Sunday, September 25, 2016

even farther than beyond! (2 of 8)

more un(t)raveling around Tokyo

 after a short (and wet) night, morning Wallis on the crest trail up to Mont Tonodake.
For those of you who want to practice some Spanish and learn about our arrival and first days in Japan, magnificently hosted in Tokyo by our friend Hiro-san, you can follow this link. For the others, here are some actual, non-fictional, real-life, "everyday" stories (as usual). And for those who randomly clicked their way here, but quite don't know how - and didn't really want to hear about us at all in the first place, welcome, feel free to read on as much as you wish, go back to the beginning of this adventure, to the beginning of the whole thing, or at least check the pics!

This being said, we can start right where we left it in the previous episode: with some of our stuff stored at Hiro-san's and two light-ish backpacks, we went on a circular adventure around Tokyo. With a local train of the Sagami line, we first headed to Shibusawa then went until the end of a tiny local bus line, to a nice little village in the middle of nowhere at the foot of the Tanzawa mountain range. We wanted to get to the Tonodake and Tanzawa summits, both holy, both the goal of ancient Shinto pilgrimages and both renowned for their stunning views on Fuji-san. Concerned by the heat, we decided to take a nap, rest the whole afternoon and evening under the shade of some trees by a river, and wait until the night to do the 5-hour hike up. In this narrow time window of farniente, Futuna finally decided it was time for him to get rid of his hair and beard : people in South Korea and Japan kept staring at him as though they'd just seen a devil or an absolute freak wandering wild and threatening their organized, neat everyday routines... On the subway, along the road, at the convenience stores : everywhere we went, they'd look at him awkwardly with a mixture of fear and disregard. Sometimes though, "a man has to do what a man has to do" (as John Rambo once said), and so we did. Below are the evidence, the from-before-to-after-all-through process and the result shown in colour pictures:

Futuna before (old boy-looking scary freak), during, during, during, during and... after the ritual shearing ceremony (no poodle was hurt) !

Yeah! That felt much better (and much lighter!) without the fluffy being we philornithically donated for the birds to insulate their nests before winter. Bio-construction knows no borders! Our initial idea was to hike at night all the way up to the mountain refuge below the summit, set a bivouac up there and wake up early to go see the sunrise on Fuji-san from the top... The evening passed slowly and as the light started to fade, we had a warm dinner of instant noodles and miso soup. We took the backpacks, took the headlamps and took the clear trail up the woods. With the night came some fresh breeze and many animal sounds responding to one another in the darkness of the forest. The moon followed us high up, sailing silently through the trees and making the halos of the headlamps barely unnecessary.

"how to deal with your leech issues: a guide for functional analphabets".
We met a late bird classic seagull coming back to the village in sneakers and shorts, with no lamp but a small (empty) bottle of water... Thanks to a successful advocacy campaign, we now knew enough about the deadly vampire-toothed leeches waiting for us at each and every step not to fell in their trap. And - although very graphically - also knew how to deal with those who'd make it to our legs anyway. On we went. We walked fast and soon passed two refuges with people having dinner and listening to the radio inside. Headlamps off, trying not be spotted nor heard - as though they were to force us in for a warm soup and tea! As we progressively lost both the additional supply of the moon and the shelter of the trees, we started to realize the weather had changed the wrong way : the low gray clouds started to rain on us as we got off the forest and along a ridge leading to a third refuge. The intended bivouac was becoming increasingly unlikely... Under a thin and cold rain, we set shelter between/under two wooden picnic tables we paired on the terrace in front of the (closed and tight-locked) refuge. The night was long, windy, wet and sleepless, but the sun woke us up nicely and we decided to go straight up to the summit of Tonodake to enjoy the views and have our breakfast facing gorgeous Fuji-san in the magnificent beauty of dawn's light... When we reached the summit, we found another refuge at the very top, whose staff were drilling and screwing a wooden porch like crazy before the weekend's crowds arrived. And, as for the impressive and harmonious figure of the emblematic volcano, well, this:

hiking long hours, unsleeping under the rain, checking the horizon, searching Fuji-san: can you spot it on the second picture?
Our breakfast was nice enough anyway, and as the first couple of early hikers arrived, we decided it was time to go back down and enjoy another train ride beach-bound: urged by the need for a shower and lured by the image of a midday swim in the sea, we took the backpacks and left. The trail looked somehow different with daylight: the kilometers of fully-equipped wooden platforms, stairs and footbridges now seemed even less necessary than the night before! Not much to fear from the terrain, not much to protect us from - except, maybe, the herds of vampire-toothed leeches hidden in the moist soil. On our way down, we crossed many (like very very many!) local hikers going up, sweating their a--es off along the steep steps, but shining in bright clothes and brand-new gear. Most of them were looking at us with a mixture of pity (for our ridiculously heavy loads), surprise (to be meeting gaijins there) and some sort of... annoyance? bitterness? jealousy? over-heat? A little bit of each, probably. Let's call it the seagull's complaint.

