Hiking Oku-Nikko

Hiking Oku-Nikko
Nikko, Japan

Nikko, Japan

Yesterday, the rain. Today, sun. It was perfect. We had all agreed to get going early so Scout could drop us all off in time for Vera to catch a train at 9.27 and Sandy and I a bus up the mountain at 9.35. He thought my plan of heading out for a run at 7 so as to be back for breakfast at 8 a little optimistic, but I set off at a little before 7, aiming for a mile jog, 6 tempo and then a mile at the end.

Ryuzu Falls, a cascading fall down rocky 'steps'
Ryuzu Falls.

The sun toyed with me and then popped out after a couple of miles. On an out and back, heading up to start and down for the second half, that might have made it hot, but in the hills it was a lovely temperature. And after yesterday it was a bonus. My calf was very stiff to start with and I was glad not to be racing, but that’s the idea of a warm up – when I pushed, a mile in, everything worked. I ran round the other side of the shrine that marks the 4.2k spot, just so I’d circumnavigated it, and headed further up into the hills. I realised I’d have to turn after 30minutes if I was going to get an hour in, because of the downhill, and kept adding 100m until I hit 4.5 miles. Great – a 9 miler and, though I didn’t realise it till mile 6 clocked up, 7 miles at tempo effort. I was still thinking in would be 6, forgetting my added half mile before the turn. I ended up running for a bit over a minute more than yesterday for a mile more.

Sun-dappled trees line the river
Route follows the Yu Kawa River.
Japanese signs; be careful of wildlife. "Here is wildlife habitat"
Bears will look at you like this and be this big.

I was back at 7:58, and went straight to the river, in up to my waist, for a cool down and because not getting in at least once would seem a waste. Breakfast was fabulous again, and we just made the train, with just a few minutes before the bus. That took us up the winding mountain road to Ryuzu Falls, from where there were a multitude of potential hiking routes. Sandy fancied soloing her walk so she went in search of batteries to give me a head start. Scout had talked about wildlife encounters – he has seen a poisonous snake, and warned that monkeys near roads tend to be used to stealing food from cars and are a bit more aggressive, but apart from that, if we spotted a bear, make sure we mark where on the map so he can go looking. Most important, that part. The signs were slightly off-putting, pointing out the size of bears. Saves you getting confused by a particularly fluffy bee or something. Slightly more worrying were the instructions; “make noise to avoid surprise encounters”. I soon realised (clever, me) that the Japanese walkers were jangling down the paths, their I’m-coming-bear-and-boar bells banging out a rhythm.

Two signs: Foot bath, and 1,487m above the sea.
Public foot bath, come on in.

The surroundings were glorious. “Do you know about Ramsar convention?” Well, allow me to enlighten you; “an intergovernmental treaty.., we, Japan (so that’s where I am) have 33 wetlands designated for inclusion…it is our ethical responsibility to keep it healthy.” So it’s not shit. I started through woodland, past the waterfalls. The path yesterday was “just water” and Vera reckoned she only saw four people, achieving the goal of solitude away from Tokyo. As the sun spread through the trees, though, today was a bit busier, and my day was brightened by the sing-song “arigato” (thank you) and konichiwas of a group of smiling women who hurried to get through the gap I’d left for them before I found some sign language that worked for “don’t rush”. Day made. The trails were busy, and I got to practice sounding off my own konichi-waaaa. Dominic and I had remarked on that being our one word and how no one seemed to use it, but here I was sated.

A lone deer pauses, startled, by the waterside
Oh deer.

Arriving at Shakunage-bashi bride I decided to take a detour via Odashirogahara and veered away from the river, passing through grassy woodlands. Near to what I assumed would be a settlement, perhaps a spot for an early lunch, I caught a group of four, last man jack calling his wife to move her out of the way. My “it’s okay” got him talking – he joked about there being no mountains in England while here we were looking at Mts Toyama (2204m) and Shirane (2577.6m, it says here). He spent a month in England, including Snowdonia, and his son was at Cambridge. Best, though, he’d asked where I was from, I thought I’d said “London, England” already, so when he said “what is the name of your town” I went for more detail and gave him “Ware”, at which point we pulled off a neat ‘who’s on first’ skit. Next stop Vegas for us two.

Looking out over water to two mountains, one behind the other, under heavy cloud cover
Mount Mitsudake left, Mount Nantai right.

Rounding Odashirogahara plateau I rejoined the river course and found lunch near Yutaki falls. A small cafe, with sign language they pointed out the machine where I paid and chose, though to my disappointment the food didn’t drop out of the bottom, instead I gave the ticket to the staff and they called my number. They also have a shop of delicacies, such as the nicely explained more-cheese-than-cake: “It’s the delicious cheesecake made from the Camembert of rich flavour”. From there it’s a climb up the “steep stairs!” and a circuit of lake Yunoku to Yumoto, where there are hotels, hot springs and a slight air of decay. Oh, and the stink of rotten eggs, you can see clouds of vapour coming off the springs in a few places. Course, I missed the steep stairs the first time and did a little extra loop of Yutaki falls, but that wasn’t a disaster.

My feet in the hot spring
Hot footing it.

I eschewed the springs, but was drawn in by the public foot baths, great after a longish walk, and sat with toasting feet with a podcast in my ears before hopping on bus and train back to the hostel.

Brilliant. Reading, no. Podcasts, though. Running: 1:03:25, 14.49km, 8:56, 7:10, 7:06, 6:52, 6:42, 6:14, 6:29, 6:29, 7:16.

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