Category Archives: Japan

Hiking Hakusan: enjoying the colors of the “white mountain”

After climbing Mt. Fuji, we decided to complete the sanreizan (三霊山), Japan’s three holy mountains. So we next set our sights on Mount Hakusan (2702 m) in Ishikawa Prefecture. Its name in Japanese (白山) is translated as “white mountain”, due to its snowy peaks. However, we visited Hakusan in the summer so I would remember it as a mountain of color, a feast for the eyes with its lush greenery, varied flora and fauna, and magnificent landscapes.DSCN0776

Getting there

We decided to climb using the most popular route from Ishikawa prefecture. To get from Fukuoka to Kanazawa, we took the seishun 18 kippu, changing from one slow, local train to another for 19 crazy hours (but that’s for another story). We stayed the night in Kanazawa, took the first bus at 6:45 am, and arrived at the Bettodeai trailhead at 8:55 am (bus schedules here, use Google Chrome auto-translate for the English version).

Day 1: Trailhead to the campsite

Map of Mount Hakusan trails (source: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4285.html)

From there, we chose the Saboshindo trail to get to our target for that day: Minamiryugabanba campsite. We were not in a hurry since we had the whole day to reach the campsite, and another full day tomorrow to reach the summit. From the hanging bridge that marked the start of the hike, the trail is narrow but well-maintained that alternates from wooden planks to gravelly paths and even stone stairs.DSCN0546 (4)Hakusan-002 After 45 minutes, we reached an emergency shelter hut where we stopped to prepare our late breakfast/early lunch and refill our water flasks.DSCN0565 We took our time with our meal, enjoying the cool temperature and good weather that Hakusan offered us. With our stomachs full, we continued on our hike with different types of flowering plants lining the trail. Everywhere I look, there were interesting plants or curious insects that kept me occupied and made me forget the length of the hike. The flora and fauna were one of the most varied among the mountains I have climbed.Hakusan-001Hakusan After 1.5 hours (around 1 pm), we stopped at the Jinnosuke shelter hut for a bathroom break and survey of the scenery. There we met a lot hikers also taking a breather, from young kids to groups of young hikers to old grandfathers and grandmothers. They all had a “konnichiwa” greeting for us as we passed.

At the Jinnosuke hut

At the Jinnosuke shelter hut

We continued on to the steeper (but still really rolling) portion of the hike, but when we got to the intersection going to Murodo (hut nearest the peak), we started descending again to reach the Minamiryugabanba campsite. The sky started to get really clear, so we were rewarded by beautiful views of the surrounding peaks covered by different shades of green. I took a lot of photos of the stunning landscape before continuing on.DSCN0664

DSCN0661 (7) The last few portions of the trail were all elevated wooden planks until we arrived at the Nanryu sanso hut around 2 pm. We had to register there and pay 300 JPY per person to use the nearby Minamiryugabanba campsite.

Nanryu sanso hut

Nanryu sanso hut

After the paperwork, it was another 20 minutes before we got to the campsite, where several tents were already set up. The campsite had small, open cabins with toilets and sinks.

Minamiryuganba campsite

Minamiryugabanba campsite

View from our tent

View from our tent

Inside the cabin building at the campsite

Inside the cabin building at the campsite

I felt really thankful that Japanese campsites always have a water source for drinking and washing, it really takes a whole lot of load off our shoulders, literally. We arrived at the campsite quite early, so we took our time preparing our early dinner. Even then, we were already inside the tent before sunset for lack of anything else to do. The smartphone became our best friend that night.

Day 2: Campsite to the peak and back

The next day, we started our day by getting up at 6:15 am to prepare breakfast. We left the campsite with all our stuff at around 7:30 am to take the 3.1 km Tonbiiwa course up to Murodo hut. The trail consisted of large boulders that eventually became gravelly paths. The vegetation changed to short pine shrubs and stunted trees and then to grassland.DSCN0711

DSCN0724 (2)Along the way, there were still patches of snow from the previous winter that added character to the already amazing scenery. I was feeling really pleased with the beauty surrounding me.

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We reached Murodo hut at 9:00 am and took a half-hour break to explore the surroundings and watch the helicopter deliver the hut’s supplies.DSCN0738 (13)

Murodo hut

Murodo hut

delivery

delivery

At 9:30 am we said a quick prayer at the shrine for a safe trip to the summit (Hakusan was a holy mountain, after all).DSCN0738 (14)

The Murodo hut seen from above

The Murodo hut seen from above

After half an hour, we reached the smaller Shiramayahime shrine and from there it was a short 2-minute climb to the peak.DSCN0753 (4) It was a clear day so the view of the lakes below, paired with the vibrant blue of the sky, were just stunning.

Summit of Mt. Hakusan

Summit of Mt. Hakusan

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View from the top

We were feeling great on the summit so we decided to take the longer Oike Meguri course. The course is a longer loop that leads back to Murodo hut, but not before passing by the seven lakes along the way. We checked out all the lakes depicted in the course, and they varied from large blue lakes with melting snow to small sulfuric ponds.

This way down

This way down

The lakes of the Meguike course

The lakes of the Oike Meguri course

After 2 hours of leisurely walking, we arrived back at Murodo hut and had a quick lunch. By noon we were on our way down using the Kankoshindo trail for variety. We raced down, especially on the wooden walkways, since we felt so energized by the good weather and wonderful scenery.

Tired hiker along the trail

We felt energized, but this hiker was feeling really tired.

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Wonderful view going down

I was also busy taking photos of more flowers and insects along the trail, and at one point we met a snake, which added more excitement to the day.

Snake on the trail

Snake on the trail

We waited for a while to let him move out of the trail before we continued on. By 2:30 we were already back at the Bettodeai trailhead and ready for the 3:30 bus that would take us back to Kanazawa.

Bettodeai welcoming us back

Bettodeai welcoming us back

 

Climbing Hakusan was one of the most laid-back and relaxed climbs I did. The good weather, well-maintained trails and beautiful scenery all contributed to the good vibes that the mountain imparted to us. I would always associate the “white mountain” with vivid colors: from the different greens of the grass and leaves, to the beautiful blue of the sky, the vibrant colors of the flowers and insects and the colorful scenery both from the peak and below.DSCN0711 (3)

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Second to none: Climbing Mt. Kitadake in the Japan South Alps

After our Mt. Fuji climb, our feet were itching to climb the rest of Japan’s major peaks. And so it was that we decided to climb Mt. Kitadake in the South Alps. It’s the second highest peak in Japan at 3,193 meters. Although not so famous outside its home country, Kitadake is a favorite with Japanese seasoned hikers for the fewer crowds (compared to the marketplace that is Mt. Fuji), stunning views, and extra challenge (it’s a much harder climb than Fuji because of the steeper ascent and greater elevation change). As an added bonus, Mt. Ainodake (Japan’s 4th highest peak) can also be reached on the same trip.

