This is a continuation of my previous post, in which I describe how I got to Tsurugi-san.
Near the summit is a complex of Shinto shrines.
Practitioners of Shinto have a tendency to set up shrines on mountain tops, even in Taiwan, but this is by far the largest Shinto shrine complex I’ve seen on a mountain that is 1000+ meters above sea level.
The fog reached the summit at the same time I did, obscuring the views.
I rushed around with my camera, trying to catch views in all direction before everything was obscured with grey and white.
Several trails converge at Tsurugi-san – if I had time for a multi-day hike (or even a very long day hike) I would have taken one of the trails at the Tsurugi-san junction.
There are a set of boardwalks at the summit, probably to prevent hikers’ boots from eroding the area.
I am guessing that rope on the rock circle has some religious significance.
In addition to the shrine buildings, there is also a mountain hut where you can stay overnight (for 4,800 yen per night, more if you want meals), which has its own (Japanese-only) website.
The mountain hut seemed to be undergoing renovation when I was there.
When I realized that the clouds weren’t going to part any time soon, I decided to descend.
Of course, once I got lower, I was able to see a little blue sky.
When I got back to Mi-no-koshi, I thanked the shopkeepers for watching my luggage, bought some snacks (it was the least I could do), and went to the road just next to the store, which happened to plunge straight into the Iya Valley.
This time, I only had to wait about 15 minutes before a young Japanese woman and young Japanese man agreed to take me in their car (they were heading into the Iya Valley anyway, and there’s only one thru road). They dropped me me off at Oku-iya-kazura-bashi (the Inner Iya Vine Bridges), which I will describe in my next post. However, I want to share some of my observations of the Iya Valley in this post.
I had read that the Iya Valley was the Shangrila of Japan. I think that’s an exaggeration, at least nowadays. It reminded me a lot of mountain roads in Taiwan, The highest section of the road, from Mi-no-koshi to Inner-Iya-Vine-Bridge, had very, very, very little human settlement. However, past Inner-Iya-Vine-Bridge, there was more and more human settlement, more than I was expecting to be honest. It certainly seemed more settled than vast swaths of Hokkaido. Sure, all of the development in the valley is concentrated around the road, but you can go long distances on Hokkaido roads without seeing even 10% of the buildings that you’ll see on the road between Inner Iya Vine Bridge and Oboke. Of course, a lot of Hokkaido is much flatter than the Iya Valley, which is probably why the Iya Valley looks more like mountain roads in Taiwan.
One glaring difference between the Iya Valley and mountain roads in Taiwan was all of the nice cars. Most people in the mountains of Taiwan can’t afford nice, shiny, clean cars, so they try to maintain the vehicles they already have and run them until they fall apart – and it shows. Residents of the Iya Valley probably have higher incomes, and cars are probably cheaper in Japan than in Taiwan. However, the buildings looked like they could have fit in many mountainous areas of Taiwan – basic concrete structures for people who ain’t rich.
I’ve read that you shouldn’t try to compare different places you’ve travelled to – that you’ll get more out of travel if you experience everything for what it is, and don’t try to decide which one is better, and which one is worse. I think that’s good advice. I also couldn’t help feeling that, after building up all of this anticipation for seeing the Iya Valley, from guidebooks, and then from seeing the road from Sadamitsu to Mi-no-koshi, that the Iya Valley was a bit of a letdown. For all that it reminded me of Taiwanese mountain roads – possibly more than any other road in Japan – it doesn’t have the stunning scenery of the more remote parts of Taiwan’s Northern, Central, and Southern Cross-Island Highways, let alone Highway 14 + the Dayuling-Hualien section of the Central Cross, which is the most beautiful long-distance road in Taiwan.
I did, however, notice some guòdù kāifā – that is, over-development (I think the fact that the Mandarin word comes to my mind faster than the English word says something about my experiences in Taiwan). Too much of the forest has become a cedar monoculture (I finally learned what was up with the cedar monocultures during my evening in Oboke – but that’s for an upcoming post). Too much concrete has been poured. The mountain slopes are being destabilized, which aside from the aesthetic problem, means high landslide risk. That’s a big problem because Taiwan gets hit by a lot of earthquakes and typhoons which can bury entire villages alive, but luckily there are never large earthquakes or typhoons in Jap- oh. Oh. Crap.
Based on this, you might think that my trip to the Iya Valley was a downer, but it wasn’t. I want to concentrate most of my negative thoughts in this post so that my next post will have a happier tone. I do think one of the most important things I do during travel is learning, and if I shut the bad things I observe out of my mind I won’t learn as much.
Next post: the Inner Iya Vine Bridges, which are very cool.