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Archive for May, 2010

First Expedition: Gearing Up For Some Serious Adrenaline

Hello everyone and apologies for the delay to send updates on our first expedition.

As we’re all aware of, preparation is an essential factor for any outdoor adventure (specially this one!) and having the necessary supplies and equipment can make a difference in our overall enjoyment and experience. Due to this reason I will introduce some new information and rephrase a few others previously mentioned in past articles.

— Read it carefully —

Picking-up The Car
The car, a 8-passenger van, will be picked up at 6am on June 5. The car rental*1 is located only a few minutes from Shinjuku Station.

Where We Will All Meet?
We will meet a couple of blocks away from Shinjuku Station*1 at 6.30am. If for reasonable circunstances you cannot make it on time please let us know well before the departure time. Please note that we will be able to wait only until 6.50am.

There’s an old saying that goes, “If you are five minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, then you’ve got a lot of explaining to do.” I couldn’t agree more.

What You Should Bring
When heading out for a hiking trip there are some definite basic items you should bring along and the most important are definitely food and water.

01. Water: Bring at least 2 bottles (500ml) of water but don’t drink it just because you have it. Drink enough to stay hydrated and save what you can in case of an emergency. Remember anything can happen at anytime, don’t assume you won’t need it.

02. Food: We, of course, won’t be able to bring a three course meal with us but try to carry enough energy bars to not only satisfy you for the length of our hiking but also extra to keep you alive for at least a week.

03. Cell phone: Make sure the battery is 100% charged (It might be a good idea to also bring one battery pack that can be easily purchased at any convenience store in Japan. Make sure to check if the plug is compatible with your cell phone model) and if you don’t get a signal the first time, try moving to a different location if possible.

04. Compass: Why a compass? A compass can be very important not only if you get lost but also if you call for help you can then aid rescuers in figuring out where you might be. Remember that technology is dependant on power and can be unpredictable and unreliable but a compass will almost always work (Not sure if that applies for Aokigahara though!).

05. Blanket / Jacket: If you are constantly feeling cold in Tokyo then it might be a good suggestion to bring a small blanket or a very warm jacket. Inside the forest it can get quite cold in the afternoon (or because of the presence of some ghosts) even if it is extremely hot outside.

06. Change of Clothes: Bring at least one change of clothes in case you fall over, trip or slip. You don’t want to scare everybody away on the train with that Sadako (character from the movie ‘The Ring’) looks on you.

07. Hiking Shoes/Boots: This is totally optional and I am not saying that you should buy hiking shoes in case you don’t own one but the protection of your feet needs to be given top priority when hiking. Foot pain or discomfort can quickly take the fun out of hiking, and an injury could prevent you from walking at all. Hiking boots are designed to provide comfort and support for the feet and ankles while walking on rough and wet ground as in Aokigahara. Wearing them will significantly reduce the wear and tear on your feet and minimize the risk of an injury.

Costs
On this trip we will share costs for the car rent (incl. insurance), gasoline (round trip), toll (round trip) which must be paid by the end of the trip.

Car Rent ¥20,160 (1-day hire / insurance incl.)
Gas ¥10,000*2
Toll ¥ 6,400*2 (round trip)
Total ¥36,560*2
Total p/ Person
(with 8 participants)
¥ 4,570*2
Total p/ Person
(with 9 participants)
¥ 4,062*2
+ Personal Expenses ¥ 3,000

Please note that all spots were confirmed last week and if you cancel now or don’t show up on the day, you will still be liable to pay for your share.

Hiking can be fun and exciting but it can also be dangerous if we are ill prepared. A few rules we should hike by are to always tell someone where you are heading to and when they should expect you to return.

As for me, I am also gearing myself up with possibly every single thing to ensure the safety of every participant. Please mind yourselves that we will still head out to Aokigahara even if it rains.

If there is something you were not able to understand and/or wish to make a suggestion, please feel free to write it using the comment box below.

Looking forward to seeing you all next Saturday.

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

*1 For security reasons, I will send the location details to each participant by e-mail.
*2 Estimated costs. The final cost might differ slightly.

Rainy Season 2010: Places You Must Visit Top 5 – No.1

This article was written by me for BiOS Blog on May 27, 2010.