View of Mt. Fuji from Kitadake

View of Mt. Fuji from Kitadake

Getting there

Some hikers prefer to do the Kitadake climb in three days, but we only had the weekend because of school work, so we squeezed the climb into two full days. We flew in from Fukuoka to Tokyo on a Friday afternoon and on Saturday morning, we took the first train at a little past 5 am to reach Kofu station (check train schedules in English here) in time to catch the 9 am bus (Fare: 1,950 JPY) going to the Hirogawara trailhead (bus schedule here, use Google Chrome to auto-translate the page to English. Be aware that bus schedules change annually).

The ascent

After two hours in the bus, we arrived at the information center of the South Alps National Park located at the Hirogawara trailhead, where we started the trek.

Information Center of the South Alps National Park

Information Center of the South Alps National Park

The trail was well-marked and well-maintained, as is common in all Japanese mountains.

Where to? To the summit!

Where to? To the summit!

The scenery was set in summer green, while the trail consisted of boulders and loose rock fragments.  There were also wooden stairs or stone steps set up in several areas to avoid soil erosion, and wooden bridges were placed in steeper portions that were prone to landslides. There were not many climbers that we met or passed on the trail, probably because it was already September and nearing the end of the climb season.

'Rocky" trail

‘Rocky” trail

Stairs everywhere!

Stairs everywhere!

After climbing for 2.5 hours, the first (and easier) part of the climb ended when we reached the Shiraneoike mountain hut. The mountain hut sold coffee and cup noodles, but we only availed of the free drinking water since we brought our own food. We sat on a bench in front of the hut and quickly prepared our very crude lunch of instant noodles, canned tuna and onigiri (rice balls).

Lunch outside the Shiraneoike mountain hut

Lunch outside the Shiraneoike mountain hut

Outside the mountain hut, several tents were already set up, and more hikers would arrive later that day to stay overnight before continuing the climb the next morning. As for the three of us, after our lunch we hurried off to the more challenging part: the steep ascent. The trail changed into a path with thicker vegetation, but the path was still very obvious because of the large rocks that they set up to prevent encroachment.DSCN0993DSCN1057 I enjoyed looking at the pretty flowers and alpine plants along the trail and observed several bird species, which I recognized from the national park brochure (complete with maps estimating the climb duration for each trail segment and a bonus wildlife guide).

Some of the flowers along the trail

Some of the flowers along the trail

Spotted Nutcracker; ホシガラス- hoshigarasu (Nucifraga caryocatactes)

Spotted Nutcracker; ホシガラス- hoshigarasu (Nucifraga caryocatactes)

Rock ptarmigans ライチョウ - raicho (Lagopus mutus)

Rock ptarmigans; ライチョウ – raicho (Lagopus mutus)

The flora and fauna served as a good distraction from my heaving breath. We were in a hurry to reach the campsite before dark, so we tried to keep a brisk pace.

My two companions, strong as ever

My two companions enjoying the hike

After two hours of continuous climbing, we reached the ridgeline. Here the flora changed from tall trees to short shrubs and grass, indicating our arrival in the low-alpine elevation level. We put on our jackets and walked along the ridge while enjoying the beautiful view just when the sun was starting to set and the mist was creeping in.DSCN1062

Enjoying the view

Enjoying the view

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The trail was full of color

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Finding our way through the mist

Camping at 3,000 masl

We reached the Kitadake kata-no-koya mountain hut/campsite (elevation: 3,000 masl) just before dark. We quickly paid the camping fee (300 JPY) and tent fee (500 JPY), then set up camp before the last of the sunlight disappeared.

mountain hut at 3,000 masl

Kitadake kata-no-koya mountain hut at 3,000 masl

The shopkeeper at the mountain hut store

The shopkeeper at the mountain hut store

price list

Price list (ramen, udon, curry rice – 900 JPY; oden – 600 JPY; coffee, cocoa – 300 JPY)

We were very happy with the fantastic view of Mt. Fuji and its neighboring mountains from our tent. The temperature quickly dropped to near-freezing when it got dark, so we changed into warmer clothes before dinner.

Our tent neighbors

Our tent neighbors

Mt. Fuji from our tent

Mt. Fuji from our tent

The temperature before dark

The temperature before dark

With only our headlamps on, we enjoyed our beef steak and rice meal, which we happily washed down with Asahi beers that we brought from Tokyo. Finally, it was 9 pm and time to sleep.

Kanpai!

Kanpai!

Summit assault and traversing to Japan’s 4th highest peak

We got up really early (3:15 am!), put our belongings inside the tent and left the campsite for the summit. We arrived at the summit at about 4 am, just in time to see the first rays of light emerge.

Obligatory group photo at the summit

Obligatory group photo at the summit

The view was really stunning: the sea of clouds enveloped the horizon but for the perfect cone of Mt. Fuji sticking out; this beautiful scene set in a backdrop of quickly changing, fierce orange hues.DSCN1202

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As an added bonus, there were only about 20 people with us at the summit, so we had a quiet and unobstructed view of the sunrise. We appreciated the early morning even more with coffee and breakfast that we prepared with the cook set and stove that we brought to the summit.

The few people we shared the sunrise with

The few people we shared the sunrise with

By 6:00 am, it was already bright and sunny and we were ready for the 7-km traverse to Mt. Ainodake (the fourth highest Japanese mountain at 3,189 m) and back to the campsite. We followed the rocky ridgeline, which offered a fantastic view of the ridge peaks that we were about to climb.DSCN1257

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The trek to Ainodake was really a challenge for me: we were traversing above 3,000 m elevation, but we were also in a hurry to catch the 2:30 pm bus at the trailhead. I couldn’t even appreciate the splendid views anymore; I was just concentrating on reaching the next crag or going down the next steep ladder.

