Trip Start Apr 12, 2010
95Trip End Apr 12, 2011
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Where I stayed
Hirosaki Youth Hostel
This drove us into a survival zone of damage limitation. Our most sensible plan was to relax in the castle grounds on the grass and snooze during the day. Not only would this allow us valuable rest (hours before midnight!) but would give us the time away from the soulless hostel. After day 1 in Hirosaki, this went to shit as the heavens opened for days and days. Here is how the weather went:
Day 1: Arrived to brilliant sunshine
Day 2: Sunshine
Day 3: Rain
Day 4: Rain, sleet and thunder
Day 5: Rain and lightning
Day 6: Sunshine but too late for our sleep issue
Day 7: Clouded over
Day 8: Sunshine on departure
So as the sleep deprivation set in we found ourselves being unable to catch up because of the weather
Earlier in the week we`d been up near the mountain for our first onsen (hot spring baths). These places are much like Rotorua but less smelly. This, oddly, was cheaper than a swim in the Tooting Leisure Centre. However there are a number of delicate customs which we probably broke. The baths are single-sex. You go into a changing area and strip naked and put all your stuff into a little cubby hole
Iwaki-san loomed over us everyday and at 1625m in height was hardly going to give us pulmonary oedema if we climbed it. There was snow at the top but also darker areas indicating rock as well as a piste that ran most of the way up. Maps indicated a 5.5km path up from a shrine with a vertical ascent of only about 1500m. Once summited there was a 4km descent (of about 1100m) which ran alongside a 69 hairpin apline road through virgin beech forest. We estimated this would easily fit into our 8 hour window between buses. The night before, we prepared our kit; checked water, compass, headtorch, light rope, waterproofs, snacks, first aid and a bento lunch
We jumped on the first bus to the base of the hill, tightened laces and set off at about 08:20. Firstly we walked through the empty and peaceful shrine surrounded by very old firs. The clearly-marked path was large enough to be a firetrail through the trees. At the bottom of the piste the path was confusing and we veered off into a valley following random kanji signs. A bridge forded a small river and the snow on the steep side opposite swallowed our boots. Miraculously we managed to keep on the steps which occasionally glinted out from beneath the snow. After a while we noticed pink ribbons tied to trees and we figured these were better crumbs to follow.
Nickiy was carrying the pack so kept sinking knee deep in places that shouldn`t have had more than a few inches of snow. Just at the moment of realisation I heard a yelp from behind me. The path, it seems, ran alongside a river. The inaccurate markers had encouraged us to follow the least forested area, which WAS the river. I looked back to see a semi-breeched birthed Nickiy head and arm at ground level. The extra pack weight had taken her through 3 feet of snow and her arms, pack and leg had wedged her in this new hole. Not actually knowing the true depth beneath her, I quickly ran back within the trees, grabbed the rucksack carry loop and pulled her onto the tree roots
After a couple of hours we came to an old shack which we used as an excuse for a pit stop and snack. Pressing on shortly afterwards we were faced with rain, the wind picked up and visibility dropped. We continued uphill until heavy, driving rain forced us to shelter beside a tree trunk. Our trousers were soaked by this point and our boots were liquifying the snow in their tops. Our fingers were red and numb. The rain turned to sleet and thunder rolled in the valley. We stood behind the tree for 20 minutes or so waiting for the weather to clear. Instead the weather held so we fell back to the hut which leaked horrendously. Cold rice, cold tofu, cold tomatoes and cold nuts (edible ones) for lunch didn`t help our thermal problem but at least the wind couldn`t get to us. A final review of the weather sealed our fate as we dejectedly retraced our snowy steps to the bus stop at the shrine.
We caught the 12:45 bus back into town and huddled around the hostel heater with green tea all afternoon. In retrospect we should have just walked up the side of the piste but even on the retarded route we took, we had beautiful views over the valley and the Shirakami range
So apart from the hostel being a place we avoided, Hirosaki was an extremely picturesque place. The castle gounds were amazing and we arrived when the 5,000 cherry trees were all budding. Tiny pink dots were scattered all over the trees. Daily progress was obvious as they puffed open during the evening hours until full bloom was with us on day 6. If you don`t like soft white flowers and water reflections you probably shouldn`t look at the pictures at all! They have the cherry blossom festival every year in the castle grounds and, aside from all the tat that goes with these things, there was plenty of room for everyone to lay out their mats and have their picnics (hanami). After the stretch of rain and sleep deprivation, we were more than ready for our hanami; 2 bottles oif sake, bento boxers, snacks etc. We got a touch of snoozing done before all our generous picnicking neighbours came and gave us food, and later drinks. Dried salmon, octopii and other fishy stuff. Oranges, crabs legs and later beer, sake and shochu. By then we were pretty well roasted and further gifts included our new pet dog (an Akita) called Po (who slipped his collar and went for a swim a few days later). This is all fairly obvious from the photos! We`d been in the sun all day, had no real dinner, hadn`t drunk any water and subsequently felt like gash the next morning (well all day really). But we had had a proper hanami which was easily worth it!