Saturday, November 22, 2014

Koyo on Mt. Takao

Momiji - Maple tree
It's Fall!  And, that means...I'm on the hunt for the yellows, oranges, and reds in the trees (Koyo:  roughly, autumn foliage viewing)!!!  I read last week that there is a pretty amazing festival in Hachioji, with a street lined with the beautiful Icho (gingko tree).  This is, by far, my most favorite-est (as Boy would say) tree! we go...

Since we were at the New Sanno we just had to roll out of bed and hop on the train.  I found out, from the pamphlet I got from ITT, that there is a discount ticket for purchase at Shinjuku Station.  This meant that we would get to Hachioji a few miles from the gingko street, but it was an easy ride and maybe we would just start out by hiking Takao-san.  Shinjuku to Takaosanguchi, and back, on the Keio line cost about 800 Yen.  The round trip chair lift or cable car ticket is about 900 Yen.  Purchasing the discount ticket saved about 500 Yen each, for adults.  Mackenzie's tickets were all half price.  Garytt doesn't require a train ticket yet, but we did have to buy him a chair lift ticket at Takao Station.  All in all, we saved about 1200 Yen on tickets.

So, we left Hiroo Station and made it to Shinjuku around 1015.  I followed the directions on the paper, pretty easy.  Pushed a few buttons, told it two adults and one child, it spit out four tickets to each of us.  Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!  We walk over to the gate and look at our tickets....all in Japanese!


We step back and try to figure out what in the world goes where.  Our first try:  put in ticket number one.  Nope.  Spit right back out at us.  Then, I realize that the kanji on the ticket matches the kanji on the signs around us:  Shinjuku.  Then, I pull out the info on where we're going.  Yup, another match: Takaosanguchi.  So, we enter ticket number two.  Success!!  We quickly figure out that the first ticket is our instructions.  The second ticket gets us from Shinjuku to Takaosanguchi.  The third ticket gets us on the chair lift (or cablecar) up the mountain.  The fourth ticket gets us back to Shinjuku.  Shew...figured that out!  We get to the correct track and wait for our 1031 time.  The train took an hour, I think this is the longest train ride we've had on one train.

We left the world of black suit-ed men and women in skirts and five inch heels, and entered the world of hiking boots and backpacks.  Ahhh...nature!
Our view while we waited in line for the chair lift.  Not so bad!
After a quiet ride on a nearly empty train, we arrived at Takaosanguchi around 1130.  We left the station, and followed the people with the backpacks and hiking gear.  They led us right to Kiyotaki Station where we merged into the hours long wait to get on the cable car.  Kris said, "this is crazy.  It'll be hours before we get up there this way."  So, we decided to head over to the the chair lift.  I thought, "oh my, there are no straps to hold Boy in that seat!"  But, we got in the faster-moving chair lift line and snaked our way through and then up the stairs.  Getting on the chair was easier than I thought.  The lift-helping men weren't afraid to manhandle the kids and toss them in the chairs.  So, that made things easy!  Now, up up up we go!

Mt. Takao is right on the boundary between Japan's subtropical and temperate forests.  Because of this it is known as an Eden of wildlife.  ~ Mt. Takao Guide Book.  Eden of wildlife, huh?  Ok, we shall see.  Mt. Takao is on the southeast part of the Kanto mountain area and was awarded three stars (the most that can be awarded) by Michelin in 2007.

The ride up was pretty gradual for a few minutes, then it took a nice steep turn up.  The chair lift took about ten minutes.  The cable car is faster, about 6 minutes up, but the line was insane!  I think it was also a much better ride out in the open instead of closed into that cable car with 20 of our closest friends.

We got to Sanjo Station and started walking up on path 1.  You can see the three pink trees at the bottom of the map...that's where we got on the chair lift.  Then, the one pink tree close to the number 1 is where we hopped on the paved trail.

Manhole cover for Takaosan
The walk up path 1 was pretty easy.  It's paved and is a gentle incline up the mountain.  However, the crowds were insane this day!  Old Japanese ladies kept running over us!  Ha!  And, teenage girls giggled and squealed all around us.  Not exactly the best way to "get into nature".

We walked on up and arrived at the first snack station.  We picked a seat away from the crowds and ate our lunch.  While everyone ate, I snapped a few pictures.  I kept seeing everyone eating these little pastries on sticks.  I thought they looked yummy.  And, everyone else was eating them, so I wanted one too.  Well, the line was super long, so I decided to wait.

Looking out toward the Kanto Plain

After lunch, we were back on the paved trail and heading up Takaosan.  On the way, we passed Tako-sugi, Octopus Cedar Root.  What is an octopus cedar root, you ask.  Well, the story goes a little something like this:  long ago, a woodsman planned to cut the roots of this cedar tree because they were in the way.  But, the night before he was going to cut the roots, the tree saved itself!  The tree twisted its roots around like octopus arms.

Just past the octopus tree was the monkey park.  Dear Mt. Takao attraction designers....thank you for not making the monkey park seem all that interesting.  The kids walked right past it and didn't even realize it was there.  

