2018年10月11日

The Jododaira Wetlands and Mt. Azuma-kofuji in Summer and Relaxing at Seishinsansou

July, 2018

Bandai-Azuma Skyline Offers Great Views from Above the Clouds

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 This summer has seen record high temperatures. Located at an altitude 1,600 meters along the Bandai-Azuma Skyline, the scenic mountain route that connects Takayu Onsen and Tsuchiyu Pass, Jododaira is a popular place to beat the summer heat due to temperatures 10 degrees centigrade cooler than nearby urban areas. It is also the starting point for popular trekking courses to Kamanuma Marsh, Keibadaira Wetlands, Mt. Issaikyosan, Goshikinuma Lake (also known as “the witches eye”), and other sights. There are also many sights concentrated around the Jododaira visitor center and rest house that can all be seen in one or two hours, including the Jododaira Wetlands, Mt. Azuma-kofuji, and Lake Okenuma, making it a great destination for a drive. Today, I would like to once again review the Jododaira’s many attractions.

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 By the way, Takayu Onsen is located part of the way up Mt. Azuma at an altitude of 750 meters, some twenty kilometers west of Fukushima Station via National Route 70. Takayu Onsen, the northern entrance to the Skyline, is a convenient staging area for a visit to Jododaira.
 Selected as one of Japan’s 100 best roads, Bandai-Azuma Skyline has an average altitude of 1,350 meters. As its name suggests, this “road to the sky” weaves its way high up through the magnificent Azuma Mountain Range. It was also selected as one of the six most scenic roads in Japan by Japanese bikers for it great views.
 One of the Skyline’s must-see spots is the scenic Tsubakuro Valley. On the mountain side of the 84 meter-tall arch bridge that spans the deep ravine, you can see Fudotaki Falls. On the valley side of the bridge, you can see the overlapping green mountaintops and the cityscape of Fukushima City off in the distance. Being the most scenic part of the Skyline, Tsubakuro Valley is equipped with parking spaces and restrooms. During the fall foliage season, it is busy with tourists even on weekdays (the photo above shows the valley in fall). If you are ever passing through the area, I strongly recommend you stop and enjoy the dynamic panoramic view.
 A bit further down the road, once you have passed the scenic wetland known as Tengu no Niwa, the atmosphere makes drastically changes. The green of plants suddenly disappears, and a desolate atmosphere of little more than bare rock appears. This is Iodaira. Here, you can see the signs that you are standing on a still-active volcano. Due to the presence of dense volcanic gasses, stopping your car or even opening a window is prohibited. This landscape where life and death sit side by side is a strong contrast to nearby Jododaira.

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The Jododaira Wetlands, a 1,600 Meter-high Flower Garden of the Sky

 Perhaps due to the last few days of intense heat, the temperature at Jododaira was so comfortable I did not need the jacket I had brought (lol). After parking my car in the parking lot (which requires a fee, 500 yen for passenger cars, for the purpose of environmental protection), I headed towards the nearby Jododaira Wetlands, which features a long boardwalk. Part of the boardwalk is wheelchair accessible. Although the boardwalk is an easy walk due to its gentle slopes, it still makes for a full hour of fun if you take your time and walk slowly while taking photos and breaks. From May to September, you can look up to see the volcanic gasses bellowing from Mt. Issaikyosan and the tourists climbing Mt. Azuma-kofuji. You can also enjoy viewing the colorful alpine plants from which the Jododaira got its name, which means “Pure Land.”
 Sadly, this year’s viewing season for cottongrass had already ended, much earlier than average. Now, only a few species of white and golden flowers such as the Japanese meadowsweet, the pearly everlasting, and the goldenrod gracefully dot a carpet of green with the vestiges of spring’s colors. From what I have heard, the flowers bloomed about 10 days early this year due to the heat, and the flowering season lasted what seemed like an instant (how unfortunate!). Almost as if they were hurrying the season along, Autumn Darter dragonflies have already began to appear amongst the bees and butterflies busily collecting nectar, an indicator of just how fast summer passes on Mt. Azuma.
 By the way, if you are planning a trip to the wetlands, I recommend you first visit the nearby Jododaira Visitor Center. The facility, which reopened in 2017 after major renovations, provides visitors with information on the origins of Jododaira and on the flora and fauna that inhabit it. Course maps are available for trekkers, and the staff is more than willing to tell you the weather at your destination or provide detailed information about the mountains.
 Next to the visitor center is Jododaira Astronomical Observatory, known as Japan’s highest observatory, as well as the Jododaira Rest House, where you can enjoy a seasonal lunch made with local ingredients. At the two-story restaurant, which features great views of the real Mt. Azuma-kofuji, I had the Mt. Azuma-kofuji curry (800 yen) for lunch. This unique dish recreates the caldera in rice form. The cold fresh-squeezed juice made from the area’s famous hardy kiwi fruit and peaches had a refreshing sweetness that made it a perfect treat for summer.

