Go Go Gassan

Heya guys! Summer holiday is here! Are you looking out for any places to go? Perhaps an outdoor activity that makes you feel alive? I wouldn’t judge you if you have been lying flat on your tatami, under the aircon, grabbing slices of juicy Obanazawa watermelons and wondering about life, or worse, having an existential crisis (I did that for 3 days straight – with episodes of Downton Abbey to entertain me). But, if you are looking for something adventurous for your summer holidays in Japan, I’d totally recommend you to hike Mt. Gassan!

Gassan is located in Yamagata Prefecture. This 1984m tall volcanic mountain symbolises “Death”. This mountain is one of the three holy mountains, also known as the “Dewa Mountains” (including Mount Haguro and Mount Yudono), where the ancient Japanese used to go for pilgrimages. Apparently, these pilgrims were the practitioners of Shugen-do who would walk along the mountain paths to train their mind!

We went there on a hot sunny day around the first week of July this year with our host mother, Yoko-san. After climbing Mt. Adatara for the fourth time, we were quite excited to hike in Yamagata prefecture.

Access from Sendai Station

  1. Reserve a bus from Sendai to Nishikawa Inter. Booking can be done via the website (http://www.miyakou.co.jp/top.php) or you can go to the 宮城交通バス (Miyagi Transport Bus) station in front of Uniqlo at Sendai Station and book your seat. Unless there is a special event, these routes seem to be fairly vacant. If you want to use your Japanese skills, you can call Miyagi Transport Bus at 022-261-5333.

 

2. From Nishikawa Inter, we took a bus to Ubazawa. Be sure not to miss the bus for it is quite infrequent and once missed, you might have to take a taxi to go to the foot of Mt. Gassan. Here is our brief travel plan.

Sendai (7:05 AM) ~ Nishikawa Inter (8:40 AM) (1750yen)

Nishikawa Inter (9:00 AM) ~ Ubazawa(月山登山口)(9:49 AM) (500 yen)

Entrance Ticket – 200 yen

Ropeway Ticket (Two way) – 2000 yen

 

After greeting everyone, we started our hike around 10am. You will have to pay an entrance fee of 200 yen at first. Once you reach the entrance of the rope-way, you will have to pay 2000 yen (return trip) to go to the foot of the mountain.

 

The scenery from the ropeway was beautiful. We could see a series of snow clad mountains and people skiing in July! To see the beautiful snow glazed mountains as the blazing heat towered over us from above was quite a sight!

After dabbing some sunscreen on ourselves, we gradually started our ascent up the mountain. Climbing Gassan was a completely different experience. We crossed snow covered paths, muddy trails with wild flowers and rocky paths. There were hikers of all ages climbing Gassan with fervent spirit and enthusiasm. Our Japanese counterparts would stop by and show us the wildflowers, explaining their names; sometimes double checking them on the brochure. The flowers were indeed an object of admiration. I received a couple of compliments when I recalled the names of few plants out loud; after my intense training at Mt. Adatara!

After nearly 3 hours of hiking under the blazing sun, we reached the summit. I must admit I get quite emotional every time I reach the summit (Go on, tease me now). This time the feeling of liberation and achievement gripped me. The clear view of the clouds and sky ahead of us made this feeling even stronger. There was a small temple which you could enter for a fee – where you could pray for the dead. We decided to hover around the area, feeling the gentle breeze soothe our sweaty bodies. We were told by our Japanese companions that we were quite lucky to have this view. Apparently, it was their first time to observe such a nice, clear view despite having climbed the mountain several times!

There are two inns at the top, where you can rest and have your lunch. Since some of us bought food from there, I guess we were “allowed” to open our lunch from home and have it there. If you are not planning to buy anything from the inn, it might be better to eat outside.

We decided to leave early since we had to catch the bus from Ubazawa to Nishikawa Inter. For me, the descent was harder than the ascent. At the places where there was some snow left, we slid across (on our coats!). Watching our group shouting and laughing, other groups also challenged us. Soon there were a couple of ojichans sliding across the snow with us using plastic sheets or even our raincoats. Although you will hurt your bum, I swear it is better than trying to walk on the snow by balancing your footsteps.

All in all, it was a fun trip, only some of our friends who didn’t apply sunscreen may have felt regret later!

Tips before you go:

  1. Always check the weather ahead. Depending on the weather, it can be either quite cold or hot. Pack your clothes accordingly. Sometimes you might have to take gloves, woolen hats and down jackets even in the middle of June-July! Things you can take: Hat, Sunscreen lotion, Jackets, Raincoat, Lunch, Drinks, Gloves etc.
  2. Stay hydrated! “Pocari Sweat” or any ionized sports drinks will do.
  3. Although some people can hike in normal shoes, it is always a good idea to wear waterproof hiking shoes.

 

Anandeeta Gurung

About Anandeeta Gurung

Anandeeta (Nepal) was born with wanderlust in her genes and has an incredibly ridiculous passion for gardening, hiking and writing! She is currently undergoing her PhD in River Metabolism at Tohoku University.

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