A little past the Monkey Park was Joshin Gate.  Kris decided here that walking amongst the mass of people all the way up the mountain wasn't going to be a lot of fun.  So, after a look-see at the map right there, we decided to head off on trail number 3, known as the Jananese Judas Tree Trail.  This trail was not paved and didn't look very congested.  It was listed as being about 1.6 miles and, since it's on the southern side of the mountain it has more sub-tropical trees.

Our #1 hiker:  Mackenzie (in purple to the right of that tree) would walk way ahead of all of us.  Garytt would try to catch up but she would just walk faster to get away from him.  She likes to be on her own when we hike.  She needs her quiet time.  And, Boy N.E.V.E.R. stops talking!!!!!

Most of the trail was a couple feet wide.  There were some stairs toward the end of trail 3, where it started to really climb up.  A few times Kris would turn to me and say, "I thought we were climbing up a mountain," as we took a turn down into the trees.

Speaking of trees...there were a lot!  We saw many, many cedar and oak trees.  I think one type of tree is a has camouflage bark.  Garytt thinks this tree is awesome.  (if you can correct me, please leave a comment.  I'd really like to know what I'm looking at on the signs and in the forests.  Or, do you know a good book or website I can reference? Thanks!)

The four trees on the sign above, in real life.
Mackenzie explored every nook and cranny she could find.  When she figured out Daddy had a flashlight with him, she wanted to shine it in every crevice.  "Whoa!  That is SO cool!!" (I really must teach her my grandmother's phrase, "Oh, neat-oh!")

The last bit of stairs were pretty tough for the little legs in our group.  Mackenzie had to take a few rests.  Garytt, however, took off!  So far ahead that it took us several minutes to even find him.  When we did find him, he was, of course, chatting away with a couple of older Japanese ladies.  They were in a full blown conversation!  Older Japanese ladies love Garytt.  And, he is more than happy to tell them all about his dog, and karate, and How to Train Your Dragon, and dinosaurs, and monster trucks, and whatever else pops in his head.

Almost to the top!

Doesn't that wispy grass make the picture pretty?  

At the top of the stairs we came to a Y split.  Off to the right headed back down the mountain.  To the left took us to the summit. 

When we got to the top of the stairs we heard sirens somewhere off to the right of us.  We turned and saw three little rescue vans coming up the mountain.  They were curving around the switchbacks  and moving up the incline.  At one point, though, the turn was too tight, so they would have to pull part of the way around the curve, have one guy get out and direct them backwards so they didn't run into anyone, and then head up around the rest of the curve.  One of the three vans had a guy get out, and I don't know if this was on purpose or not, but the van took off and the emergency worker took off running up the mountain after it!  Poor guy!

At the summit!!  All 599 meters of it!!  (1965 feet)

I'm not sure what the deal was with these maples.  Maybe it has been cold enough that they are getting splotchy with death.  Or maybe they have some sort of disease.  But, those black spots don't make for good up close shots.  :(

But, from a distance they sure are pretty!

Fuji is over there hiding behind the clouds and haze on the right side.

After a short rest, some snacks and a couple apple juices, we headed back down the mountain.  This time we took trail 4 down, the Suspension Bridge Trail, about one mile long.  The beginning of the descent was all stairs.  They weren't very steep, but there were a lot!  On this side of the mountain we saw fir and beech trees.

On the way back down the lines for the treat I wanted were pretty short.  So, I got in line and bought two skewers for the four of us to share.  I'm not sure, but I think they were called dango.  The white part, which reminded me of the mochi I had this past new year's, wasn't too bad.  The soy sauce-like glaze they slathered all over it, not so much.  I couldn't have eaten a whole skewer of the white part.  Mackenzie took a few bites and said she liked it, but she didn't take any more than two bites.  Garytt, at that moment, was having a bit of a breakdown and refused to eat any of it.  Kris and I had as many bites as we could force down, now realizing Japan does not have trashcans anywhere, and wondering what we were going to do with the rest.  We ended up just tossing them in an empty bag we had in our bag and went about our way.  

Part of the way down the chair lift (which, by the way, was getting pretty chilly at 4 in the afternoon!) Garytt came out of his anger issue, and decided he really liked the dango!  He finished off what the other three couldn't eat.

The hike was great!  It wasn't too hard for the kids, aside from the last bit of stairs on trail 3.  Getting off the main trek and heading out into what the brochure says is a "true nature experience" was definitely the way to go!  The train ride home was pretty easy, and it was nice to have an hour to sit and relax before we drove home.   Oh, I almost forgot....that gingko lined street I planned this whole trip around....we never made it.  The mountain took up the entire day, so I will have to save that for another year.