the long way down (and up) along the anti-leech footbridge across the woods...
Their incredulous looks meant something we understood like "how come these gaijins with such miserable outfits and such big backpacks are already hiking their way down at such an early hour of the day, while we locals are hardly in the first half of the hike?" The feeling they transmitted was like: "How dare you?", but a very educated and polite "how dare you?", disguised with just a little bit too much smiling and hand-waving. Nothing a big ear-to-ear gaijin smile and a solemn "ohaiou-gozaimassss", with an excessively long sssss, couldn't solve. Down we went, passed the two refuges and a spring we had missed in the dark just fifteen hours earlier or so. We got back to the trail head and were lucky not to require the saltbox. We took some time for an instant coffee with milk and a nap with an old cat before getting on the bus back to the station, then on a series of local trains to Kamakura: a fancy, famous, touristy (and quite posh) beach town. For our Fwench readers (and maybe the Britons as well), Kamakura is some kind of Tokyo's Deauville, cabins included but with no international movie festival (yet). The Belgians and other Brel-ists could also use a sensible comparison with Knokke-le-Zoute, mainly for the invasive seaweed and crowded lines of cabins. Kamakura, we learnt, was also quite famous for its big big buddha: allegedly the biggest sitting Buddha in Japan. As most of you probably know already, each and every Buddha in any country is the something-est Buddha in a certain amount of space. If we had a Buddha in the garden, we sure enough could state it were "the lamest Buddha in the whole Ariège", or "the lightest wooden Buddha of all cities beginning with a T." - just to name two of the many titles available. Anyway... In Kamakura, we intended to see some temples, the beautiful botanical garden, the giant sitting Buddha and, well, the beach. All this, we did and it was well worth it, nice and easy. After all, sightseeing around traveled places is NOT a crime, even for two amateur un(t)ravelers!

bamboos, green and old stairs in Kamakura's park ; more bamboos, cave temple and a litter of hinari foxes ; the one and only surfers' paradise!
It was, after all, just a matter of walking kilometers with our stuff, enjoying the views, the sun and the sea. We also intended to camp one or two nights around town, confident that, this time, the weather would be indulgent/nice/fair. Alas, poor Yorick (and Futuna)! This we didn't and it was really (to quote Tina Turner) nice, but rough. Again that night, the rain found us hidden somewhere by the beach, followed us along some desert streets and chased us deep inside Kamakura's park. There, after a technical stop at some remote restrooms where we cooked dinner, showered and changed clothes, we found a secret little shelter and slept dry until the first jogger and gardener passed by shortly after 6 am (!!!). We packed and left without looking behind, headed back to the beach for a yummy breakfast, then sun-dried some clothes while we had this long-deserved and long-expected bath in the fresh waters of the Sagami bay. Nice!

"shabu-shabu", another of Japan's cuisine best kept secrets!
We also made sure to visit the giant Buddha, of course. It was, indeed, a big one. Maybe not so big. But quite big already. A great Buddha, really. One of the best Buddhas in the country, for sure*. And when it became crystal clear that the rain was going nowhere and spending another night wild-camping (and slightly unlawfully, or at least in a grey zone of legal void on outdoor sleeping in urban areas) was not a reasonable option anymore, we got on a train and returned to Tokyo, where Hiro-san and his girlfriend Hana-san treated us upon arrival with a gorgeous and dangerously yummy "shabu-shabu". Not among the most famous Japanese dishes, shabu-shabu is an under-rated wonder: some kind of fondue or sukiyaki, where thin pieces of meat, shrooms and vegetables are cooked in a katsuobushi** broth. The dinner was amazing, Hiro-san and Hana-san's company just great, as usual, and the whole situation of being back in Tokyo and being received with such a warm welcome even though it was just... 4 days after leaving (!!) made us so very happy the trauma from this latest episode of rainy bivouac healed right away. The next morning, and after a short but dry and comfortable night, we were ready to start exploring Tokyo again for another couple of days. But that's gonna be a next chapter and that's gonna be within a few days... For now, back to the yummy-ssimo shabu-shabu, whose name is supposed to represent the sound of the thin pieces of meat you dip in the boiling broth. "Shabu-shabu", do the pieces of meat in the hot liquid just before you swallow them slurping and touching the sky: Oh! the dishes you'll eat... Another wonder (last but not least!) about this amazing recipe is that, once everybody has eaten enough seaweed, meat and veggies, the remaining (used) broth is heated again and serves to cook a wok-ful of rice. Oh! The rices you'll cook... We went to bed stuffed, exhausted and super thankful. The latter, we still are: thank you so much Hiro-san!


* About the ---est Buddhas in Japan: there's a very very famous one in Nara. If our sources and memory can be relied on, Nara's is supposed to be the biggest WOODEN Buddha in Japan ; whereas the black Buddha in a temple in Tokyo's northern suburbs (make sure to check our next episode if you happen to be curious about this topic!) is allegedly the biggest STONE Buddha in Japan. Kamaura's is, we already said it, the biggest SITTING Buddha in Japan, which implies there must be a biggest RECLINING one somewhere in the country. An un(t)raveling unicum postcard will be sent to the person who'll provide evidence on the biggest reclining Buddha in Japan in the comments below!
About the katsuo-bushi: it's been introduced and talked about enough in the previous chapter, but feel free to ask anything you need/want to on this topic anyway... I personally feel sorry that I might not be factual enough about Japan, but I'm dealing with this issue. I'm fine, thanks! Really...

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