One of the few photos I was able to take during the traverse

One of the few photos I was able to take during the traverse

On our way back to the Kitadake kata-no-koya, my breath was already in short gasps and my heart was pounding very fast. We stopped twice to eat the bread and snacks we packed since I was feeling really weak and hungry. We pushed on and got back to our tent at 11 am. That was five hours after leaving the Kitadake summit, traversing to Ainodake, and returning to the campsite. It seemed to be the longest five hours of my life, and most of it was spent with my heart racing and my legs complaining. One good consolation was that the sky was really clear that day, so I didn’t have to worry about the cold on top of everything else.

Heading back

Heading back

Hurrying back to the campsite

Hurrying to the campsite

There was never a sight more welcome: the view of our campsite (and our tent!)

There was never a sight more welcome: the view of our campsite (and our tent!)

Heading down and back

I was able to catch my breath at the campsite; eating a proper meal for lunch did wonders to my motivation and psyche. By noontime, we were packed and ready for the descent. The average time going down from the  campsite to the trailhead was 3.5 hours, but the only bus from the trailhead going back to the city would leave at 2:30 pm. Needless to say, it was an exciting afternoon. We were in a rush to go down, almost running with our heavy packs.

Going down

Going down

But I was feeling much better descending (I think a heavy stomach really made the difference; that or the high elevation did not suite me very well) so we made good time with some moments to spare near the end of our trek to take photos, and appreciate the last of the snow and the rushing stream running along the trail.DSCN1328

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We arrived at the trailhead at 2:20 pm, with a few minutes to spare before the ride back. But as it turned out, there was no real need to hurry because there were several taxi drivers waiting for passengers to bring back to Kofu Station. Anyway, we wouldn’t have known about it so we were still glad to have hurried back. We shared the taxi with one other climber, and in the end paid the same price as the bus fare but for faster travel time (the taxi drivers fixed this price, I guess they just didn’t want to go back down empty-handed after bringing their passengers up). With that, we said goodbye to Kitadake with weary feet and tired legs, but full of unforgettable moments and good memories. Kitadake might only be Japan’s second highest mountain, but it remains one of my best climb experiences.

Photo credit: Ed Lucio

Photo credit: Ed Lucio

*This post was modified from a feature article written for Trails, the official newsletter of the University of the Philippines Mountaineers.

World Heritage Island in a day: our Yakushima adventure

Have you seen the animated film “Princess Mononoke“? It’s one of the coolest animated films ever. For me, the best part about the film was the enchanted forest setting, where the magical forest creatures come alive. My Japanese friends told me that the forest in Princess Mononoke was inspired by Yakushima island. The island was declared a World Heritage Site because of their century-old cedar trees and rich flora and fauna. Since then, it has been my dream to go to Yakushima.

Preview ;)

(Preview)

M and I have been planning our Yakushima trip for more than a year. I have already prepared a detailed itinerary for a 4-day trip, complete with bus schedules, hostel rates and food budget (Yes, I’m crazy like that). Unfortunately, work, classes, and other trips got in the way and we never had that 4-day opportunity. However, when our friend visited Kyushu we just had to make the trip happen, four days or no. After all that planning, we ended up with just one day in Yakushima (less than 24 hours in fact), but it was to be one of the most memorable days ever.

Getting there is half the battle

Yakushima is an island at the southernmost part of Kyushu Island, which is southernmost of Japan’s four main islands. In short, it’s far and pretty hard to get to. From Hakata station in Fukuoka, we took the Nishitetsu highway bus to Kagoshima-chuo Station (15,000 JPY for a 4-ticket bus discount; that’s only 3,750 JPY for a 4 hour-15 minute bus ride, as opposed to the 9,660 JPY for the 95-minute shinkansen ride).

From Kagoshima, we originally planned to take the overnight Hibiscus ferry to Yakushima. The Hibiscus ferry was the cheapest option, not to mention we get to save on accommodations. *Check the Yakumonkey website for transportation options, and a lot of other Yakushima travel tips* One catch of the cheap ferry is that its embarkation point, Taniyama Port, is not located at Kagoshima city center like the other ferry services, but an hour’s drive farther southwest. Due to a series of unforeseen circumstances (weekend classes, horrible weather, and bad traffic), we were not able to catch the ferry in time. Lesson learned: bus schedules are not as reliable as the train’s. Also, weekend classes are real spoilers!

Kagoshima

Kagoshima, our gateway to Yakushima Island

So we had no choice but to stay the night in Kagoshima. We searched online for the most convenient hostel and found Green Guest House, which is right across the Kagoshima Port going to Yakushima. That night, there was a mini concert by Guitar Panda (yes, he plays the guitar in a Panda costume, obviously!) so we hung out in the lobby for a while and tried the Kagoshima-exclusive Sakurajima Magma Soda. It was essentially a carbonated drink with chili; it’s non-alcoholic, but drink moderately still! I heard some passing warning about stomach aches…

Magma Soda!

Magma Soda!

Anyway, the next day we made sure we were at the Kagoshima port early to buy our tickets for the first trip of the toppy jetfoil to Yakushima. *We didn’t need to reserve in advance since it was the  lean season, but for peak seasons make sure you book ahead of time.*

Early morning at the Kagoshima port, with the view of Sakurajima volcano

It was strange having to strap ourselves in our seats the whole trip (safety requirement), but it was a quick and smooth-sailing two hours.

Trek around Shiratani Unsuikyo: the Mononoke Forest experience

Finally, we arrived in Yakushima! We walked to  Miyanoura Port Youth Hostel, which was really near the port. After checking in, we met with our two friends (Yuta and Jas) already staying at the hostel and rented a car for the group (We asked the hostel front desk for assistance with the car rental, which cost 4,500 JPY for the whole day).

The ride up to Shiratani Unsuikyo was all twists and turns on the narrow road, but the view was breathtaking!

We had to stop for photos, of course.

We had to stop for photos, of course.

We finally reached the entrance of Shiratani Unsuikyo Forest Ravine by noon, and we parked our car and paid the 300 JPY entrance fee. In turn, we received a pamphlet with a rough map of the area.

Entrance to the Shiratani Unsuikyo

Entrance to the Shiratani Unsuikyo

Given the time constraints, we decided to stick to the Genseirin Primeval Forest Hiking Trail, so we can have a feel of the Mononoke Forest, and pass by several cedar trees along the way.

Look Ma, I can fit under the roots!

Look Ma, I can fit under the roots!

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And feel it we did, although I’m quite stumped trying to translate the feeling into words.

As we treaded along the path that was full of roots and fallen leaves, we passed by these big and proud cedar trees that are ancient beyond belief, standing tall in silent dignity.

Be careful where you tread...