Winter Illuminations Tokyo 2014

Last year, to see the illuminations in Tokyo I packed up the kids in their gloves, hats, winter coats, scarfs, extra layers of clothes and headed out on the train (this year we did our tour earlier, so only light jackets and hats needed).  We saw a lot of neat lights, froze our fingers off, and starved because I didn't pack enough snacks and both kids refused to eat anywhere I suggested (now I know 7-11 has yummy peanut butter sandwiches with a cute peanut imprinted on the front).  Also, I got to Yokohama when I realized I forgot my camera at home, so I took all my pictures on my phone.  Especially disappointing because Tokyo Tower was blue in celebration of Tokyo being selected for the Olympics in 2020.  

This year, we decided to do things a little different.  We booked a room at the New Sanno for Sunday night, with plans to get up early the next day and head out to Takao-san.

We made it to the hotel a little earlier than we thought, so we grabbed the sandwich stuff and headed out to the park to eat and take a little stroll.

Some of the leaves were turning yellow.

Oh, and to the dude in the grey sweatshirt....if you're going to buy a shirt with English writing on it, please know what it says.  And, if you do know what it says, shame on you!  I edited out the word, and am glad my eager to learn to read son didn't try to sound out that uck word.

Garytt was so fascinated with this fireplace.
He insisted I take a picture of him in front of it so he could see.
At three we made it back to the hotel where Kris took a little nap while I took the kids to the swimming pool.  A little shock to my momma-heart:  Mackenzie can now stand up in the deep end with her head out of the water, no problem.  Also, Boy can stand in the deep end with his head tilted back a little.  sniff sniff.  When did they grow???  Make it stttoooooppppp!!!!!

Around 5 we decided to get dinner and then move in the direction of the lights.  My plan was a little overzealous, I admit.  But, I figured if I put everything on the list that I wanted to see, maybe we could get half of it done and it would still be an awesome trip!

Last year the kids and I walked around Roppongi Hills (probably my favorite last year) and we saw the Caretta Shiodome show.  This year my list had: Shiodome, Roppongi, Ginza, Shinjuku, Midtown, Dome City, and Harajuku.  Where we actually went:

We hopped on the train at Hiroo and we were on our way to our first stop:  Dome City.  But, once we were on the train we saw an ad for Christmas Town at Sky Tree.  "Whoa," said I.  "We must go there!"  How can we pass up on a place called Christmas Town??  So, I axed my first stop and we headed for magical Christmas Town instead.

We left Oshiage Station and walked toward the magnificent tower.  Well, the Christmas Town wasn't as magical as I thought it would be.  Basically, it was a few rows of beer tents and treat tents.  Darn.  Oh well, it was still pretty awesome to see the Tree decorated in red.

Maybe not real appropriate, but here's Kenze posing with a very drunk looking Santa.  On the right, Garytt saw that giant bear and ran over for me to take his picture.  As he was walking back toward me I noticed the line of people waiting to take their pictures with that bear...oopsie!  I bow, and apologize, and plaster that "so sorry" look on my face as we quickly walk away.

The decorations around Sky Tree were very over the top.  It was certainly a Christmas town, but it was gaudy.  Tons of red-nosed reindeer and Santas everywhere.  The trees leading up to Sky Tree were pretty, they were a little more simply decorated.  

The steps leading up to Sky Tree were pretty fun.

Okay, when we were finished here, we went back to Oshiage and made our way toward Shinjuku and Harajuku.  But, on our way we were walking through Shimbashi Station and it hit me that this was where the Shiodome lights were.  Last year I had a hard time finding this place.  I walked around the outside a bit and then through some buildings before accidentally finding where the lights were.  This year would be different.  Or...not.  We walked and walked and walked.  And, still we didn't find the place.  We did have some fun along the way though.  

A few weird statue men crawling around on the premises.  

Finally, we saw some lights reflecting off a building and moved that way.  Once we got over there the kids squealed.

The theme this year is Canyon d'Azure with 25,000 LEDs.  The show plays for several minutes every twenty minutes starting at 5 and ending at 10:30.

After walking around for a while looking for the Caretta light show the kids were getting tired.  Perhaps swimming for an hour that afternoon (an activity that easily exhausts the kids) wasn't such a good idea.  Oh well.  We had to narrow our list down to just one more site.  I chose the place that was top of my list last year, but ran out of time to see.  We got back on the train and headed toward Nogizaka Station, then walked toward Midtown.

Tokyo Midtown

We chose the "Starlight Garden" as the last spot to see the lights.  We started out walking through the park.  Trees were lit up on both sides and there were lights in the water as well.

Look-y what I found...a beautiful gingko all lit up!

Champagne glasses with lights that moved like bubbles up and down the trees.

Once we walked down the street a bit we found the "Starlight Garden".  There are about 280,000 LEDs set to music and described as a "walk through the cosmos".  I thought the music was soothing and calm.  When it was done Kris turned to me and said, "Is that it?"  :)  It was only a few minutes worth of music and moving lights.  

Look who was hiding in the background.

We walked through the shopping complex across the street and went one stop from Roppongi Station to Hiroo.

We found this earlier in our day... Llama Llama, It's Christmas, Momma!