I used to have a mantra: never travel outside Tokyo during Golden Week [GW]. There’s a reason for this. Everyone travels to ‘tourist’ spots during GW so Tokyo is virtually deserted which is a good time to see those places in the capital you’d never got to seeing, or, more likely, lounging around in outdoor bars/coffee houses enjoying the warm, but not humid weather.
However, I’m married now and have certain responsibilities. Apparently, one of them is to take at least one of the days I’d scheduled for loafing around to ‘do something’ during GW. OK, so how about hiking? My infinitely better half then found us a place to go – Chichibu in Saitama prefecture – last Wednesday.
Getting there was the usual nightmare: packed trains, people in gaudy 80’s ‘leisure wear’, screaming children, dogs in small bags, people who haven’t buttoned their fly but no-one has the courage to tell them – and that was just the first two hours on the train. To be fair, it was interesting in that it wasn’t actually a normal train but a time machine.
In our universe the trip took two hours, but the ‘train’ had actually gone back over 35 years. We made one change of trains in a place which is slightly south of nowhere, then onto another train until we got to Nagatoro. Really. It was like being back in the 1960’s (as I suspect – I wasn’t born then) and dare I say ‘quaint‘.
By the time we got to our destination we were in the middle of nowhere – again – which is usually a bad thing, except in Japan you can at least be sure there’ll be a vending machine. And people. Thousands of them. All recording their children running around screaming.
There are two incredible highlights to Nagatoro – the hiking on the local mountains, and the awesome, incredible ropeway which takes you nearly to the top of one of the mountains. The queue for the ropeway was almost an hour. An hour watching people smoke whilst reclining on chairs in the shade whilst I burned (literally) in the sun. Damn smokers. I could’ve looked at the local ‘market stalls’ but I’ve seen these before (all ‘tourist’ places have the same thing) and generally they sell all the things you don’t want to eat in the hot sun – seaweed, senbei and warm beer from the 1950’s fridge which may or may not be plugged in.
Once we were in the ropeway car I understood why people waited so patiently, the opportunity to get 50 people into a 5 tatami size space! Great! Video cameras all over taking pictures out of windows of trees. I bet these people will go home and watch it every night. Five minutes later we’re at the top, out of the small gondola and I’m learning to breathe again.
This is where it all gets better. After nearly four hours we can hike!! However, I was worried the place might be busy given the river of people at the top station and of course those still waiting to get on the ropeway for the five minutes of ecstasy. I shouldn’t have worried. Obviously the ropeway is the coolest thing they’ve ever known and therefore, why would anyone want to hike down – let’s go down on the ropeway! That’s why the hiking trails were empty – really – deserted.
Therefore I can report we had a very nice afternoon hiking round and about a beautiful wooded mountain in Saitama before getting a bus back to the station from the other side of the mountain and getting back on a much less crowded train back to Ikebukuro, 2005 and some very good ramen.
Moral of this story? Stay in tokyo in Golden Week! Only joking, it just reminded me how everyone going to the same place at the same time can be arduous, but can also be fun at the same time, in a dark way. Anyway, have a look at the photos here.