Be careful where you tread…

Inside a hollow cedar tree

Inside a hollow cedar tree

Giant cedar trees

They’re really tall!

And then there’s the ubiquitous moss that blankets the landscape, covering the tree trunks and the big boulders.

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The different shades of green give off a tranquil vibe, especially when combined with the pristine river water and the calming sound of the stream.

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I guess all of that gives the forest its enchanted feeling (and my suddenly poetic descriptions!).IMG_9197

We also enjoyed observing the deer walking about without a care for us human intruders.

One of the many deer in the forest

One of the many deer in the forest, calmly chewing his food while having a stare-off with us.

 We had a late lunch at the Shiratani hut, where there’s a water source and some benches for sitting. We heated water for some hot tea and ate our rice balls, but pretty soon the cold winter temperature was catching up with us so we headed back after a while.

Heating water for tea (photo by Jasmine Black)

Heating water for tea (photo by Jasmine)

We left Shiratani Unsuikyo at about 3:00 pm, still in awe of the cedar trees and the Mononoke forest, and quite happy with our little trek.IMG_9206

As an added bonus, we met the Yakushima monkeys on the road!IMG_9226

 

Seaside hotspring means getting naked with the ojiichans

We drove for about two hours to the southern end of the island to take a dip at their seaside onsen (hot spring). After the cold hike, we were really looking forward to a nice dip at the natural hot spring, and by the sea no less! The hot spring is open to all: men and women, young and old. I haven’t really experienced an onsen overlooking the sea, much less an onsen for both genders. I was not sure what to expect.

Hirauchi Seaside Onsen (if you look closely, you'll see the bathers)

Hirauchi Seaside Onsen (if you look closely, you’ll see the bathers) (photo by Jasmine, because I left my camera in the car)

When we arrived there, everybody was just… naked. We also took off our clothes and left it by the rocks, but in the end I wasn’t that brave. Jas and I brought towels and after much deliberation, we didn’t take it off when we went in the water. Getting naked with your friends of the opposite gender was awkward for us girls; but the guys didn’t mind, they seem to be enjoying it, even! I guess I was weirded out by the old Japanese men (casually called ojiichan in Japanese, which literally means Grandpa) casually lounging by the onsen pools and offhandedly looking about. I’m sure they meant no malice, but for somebody not used to stripping in front of other people it was just too uncomfortable with the ojiichans watching.

However, awkwardness notwithstanding, the seaside onsen was heavenly! The hot spring water relaxed our tired muscles. Watching the sunset while lounging in the seaside bath was an unexpected bonus as well. The place and the experience is definitely memorable!

(photo by Jasmine)

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(photo by Jasmine)

Barbeque time!

We rushed back to Miyanoura to return our rented car before the shop closed at 6:00 pm. Our friend Yuta really did a fine job getting back into town in less than an hour (don’t tell the Yakushima traffic police!). Afterwards the rental car staff brought us back to our hostel, where we finished the day with a barbeque party. Good times!IMG_9232

 

‘Til next time, Yakushima!

Early the next day, M and I ourselves out of bed to catch the Hibiscus Ferry back to Kagoshima. Our time in Yakushima was really short and sweet. For sure, we’ll be back to scale the island’s highest peak, and use that 4-day itinerary I’ve been planning since forever. See you again, Yakushima!Yakushima

 

P.S. Somebody asked me to post my original four-day itinerary, and I’m posting it here so other people can look at it as well. Below is the itinerary with expense calculation (all figures in Japanese yen). Note that trekking times are estimated for our speed (you might be faster or slower), so take caution in following the trek schedule. Bus times are based on the 2013 bus schedule. Train times are for weekday schedules.

Day 1 FUKUOKA to KAGOSHIMA
07:00 Bus from Hakata Bus Center (3750 JPY w/4-ticket discount)
11:54 Arrival in Kagoshima-chuo station, lunch (500-1000)
12:30 Tram to Sakurajima ferry terminal (160)
12:45 Ferry to Sakurajima (150); Go around Sakurajima
15:00 Ferry to Kagoshima (150); Tram to Kagoshimachuo (160)
15:37/16:01 Train from Kagochimachuo to Sakanoue station (280)
15:57/16:21 Arrival in Sakanoue station; Taxi or walk to Taniyama port (should be at the port before 5pm, so better be early; taxis are not very frequent) (if taking taxi: 1500 JPY)
17:00 buy tickets for Hibiscus ferry (3500)
18:00 Ferry departure (overnight)

Day 2 YAKUSHIMA TREK
07:00 Arrival at Miyanoura port; breakfast (500-1000)
08:00/08:26 Bus from Miyanoura to Shiratani Unsuikyo (530)
08:30/08:56 Arrival at Shiratani Unsuikyo (300 entrance fee)
09:00 Start trek
10:30 Shiratani Hut
12:00 Kusugawa Junction
13:10 Okabu Trailhead; Lunch
13:30 Resume trek
14:10 Wilson stump
15:20 Jomon sugi
16:45 Shin-takatsuka hut, stay overnight

Day 3 SUMMIT and DESCENT
05:00 Breakfast (500-1000)
06:00 Start trek
09:00 Nagatadake junction
09:30 Miyanoura dake summit
11:45 Hana no ego; lunch
12:15 Resume trek
13:20 Yodogawa hut
14:45 Kigensugi
14:58/15:53/16:21 Bus from Kigensugi (940)
15:08/17:20/17:22 Gochomae arrival; onsen at Green Hotel (1000)
17:37/17:52/18:21 Bus from Gochomae to Miyanoura (780)
Stay at Kairakuen camping place mini-bungalow (1200)
(http://www.e-yakushima.jp/location.html)

Day 4 YAKUSHIMA to FUKUOKA
06:30 Breakfast
07:00 Taxi to Miyanoura port (3 km away, ask owner for transport options) (1500 or less by taxi)
07:20 Buy ticket for Hibiscus ferry (3200)
14:40 Arrival at Taniyama port; walk to Sakanoue station (usually no taxis unless you call for one)
15:29/16:05 Train from Sakanoue to Kagoshima-chuo station (280)
15:49/16:27 Arrival at Kagoshima-chuo Station
16:40/17:10/17:40 Bus from Kagoshima-chuo (3750 JPY w/4-ticket discount)
20:46/21:16/21:46 Arrival at Hakata Station

What the hell(s): the Beppu Jigoku tour

The town of Beppu in Oita Prefecture, Japan is blessed with piping hot geothermal waters. Beppu is frequented by tourists not only for its hot springs (onsen) but also for its “hells” (jigoku). Hot spring resorts/public baths abound all over Japan, but the jigoku is unique to Beppu. All eight hells could be toured in half a day, but we stayed overnight so we could also try Beppu’s famous onsens.

