Tokyo’s been overcast and rainy the first few days, but yesterday was gloriously sunny. I took the opportunity to go hiking up Mount Takao, which is a popular hiking destination for the fit and healthy of Tokyo.
Reaching Mount Takao was quite easy on the Japan Rail train out of Shinjuku station. The ride took about 90 minutes and passed through Tokyo’s suburbs – a nice contrast to the more developed glass, steel and neon central part of the city.
I was quite lucky with the timing of the walk. Had I done this walk a month later, the humidity would have been unbearable. As it was, I was dripping sweat, but it wasn’t so bad. Also, although I’ve reached Japan at the tail end of the cherry blossom season, the higher up I got, the more blossoms were visible, as if at higher, cooler altitudes the blossoms have been delayed by a few weeks. There was such a profusion of colour, I can only imagine what Tokyo must have looked like at the height of the blossom season.
When walking in the countryside, the usual laws of city-anonymity fall away. In London, for example, you seldom make eye contact and rarely speak to anyone without good reason. When up at the Lake District, for example, you might greet people with a cheery, “Hello” as you walk past them. In Japan, this is no different, except it’s “Konnichiwa” – often seeming to go on forever as “Konnichiwaaaaaaaa”, accompanied by a little bow. And it’s infectious!
At one point, a walker with whom I’d Konnichiwaad advised me to take a different path to get a better view of the blossoms, and it became more and more apparent that there was an incredible amount of love of nature amongst the walkers. Some photographed flowers, others stood admiring the blossoms.
Partway up the trail, I took a break – there was a horde of schoolkids coming down the trail and I figured I’d let them get past me before carrying on. As the kids walked past, one of them looked straight at me. Her jaw dropped and her eyes widened. Totally distracted by the appearance of this red-faced, sweaty foreigner, she tripped and stumbled.
This little vignette reminded me that a noticeably absent thing in Japan’s capital is how little diversity there is. Compared to, say, London, I have seen almost no non-indigineous people, and when I did see another foreigner, I too couldn’t help but stare! My host remarked that if he were to move to the country, he would likely be received as a minor local celebrity.
At the summit, we had a break for lunch. Lunch was a box of cold Somen noodles, which looked bland but were delicious and refreshing.
Also at the summit were even more schoolkids. None of them seemed to react to us, perhaps because they were busy being entertained by their teachers. The teachers were taking group photographs of the kids at the summit. To get everyone to smile, they got them to say “Cheese” – yes: the Japanese say “Cheese” when taking photographs. So aside from love and money, the other international language is cheese.
So our walk continued, past a nice waterfall, which gave me an opportunity to test out my neutral density filter.
Following that was a descent towards Sagamiko Station to brave Tokyo’s rush hour. The descent was difficult. I always prefer climbing over descending anyway. Along the trail down were several little memorials to lost children:
I had my bicycle parked in a bicycle equivalent of a multi-storey car park. Like a UK car park, there’s a gate and ticket system, with a requirement to pay on the way out unless you’re a season ticket holder.
The infrastructure of the suburb I’m staying in currently is built more around the bike/ pedestrian than the bike/car. Aside from the main car thoroughfares, the streets are generally barely wide enough for two cars to pass. This gives the downtown suburban areas a nice cosy feel, as well as making them a lot safer. It’s quite normal to leave your bike standing as you go about your business (getting the shopping done, having dinner), and not chained to a wall with a couple of D-locks. There are so many bikes and so little fear of having your bike stolen. It’s a nice vision of where urban cycling should go.