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Posts tagged guidebooks

Foot-loose in Tokyo

foot-loose in tokyo jean pearce I recently picked up Foot-loose in Tokyo, not because I thought it would be useful (due to when it was written) but because I thought it would be fun to see what things were like along the Yamanote Line in the 1970s. The funny thing is many of the things the author, Jean Pearce, thought would quickly disappear are still here and many that were thought to be permanent fixtures are long gone.

The book is very interesting to read even though the contents are so dated. Perhaps the fact they are so dated makes it an even more enjoyable read. I read the whole book on the train (the Chuo Line, not the Yamanote Line) one day. The contents changed the way I think about many of the Yamanote Line stops.

The entry for Takadanobaba shows surprisingly few differences from the book’s era until today. Big Box, Omokage-bashi, Mizu Inari Jinja, Waseda University, Kansenen–all are the same today, decades later. One entry caught my eye, dealing with an ancient tree on a street I walk down nearly every day. I had no memory of seeing this ancient tree so I figured, as did the author, that the tree’s location had turned into a parking lot or apartment building in the ensuing years.

“You may see the tired remains of what was once a majestic old shiinoki (sweet acorn) tree which in other days was encircled by a Shinto rope to commemorate its venerable age, said to be more than 500 years…

Years ago there was a five-story pagoda here. It was destroyed during the wartime bombings; only the trees remain. The property is presently a parking lot, but once it belonged to a daimyo family.” (p. 114)

So I looked for the majestic old shiinoki and, in so doing, discovered that what was always there I had never before seen. Sure enough, it still fills the corner of a parking lot and probably goes completely unnoticed by the vast majority of people who pass. There is no sign (as there frequently is in Japan) commemorating its age or history. The Shinto rope (shimenawa) is back up and around its trunk however. A sake offering rests at its base.

椎の木 シイノキ

Best view of Mt. Fuji from Tokyo area

Today’s title is a bit misleading as I wasn’t actually able to partake of the best view of Mt. Fuji from the east. But I did get to imagine it while standing in the correct location.

Let me back up a bit and explain. There are some great views of Mt. Fuji from Shizuoka and Yamanashi. Unfortunately, getting there from the Tokyo area can take hours and cost thousands of yen. The best views of Mt. Fuji from Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, and even most parts of Shizuoka and Yamanashi are usually obstructed, if not by buildings then by wires or most often by a mountain range that only allows for a partial, cap view.

I have found, however, a nearly complete view of Mt. Fuji a mere 90 minutes and 940 yen from Shinjuku (80 minutes and 850 yen from Yokohama). There are also some added bonuses of this location like rice paddies,

kanagawa yaga japan

mountain-side tea fields,

onoyama hiking course



a river,

yaga station

the ocean, a lake, and even cows at the top of the mountain!

cows with a view of mt. fuji

So where is this place? Mt. Ono or Onoyama (大野山). To get there, follow the signs from Yaga Station (谷峨駅). For best results, check this site first. If the forecast is for 晴れのち曇 (as it frequently is) then you want to be sure to be on the first Express out of Shinjuku in the morning. The view of Mt. Fuji is best in the morning, the earlier the better for photography purposes. The hike from the station to the top of the mountain takes between 1.5 and 2 hours. Don’t stop for pictures on the way up. Hightail it up the mountain and try to get to the views of Mt. Fuji before 9 a.m. You can take pictures of the rice paddies, tea fields, bamboo, river, etc. on your way down.

This is a great hike with the above forecast if you are jet lagged in Tokyo and waking up before 5 a.m. anyway. I chuckle when I go through Shinjuku in the morning and see foreign tourists waiting hours for the stores to open at 10 a.m. Don’t be one of them. If you did Tsukiji to pass your wide-awake, early-morning hours on day one of your trip (or if you simply want to do something in the morning and don’t want to be part of a tourist crowd) then, weather permitting, this could be on your agenda for morning two (Odakyu Line train out of Shinjuku leaves at 5:31 a.m.).