Getting there

Beppu can be accessed by train or bus from Fukuoka, which is the nearest major airport. You can also get a train from Tokyo or Kyoto, but chances are you would also have to stop by Hakata station in Fukuoka.

In our case, we chose to travel using the Nishitetsu Bus, since it’s the cheapest way to get to Beppu from Fukuoka. We used the Toyonokuni Kippu, which is a discounted set of four tickets for a certain route. A one-way bus ticket normally costs 3,100 JPY but with the toyonokuni, one ticket is only 2,000 JPY each (provided you have a companion). The travel time takes 2 hrs 40 mins, as opposed to the bullet train’s 1 hr 40 mins (but costs 5,600 JPY). We bought tickets at the Hakata Bus Terminal a few minutes before departure (no reservations for this route) and got off at the Beppu Kitahama bus stop. We then walked for about 10 minutes to the Beppu train station.

Beppu Station

Beppu Station

Touring the hells

At the train station, we proceeded to the Tourist Information Center where we got the following: One-day bus pass (900 JPY), Jigoku tour information sheet, bus timetable, and discount coupon for the hells and other Beppu tourist attractions. The nice lady at the counter explained everything that we needed to know about visiting the hells.

Armed with our sheets of paper, we waited for the next scheduled bus departure for the Kannawa area, where the first six hells are located. Buses depart every 15-30 minutes. We decided to buy the ticket booklet for all eight hells, since it felt like a bargain. We only paid 1,800 JPY for the booklet (original price was 2,000 JPY but we got the discount coupon from the information office) as opposed to 400 JPY entrance fee for each hell. We came for a tour of the hells, so we might as well just visit all of them, right? Here I’ll briefly describe all eight hells and give my verdict at the end whether all eight were visit-worthy.

They gave out free fans with Beppu Jigoku mascots

They were giving out free fans with Beppu Jigoku mascots outside the hells.

Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell)

We were greeted by nice lotus flowers on the entrance, then we had to pass by the big souvenir shop to get to the pond. This hell was named as the Sea Hell because of the blue color of the water (which is of course not its natural color). There was a small shrine at one side of the pond, and a manicured garden on the opposite end.

Lotus and dragonflies greeted us just after the entrance

Lotus and dragonflies greeted us just after the entrance

The Sea Hell

The Sea Hell

Boiling eggs at the pond

Cooking boiled eggs at the pond

The large compound also includes a greenhouse that gets it heat from the hot spring. I felt a little disoriented at first, seeing banana trees and wild orchids in Japan, or maybe it was just the unbearable heat of the summer plus the heat inside the greenhouse that got to me, but after a while I got to appreciate the novelty of growing tropical plants by utilizing the hot spring.

Go figure.

Sign for the greenhouse. Go figure.

Inside the greenhouse

Inside the greenhouse

Lotus inside the greenhouse

Lotus inside the greenhouse

Just outside the Umi Jigoku entrance, there were several stores selling pudding that was cooked from the hot spring steam. Of course we tried this specialty product, but we were a little disappointed by the bitter aftertaste of the caramelized sugar. Maybe we just chose the wrong store and got unlucky.

Pudding steamed using the hotspring

Pudding steamed using the hot spring

Oniishibozu Jigoku (Monk’s Shaved Head Hell)

The bubbling mud pools were interesting, and a bit hypnotizing if you stare too long at the perfectly round bubbles coming up the surface. I was trying to imagine monks being borne headfirst from the bubbles as the name suggests, but my scientific mind could only conjure the image of the upper half of Saturn complete with rings. There were several pools showcasing these bubbles, but the real reward was the foot bath near the entrance.

Monk's Shaved Head Hell

The Monk’s Shaved Head Hell

Yama Jigoku (Mountain Hell)

It’s so named because there was supposedly a mountain of mud here, but all I can see were a smoking pile of rocks. There were some animals that supposedly added to the attraction, but they didn’t look too happy to be there.

The Mountain Hell

The Mountain Hell

hippo

The hippo’s mouth appears to be permanently open, just waiting for the tourists to throw carrots into it.

Kamado Jigoku (Cooking Pot Hell)

This hell features a pond that looks like the Sea Hell (although not quite as well-designed), a foot bath (which we skipped because the water looked murky plus it was packed with tourists), and a demon figure that is standing in a cooking pot (hence the name). One interesting point for me was that they tried to explain the geologic origin of silica sinter (yeah yeah, I know this is not interesting for most of you).

The pond in the Cooking Pot Hell

The pond in the Cooking Pot Hell

The foot bath full of tourists

The foot bath full of tourists

The demon standing in the "cooking pot"

The demon standing in the “cooking pot”

Display explaining the origin of silica sinter

Display explaining the origin of silica sinter

Oniyama Jigoku (Demon Mountain Hell)

One word: crocodile. There were a lot of Malaysian crocodiles enjoying the warm waters of this hell (according to the information on the billboard). Aside from the crocs, the pond in this place is spurting water due to the strong steam.

One of the many crocodiles in the Demon Mountain Hell

One of the many crocodiles in the Demon Mountain Hell

Shiraike Jigoku (White Pond Hell)

This hell is named after the creamy white color of the water, but we were first directed to some aquariums with piranhas and other exotic fishes. I can’t say I enjoyed looking at the fishes in the water tanks, but at least I can say I’ve seen a lot of piranhas at one time.  The pond itself is milky green in color, with white hot steam coming out.

Piranhas in the aquarium

Piranhas in the aquarium

The White Pond Hell

Chinoike Jigoku (Blood Pond Hell)

To get to this place we had to take the bus (about 10 minutes), since it’s in a different area than the first six hells. Before we got to the pond, we had to pass by the big souvenir shop that serves as the entrance. To me, the pond’s color is not really blood-red but orange-brown. The color comes from the clayey mud, which is being sold there as treatment for the skin.