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The Stunning Views of Mt. Azuma-kofuji

 After filling myself with curry, it was time to head to Mt. Azuma-kofuji. The trailhead is located across the road on the other side of the parking lot. After climbing the steep, stair-like trail for 15 minutes or so, sweat pouring down my face, I arrived at the peak!
 I never grow tired of the stunning sight of Mt. Azuma-kofuji, some 500 meters across and 70 meters tall. The mountain, which got its name from its Mt. Fuji-esque symmetric appearance, is a caldera that formed during an eruption about six millennia ago. There is currently no water in the crater lake, and the ragged pebbles that cover its circumference may give you the mistaken impression that you have arrived on some alien planet (laughs).
 By the way, you can walk the 1.5 kilometer circumference of the crater lake in about an hour. If you have time after enjoying the scenery at the peak, I suggest taking a lap around the caldera before heading back down. The crater wall is only 3-4 meters wide at some points. Watch your step on the trail, which is covered in pebbles and easy to slip on. And try not to look down! Despite these difficulties, at the top you’ll be treated to an amazing 360-degree panoramic view! The Jododaira Wetlands and the cityscape of Fukushima City below appear almost like a diorama from this height. Depending on your luck, you might even be able to encounter a magnificent sea of clouds. Due to the strong winds at the peak, you need to bring a jacket. That said, there are few other places where you can enjoy such a view with such light clothing.
 After coming down from the mountain and walking on the side of the road, I arrived at a promenade that extends to Lake Okenuma (there is also a route from the Jododaira Wetlands). Despite its compact size, Lake Okenuma, also formed by a volcano, boasts the deepest water depth in all of Jododaira at 13 meters deep. It is notable for its beautiful cobalt blue water. While the banks of Lake Okenuma cannot be approached, the lake can be viewed from an observation platform accessible by walking up the mountain forest for about 10 minutes. The seasonal scenery reflected in the surface of this lake surrounded by deep forest is quite mystical. The beauty of the fall foliage of the deciduous trees such as Erman's birch, Japanese rowan, and Japanese maple that line its perimeter are truly a treasure of autumn. The observational platform features a stone monument containing the words of a poem written for the owner of an inn at Takayu Onsen in 1916 by Mokichi Saito, a poet who loved Mt. Azuma’s natural beauty (For details, see Takayu Onsen’s official homepage.).

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Enjoying an Adult Summer Vacation at a Quiet Mountain Retreat

 I then headed back to Takayu Onsen and then to Seishinsansou , the familiar inn we were staying at. This small inn with only four rooms, owned and operated by a married couple, is one of the area’s best kept secrets. The log cabin-style building sits inconspicuously on a lot that used to be part of a golf course and ski resort and makes good use of the natural topography. The inn has captured the hearts of its many repeat guests through homespun hospitality matched to the individual rhythms of each guest, the proprietress’s amazing cooking, and the inn’s lukewarm baths, an oddity in Takayu, known for its relatively hot baths. The inn’s unofficial mascot is a dog named Musashi who would be close to 100 in human years. While his mobility has recently declined to the point where he no long drags himself around to greet guests, he still greeted me and my companion with a quiet gaze.
As the twilight hour approaches, the background music changes to the song of evening cicadas. I do not know whether it’s the smell of soil carried on the wind or the setting sun’s glow on the greenery, but the summer sunsets here invoke a sense of nostalgia for home.
 The baths at Seishinsansou are located up a staircase at the end of a long passageway extending from the main building. All of the baths are indoor and separated by gender. Being such a small inn, you can often enjoy the whole bath to yourself (as was the case today!). I took the privilege to open the window facing the inn’s garden, which made it felt like the open air baths of a private residence. The temperature of their source spring water is 44 degrees centigrade, rather lukewarm by Takayu’s standards. In practice, their baths are around 40 degrees centigrade, which is apt to make you take an inadvertently long bath, but the mineral content is as strong as the rest of Takayu. Be careful to avoid taking a bath so long you get dizzy (laughs).
 Of course, the inn’s baths are not its only attraction. The dinners made with love by the proprietress, which evoke a sense of both surprise and nostalgia, could be described as creative fusion home-style cooking (laughs). Whether it’s their intricate preserved foods or simple dishes that leverage the natural flavors of the ingredients, their cuisine is endlessly appealing and also quite filling. With all the fun, great food, and nonstop conversation, the evening passed by in what seemed like an instant.
 Before heading to bed, I asked the innkeeper’s permission to take a private bath under the moonlight with my spouse (laughs). After the bath, we cooled off in the cool night air of the highlands. I should mention that the guest rooms are not air conditioned. Being so high up, Takayu stays cool all day even during the summer. Make sure not to accidentally leave a window open before going to bed, or you might catch a cold (laughs).
 I slept well, having been set free from several sweltering nights in a row, which allowed me to get up early enough to enjoy the sunrise. The white bunches of wild Japanese Clethra that grow around the inn have flowered profusely this year. After devouring one of their delicious breakfasts, which always seem to make me forget my manners (laughs) I went to take one last bath (laughs) before checking out. I must say that you will be hard-pressed to find a place that offers better relaxation and service for just 8,600 yen per person.

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By the way, there is a popular public bath called Attakayu down the hill from the inn. It offers two types of open baths, both divided by gender; wooden baths and stone baths. It also offers private baths. The facility is open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. The baths are great for day bathing or for taking an open air bath after dinner while staying at one of the local inns. The baths are wheelchair accessible and bathing fees are a reasonable 250 yen. I recommend it as part of an excursion as well. (For more details, see their official website.
Although this year’s oppressively hot summer continues, the signs of autumn have begun to arrive in Takayu some time earlier than in the foothills. Here, even that heat eventually becomes a sentimental memory of the season. Autumn arrives here in full force around mid-October each year. After this year’s intense summer heat, I wonder what sort of stories the red leaves of fall have in store for us. When that season comes, I hope to come here again with vivid memories of summer in my heart.


posted by yusanjin at 17:41| 日記 | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする