to point and laugh, I went about my business of snapping a few photos and then continued on my way. The trail seemed fairly easy. Occasionally, patches of bright orange and yellow wildflowers would spring up alongside me, accompanied by the soothing yet slightly uncomfortable sound of bees buzzing around. As the hike progressed, the trail became a little rougher. Old trees stretched their roots across the dirt in front of me, providing excellent opportunities for sprained ankles and perhaps serving as a warning for what was to come. I ignored their efforts to get me to turn back and pressed on. The trail immediately started to climb up and away from the river. Pretty soon, I was almost hitting my nose with my knees as I scaled the steep, rough steps that seemed to have no end. One thing about following a trail description from someone who doesn’t speak English very well is that you miss out on a lot of the important details, as in the one for this trail that should have read “If you ever get to the top, you’ll want to die, that is, if your legs haven’t given out already and sent you tumbling back down to the river below.” I probably would have listened and found an alternative route. I passed old, traditional dwellings and felt sorry for the people who had to make this trip on a normal basis. Actually, on second thought, I don’t feel bad for them. If they are still living there and putting themselves through that every day, they deserve it! After a good 45 minute ascent, I reached the top, marked by a covered rest area. As I stepped into the little wooden structure, I was greeted with breathtaking views of the valley below. The mountain town of Hatonosu sat nestled between the cliffs overlooking the Tama and the foothills of the mountains behind. The town seamlessly fit into the little valley. As I sat catching my breath and trying to replenish some of the 15 or so pounds of water I lost climbing to that point, I was glad the trail’s description hadn’t mentioned the difficulty level. I could have avoided the climb, but I also would have missed out on the gorgeous image that I was lucky enough to discover.
I made my way down into Hatonosu, crossing the Hatonosu-kobashi Bridge before entering town. I had seen pictures of the views offered by this bridge in multiple guidebooks, yet none gave any directions on how to find it. I’d almost given up hope of standing on the bridge, and I was fortunate enough to find it. The trees provided a perfect frame for the oversized boulders that seemed to have been strategically dropped into the river below. White-water rapids swelled around the jagged rocks, giving way to deep, blue pools below. To be honest, I was pretty ecstatic to have seen this!
At this point, something must be said about the Japanese style of marking trails. Out in the forest, one can’t go more that half a kilometer without seeing a sign pointing in the correct direction. There are signs posted at corners, where there’s only one direction to go aside from the 20 foot high embankment in the opposite direction. While I appreciate the thoroughness, I would ask for the system to be carried throughout the entire length of the trail. When I got into the various towns the trail supposedly passed through, all signs seemed to vanish. Not so helpful when you’re faced with multiple different roads leading in any number of incorrect directions. However, with a little common sense and even more luck, I managed to navigate the winding town roads of Hatonosu and come back out on the trail.
The last section, from Hatonosu to Shiromaru, seemed much more popular. Japanese men with 20 foot long fishing poles sat along the riverbanks, silently waiting for their next bite. I guess this is a form of fly fishing, because these poles don’t have any reels on them. I tried to catch a glimpse of one of the guys fighting to bring a fish in, but nothing happened while I was watching. The fishermen weren’t the only people out taking in the beauty of the valley. Groups of people were seated all along the banks, sketching or painting scenes of Mother Nature’s beauty.
The river was plugged up by Siromardam, creating Siromaru Lake behind it. Similar to lake Okutama, the water was a turqouis-blue and full of fish. I wandered along the lake and made my way up into the town of Shiromaru. Finding my way to the train station, I was exhausted but very pleased with the journey!