Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Okutama National Park (奥多摩)

Yesterday was a national holiday in Japan (海の日) and I made good use of it - I went to Okutama National Park which is about two hours drive from the center of Tokyo (though it is still considered to be a part of Tokyo Prefecture - it is the westernmost part of Tokyo). The actual distance is about 40-50 kilometers but almost half of the way, well the second half, is extremely narrow mountain roads (I was lucky enough to go by car - thanks to 公太 and 百恵) and they barely fit one car though at times two cars meet and there begins an interesting process to decide who will back up.

The first stop was a medium sized hike made harder by the narrow path and killer humidity. The sign at the bottom of the hill claimed it was 15 minutes from the bottom to the point where the biggest tree in Tokyo (the reason why we climbed) was but it proved to be closer to 20-25 mins for us. The tree was indeed impressively big but by the time we made it there we all looked like we took a shower with our clothes on. We continued on past the tree to get to a ghost village abandoned a while back but lack of a map and the fact that we reached a fork with no signs (and of course the weather) forced us to turn back.

We then went to a very famous cavern in the area - about 15 minutes by car from the start of the hike for the tree. Flanked by a little river the area is absolutely beautiful but in terms of weather conditions we hit the other extreme here - the cave is at a cool 10 degrees Celcius with freezing cold water dripping from the ceiling. There was a hydrometer in the cave which showed a 95% humidity... The cave has a few interesting spots - one of them, which is where I took this picture, has a shrine and used to be a training spot for Buddhist priests. When things are quiet one can hear instruments playing inside the rocks (which is actually dripping water but it really does sound like musical instruments). The cave has religious significance with one part being called the "River between Heaven and Hell", another one "Hell Village" and statues of Buddha abound. There is money left by people all around statues and even though it is all coins (notes would get wet anyway) there are plenty of 100 yen coins.

We topped off the day by a visit to a nice local restaurant. The food was very nice, reasonably priced, and I am told had local delicacies in it. I chose an eel based dish (うなぎ) and was so dehydrated that had water, tea, and coke with it. I was sure that I would be sick the next day thanks to the two extremes in temperature so close together but so far I am doing OK. Let's hope I can survive till the weekend :P

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