Monday, September 28, 2015

Trekking in Oze National Park

Every September, there are a few days of consecutive holidays in Japan.  The third Monday in September is 敬老の日 (keirou no hi, or Respect for the Aged Day), and September 23rd is usually 秋分の日 (shuubun no hi, or the Autumnal Equinox Day).  According to Japanese law, if there is a non-holiday in between two holidays, that day also becomes a holiday, hence September 22nd being 国民の休日(kokumin no kyujitsu, or Citizen’s Holiday).  These three consecutive holidays are commonly referred to as Silver Week, and it’s a popular time to go traveling. 

During Silver Week, my partner and I decided to go to Oze National Park, which is more than 370 km and reaches four different prefectures (Fukushima, Tochigi, Gunma and Niigata). 

We were able to find a tour package from Sunshine Tour which only cost 22,200 yen per person (included bus transportation to and from Oze, lodging at the park, and bento for two days).  The night bus left from Ikebukuro at 11:00 pm on September 20th, and we arrived at Ōshimizu Rest Area of Oze National Park at 5:00 am on the 21st.   After eating a light breakfast and changing our clothes (it was really cold!!), we began our trek at 5:45 am. 
The sky at 6 am
Trekking through the forest

We arrived at Ozenuma Pond after about three hours of trekking.  The water was so blue, and the fields surrounding the pond provided the perfect color contrast. 

Ozenuma Pond

View of Ozenuma Pond from the fields
Pathway through the fields
The sky reflected in the pond water

The trek on the first day was long, but we found ways to keep ourselves entertained.
The Mushroom Chronicles
Get those mushrooms, Mario
We finally arrived at 元湯山荘 (Motoyusansō), our lodging for the night, at 2:20 pm.  It took us more than eight hours to get there!  There are many lodgings like Motoyusansō in Oze National Park, which are called yamagoyas, or mountain huts.  They are very comfortable, and our particular yamagoya had private rooms (as opposed to shared rooms).  One thing to note if you plan on spending the night in Oze: there is a high chance that amenities will NOT be provided by the yamagoya, as the water that runs out of the yamagoya will be filtered back out into the park.  Motoyusansō asked that guests refrain from using shampoo and other bath products to protect the Oze environment.   
Dinner at the yamagoya
After eating dinner at the yamagoya, we went to bed early to prepare for our next day of trekking back to the meeting place.  On September 22nd, we left Motoyusansō at 7:20 am (which was so much nicer than having to start at 5:45 am haha). 
Morning glory

It took us about five hours to get to Hatomachitōge Rest Area, where our bus would come pick us up at 2 pm.  We ended up arriving early though, so we enjoyed relaxing with their famous hana-mame ice cream and a beer.
Hana-mame ice cream
Celebratory beer
For anyone who is interested in trekking, I cannot recommend Oze enough.  There are so many paths to take, and going throughout the year allows visitors to see different views of Oze depending on the season.  This particular tour package was also very convenient and reasonably priced.  

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