The Blood Pond Hell

The Blood Pond Hell

Tatsumaki Jigoku (Spout Hell)

This last attraction is just beside the Blood Pond Hell. It’s a geyser that erupts every 40 minutes (which they are very proud of, since it’s one of the few geysers in the world that erupt hourly). One of the staff will tell you upon entering what time the next eruption will be, so that you can decide to visit the Blood Pond Hell first if the geyser just erupted. I haven’t seen a geyser erupt before so it was a new experience for me. Sadly (at least for me), they put up a stone ceiling above the geyser to prevent it from reaching its full height so that they can build the souvenir shop just beside it and so that people can go as near as they can to the Spout Hell.

The Spout Hell

The Spout Hell

So there you have them, all eight hells of Beppu. If you want to ask me if all eight hells were visit-worthy, I would say I would only pick the Sea Hell, the Monk’s Shaved Head Hell, and the Spout Hell if I was pressed for time and budget. Also, because we visited during the height of summer, we didn’t really appreciate the warmth of the foot baths and hot springs because of the terrible heat and humidity. But I must say I did not regret visiting all of them, since I had had the complete “hell” experience, both the good and not so nice.

It was actually fun completing the stamp rally (putting a stamp on each of the hells) which supposedly will give us some souvenir as reward if we submit the completed sheet of paper with our address, although I have yet to receive the prize. If you also want to visit all of them, there’s no stopping you from completing all those stamps!

Completing the stamps from all eight hells

Completing the stamps from all eight hells

Sidetrip: Taking a bath at the onsen

Aside from the hells, Beppu is not Beppu if not for the onsen (hot spring baths). Even though it was the peak of summer, we couldn’t resist taking a dip in the popular baths of Beppu. We tried two of the most popular onsen, which could not have been more different from each other: the large and modern Aqua Garden and Tanayu Bath at the Suginoi Hotel, and the small and traditional Takegawara Onsen.

Suginoi Hotel

This hotel is one of the biggest in Beppu, and the Aqua Garden and Tanayu hot spring bath is open to non-guests for an entrance fee of 1,500 yen. The entrance fee included toiletries, including large fluffy towels. They also have a free shuttle service from the Beppu train station, so going all the way up to this hotel on the hill was not a problem. The Aqua Garden is not gender-restricted and requires swimming attire that I did not bring, so I had to rent a swim suit for 400 yen. The water in the pool was warm and comfortable. There was a lights and sound show that makes use of a projector, a water fountain and a smoke machine, which made for a unique show. After watching the show, we had an enjoyable dip at the gender-separated Tanayu open air hot bath.  It was relaxing to dip in the hot infinity pools whilst enjoying the view of the city (obviously, photos are not allowed inside the bath ).

One of the pools at the Aqua Garden

One of the pools at the Aqua Garden

Lights and Sound Show

Lights and Sound Show

Takegawara Onsen

This bathing facility is said to be the oldest in Beppu. It only cost 100 yen to enter. The bathing area itself is really basic in stark contrast to that of Suginoi Hotel, with just one pool that I couldn’t dip in because it was extremely hot (a few centigrades hotter then the regular onsen). There were some  wash basins and stools but not much else, so the visitor should bring his/her own toiletries. I didn’t stay long because the water was too hot, but the old regulars seem to enjoy the bath. I had a little headache after that, but I was still glad that I got to experience the ‘authentic’ Japanese public bath.

Takegawara Onsen

Takegawara Onsen

 

I’m sure I would love Beppu even more if I visited during any other season except summer. I can enjoy and appreciate the hells and the hot spring baths properly when I’m not sweating like crazy from the humidity. I’d definitely go back to Beppu in winter!

Testing the hand bath in front of Beppu station

Testing the hand bath in front of Beppu station

Colorful Kyoto: my Top 5 must-see places

If I were to recommend just one place in Japan, it would definitely be Kyoto. With its world-famous temples and shrines, Kyoto is traditional Japan through and through. I have been to Kyoto three seasons out of four (about 14 days in total) and have immensely enjoyed Kyoto’s beautiful and vibrant colors.

Kyoto in Autumn, Winter, and Spring

Kyoto in Autumn, Winter, and Spring

At first, we tried to visit as many sights as we could (and there are a lot! even a whole week is not enough!), but on our succeeding trips we learned to prioritize. Some places are really worth the visit and re-visits, because a different season will reveal a different but equally beautiful sight.

I have listed my Top 5 must-see sites in an area where you could easily get overwhelmed with the far too many sites. If you have limited time to tour Kyoto, then you can skip all the other destinations except these five (if you believe my taste, that is):

1. Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion). One word: gold. With a gilded temple, what more can you ask for? This is perhaps the most extravagant temple in Japan, with most of the pavilion covered in gold leaf. The pond in front of the pavilion also adds to its photogenic charms. The temple’s magnificence is hard to capture in words, but perhaps the photographs can describe it more eloquently.

The Golden Pavilion

The Golden Pavilion

Autumn colors in Kinkakuji's pond

Autumn colors in Kinkakuji’s pond

Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji Temple

Rainbow in the mini-waterfalls of the garden surrounding Kinkakuji

Rainbow in the mini-waterfalls of the garden surrounding Kinkakuji

How about some tea? There is an area for tea just before the exit

How about some tea? There is an area for traditional Japanese tea just before the exit

2. Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion). Nope, it’s not covered in silver… The temple pavilion’s design was modeled after Kinkakuji, so it was named the “silver pavilion” for comparison (or because it’s catchy, i really dunno). My favorite part of this temple is not the pavilion, but the lovely moss garden. In the autumn, the Silver Pavilion is just beautiful beyond words.

The Philosopher's Walk on the way to Ginkakuji

The Philosopher’s Walk on the way to Ginkakuji

The Silver Pavilion

The Silver Pavilion

Ginkakuji Sand Garden

Ginkakuji Sand Garden

The beautiful garden in Ginkakuji

The beautiful garden in Ginkakuji

ginkakuji-garden2

Momiji (maple leaves) in the moss

Momiji (maple leaves) in the moss

View from the garden slopes

View from the garden slopes

3. Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple). This temple is one of the most popular in Japan, but I like it best for the cherry blossoms in spring and for the kouyou leaves in autumn. During these seasons, the temple has evening illumination events. For me, those are best times to visit.

Autumn illumination at the Kiyomizudera Temple

Autumn illumination at the Kiyomizudera Temple

Illuminated pagoda in Kiyomizudera

Illuminated pagoda in Kiyomizudera

Illuminated momiji

Illuminated momiji

Illuminated trees make for a beautiful photo backdrop

Illuminated trees make for a beautiful photo backdrop

In addition to enjoying the temple’s sites, part of the fun in visiting Kiyomizudera is to walk in the sloped streets of the Higashiyama District. The district exudes that traditional Japan feel, with its wooden shops and buildings that sells local crafts and souvenirs, not to mention the delicious food that you can try (there are some shops that offer free taste of their delicacy).

