Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Winter Hiking in Yamagata

My friend Anna and I are pretty outdoors-y people, so even though it's been snowing regularly here in Tohoku the past couple months, our cabin fever drove us out to the mountains two weeks ago. In our ignorance, we thought it might be possible to do the little canyon trail that leads from Omoshiroyama mountain to the small town of Yamadera in Yamagata. Our first clue that this was ridiculous came from the shocked and concerned faces of our Japanese passengers on the train when we got off at the Omoshiroyama station out in the boonies. Clearly everyone was expecting to see us on the news the following night with the headlines, "Crazy Foreigners Disappear in Japanese Wilderness."

Their concern may have been well-founded.
We got off at the station and quickly realized we wouldn't be doing the canyon trail because we were surrounded by at least 5 feet of snow and the trail had become non-existent. This being the inaka (countryside) our next train wasn't until over an hour later, so we passed the time wandering around playing in the snow. We even made a Calvin and Hobbes-esque snow goon that no doubt confused the poor obaachan that must've found it the next day.

Snow goon!
Finally we got the next train to Yamadera, where there was only a couple feet of snow and it was still possible to do some hiking. So we ate some soba noodles for lunch, then climbed up to see the temples on top of the mountain.

The view in the winter was absolutely gorgeous, and there were fewer tourists than usual. The trail was a bit slippery in parts, but mostly it was okay even without nice hiking shoes like we had. And now I can say that I have visited Yamadera in all four seasons, each of which was uniquely beautiful and interesting. My favorite was summer though, when the hydrangeas all along the path are in bloom.  

More photos here.

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