If the forecast is for 曇りのち晴れ then time your arrival at the top to be an hour or so before sunset. Don’t forget to bring a headlamp for the way down. The trail is well marked so there is little worry about getting lost. Follow signs pointing to 大野山 on the way up and to 谷峨駅 on the way down. Here are some examples:

onoyama mt. ono hiking course mt. fuji best viewonoyama

大野山ハイキングコース入口 = Onoyama Hiking Course Entrance

onoyama fujisan view

Above is a very poorly reconstructed scene of what it would look like were Mt. Fuji not covered in clouds. My camera was on wide angle and the sun was high overhead. A little zoom, a lower sun, and fewer clouds and this has to be one fantastic scene to behold. The entire left outline of Fuji San is visible and the right side reveals more from here than most Fuji views from the east. The scene in front of Mt. Fuji is also very nice, although the above photo doesn’t do it justice. Onoyama is covered not in trees but in grass. The name 大野山 literally means the mountain with a giant field on top, and that is what you will find. Hence the cows enjoying the view in the most unlikely of places.

shinmatsuda eki fujisan

I actually did see Mt. Fuji on this day. When I arrived at Shinmatsuda Station, I took the above pic from the station.

Benten Shrine at Shakujii Park 石神井公園

shakujii park sanpoji ike pond benten sampoji

The weather on the day I took this picture was most fabulous. Spring finally felt like spring. The shrine across the pond (三宝寺池) in Shakujii Koen is to Benten, the water god. I was doing Walk #2 in Water Walks in the Suburbs of Tokyo, a wonderful book that you should not be without if you are going to be in Tokyo for more than a couple of weeks.

Keio Mogusaen Walk (京王百草園)

tokyo walks hiking

As previously mentioned February and early March in Tokyo is the Japanese Plum Blossom season. We decided to try our first recommendation from A Flower Lover’s Guide to Tokyo by Sumiko Enbutsu, a book I’ll review in more detail in a future entry. So far, I have to say, I like this book.

We went on Walk #37, Keio Mogusa-en Garden. We arrived soon after opening on a sunny, warm, February morning. The train station was decked out in fake plum blossoms to advertise the ume matsuri (梅祭り) that happens from early February until mid-March. During this time period, Mogusaen is open every day, which is good since we were there on the day it is normally closed. The crowds weren’t bad, but things looked to be getting more crowded by the time we left.

Pretty much everyone had a camera. Mine was the smallest and lightest by far. Giant, crazy-expensive cameras are the norm at places like this in Japan. Retired couples (some in their 80s) seemed to be competing to see who could take the better picture with their enormous lenses and tripods both aimed at the same flower.

The ume tree above (寿昌梅) was planted in the early part of the 18th Century by a Buddhist nun called Jushoin (寿昌院). Little, bonsai (盆栽) ume trees surround the bamboo fence around it. Very cute.

Below you can see the thatched roof of the Shorenan (松連庵) farmhouse from the hill behind it. Things actually looked much better in person. It was such a bright day that the sun washed out my photos from this angle. I should have taken them with a quicker shutter speed. Even so, the sky wasn’t blue from this vantage point, even though it wasn’t cloudy. At a different time of day, with the sun not bleaching everything, this same photo may be spectacular.


This last picture may seem like your standard, point-your-camera-straight-up tree photo, but it isn’t. These trees were growing out of the mountain side horizontally.

I’ll have more from Keio Mogusaen, and our subsequent hike (on the same day) and adventures around the City of Hino (日野市), in a future entry.

Mt. Mitake (御岳山) – Part 1, getting there

tama river kori station bridge

Last Saturday (November 21), upon recommendation from a friend who had been there the prior weekend and upon seeing it is a featured fall “walk” in a guidebook we own, we headed west of Tokyo to Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park.

The above photo is of the Tama River (多摩川), from a bridge just a minute or two away from Kori Station (古里駅). This is were we began our walk. The fall colors were still nice, but they probably hit their peak at this location a week or two before.

bridge near 御岳山 mt. mitake station

This next picture is from inside the train near the Mitake Station. The train was actually packed on a Saturday morning, and most people got off at this station. We followed Day Walks Near Tokyo‘s advice and kept going to Kori Station. Some of the information in our book was dated and/or inaccurate. For instance, there no longer is a jiyukippu. Nor is it cheapest or fastest to go from Shinjuku and pay the 1992 price of 890 yen each way. Instead we went from Takadanobaba and paid 770 yen on the way there and just 600 yen on the way back (from Hinatawada), using a Seibu line instead of JR for much of the journey.

mt. fuji 富士山 from haijima station 拝島駅

When we transferred trains at Haijima Station, we had a good view of Mt. Fuji. The above pic didn’t come out so great through the lined glass and with the power lines grabbing the focus, but you get the idea.

