Hiking with strangers in Japan. Why not?
Falling in love with Japanese culture since I was in high school, I tried my best to get the scholarship for studying in Japan and eventually, all my effort paid off. I came to Japan in April 2019 with the yearning for upcoming adventures. I am an active girl who has experiences in climbing several mountains in Vietnam and Nepal, so I also look forward to some hiking trips in Japan. However, the only problem is I have not made any Japanese friends who are fond of hiking like me. I came up with the idea of hiking solo but it seemed infeasible since people have warned me about the risks of hiking alone in a foreign country without support and help from the locals. Thus, the only way for me to make my dream of being on top of the north Alps mountains come true is to connect to some Japanese hikers who can join with me, I know it might sound crazy but have you ever gone on a trip for several days with someone you have never met in real life before? That is what happened to me when I first arrived in Japan. I am interested in hiking in Japan and wanted to find a partner but I have no idea where to look for one. I joined a Facebook group called Kanyama where many hikers in Kansai area share their hiking photos to others. Once I noticed two guys who posted many beautiful landscape photos as well as close-ups of mountain flowers which received hundreds of likes. I was so charmed by their photography skills that I took the chance to send them private messages with my broken Japanese expressing my appreciation towards their photos and asking them if I could join his hiking trip someday. I was losing my hope knowing that both of them had already seen my messages but chose to neglect me. Several days later, one guy named Imai sent me a message asking if I wanted to join him to Tateyama. I was so excited and said yes immediately without considering about risks that may occur when I travel with a stranger. For God’s grace, the trip turned out to be one of my most precious experiences I’ve had in Japan. Imai is a middle-aged salary man falling in love with mountain since he was 10. He has been climbing a lot of mountains in Japan and took numerous photos of the mountains. He has been into photography for over 10 years. He usually goes to one place in four seasons to capture their landscape beauty. That night, we decided the meet up place near my apartment at 10pm. I came there 15 minutes before the meeting time and thought about what would I do if he blew me off. By God’s grace, Imai drove all the way from Nagoya to Osaka to pick me up at night. We had simple and funny conversation during the overnight drive to Nagano prefecture. I was extremely surprised that even though we have not met in real life before, he drove such a long distance to meet me and take me to the mountain. Are Japanese so kind like this? I was excited but still worried since I do not know him well. It was an audacious decision. However, I had a strong belief that I am not an unlucky girl so I chose to trust his kindness. We arrived Nagano prefecture early in the morning after 8 hours driving and taking a nap at the parking lot. We got off our car and prepared clothes for the hike. There were many hikers queuing up to buy bus tickets in the parking lot at Bijodaira. We spent 30 minutes waiting in the line to get the tickets and 1 hour waiting to get on the bus. It was peak season so there were hundreds of hikers heading towards Tateyama. I was a bit nervous since this was the first time I went to the North Alps and climbed a 3000m high mountain. Imai felt my tenseness and cheered me up by showing me some Tateyama photos in his camera that he took long before. His energy mitigated my anxiety and I felt much more better looking at the magnificence of Tateyama. I longed to reach there as soon as possible! Hiking to Tateyama-even beginners can do it! Tateyama, one of the three major sacred mountains in Japan, is a mountain that many people have long admired and worshiped. The charm of the Tateyama mountain range seen from the Toyama Plain is a peaceful view for Toyama citizens. When I arrived at the Murodo Terminal, I could see the majestic mountain range in front of me and the mountain trails extended in all directions towards the top. Before I started walking, I filled up my bottle with fresh water from "Tamaden no Yusui" 玉殿の湧水. Murododaira has a plentiful kind of alpine plants. We strolled leisurely step by step while being healed by the flowers blooming under our feet. A little further along the cobblestone promenade leading to Oyama, I found Tateyama Murodo Sanso on my left and an old hut in front of it. This is the oldest mountain hut in Japan, "Tateyama Murodo 立山室堂". Along the way, there is an observation deck of "Jigokudani 地獄谷" with fuming smoke. If you go a little further, you can see the campsite of Ratorizawa where you can set up your tent and stay relax overnight here. It is a superb view point where Oyama and Jodoyama mountain scene are reflected in the pond. From there, it is just a few minutes walking to return to Murodo Terminal. The weather was so clear that the scenery stretched into the distance as far as the eyes could see. It was also fascinating that I saw snow for the very first time in my life. I was seized by a vigorous impulse to step on the snow at the rear of the trail, which caused me to slip off the path many times. Alpine yellow flowers stood out in the white background and blended perfectly to the green layout of