Today we will introduce the no.1 in the Top 5 list of places to visit during the rainy season in Japan.

Koyasan (Mount Koya)

History:
The original Mt. Koya monastery was founded in 816 by Kobo-Daishi, the great sage and exponent of the Shingon Esoteric sect of Buddhism. Kobo-Daishi traveled in China until 805 and reportedly spent 30 years in meditation at the present site of Okunoin. Many of the Japanese pilgrims that visit Mt. Koya each year believe Kobo-Daishi, also known as Kukai, is just resting in his tomb here and waiting to be reborn.

Koyasan is located in an alpine basin that is 800 meter high and measures six kilometers from east to west and three kilometers north to south. One Koysan-based monk told the Daily Yomiuri, “Kobo Daishi selected Koyasan as the [ultimate] ashram for his mediation because it was a place where he could feel the connection between the sky and the earth…The basin is surrounded by two circles of mountains, and the inner and outer circles have eight peaks each. The area resembles a lotus flower”—an important Buddhist symbol.

At the height of its power in the 15th century, Mt. Koya contained 1,500 monasteries and thousands of monks. In the 16th century, shoguns, who felt threatened by the monks, ordered the slaughter of large numbers of monks. In the 17th century, the economic power of the monasteries was broken. Many temples were destroyed and religious leaders were banished. In the Edo period much of the land belonging to the monasteries was confiscated.

Women were prohibited from entering Mt. Koya until 1872. But not long after that monks were allowed to wed. In 2004, Koya was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Where is it?
Mt. Koya-san is located in the northeastern part of Wakayama and is in Koya-Ryujin Quasi-National Park.

Where to visit:
Okunoin Temple is where the body of Kobo Daishi is enshrined. Around the temple are thousands of tombs filled with ashes of the dead (or their hair) ready to be brought back to life when Kobo Daishi is reborn.

The Lantern Hall is the main hall. It contains thousands of burning lamps, including two lamps that are said to have been burning for 900 years. Behind the hall is the closed mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, where it said the sage achieved enlightenment. Nearby at the Mimyo-no-hashi bridge you can see people ladling water over the Jizo statues as an offering to the dead.

Cemetery Around Okunoin Temple is one of Mt. Koya’s greatest attractions. It embraces beautiful shrines and temples and 300,000 tombs are found. Some of the tombs are quite grand and impressive-looking. belonging to important samurai, noblemen, shogun, poets and religious leaders. Some date back to the 12th and 13th century. The historical figures Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) are buried here.

A two kilometer path winds through the cemetery which is shaded by massive, old cedars and umbrella pines and lit at night by stone lanterns. Near the large parking lot there is a space-ship-shipped tomb dedicated to the employees of a an aerospace company. According to Lonely Plant. there is also a monument dedicated to a white ant produced by a pesticide company to assuage its guilt for killing millions of insects.

Reiho-kan Museum houses old implements, paintings, scrolls, mandalas and statues. Particularly noteworthy are the scroll Reclining Image of Sakyamuni Buddha on His Last day and The Eight Guardian Deities and the wonderfully expressive wooden sculptures by Unkei and Kaikei, both of whom worked in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Kongobuji Temple is the head temple for the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It contains one room with lovely screen paintings of willows and another room where Toyotomi Hideoyishi committed seppeku (ritual suicide). The temple owns the oldest colored mandala in Japan: an 850-year-old mandala known as the Chi Mandala, which is comprised of two works. The Realm of Kongokai and The Realm of Taizokoai. Each is made of seven pieces of silk and measures 4.27 by 3.94 meters. The mandalas are very fragile and rarely shown. They were recently recreated using high computers, fluorescent X-ray imaging and ultraviolet beams and other high tech methods.

Where to stay overnight:
Koyasan is also one of the best places to experience an overnight stay at a temple lodging (shukubo) where you can get a taste of a monk’s lifestyle, eating vegetarian monk’s cuisine (shojin ryori) and attending the morning prayers. Around fifty temples offer this service to both pilgrims and visitors, known as shukubō in Japanese.

