Going Spiritually Green in Two Short Day Trips from Central Tokyo, Japan
In the Kanto Region of Japan, including Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture, just to its north, the Tohoku earthquake of March 2011 shook buildings, but caused minimal damage; bullet trains were stopped, but there was no injury or loss of life. Tokyo is 128 miles from the Fukushima nuclear plant, yet the fact is there is less radiation in Tokyo than in New York.
Essentially, life in Japan is back to normal, and hotels and tourism attractions are pleased more than ever, to welcome foreign guests. I was in Japan in January and February and unquestionably, locals were very excited to see me – especially as I ventured to the far suburban reaches of Tokyo Prefecture and into Saitama. I did this not only because I wanted to give back by allowing my tourism dollars to penetrate deep into the local economies. I did this because I myself wanted to find some quiet spirituality in the nearby forested nature areas laden with historic and religious culture.
Mt. Takao, Tokyo Prefecture
From Tokyo City's Shinjuku ward (http://www.shinjukuku-kankou.jp/english/index.html), I took a 50-minute semi-limited express Keio line train for just 370 yen to Mt. Takao, in the southwestern part of Tokyo Prefecture. Although, it is only 25 miles from the center of Tokyo city, it was truly a countryside with tree-lined roads, rice farms, and traditional-style wooden houses.
After arriving at Takaosanguchi Station, I climbed upon a cable car that ascended half-way up the mountain. Here, I began my two-hour spiritual hike. A series of numbered and well marked hiking trails, ranging from the broad and paved hiking trail number 1 to narrow nature trails, lead up the slopes and through the valleys of Takao-san. I even had the chance to diverge slightly and explore the Monkey Park and Wild Plant Garden. In the Monkey Park, you can really get up close to the creatures or should I say, they get up close to you. Hold on to your water bottle, as they really will try – or successfully -- grab it, open it, drink it and toss it. Enjoy the monkey performers: jumping, rope walking, swinging, and grooming, and just playing. In the plant garden, you can read about and explore 300 different species of mostly sub-alpine and some alpine plants that have been growing naturally on Mt. Takao and the surrounding areas for centuries, even though they have been gradually disappearing from more urban areas.
The peak of Mt. Takao is 599 meters above sea level with spectacular views of Tokyo City and even Mount Fuji. Here, I sat down and relaxed, enjoying the view, but I also grabbed a refreshment from the vending machine. Sadly, yes, there is a restroom and a vending machine atop the mountain summit.
Takao-san combines historic cultural attractions, such as Yakuoin Temple, built in 744 and dedicated to the Medicine Buddha, with a chance to enjoy mountain scenery, especially attractive during mid-November when all the leaves turn crimson and gold. It has been a center of mountain worship for over 1,000 years, and the area just received three stars in the 2011 Japan Michelin tourist Green Guide.
Hoto Mountain and Hoto-san Shrine, Saitama
The next day we went on a nature exploration in Saitama Prefecture. From Shinjuku Station, I took the Seibu Line Express train to Chichibu Station and hiked just a small bit of the 497-meter Hoto Mountain to Hoto-san Shrine. I had the opportunity to actually meet the shrine priest, who personally took me through the complex. He explained the difference between a Shinto Shrine – the house of worship for Japan's indigenous religion based on the natural spirits of “Kami” (spiritual deity) and a Buddhist Temple – the home of Buddhism, which was introduced into Japan from India in 736. To pray at the Shinto Shrine, I rang the bell, threw a few coins in, clapped twice and bowed. However, at a Buddhist temple, there is no bell ringing or clapping because “Buddha is always awake!” The shrine itself was built in the Gongen style, when politics split Shinto-ism and Buddhism. Thus, it houses a Japanese kami that was really just the local manifestation of an Indian Buddha.
After the shrine visit, I proceeded to the Nagatoro Gorge and boarded a historic wooden Japanese-style vessel for a relatively calm (because the water level was low) white-water boat ride down the Arakawa River. This was my first white-water ride on a historically designed boat.
This is just a small sample of some of the eco-spiritual experiences that await a traveler to the Tokyo
area. Check here for more tourist information on Tokyo at www.sainokuni-kanko.jp/eng and Saitama at www.sainokuni-kanko.jp/eng Prefecture.
Jul 24, 2012 @ 01:40 am Marisa Sung said:
SPIRITUALEE GREEN IN CENTRAL TOKYO JAPAN?? I DIDN'T THINK ANY OF THE GREENS WERE SPIRITUAL AT ALL BUT RATHER JUST TRYING TO GET GREENER AT ANY COST!! I KNOW OF ONE GREEN THAT IS WORSE THAN POISON IVY ALL OVER THE BODY AND MUCH HARDER TO GET RID OF NOT TO MENTION 100X MORE UNDESIRABLE AND POISONOUS!! :( JAPAN IS SUCH A BEAUTIFUL AND SCENIC COUNTRY INHABITED BY VERY WELL-MANNERED AND HONORABLE PEOPLE!! I TRULY ADMIRE EVERY ASPECT OF THEIR CULTURE! :)
THE SPIRITUALEE GREEN ACRES OF JAPAN SEW PLEASE BRING YOUR OWN HIBACHI AND YOUR LAZY SUSAN IF YUE ARE HUNGARY AND COMING FROM CHINA!! ON SECOND THOUGHTS, KEEP YOUR LAZY SUSAN AND BRING SOME MOO SHOE BEEF!! :)