Autumn is an important time in Japan. You can enjoy delicious freshly harvested rice and the beautiful Kouyou (autumn colours). Yuzawa is famous for both, and a ticket on the Dragondola at Naeba or the rope way at Yuzawa Kogen will let you see some spectacular sights without walking an inch. However as an avid hiker and strong believer in ‘you only get back with you put in’, I’d like to recommend a much more energy consuming adventure on the Urayama (mountain behind) Takahan Hotel.
At the entrance an information sign quotes a scene from Yasunari Kawabata’s Yukiguni.
Lost interest in the Geisha from Nakazato and remembered about the payment. Blamed it on the post office times and decided to make a run for it up Urayama, the high ground facing the entrance to Takahan. The stone buddhist deities, part of the most important pilgrimage route in the west country, can watch over and protect Yuzawa town in the sweep of an eye.
However Shimamura just stood at the entrance of the hotel, looking up at Urayama with its strong smell of young leaves all around, and as if it was inviting him, eagerly began climbing. I don’t know what was amusing but his laughing never stopped.
An old path, as old as Yuzawa itself, meanders steeply through rich autumn colours; fiery reds and glowing golds. The air is crisp and clean and sunlight filters through the trees. A series of stone Buddhist deities guide the way.
Each has an prayer engraved on it, but are now so weather worn that they’re barely readable. As I pass the third one I instinctively duck under a large spiders web, the same one who was there last week. Perhaps no one has been up here since then. Climbing higher the noise of cars on the expressway starts to dull and eventually disappear. Out of the twenty or so times I’ve made this climb I’ve only ever seen two other people. It was last spring. As I started my decent I bumped into a couple climbing up. At first I thought the sound of cracking branches might have been a bear! The couple, who were from Germany, had seen the trail marked on a large glossy map outside the Yuzawa Ski Lodge just down the road. About the only thing that still seems to acknowledge this paths existence. After the last of the stones the path turns out onto a ski slope, in autumn the grass on the ski slope is cut in preparation for winter, and you can climb all the way to the top, but in late spring and summer the weeds are so thick it’s hard to find the way.
So how many stones are there? That’s for you to find out!
Please note this is a steep, narrow and scarcely maintained path. Suitable footwear is strongly recommend. Round trip: 1 hour 30 minutes (to the last stone and back)