Prices vary between ¥9,000 and ¥15,000 per night and include two meals. You will be offered the opportunity to join in the morning prayer session, a hypnotic experience involving sutra chanting, incense and gongs. Note that not all temples are set up to handle visitors who don’t speak Japanese.

• Jimyoin
Located in the center of Mt. Koya and convenient for sightseening. Quiet temple lodging surrounded by large garden. Enjoy the bath with heated natural water carried from the crystral stream in the mountain behind the temple.

• Daienin
A fairly typical temple, centrally located (walking distance to both ends of town) and run by a friendly bunch of monks.

• Koyasan Onsen Fukuchi-in
The natural hot springs of Koya-san are available only at this hotel and are open 24 hours a day. Only vegetarian dishes are served here, and the meals, which feature seasonal ingredients, are painstakingly planned and prepared by the head chef with a different course every month. from ¥22.000.

While the monks don’t drink, alcohol is available to guests at dinner, and perhaps even from a vending machine. Temples have set hours at which the front gate is opened and closed, and the time the bath is available. This curfew can be as early as 9 PM, so don’t expect to head out after dinner — although you’ll want to go to bed early anyway if you want to attend the morning prayers around 5 AM!

How to access:
The mountain is accessible primarily by the Nankai Electric Railway from Namba Station in Osaka to Gokurakubashi Station at the base of the mountain.
A cable car from Gokurakubashi then whisks visitors to the top in 5 minutes. The entire trip takes about 1.5 hours on an express train or 2 hours by non-express. Traffic by vehicle can be terrible on weekends until well into the evening. On weekdays, the mountain offers a pleasant drive followed by the excitement upon reaching the monasteries lining the summit.

For more information visit www.shukubo.jp/eng

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

Rainy Season 2010: Places You Must Visit Top 5 – No.2

This article was written by me for BiOS Blog on May 26, 2010.

Today we will introduce the no.2 in the Top 5 list of places to visit during the rainy season in Japan.

Urami No Taki (Urami Waterfalls)

Urami waterfall is one of the three great waterfalls in Nikko and it is located in the upstream of Arasawa stream, which is the branch of Daiya River. Because it is located in the valley, it is very quiet and cool even in summer. It has 20m (66 ft.) high, and 2m (6 ft.) width. There are several unnamed waterfalls around the fall, and on the way to the fall.

Not many people visit this fall during the monsoons in Japan. So, you can enjoy a quiet and relaxing moment here. Until 1902, visitors were allowed to access the areas behind the fall, but there was a minor rock fall in that year and the access was closed.

Japanese famous poet, Matsuo Basho visited this fall and made a poem. You may come up with your very own poem while there.

How to get there:
Nikko is located about 125 kilometers north of Tokyo and makes a good one or two day trip from Tokyo.

• From Asakusa Station
The Tobu terminal station in Tokyo for trains to Nikko is Tobu Asakusa Station, which can be accessed by subway (Ginza and Asakusa Subway Lines).

There are hourly rapid trains between Asakusa and Nikko, which take about two hours and cost 1320 yen one way. In the morning and afternoon, there are also a few limited express trains (all seats reserved), called “Kegon”, which only take 105 minutes, but are twice as expensive as the rapid trains.

• From Shinjuku Station
Direct limited express trains, cooperated by Japan Railways (JR) and Tobu Railways, connect JR Shinjuku Station with Tobu Nikko Station. The one way journey takes two hours and costs ¥3,900. All seats are reserved.

• From Tokyo or Ueno Statioon:
Take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen to Utsunomiya Station and transfer to the JR Nikko Line. With a good connection at Utsunomiya, the one way trip takes about 100 minutes. Due to its high cost (about ¥5000 one way), this option is probably only attractive to holders of the Japan Rail Pass.

For more information about Nikko visit:
www.nikko-jp.org

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

Rainy Season 2010: Places You Must Visit Top 5 – No.3

This article was written by me for BiOS Blog on May 21, 2010.

Today we will introduce the no.3 in the Top 5 list of places to visit during the rainy season in Japan.

