Japan is a land of splendid trains, but not quite as many as there once were. The car is king here, just as it is most places.
The relative decline of the train outside the major trunk lines and urban centres means it’s hard to get to good hiking spots without a car, or being in position for the one bus that drops you at the trailhead at half past ridiculous in the morning. But I was determined to go for at least one concerted ramble, which is why I found myself at Tsukuba bus station, an hour’s train ride north out of Tokyo, wondering why there were no buses to the mountain for another hour.
Rather than staring at the bus timetable in despair – always a tempting option – I spent a pleasant hour exploring, finding a lovely 1980s science park, designed and built for some long-forgotten expo. It was the space rocket that gave it away. That, and the slightly gone to seed landscape of gardens, concrete walkways and artificial lake, a scene being immortalised by a gaggle of retired amateur painters, who had brought along their own folding chairs. Perhaps they were working on long-overdue matte backgrounds for a long-forgotten Glen A. Larson series. Perhaps.
There were also a row of low apartment blocks, largely abandoned and overgrown, like a scene from present-day Chernobyl. Due to Japan’s rip it up and start again approach to construction, it was strange to see them, and even stranger to find a few inhabited flats amid the quiet and gentle decay.
Hurrying back through the Buck Rogers space campus, I made my bus, and dozed as my bus passed through rice fields on the way to mount Tsukuba. The story goes that a deity came down from heaven one night looking for somewhere to stay. Fuji was too up itself and snooty, and reckoned it was too awesome to bother hosting, while Tsukuba was warm and accommodating. As a consequence, Tsukuba was rewarded with lush verdancy, while Fuji was left barren, lifeless, and internationally famous. There’s a terrible moral in all this somewhere.
Arriving at the base of the walk, I got off the bus and was immediately complimented on my video game themed t-shirt by a young American. “My dad used to go wild for the Atari.”
“You’re making me feel old,” I replied. Wryly not rudely, I hope.
I walked up to the shrine, surrounded by a few hotels and tat shops: pretty restrained stuff, by Japanese standards, where even the remotest beauty spots are usually enlivened by a few vending machines.
There was, inevitably, a funicular railway to the summit, but I ignored this (if you know me well, you’ll understand this was hard to do) and picked a path. Hikers with full kit, expensive looking walking boots and twin synthetic walking sticks were coming down the other way. I looked at my yellow Converse* trainers and felt a bit self-conscious, as I hoisted myself up amid the rocks and tree roots. But it was a simple, if steep climb, and I was soon speeding my way up, greeting walkers coming the other way and generally feeling pretty cheery.
At the top of the route was a lovely view, a revolving restaurant, a souvenir shop, toilet facilities, the upper funicular station, four or five cafes and around eight vending machines. But being slightly out of season, most of these things were deserted. The restaurant was not revolving. I enjoyed the silence and then ran up to one of the mountain’s twin peaks, which had a lovely little shrine and a man in a concrete booth selling trinkets, scrolls and other offerings, at least theoretically. He said hello then shut up shop for the day, bowing to the shrine as he went.
And finally I was alone to enjoy the view.
I took the funicular back.
* check me out using brand names