the lawn. It took me roughly 2 hours walking from Murodo station to the top of Omiya mountain-the highest peak. The trail was full of rocks and gradually uphill from the hut. A pair of hiking poles and good shoes are recommended if you are a beginner. And never forget to bring enough water to rehydrate yourself because you will sweat a lot on the way. Imai prepared a lot of snacks and instant noodles to fill up our stomach and refuel our strength when we reached the hut. He is a careful and decent guy taking care of even little things. I was happy that we got along well with each other. He is truly a typical Japanese man that I usually read on newspaper: trustful, punctual and gentle. I am very grateful to get to know him. It was the first time I hiked with a stranger and we had wonderful moments together. All my concern at the beginning of the trip was dismissed thanks to his kindness. The trip helped me realize that the world is full of good people. It was heartening to be treated with Japanese kindness and respect. Here is some additional information on Tateyama hiking route: Precautions for climbing Tateyama for beginners It is the least difficult mountain in the Northern Alps. The course time from Murodo to Ichinokoshi Sanso is about 1 hour and 20 minutes. It takes about 1 hour from the Ichinokoshi Sanso to summit Oyama mountain. It is easy to walk to the mountain hut thank to paved roads, making it ideal for beginner hikers in the Alps. There are a lot of primary school students hiking Tateyama when I was there. Due to the high altitude, temperature can change rapidly. The average temperature around Ichinokoshi Sanso is around 12 degrees Celsius, and there are few days when it exceeds 20 degrees Celsius even in summer. Generally, when the altitude goes up by 100m, the temperature drops by about 0.6℃ It is a mountain over 3000m, so be aware of altitude sickness. Altitude sickness precaution: There is an elevation difference of about 1,800m from the Tateyama toll road to the entrance of the hiking route in Murodo. There are many people who suffer from altitude sickness after getting off the bus or while climbing. Especially if you are a beginner, please read the notes below carefully. It is easy to get altitude sickness due to lack of sleep. Please get enough sleep the day before. If you want to take a tour without getting enough sleep, try to sleep a little on the bus. When you arrive at Midagahara or Tateyama Murodo, take a slow breath and don't run suddenly. In the high altitude, always make deep breath and replenish water frequently Access to Murodo from Osaka when using direct bus: ① Take a high-speed bus bound for Toyama operated by Hankyu Bus (shared operation with Toyama Regional Railway) from Hankyu Sanbangai Bus Terminal in Umeda and get off at Toyama Station. * Express buses bound for Toyama are also available from Shin-Osaka, Senri New Town, Senri Chuo, Meishin Ibaraki, Meishin Takatsuki, Meishin Oyamazaki, Kyoto Station, and Kyoto Fukakusa. * Fares from Umeda are JPY 5,000 to JPY 5,500 one way ② From Toyama station bus terminal, take the direct bus bound for Murodo operated by Toyama Chikyu Railway and get off at Murodo bus terminal at the end. * The fare is 3,400 yen (round-trip 6,000 yen * round-trip discount is applicable for 5 days). Toyama station square bus terminal ( https://goo.gl/maps/86sDix2FVTeiCFCE9 ). *Please get on at the second bus stop. Acces to Murodo when using the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route ① From JR Toyama station to Toyama station Move to Toyama station of Toyama regional railway next to JR Toyama station (3 minute walk. ② From Toyama Station to Tateyama Station Take the Toyama Local Railway Tateyama Line from Dentsu Toyama Station and get off at Tateyama Station at the end. * The fare is 1,200 yen ③ From Tateyama Station to Bijodaira From Bijodaira, take the Tateyama Kogen Bus operated by Tateyama Kurobe Kankou and get off at Murodo. * The fare is 1,710 yen Many of you, especially girls, may refrain from going on a trip with strangers because we do not know who they are, their personality, etc. Unexpected crimes are likely to occur in a foreign country and you cannot seek for help when incidents happened. I do not recommend you to hang out with any type of people you made friends via social media platforms. Before arriving at a decision, be sure to check their profile carefully, their interactions with other accounts, their contributions to the groups which you got to know them and above all, it is crucial to build mutual understanding and trust before meeting them in real life. Imai and me have talked for several days, he showed me a lot of his photos and portfolios. I also knew that he posted and shared many posts in the “Kansai hikers” group which gained people’s attention and received a staggering number of comments and likes. It is evident that he is not a fake account, he is real person who dedicated to photography and hiking. Through the way he interacted with people via comments, I found out he is a trustful person. That is the reason why I agree to meet him and join his hiking trip. Obviously, not all Japanese are kind but there are still many good and generous Japanese out there that we have not known. They are bound to hesitate to talk to foreigners but if you open your heart and spend some time learning about them, you can make extremely amazing and intimate friends. When chances come to you, do not miss it, explore Japan and also explore Japanese people!