Hokkaido

Hokkaido is by far Japan’s largest prefecture, consisting of Japan’s entire northern island and its surrounding islets. Hokkaido is cooler than the rest of Japan, and the merciful lack of Japan’s muggy summers and rainy season makes it a very popular domestic destination between May and August. Some of Hokkaido’s inland areas have a continental climate, with large daily and yearly temperature variation.

The name “Hokkaido” means “Way to the North Sea”, and was given to the island after the Meiji restoration. Before that, it was called Ezo, and was mostly populated by the indigenous Ainu.

Hokkaidō has a special status in Japan, both politically (it is not an ordinary prefecture), and in the heart of the Japanese. It is seen as a place a vast wilderness, where winter are bitterer than anywhere else in the country (often dropping below -20°C). Because it only officially became part of Japan in 1868, has little history, place names unheard of anywhere else (often adaptations from Ainu names), Japanese sometimes feel that Hokkaidō is not really Japan, although it belongs to it. Even food is different. Here, people eat lamb (a popular dish is called “Genghis Khan”), which most other Japanese never do.

Hokkaidō has however become indispensable to the Japanese economy and even culture. Most of Japan’s milk and dairy products come from Hokkaido. Japan’s first beer brewery (Sapporo) is also from Hokkaido, and is still one of the country’s most popular.

How to get there:
• Air – Shin Chitose Airport has direct flights with Kansai, Nagoya and Tokyo airports as well as most major cities in Japan. It is also possible to fly in directly from some overseas locations. If you are flying from Europe or North America, it may be cheaper to use Hong Kong or Seoul as a hub. There are buses (70 minutes) and trains (36 minutes) connecting the airport with Sapporo station.

• Train – It is easy but expensive to go to Sapporo by train via the Seikan Tunnel. At this stage there is no shinkansen (the current Tohoku line terminates at Morioka in Iwate prefecture). There is an overnight service from Ueno (Tokyo) to Sapporo via Hakodate – 15 hours 32 minutes at 28,250 yen. Travelling from northern areas of Honshu is a little cheaper. If you have time, ferry is usually the better option.

• Ferry – There are ferries from Niigata, Tsuruga and Maizuru to Otaru (30 minutes to Sapporo by train), and from most of the cities (Nagoya, Tokyo, Sendai etc) to Tomakomai and Muroran. The fare depends on which company you use, but is cheaper than the train and a relaxing way to travel.

• Bus – If comfort and sleep are not a priority, Sapporo has good long-distance highway buses connecting with cities such as Osaka and Tokyo.

For more information about Hokkaido visit:
http://en.visit-hokkaido.jp/

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

Rainy Season 2010: Places You Must Visit Top 5 – No.4

This article was written by me for BiOS Blog on May 20, 2010.

Today we will introduce the no.4 in the Top 5 list of places to visit during the rainy season in Japan.

Hakone

Sometimes when you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, there is no better place to spend some time than in Hakone which is just about an hour away.

Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than 100 kilometers from Tokyo. Famous for hot springs, outdoor activities, natural beauty and the view of nearby Mt. Fuji, Hakone is one of the most popular destinations among Japanese and international tourists looking for a break from Tokyo.

As above mentioned, Hakone has been one of Japan’s most popular hot spring resorts for centuries. Nowadays, more than a dozen springs provide hot spring water to the many bath houses and ryokan in the Hakone region.

List of Hot Springs in Hakone:
Tenzan
Hakone Kamon
Yu No Sato Okada
• Kappa Tengoku
Rakuyujurin Shizenkan
Hotel Kowakien Yunessun
Hakone Green Plaza Hotel

List of places to sightsee:
• Lake Ashi
• Hakone Checkpoint
• Open Air Museum
• Owakudani
• Botanical Garden
• Hakone Art Museum
• Hakone Shrine
• Hakone Tozan Railway
• Detached Palace
• Hakone Glass no Mori
• Gotemba Outlet Mall
• Gora Park
• Pola Museum

How to get there
If you are going to Hakone from Tokyo (as most people do) the Odakyu Railway offers the cheapest and most scenic option to get there. Odakyu trains leave from Tokyo’s Shinjuku station. You can choose between the Odakyu Romance Car (about 1h30min, ¥2,020) or the Odakyu Highway Bus (2h15min, ¥1,950). The train stops at Hakone Yumoto station, via Odawara. The bus terminates at Hakone Tōgendai or Hakone Garden, both on the shores of Lake Ashinoko. Odakyu services also go to the Gotemba Premium Outlets. There are no trains between Gotemba and Hakone, but buses will make the return journey.