Be careful when relying on the information in Day Walks Near Tokyo. “Walking time” in the book seems to mean “running time,” and even though we gave ourselves 7 hours of daylight to do the 4 hour and 45 minute walk with breaks, we ended up in darkness for the last hour. For instance, the first part of the walk says it takes a total of 1 hour and 30 minutes. However, even before we finished it 2 and a half hours later, we saw a sign on the trail pointing in the downward direction saying it was 1 hour and 30 minutes to the start of the walk.

The book really doesn’t prepare you for the amount of climbing. Only once does it mention the trail being steep, even though you will encounter steep trails both up and down all day long. The last 2 hours and 10 minutes (from Mt. Hinode to Hinatawada Station) is described as “quite easy going.” While it is mostly downhill, you will be descending hundreds of steep steps at times and generally navigating a trail loaded with tree roots, ditches, and other obstacles. As we were nearly out of daylight, we almost jogged this part of the trail, without any rests, and it still took longer than the 2 hours and 10 minutes the book estimated. If you plan to follow this trail after the days grow shorter in fall, be sure to bring a headlamp and get to Kori Station by 9 a.m. Another complaint about Day Walks Near Tokyo by Gary Walters is that after the fact I found out, by looking on other websites, that the highlights of a trip to Mt. Mitake are the Rock Garden and water falls (two sets). The book didn’t mention water falls or the Rock Garden so we didn’t know to see either.

We did see and experience some really cool stuff, though, and the fall colors were beautiful. I’ll show you some more pictures in future entries.

“Kids’ Trips in Tokyo” and “Japan for Kids”

japan for kidskids trips in tokyo

Kids’ Trips in Tokyo: A Family Guide to One-Day Outings and Japan for Kids: The Ultimate Guide for Parents and Their Children are two books we reference frequently while living in Tokyo. Both can be useful, but both are far from perfect.

Neither one is very good at telling you what you can do in a certain area. For instance, let’s say that you will be in Shibuya for the day. Without going through each book from cover to cover, you can’t figure out what the books offer on just the Shibuya area. The index in Kids’ Trips is a mere three and a half pages in length and is not organized by area. Japan for Kids has an index of seven pages, but it, too, is not organized by area AND it covers all of Japan so seven pages means the index is nearly worthless. If you look up a place like Takadanobaba (where we live) or Roppongi (a popular hang out in Tokyo) in the index of either book you will find absolutely nothing. Of the two, Kids’ Trips is more useful when trying to look up a place since you can use the map inside the front cover to sort of see if there is any coverage of the target area.

Both books are dated. Kids’ Trips has a copyright of 1998, meaning the information is at least 10 years old and usually more like 15 years old. The second edition of Japan for Kids was copyrighted in 2000, but much of the content goes back to the first edition which was written before 1992.

OK, so the books aren’t great, but they are sometimes still useful. For instance, we wouldn’t have known about NHK Studio Park without Kids’ Trips. A video from NHK Studio Park can be found at the end of this post. However, we followed Kids’ Trips‘ advice too much and went to Maisen, a tonkatsu restaurant, on the top of Tokyu’s Department Store. We had a great time there, thanks to the lively conversation we enjoyed with the couple next to us who were celebrating her 60th birthday. However, the food wasn’t that great, and certainly not Tokyo’s best tonkatsu as the guide suggests. I’ve had better tonkatsu at other places in Tokyo for less than half the price.

The maps in Kids’ Trips are pretty good, and the directions are generally easy to follow.

Both books are useful references and fairly essential if you are going to be in Tokyo for an extended period of time with kids. If you only choose one, I would make it Kids’ Trips. Even if you are only going to be in Tokyo with kids for a couple of weeks I recommend bringing Kids’ Trips along.