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Fresh air, open space – a new side of Hirakata

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 18/03/2008)

I am about to share the best kept secret in Japan – a little town by the name of Kisaichi.  This is the kind of place I’ve been hoping, dreaming, nay – longing for ever since I came to Japan.  The end of the line, a frontier town on the edge of the world.  Yesterday, with nary a clue beforehand, I had my most beautiful experience since coming to Japan.

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It all started out on Sunday evening.  I had just come home late and I ran into my friend Chobo.  Chobo said he was totally bored already with spring break and I offered to go on an adventure with him.

“Great!  Can we go tomorrow?” he asked eagerly.

And thus it was decided.  I had heard about Kisaichi from my friend Azucena last semester but we’d never had a chance to go together.  Chobo and I met at ten, walked to Makino station and transferred to the Katano line upon arriving at Hirakata station.  I had always wanted to ride the Katano line to see where it went and as soon as we got moving I was thrilled to see that there actually was a lot of open space and a genuine “country” feel as we moved further and further out.  Rice paddies became larger and more frequent and buildings became smaller and more spread out.  There were only about half a dozen people riding on the entire train which really surprised me. Chobo and I had the car we were riding in to ourselves after the second stop.  We arrived at the small station of Kisaichi and stopped at a vending machine out in the main square to have a coffee and assess the situation.  I knew right away that we were off the beaten path because the looks we were receiving from passersby were far more curious than normal and I realized that this was a place that non-Japanese seldom visit.  There was a big map in the square and we noticed that there was a trail which followed along the river and then wound up into the mountains, passing waterfalls and containing a suspension bridge.  It looked promising but it also appeared to be quite a long walk with no sign that there would be services along the way so we went into a small, family-run convenience store and bought a couple sandwiches and a bottle of water each.   I asked the little old woman who ran the store if she had a map or if she knew of a place we could get one and she said we should ask the station master because they had really good, detailed maps there. Thanking her, we left and went back to the station and picked up a couple of maps.

We found the main highway leading out of town into the mountains and followed it until we ran into a little tourist rest stop (or something, I don’t really know what it was). There were a bunch of kids standing around practicing various instruments and it seemed as if there was a music camp or something going on there. We found a trail going along the river that looked promising because of all of the hikers coming our way on it. We got double takes from everyone we passed as they looked up and saw two very tall, very white foreigners coming along the trail towards them. We smiled and said hello to everyone and just about everyone grinned and returned our greetings. People react differently to other people if they meet in the wilderness rather than in civilization.

The path was really well made and we walked along a boardwalk high above the river for awhile. The weather was gorgeous and the air felt so clean and fresh compared to what I’m used to in Hirakata. We passed a little resting spot with a waterwheel spinning vigorously. After about maybe an hour we arrived at a parking lot and soon came to a very busy place next to a large cliff. There was a huge artificial climbing wall set up right next to the cliff face and it was fun to watch some energetic youths climbing. There were three older men standing around with HUGE cameras on tripods and they were all staring up intently at the cliff face. I joined them in staring at the cliff for a moment but, seeing nothing, I approached one of them and asked, “Pardon me, but is there something interesting up on that cliff?” Wordlessly, the man nodded and pulled out a sheaf of photographs. Flipping through a few pages, he held it out towards me and again silently pointed. “Ah! There are falcons living in this cliff?” He seemed surprised that I knew the word for falcon in Japanese and looked up at me for the first time. I thanked him for showing me the pictures and walked over to the climbing wall to watch the climbers some more. I really liked how this wall was set up and it made me want to do some climbing, too. It looks like anybody can climb there, free of charge, as long as you bring your own equipment (including rope).

Climbing Wall

We continued on and soon we saw the suspension bridge looming high overhead. It was truly magnificent and we giggled gleefully as we charged up the mountain trail. At the top of the trail, we met a group of three young Japanese men who were resting under a tree and Chobo asked if they would take a picture with us. They were really nice and we had a fun little conversation. Chobo and I continued on and found a little viewing platform looking out over Neyagawa city far below. We continued on and at last we reached the bridge.

First View

I can’t believe that they would build such an awesome structure out in the middle of nowhere just to create a “reason” to hike in the mountains. But honestly, it’s amazing and I really feel it does make the whole place more spectacular. It’s kind of funny that a mountain is just a mountain until you build a bridge connecting it with the top of a nearby mountain and then it’s something else entirely. We stopped and had part of our sandwiches and got a couple to take our picture and then we took their picture also. The bridge swayed gently as we walked across and the breeze felt so good.

