Saturday 21 September 2013

Mt Tanigawa Ropeway and Chair Lift

During our drive to the Mt Tanigawa Ropeway Base Station, the car started... Well, it started humming. The shock must have registered on our features, because the guy from Canyons who was put in charge of ferrying us to the cable car quickly told us that this was one of Japan's Melody Roads. Grooves had been made in the road, and the resulting vibrations caused by driving over them results in car bodies 'singing'. Our car sang 'Memories of Summer', which is apparently a popular tune in Japan. 

There are only four Melody Roads in all of Japan, and drivers have to be going at a certain speed for the song to be heard right, so as to make sure they're well within the speed limits. 

When we got to the Ropeway Station, there were massive banners everywhere promoting the Summer stargazing event we'd initially planned the trip around, kind of like they were taunting us for being silly enough to attempt to see stars during the harvest moon period. There was much sighing on D's part, but we've basically decided that now at least we have a reason to come back again. 

There weren't many people at the base when we bought our tickets, so we got to enjoy our own private cable car cabin. It was fairly spacious, and we were able to run about the cabin to take pictures of the scenery outside from various angles, so the 15 minute journey up felt like no time at all.  

I think the rafting experience had made us particularly sensitized to bodies of water, so we saw what seemed like an inordinate number of rivers and streams on our way up, as well as this small little waterfall. 

Everyone we'd spoken to about going up Mt Tanigawa kept telling us to go all the way to the top of the mountain for the absolutely spectacular views of the surrounding area, so we headed straight for the chair lifts that would bring us there.  

It was another ¥700 each for the return journey, but it seemed like something we absolutely needed to do after hearing a whole bunch of people crow about having seen Mt Fuji from the top on clear days. And wasn't today utterly beautiful and perfect for spotting mountains in the distance? 

I had to slip off my slightly-too-big shoes and place them on my lap for fear that they'd slip off as I kicked my legs in the breeze. Now barefoot, I could reach out and try my darnest to touch the silky long grass with my toes. Because the chair lift came with no safety railing or any other barrier, I had to be extra careful that I didn't tumble off the seat and down the slope.

The view was lovely and it felt like we were going up some kind of Alpine idyll. I half expected someone to break out into song and start yelling 'THE HILLS ARE ALIIIIIVE!', but no one did. I felt oddly disappointed about that. 

While on the chair lift, we saw some people who had taken the walking path slowly criss-crossing their way up the side of the mountain on the summit trail. We felt vaguely guilty for copping out and going up the easy way, but then again we had a train to catch in less than two hours, so we couldn't exactly go on the recommended three-hour hiking route. 

Also, creepy fact: Mt Tanigawa is sometimes referred to as the Mountain of Death. While the summit routes are easily traversed, the ascent up the mountain itself can be fraught with certain danger. More people have died trying to climb Mt Tanigawa than Everest since the 1930s. 

There were a number of small shrines at the very top, in accordance with the religious significance commonly ascribed to mountains in Japan.

The mountain is called Tanigawadake (谷川岳) in Japanese, and is one of the the top 100 mountains in Japan, according to a list compiled by the mountaineer Kyuya Fukada. He compiled the list based on the beauty, history and individuality of the mountains. As a good social scientist I know to critique his methodology (Wouldn't his definition of beauty be biased based on his own personal preferences? etc. etc.), but as a tourist I was just excited to be there. 

It really was a gorgeous day out. I was slowly roasting under the sun but I couldn't mind it, not with a view like this. 

There was a sign pointing to the closest train station down the other side of the mountain, so I jokingly told M & D we should have brought our bags with us and walked to that station instead.

There was one more flight of stairs to a pavilion at what seemed to be the real top of the mountain, and up there were boards and charts indicating the names of the various mountains you could see from there. In one small corner was a picture of Mt Fuji and where to spot it, and on closer inspection of the horizon I did manage to see Mt Fuji, right under a puffy string of clouds. It was almost magical. 

This side covered, M & D hurried me along to explore the rest of the area before we missed our train. I'm one of those stop-to-smell-the-roses types though, so I ambled along and took a picture of this massive bug after I almost stepped on it. 

There was another observatory tower a while away, but we decided to give it a miss. 

There was a bell off the main shrine area, that a lot of people went to ring without actually praying at the shrine. I'm not sure where this bell specifically fit in with the rest of the ritual, and I didn't have the words to ask. M is right, I really do need to take up the language again.  

The top of the main shrine area was a bunch of rocks that could quite easily be scaled, and the sheer number of people who have done so to get a better view has effectively led to the formation of a small path.

We were a week too early for the mountain to be awash in a sea of red and gold and brown, so when I saw this shrubbery I took a snap and pretended we'd gone at the right time. 

Mostly though, it was quite obvious that Summer had yet to relinquish its hold. 

Back at the base station, we begged the guy behind the counter to help us call the taxi company to book a cab, as the next bus to Minakami Station wasn't going to come around until much later. Japanese taxis are heart-breakingly expensive, but there wasn't much choice. While waiting for it to arrive, we went to the food counter and got a simple lunch of one sake onigiri (Rice Balls with Salmon Flakes) each. After our breakfast, we didn't feel like having much more. 

If you follow the instructions, it's fairly easy to get rid of the plastic casing surrounding the piece of seaweed that's meant to wrap your rice ball. Pull the middle tab and discard it, then slip off the two corners one at a time. Tadaaa - your onigiri is now ready to be eaten. 

The driver's timing was perfect and he arrived soon after we finished our onigiri. During the drive to the station he kept up a soothing chatter in Japanese where I understood perhaps one in every 15 words and responded in English and mime. 

Now that I think about it, learning Japanese is all well and good, but maybe I should go and learn something more universal, like interpretive dance. 

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