Busy Higashiyama District

Busy Higashiyama District

Souvenir shops like this one line the streets of Higashiyama

Souvenir shops like this one line the streets of Higashiyama

Interesting food choices can be sampled at Higashiyama

Interesting food choices can be sampled at Higashiyama

4. Fushimi Inari Shrine. If you need to visit one shrine in Japan, then this should be it. The most prominent part of a shrine for me is the torii, and Fushimi Inari Shrine has thousands of these orange-red gates that are closely arranged in rows. The gates cover the trail going up the mountain, which makes for a very interesting hike.

Entrance to the shrine

Entrance to the shrine

Foxes are the messengers of Inari, the god of rice

Foxes are the messengers of Inari, the god of rice

Before entering any shrine, you should wash your hands and mouth at the purification trough

Before entering any shrine, you should wash your hands and mouth at the purification trough.

Senbon torii (Thousands of torii gates)Senbon torii (Thousands of torii gates)

Walking under the toriis somehow feels surreal.

Walking under the toriis somehow feels surreal.

Your budget dictates the size of the shrine you want built.

Your budget dictates the size of the shrine you want built. A torii built for Inari could help your business become more prosperous.

Smaller torii for smaller budgets

Smaller torii for smaller budgets

Spring flowers at the Fushimi Inari Shrine grounds

Spring flowers at the Fushimi Inari Shrine grounds

View from the lookout point mid-hike

View from the lookout point mid-hike

5. Arashiyama. Located in the western outskirts of Kyoto, the place boasts of several sights to behold. I especially like this place in autumn, when the colors of fall accentuate Arashiyama’s natural beauty. The area has a number of attractions, but a half-day walking tour should bring you to the top sites if you are pressed for time.

There is the garden in Tenryu-ji temple , which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The garden is considered as one of the most beautiful in Japan, and I couldn’t agree more when I saw the place in autumn. I first saw it in winter and it was beautiful then, but seeing it in all its autumn glory was just magical.

Tenryu-ji Garden

Tenryu-ji Garden

tenryuji momiji

Another remarkable site is the Bamboo Groves at the back of the Tenryu-ji Garden. I don’t understand how they could make bamboo look so idyllic, but there it was. Walking through the neatly arranged bamboos, I couldn’t help but get carried away by the magic of the place.bamboo grove arashiyama

Bamboo Grove

Bamboo Grove

bamboo grove

One good place for a stroll is along the Hozugawa River, where you can watch the boats leisurely taking their passengers on a tour. Autumn would be the best time for this stroll, as the boats are set on a backdrop of orange-brown-red-yellow leaves from the trees on the mountain slopes. Crossing the river using the Togetsukuyo Bridge is also best done in autumn, when the colors of the forested mountain slopes make the view truly magnificent.

Hozugawa River

Hozugawa River

Togetsukuyo Bridge

Togetsukuyo Bridge

If you are up for some physical activity, a hike to the top of Kamayama-koen will give you a good view of Arashiyama’s fascinating sites. You can also visit the monkey park in Iwatayama to get a good look at the monkeys freely roaming around.

View from the top

View from the top

So that’s my best of the best list for Kyoto. If I could, I would definitely revisit these places, especially in spring and autumn. Kyoto is really the most colorful place in Japan for me, literally and figuratively 🙂autumn kyotoIMG_2318kyoto-spring

For instructions on getting to these places, please visit the ever reliable Japan Guide website.

Taking on Japan’s highest peak: Our Mt. Fuji climb

Climbing Mt. Fuji has always been on my to-do list since I came to Japan. So we immediately made plans to hike Japan’s tallest and most famous mountain during my first summer there. Because of snow, the official climbing season in Mt. Fuji is only from July to August. We decided to climb late July, to avoid the busiest time (middle of August). (For more information on climbing Mt. Fuji, please check out this site.)

Getting There

Our plan was to climb using the Yoshida Trail, which is the most popular and most accessible route by commute from Tokyo. We also planned on hiking during the night so we can be on the summit in time for the sunrise.

The Yoshida Trail

We met with our climbing team in Shinjuku Station to take the train before 5 pm.

Our train route from Shinjuku to Fuji (www.hyperdia.com)

After a few train changes, we arrived at Kawaguchiko Station at around 8 pm.

In Kawaguchiko, we joined several people lining up to buy bus tickets for the Subaru Line Toll Road (1500 JPY one way) bound for Mt. Fuji’s Kawaguchiko 5th station, where most climbers start their ascent. We were one of the last people to board the bus, so we had to stand for the 50-minute bus ride up the mountain. Most of the other commuters in the bus were also foreigners, since Japanese climbers usually climb as part of group tours.

At the trailhead

2,305 masl at the 5th station

When we arrived at the Kawaguchiko 5th station (2,305 m elevation) at around 9 pm, we were surprised to see busloads of climbers! The group tour buses proceeded directly to the 5th station so this was where we realized just how many people we would be climbing with.

A group of climbers stretching before starting the climb

The 5th station looked like the perfect tourist trap, with shops selling souvenirs and climbing accessories that anybody might want to buy at the last minute.

Souvenir shop at the 5th station

Food and snacks cost double the price when compared to convenience stores outside the mountain (I bought a Snickers bar for 250 yen, which would normally have cost 120 yen. As we went up, this price increased at each station until it ballooned to 600 yen near the summit!).

Buying bread from the genki shopkeeper

We had dinner/snacks upon our arrival and started our ascent at 10 pm. The temperature was much lower at the 5th station compared to lower elevations, so we put on our jackets before starting our ascent.

Fight!

The climb to the summit

Where to?

The start of the 5th station featured several signs and maps to guide us to the right direction.It wasn’t necessary, though. The continuous stream of people coming and going along the trail was guide enough for us.

Our fellow climbers

The first part of the trail consists of wide man-made stairs that was built from volcanic gravel. At first, the stairs were wide enough for 5 people to climb side by side. As the climb progressed, the gravel were replaced by large boulders and the trail became narrower and narrower until we had to line up one by one.

Wider trail during the first half of the climb

Climbing the narrow trail

And what a line we made! The light from climbers’ headlamps made a dotted line from the 5th station to the summit. It was really a sight to behold, and the photos we took were not enough to do it justice .

