Time to head out of the city and into the mountains: today we head west of Tokyo to Okutama in search of fall foliage. Located in Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, it has several hiking routes to chose from that venture up mountains, surround lakes and follow rivers. We chose a river route which is supposed to be one of the highlights.
We spend a couple of hours riding the train, slowly trading buildings for mountains. Since our destination is particularly popular with Tokyoites wanting to get out of the city, there are several “holiday express” trains in the morning to get you there quicker.
At Okutama station, we find hordes of hikers prepping for the day. Some of the groups seem to take hiking very seriously, tricked out with a full range of hiking equipment. Maybe they are heading to a more adventurous mountain trail. For our group however, a good pair of shoes is sufficient for the river trails we plan to take on.
Making our way out of town, we catch a glimpse of the small community that lives here. A small boulevard gives way to the valley, with houses and businesses speckled along the road.
People out here rely on oil trucks from the local gas station for heating.
At the first bridge, we cross the valley and catch a glimpse of the scenery.
Not many people in Tokyo need a personal wheelbarrow.
These trinket wind turbines made of aluminum cans are quite popular in the area. It’s also interesting to observe the drinking habits of each household.
As with most places there is an interesting mix of the well-kept and not so much.
Walking along one of the main roads gives plenty of views overlooking the valley.
After being distracted by the promise of fresh wasabi, we make our way down the Kazumakyo walking route. Several buildings and structures in this area hint at a hydroelectric plant.
A salaryman shows his dedication by going out on a hiking date in full suit attire.
We make our way along the trail, as things give way to a more natural setting.
Every now and then we pass houses dropped into the forest.
The path changes to a well kept gravel road that snakes along the river.
A tunnel lets us take a shortcut through the mountain side. While cement arches cover both entrances, the middle appears to be left bare.
The forest wraps the path in moss and wood as it winds along the contours of the terrain.
This sign warns hikers to be careful of falling rocks.
Stone walkways and bikes parked alongside mean that we have made it to our lunch spot.
Nestled alongside the forest, the rustic Earth Garden café serves various “mineral” pork dishes. It’s also the only food option in the area, so the prices are adjusted accordingly.
Luckily, the food is pretty good, and filling at that! I opted for the pork bowl, but there were other dishes like katsu pork cutlet.
Although pork is the café’s specialty, the fresh wasabi is the highlight. Sweet before the heat, there is a special something to grinding some wasabi on the spot.
After lunch, we head across another bridge, with plenty of sunshine landing in the valley.
Apparently the water is still warm enough to go kayaking.
The mix of green conifers and multicolor maples striped the mountain sides.
We make our way along the roadside to the next part of the trail. Trees stand in various states of change, from red-tipped leaves to striking gold.
The next part of our route has us walking in the street.
We stop off to check out some of the buildings alongside the road.
To the right of the tunnel sits a dam with an interesting feature.
Heading into a building at the top of the dam, we are greeted by a large shaft with a spiraling staircase leading down to the base of the dam.
Inside, a fish ladder chauffeurs fish past the dam and into the reservoir. The fish ladder uses a series of steps or baffles to gradually lift the water level up to the necessary exit height.
We exit the fish ladder facility and head over to the dam to take a look at the enormous flood gate.
From here we see the start of the fish ladder.
With the sun getting lower, we make our way across the dam and onto the next part of the trail.
Down the steps we go, and finally arrive at the river bank. The trail turns into a vague path across the boulders that make up the natural embankments.
In this particular area, the sunlight is still able to make its way into the valley, which lights up the trees and rocks in the area very nicely. So much so, that everyone hiking along the trail seems to stop with us to enjoy the sight.
Most everyone is taking photos of the scenery.
As we follow the river around the bend, the sunlight fades away behind the mountains.
After safely crossing a bouncy suspension bridge, we climb up a rocky outcropping where a small shrine sits.
The small cliff offers a nice place to rest.
And a unique view of the river below.
We pass through the grounds of an abandoned hotel, and then cut through a small village to the final leg of the trail.
Now here is where things got a little more adventurous. This part of the trail is not so mild, consisting of narrow paths with steep drop offs and slippery gravel. But it does offer some nice views at one of the rest stops.
Descending down the mountain path, we walk along the forest floor. As dusk settles in on this side of the mountain, we pass by waterfalls and streams.
We leave the forest and head to the river bank once more as the last bit of sun hits the valley. Here we skip stones across the river and relax a little before heading back to town.
Due to a long summer, the leaves were just starting to change, but the mountains of Okutama were beautiful regardless. It is always a treat to explore what the more rural parts of Japan have to offer. And with several other trails in the area, there is plenty to explore next time.