Hello everyone! I’m back after a short hiatus. I got used to a relaxed environment while my mother and brother visited me in Japan as my mom helped me with house chores during her stay.
Last week, my husband and I embarked on another hiking trip to the Tanzawa Mountains. We took advantage of the warm weather and ascended Mt. Nabewari. While preparing for the trip, I did a little research about what to expect.
According to Orchid’s blog (thanks Orchid), Mt. Nabewari is famous for its Nabeyaki Udon prepared by a mountaineering legend who also owns the one and only restaurant on top of the said mountain. Since there isn’t any running water at the peak, hikers are encouraged to bring a bottle of water for Mr. Kusano. He uses the water to make the delicious Nabeyaki Udon soup.
The directions going to Mt. Nabewari were unclear as there isn’t much information online. After doing a little bit of research, I found Timeout Japan’s Mini Guide to Mt. Nabewari. It was published in 2011, but luckily the information was still accurate.
We got a bit confused at the bus stop – all signs were in Kanji! We had no idea which bus was bound for Okura. A Japanese hiker noticed our puzzled faces. He approached us and asked where we’re going. He was headed to Mt. Nabewari and would stay there for a night. We boarded the same bus he got on and soon arrived in Okura.
Okura was a different visual experience for us. Who would have thought that there was a small, quaint town only 40 minutes away from the city we live in? The town reminded me of Nikko due to the mountainous area with an abundance of greens.
There weren’t many hikers when we arrived, possibly because we arrived a little late during the day. The hikers who were there were already warming up, doing stretches and putting mosquito repellent or leech spray on. Yes, leeches – they’re very common at this time of the year.
Since we had no idea where to start, we followed the Japanese hiker we met at the bus stop and all hiked together. He introduced himself as Mr. Yoshida; we felt really lucky to have met him. He shared a lot of insights and information about Mt. Nabewari. He told us that that, every summer, a river marathon is held in Mt. Nabewari; instead of running on the trail, participants run against the river’s current. We hadn’t heard about anything like that before, so it was interesting to find out about such a unique activity.
It turns out that Mr. Yoshida is good friends with Mr. Kusano, the owner of the one and only restaurant at the peak of Mt. Nabewari. During his earlier years, Mr. Kusano was as tough and as strong as a horse; he used to carry 120 kg of Nabeyaki udon ingredients and beverages to the top of the mountain just to cater to hikers. Forty years later, he’s currently 65 years old but he can still carry 50 – 60 kg of everything. If you’re still not impressed, then know this: he has also climbed Mt. Everest and lost one of his toes to frostbite.
From the stories, I recalled Dan Buettner’s TED Talk speech called “Blue Zone.” He discussed one of the reasons why Japanese people live longer than other people: Ikigai, or a philosophy of “waking up in the morning for a reason.” For Mr. Kusano, his ikigai is serving a bowl of Nabeyaki udon to hikers of Mt. Nabewari every day.
After about 3 hours of hiking, we saw a sign signifying we had 1.9 km left. At that point, I could hear the shallow breathing and panting of the two boys, and I could see my husband dripping with sweat. They could hardly keep up with mee rested for a while and I gave them some mango flavored gummy candies and edamame. My husband never liked anything mango but he needed sugar to fuel his body.
As we went along, Mr. Yoshida continued sharing stories despite of his shortness of breath. He hadn’t realized that he’d started hiking a long time ago; he’s met the oldest Japanese woman to climb Mt. Everest, he hikes Mt. Nabewari four times a year, his favorite hiking destination in Japan is the Kamikochi Northern Alps of Nagano, and he has already hiked the Alps in Europe. No doubt, hiking is Mr. Yoshida’s first love. By the way, he’s single and never been married.
After a another grueling 30 minutes, we reached the top! We took a table outside and rested for a while. After we had caught our breath, we brought the water bottles inside for Mr. Kusano and he thanked my husband for bringing 3 bottles.
We were so damn hungry so we ordered the Nabeyaki udon right away. While we waited for the udon, Mr. Yoshida gave his present, a bottle of wine, to Mr. Kusano. A few minutes later, our udons were ready. We went out to our table and joined Mr. Yoshida. Apparently he had brought beer food out and a bottle of whisky. Kampai! The whisky was so smooth.
During the meal, we learned that Mr. Yoshida wasn’t really camping that night, but would actually be staying in Mr. Kusano’s hut; there’s a Japanese term for it that I can’t recall, where hikers spend a night on the mountain, have dinner, drink beer and talk until midnight. In the morning, they observe the beautiful sunrise and, if it’s a clear day, see Mt. Fuji.
The hut can accommodate 10 people and costs 7,000 yen per night. A big dinner is included in the price, but you’ll have to bring your own alcoholic drinks. Reservation is required if you want to stay overnight. Unfortunately, we don’t have the hut’s reservation number. We believe that you need to talk to Mr. Kusano directly.
The sun was already low in the sky when we bid goodbye to Mr. Yoshida. He took pictures to remember us by. Thank you, Mr. Yoshida – it was a truly memorable experience meeting you; our hike would most likely have been very boring and exhausting otherwise.