A Breath of Fresh Air






Living in Tokyo has been absolutely amazing, and I’ve loved all of the many adventures and opportunities that I’ve had here. It is, however, a bit taxing to constantly be in the city and sometimes it’s nice to get out into the country. I was recently invited to go on a weekend trip to the smaller communities of Tsuru and Otsuki, and see what they had to offer, and I really enjoyed my time out there. Located a relatively short train ride from Tokyo (about 2 hours from where I’m living in Shinjuku) I was impressed at the beauty to be found.

Tsuru has quite a few shrines, each with their own history. For example, on this hill there was a large fire and nearly all of the shrines and temples burned down. Only one of them survived and it’s still there to this day.

Near this shrine was a cemetery, and a kind Japanese man pointed out that on several of the tombstones names were written in red. I had no idea why that was, and he explained that the red names were people who are actually still living. It’s not uncommon for people who are still alive to have their names placed on the graves they’ll be buried in to ensure their spot in that grave, as well as to make sure that everything is to their liking (such as the font that their name is written in). After they die and are buried, the color in the name is removed. The shrines in Tsuru were along a nice walking path, and their structures varied so much that it was a charming little walk. And although we were too early for cherry blossom season, we did get to see some plum blossoms!

The next day was spent in Otsuki. We started off the morning with a short hike (about 30 minutes total from the station) to a nice viewing point to see Mt. Fuji. Now, I’ve been in Japan for quite some time now, but before this trip I’d never seen Mt. Fuji, so I was quite excited (I actually saw it while riding the bus in Tsuru, but that’s not nearly as satisfying). The morning began and it was extremely overcast, but we all started along anyway in the hopes that it would clear up quickly, and it did!

Mt. Fuji is fairly hard to see because it snowed the day before, so it was so white that it nearly blended in with the sky, but you can still get a good idea of its majesty. After that we split up. Some of my group went to experience glassblowing (they actually got to do it themselves and make something to keep as a souvenir, like a Mt. Fuji figurine or a cup), and the rest of us went to  go see Saruhashi, or “Monkey Bridge”

This bridge has an interesting style because the supports are actually dug into the mountain. The inspiration for the design supposedly came from seeing monkeys helping each other cross the ravine, hence the name. It’s also been the subject of several well-known ukiyo-e paintings, and I tried to capture that look in this picture from the raft. Yes, raft.

When I think about Japan, outdoor activities aren’t the first thing that comes to mind, but they are around and make for a memorable experience. There’s so much more to this country than the big cities and pop culture. There’s a rich history and a lot of fun to be had in other places as well, and the country in many ways is just as charming as the city.