A portion of the trail showing the line of light from headlamps on the horizon

Every ‘station’ on Mt. Fuji serve as a rest stop, consisting of cottages with some benches to sit on. The huts serve as lodges (for those who can afford to sleep there at 8,000 yen/night), but it also sells souvenirs and food.

At one of the rest stops, where stamped wooden sticks were sold as souvenirs

There were some huts offering temporary shelter, but only if you buy food from them. We bought hot chocolate (at 500 yen a cup!) so that we can sit inside the hut. Unfortunately, if you only buy drinks, you cannot really enter, only your butt is allowed to sit on the elevated floor while your foot remains outside. We tried to sleep while sitting, with our heads on our knees. After about 20 minutes in that position, we gave up and headed off again.

For me, the worst part was to not go at my own pace on the later stages of the climb. It was really hard to stop every few steps to wait for the people ahead of me. And since the line was so many kilometers long, it was really slow-going.

Walking ever so slowly…

But the crowd was part of the Fuji experience, so we just trudged on with the group.

Smiling, because there was nothing else I could do 🙂

By 4 in the morning, the summit was only a few meters away, but the sun was already starting to appear and the huge crowd and narrow path really slowed the climb. We just decided to stop, sit and enjoy the sunrise. And it sure did not disappoint! Watching the sun rise in Mt. Fuji while we were above the clouds was a very majestic moment. The sea of clouds were also a sight to behold. The magnificent sight made me forget my fatigue and drowsiness for a while.

At 5 am we stood up to finish our hike, and it was quicker since not too many people were on the trail at this time. After 10 minutes, we reached the summit (Yey!).

At the summit of Mt. Fuji

The Japanese Flag on the highest point in the country

It was like market day up there. There were far too many people buying food and souvenirs while others were busy looking for a place to rest.

We walked past the shops and stalls and picked a spot to sit on for breakfast. When we’ve had our fill , we were so sleepy that we just had to take a nap. Since we did not have anything to lie on, we just lied down on the gravel. And so it was that we came to the top of Mt. Fuji to sleep on the dirt 🙂

I think this was my first (and last) time to sleep directly on the dirt, and I slept fitfully 🙂

Going down and back

View of the Fuji Lakes from the summit

After our power nap, we started to descend by 7 am. I had trouble going down because the path was made of loose gravel, which made my feet sink.

The terrain going down

I felt that the soil was weighing me down, plus the dust flying around did not help to motivate me at all.

Leftover snow from the past winter

Climbers alongside the heavy machinery used to make the trails at Mt. Fuji

But I was eager to get the descent over with, so I just continued going down with the group until we reached the 5th station before noon.

Climbers “resting” near the end of the climb

We lined up for the bus to take us back to Kawaguchiko and from there, we rode the bus going directly to Tokyo (2,500 yen fare), where we slept for most of the three-hour trip. When we arrived back in Tokyo, our adventure seemed surreal. I couldn’t believe that just the night before we were climbing the tallest mountain in Japan with throngs of other climbers, then the next day we were back in the busy streets of Tokyo. Our Mt. Fuji experience will definitely be one of my more memorable climbs.

Oktoberfest 2011 in Fukuoka: My Japanese-German party experience

Because Japanese people love drinking, it’s no surprise that the German Oktoberfest has found its way to Japan. In Fukuoka, the Oktoberfest has been an annual event for a few years now, usually held during the last week of October.[click here for official Japanese event page]

This 2011, my lab mates and I decided to check out the Fukuoka Oktoberfest on a Monday night to chill out from our research (our excuse to drink). The venue was in Reizen Park, so we took the train to Nakasu Kawabata Station. We arrived there at around six in the evening and walked a block or two to the park.

When we arrived, the first thing that caught my attention was the merry-go-round at the entrance. I found it amusing that there was a lone amusement ride amidst the food and drink stalls.

We were greeted by the welcome sign and some Japanese ushers who handed each of us a sheet of yellow paper with the venue map and song lyrics, which proved to be very useful after a few beers. But more on that later.

The first thing we did was to look for, of course, German beer! There were several choices but Loren, my Filipina friend who came with us, and I chose the stall with the nice German lady smiling at us. We asked her to choose our drink for us, since we did not know what the different beers were anyway. We were surprised when she replied to us in Filipino! She speaks a little Filipino, with very good Japanese, English, and of course, German 🙂 Very cool!

She also explained that we had to pay 1,000 yen more for the ‘glass deposit’. She said that after we finish with the glass, we just have to surrender it at the next stall for our next beer, and they will replace it with another glass. At the end of the night, we just returned the glass to the designated area to get our 1,000 yen back. The biggest glass available was 500 mL.

Since it was dinnertime, we also looked for food to accompany the beer. There were several stalls selling sausages, fries, pizza, popcorn, pretzels (in short, food not usually served in a Japanese restaurant/cafeteria). We got German sausages with mashed potato to really take in the ‘German’ atmosphere.

There was a little rain, so we brought our food and drinks inside the tent. The tent was relatively big and because we came early, we got a whole long table to ourselves. My labmates ordered different kinds of beer so we got to taste the different types of German beer available. This also gave us an idea which type of beer to try next.

There was a three-man German  band (2 guitars and an accordion) who performed twice that night. Every 15 minutes or so, they enjoined everybody to sing the traditional German toast song ‘Ein Prosit’ and then toast. The lyrics to the song was in the yellow flyer that they gave us when we entered.

At first we were just observing other people do it, but after downing about 3 different beers, we were singing along and shouting ‘Prost!’, toasting in German at the top of our voices.

As the night continued and people became more intoxicated, the party got more interesting. As the band played German songs, people started to dance in front of the stage to songs they couldn’t even understand 🙂 They also made a dancing train line that went from the stage to the back of the tent. People were high-fiving each other and jumping up and down while waving German flags. Of course, we joined in on the fun! It was a crazy, fun-filled night. After the singing, dancing and shouting, we got ready to go home since the event closes at 10 in the evening every night (too early! but this is probably wise to avoid people from getting too drunk).

To cap off the night, some of my labmates rode the merry-go-round. I did not think the alcohol in my system would agree to going round and round in circles, so I passed on that and amused myself watching them and taking pictures.

We walked back to the train station and went home with a few drunk friends, and happy memories of loudly singing ‘Ein Prosit’ and shouting ‘Prost!’. It was one of the best Monday nights ever, partying the Japanese-German(?) way! 🙂