If you have the Japan Rail Pass or come from Yokohama, Nagoya or the Kansai region, you can also reach Hakone by shinkansen (“bullet train”). Odawara station is on the main shinkansen line between Tokyo and Osaka. Although Odawara is in Kanagawa prefecture (like Yokohama), which makes it a part of the Greater Tokyo, the journey from Nagoya and Tokyo take exactly the same time (1h10min or 1h25min depending on the train type), and not much longer than from Yokohama (55 to 65min). From Odawara station you can either catch a taxi to your hotel or first destination in Hakone, board the touristic Hakone Tōzan Railway, which is more like a city tramway, strolling leisurely through the streets of Hakone.

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

Rainy Season 2010: Places You Must Visit Top 5 – No.5

This article was written by me for BiOS Blog on May 18, 2010.

Today we will introduce the no.5 in the Top 5 list of places to visit during the rainy season in Japan.

Mimuroto-ji – Kyoto

Mimuroto-ji, the Temple of Ajisai (Hydrangea in English), is the tenth temple of The Western 33 Temples where amulets are offered to pilgrims.

Despite the centenial history of this Temple, the hydrangeas (‘ajisai’) or sometimes also referred as the flower of ‘tsuyu’ (rainy season) are the main attractions during the monsoons.

In the rainy season, the hydrangea blooms and changes its color from blue to red in the rain. The hydrangea originally comes from Japan. In 1879 (Meiji era), an English gardener brought a hydrangea back to the UK and varieties were bred from this seed in the West. Some were brought back to Japan, and now, the most popular and usual hydrangea is a variety from the West.

History
After being established by Emperor Kōnin in 770, the temple was supported by imperial patronage and so it prospered during the Heian era (792 – 1192) when it was a popular place for court outings. It was rebuilt after it was entirely burnt in a fire in 1460, but when its properties were confiscated after being lost in a battle in 1573, the temple fell into decline. The current buildings were rebuilt in 1805 after yet another fire destroyed the temple.

During the civil war of the late 16th century, the monks of Mimurotoji supported the puppet shogun Yoshiaki Ashikaga, and the temple was completely destroyed by the opposing forces of Oda Nobunaga. At that time the temple bell was confiscated along with many other temple treasures. When the temple was later restored by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, daimyō Mashita Nagamori (1545 – 1615) had the remains of the bell in his possession. All that remained of the bell was just the ornamental bronze head, in the shape of a dragon. Thinking that this ornament would be of no use to the temple, he decided to keep it. However, on making this decision he was suddenly struck down with serious illness and it was thought that perhaps the bell was in fact cursed. So Nagamori sent the remains of the bell back to Mimurotoji, along with a large offering of rice. With that, his health improved and thereafter he continued to send yearly offerings to the temple in gratitude.

How to get there:
• 30 minutes from Shijo station to Mimurodo station via Chushojima station on Keihan Railway, then 15 minutes on foot.
• Keihan-Uji-Bus Company operates several times a day from JR Uji Station to Mimuroto-ji via Keihan Uji station.

For more information visit the official website:
Mimurotoji Official Website 三室戸寺 (available only in Japanese)

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author

Aokigahara: Recommended Books And Videos

Since the first novel Kuroi Jukai by Seichō Matsumoto was published back in 1960, several other books and related videos were released. These materials are often associated with individuals committing suicide in the forest.

Here is the list of recommended books and videos related to Aokigahara:
• Scientifically Analyzing Aokigahara by Hayano Asuza (青木ケ原樹海を科学する―自殺するには根拠)
Available on Amazon.co.jp

• A Man with No Talents: Memoirs of a Tokyo Day Laborer
Available on Amazon.co.jp

• Truth or Lie? Mysteries surrounding Aokigahara (ウソかマコトか!?恐怖の樹海都市伝説)

• Sea of Trees (樹の海)

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Alex Kawano.
Official HE Blog Author