Bridge

The mountains around Kisaichi are broken up into three separate courses which are theoretically supposed to be done separately. We considered just looping around this course and coming back some other time to see the other two main attractions – a mountain pond and the viewpoint from on top of Mt. Kono. But, we’d only been walking for a little over two hours and we still had five hours of daylight left so we decided to strike out through the neighboring golf course and at least check out the pond. We struck off with a purpose and quick marched down a really steep trail back to the highway. We passed a small log cabin with American and Canadian flags waving airily out front that advertised it was selling old grandfather clocks. I was so excited to figure out the words for grandfather clock in Japanese. Ojiisan tokei literally means “grandfather clock.” Directly across from this very Western-looking building was a very Japanese-looking Shinto shrine. We crossed over a small bridge and stopped to admire a river that came spilling out of a tunnel.

Water Tunnel

Crossing the highway, we continued up a road into a golf course. The only cars that traveled this road were BMWs, Mercedes Benzes (Benzi?), and Lexuses (Lexi?). The golf course looked just like any golf course one might see in the US. There were a bunch of old men strutting around either showing off how rich they were or wanting to fool everyone else into thinking that they were rich. Suddenly, Chobo said to me, “Hey! That golf cart is driving along and there’s nobody in it!” Sure enough, the cart was slowly driving down the path, leaving behind the golfers who were teeing off at the top of the hill. I thought maybe it was out of control and would eventually crash into a tree or something but it continued only as far as the hole and then shut itself off quietly and sat there waiting for the golfers to catch up. Man, robotic golf carts. Japan is so crazy cool.

Japanese Golfers

We continued on through the forest and passed a small resting spot where one could rest in a gazebo out over a fish pond. Giant carp were swimming around lazily and I was tempted to jump in and try wrestling with the biggest one, about the size of an Australian Shepherd dog.

Giant Koi

We continued on and finally arrived at Kurondo Pond.

Kurondo Ike

Garbage House

That's a lot of wheelbarrows!

We stopped and ate the rest of our sandwiches and watched some domestic white ducks swimming back and forth through a culvert underneath the road that cut across the pond. A couple was paddling around in a whale-shaped boat and a few old men were fishing. Again, I repeat that the Japanese-style of fishing is bizarre. Here’s a look at the fancy apparatus typical of a Japanese fisher.

Fisher

We left and walked along a small street past some quiet houses and then re-entered the forest. Our path joined another road and we passed some mountain fields where some old men and women were working diligently to raise their crops. I stopped to marvel at the view of the city far below and an old woman pushing a wheelbarrow walking by behind us laughed at my joyful exclamations and said that it was a shame there was so much smoke in the air today because sometimes the view is even better. “Oh well, at least the weather is so nice today,” I said and she smiled and continued on. We passed a swampy area where signs warned us to beware of vipers but we made it through unscathed.

View of Hirakata

View 2

Chobo and I passed through a vacant summer camp and soon found ourselves again walking along next to a golf course. At last we reached Mt. Kono and climbed up for an amazing view of the valley. To the south, we could see all the way down to the large buildings of Kyobashi and downtown Osaka. Neyagawa, Hirakata, Kuzuha, Yawata, and Takatsuki all lay spread out before us and to the north we could see Yodo and into Kyoto. Down below, trains crept along the JR line. The summit of Mt. Kono is really cool because it’s covered with giant boulders and there really aren’t any boulders anywhere else on all the other mountains nearby.

On top of Mt. Kono

Chobo on Kono

Being a silly explorer

We cut down an incredibly steep path that just seemed to drop and drop forever until we emerged back onto the edges of civilization.

Houses on the edge

If I had looked a little more closely at the map I would have noticed that with a little bit of backtracking along a nearby path we could see a waterfall but I didn’t see that until later. Too bad, we’ll just have to go back some other time.

Oooh, pretty trees!

We walked along a little road that wound between grape vineyards and then crossed under the JR line and worked our way back to Kawachimori station. Right next to the mountains, it still really felt like we were out in the country, far away from the noisy, smelly city.

Grapes?

Underpass (low)

JR Line train

Altogether I think we ended up walking at least twenty kilometers. If you do each of the three courses separately it adds up to twenty-eight kilometers but with the little connector paths we used to go from one to the next I think we cut several kilometers off of that. It was a really great day and I definitely want to go back and visit it again. Who knows what kind of cool stuff I will find next time? Spring break is going really well so far. Despite my best intentions, I haven’t done any studying yet but I’m on a roll with new adventures!

Tired Explorer

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