11 August 2010
When we woke up in the morning the only sign of the typhoon was our waterlogged hiking gear. The fly was soaked; our clothing was soaked; our boots were soaked. But we were only an hour's walk from an onsen (hot spring) so we were pretty happy.
I've talked about onsen experiences before so I won't go into too much detail. My favourite part isn't actually sitting in the onsen - it's washing myself before and afterward. I like the whole process of getting clean before getting into the onsen and then doing it again afterwards. It's more relaxing for me than lounging in the pools. Probably because I can't tolerate the heat of the pools for too long. The water that you wash yourself with is from the pools but you're not immersed in it so you don't notice how hot it actually is.
We spent about an hour in the onsen before heading to Takayama. We spent about 3 hours in Takayama eating and shopping for Aimee's sister (she bought her a nice ceramic mug). We ate, in no particular order: frozen pineapple slices, Hida beef stew, sukiyaki (a soup from which you take vegetables/meat and dip them into raw egg before you eat them), ice cream and Hida beef skewers. We were really excited to have some more owara tamaten but the vendor was closed.
The city was crawling with tourists and it was very hot so we didn't hang out much longer after we were full. On our way to the train station we did have to stop so I could get a picture of these:
They're ocarinas! You know, from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time? I thought they were just something invented for the video game. Apparently they're Italian. They're also very, very expensive (which is why I'm not running around with one, stopping periodically to summon my horse. Anyone...?).
Final Thoughts on Hiking in Japan
We were both really impressed with the beauty of the North Japan Alps but we had a lot of mixed feelings about the trip. One thing that bothered us was the amount of people. The trails were crawling with people almost everywhere we went. Back home we never ran into people - ever. Most of the places we hiked back home weren't national parks though. They also weren't in a country with as many people as Japan has. And while the number of people did irritate us at times, it was great to see so many people outside enjoying the outdoors. Japan has incredible natural areas and while a lot of people use them, as a percentage of the population hikers aren't a large group. The only way parks like this will continue to be protected (and created) is if people use them. Which brings me to our next mixed feeling: the huts.
It was a lot easier to accept the large number of people than it was to accept all of the huts along the way. The huts ranged from nothing more than large one-room sleeping areas to all-inclusive resorts in Kamikochi. Neither of us felt they were necessary - especially the resorts. To build these places, maintain them, and keep them stocked requires a fleet of helicopters. And for what? So people can have a shower, drink cold beer or sake, watch television, and even use the internet. It's an incredible waste of energy and resources. However, these huts bring in different kinds of people (read: People. With. Money.) and if more people (With. Money.) come then these places, and others like them, continue to be created and preserved. And even though thousands of people pass through these parks every year and these extravagant and wasteful huts/resorts are built, the area is still very pristine. I don't think it's asking too much for people to hike the way we hike, but maybe I'm wrong.