two rides to Koyasan

A Bike Trip to Koyasan

I wrote this article for a job application as an online journalist/translator, I didn't get the job but why not post it!
If there’s one thing every foreigner praises Japan for, without fail, it would be the speed, the  efficiency - of transportation, customer service, and almost anything that requires a plan or schedule. Personally, I’ve had nothing but good experiences in this aspect of Japan.
In Kimino town on the way to Koya
On the other hand, sometimes it’s more than worth your while to go slow, and sort of meander about, without a set plan or strict schedule to adhere to. You never know who you will meet or what interesting things you will see; plus, it’s always refreshing to stop and smell the roses (or in my case on March 24th, take a picture of the cherry blossoms).
On Sunday, I set out on my road bicycle like I always do: with the intention of going somewhere interesting and getting my weekly adrenaline fix. Little did I know I would be in for a big adrenaline rush, and a great adventure.
In Kimino town on the way to Koya
Kimino town on the way to Koya

I started out from my home in Wakayama city, and headed east on a familiar road leading to the countryside. I had always thought about riding to Mount Koyasan, one of Wakayama’s famous tourist destinations, but when I left that day, it was already noon. Could I make it nearly 50 kilometres to the ancient valley town, 800 metres up in the mountains? Nevertheless, I decided to ride along any road that looked nice. Soon I ended up in Kimino town, south of Wakayama and Koya. Even though it is inland, trees in bloom were already dotting the hills. I came to a crossroads; one way leading to Koya, and the other leading back to Wakayama. Well, since I had come this far, why not go for it? So I continued on my way to the mysterious mountain town.
Finally, after a long ride through Kimino’s beautiful wilderness, I came to another crossroads. The road to Koya was a steep grade. Well, I guess this is it, I thought. I stopped to get a bottle of tea at the first vending machine I’d seen in nearly two hours, and met a friendly old man. He asked me in Japanese, in the strongest country accent I’ve ever heard, “Are ya goin’ to Koya, then? On that thing? Yer a real trucker, aren’cha!” Yes! I was going to do it (hopefully). 
the sign says:
"altitude 634 metres:
this point is the same height as Tokyo SkyTree
[the tallest tower in the world]
Danger of forest fire
Koyasan, 1200 year anniversary"
Koyasan mountain is about 800 metres high!
So, I geared down, and started my ascent. Every few seconds I wondered when I would reach the top. One of my triumphant moments was when I came to a commemorative sign that said “634 metres: The same height as Tokyo Sky Tree.” Wait--I rode my bike as high as the Tokyo Sky Tree? Now, that was something to be excited about. As a nature lover, I was also in awe of the fact that even Japan’s tallest tower could be dwarfed by the power of the everlasting earth. It may seem obvious on paper, but sometimes you have to be in the thick of it to understand.
A few more grueling minutes, and I was finally in Koya town! I cruised down an easy hill and was greeted by an enormous orange gate. However... there was only one problem. Since I left home at noon, and took the long, scenic route, it was now five in the evening! I hardly had the chance to set foot in one temple before they started to close for the day.
part of the famous temple in Koya
Since it was about to get dark, I decided to go straight home, the way I came, twisting and turning down that mountain road. But somewhere, I took a wrong turn and ended up on another winding mountain road, this time in Kudoyama town. Having never heard of Kudoyama, I wasn’t quite sure what prefecture I was in, but since I was essentially in the woods with no one else around, I decided to press on. Eventually I came to Hashimoto (still in Wakayama prefecture--phew!), found a quaint little restaurant, and had a satisfying meal of green pea rice and natto (among other things). Luckily, from Hashimoto, I was able to get on the highway for a speedy return home (sparing enough time to go to bathe in the local hot spring)!
When I think about it, I could have easily ridden along the straight, smooth highway that goes from Wakayama to Hashimoto, and gone to Koyasan from there. It certainly would have been quicker, and I would have been able to see the temple, and get another Traffic Safety sticker for my bike, to boot! What’s done is done, however--and I feel that not only I accomplished something fantastic that day, I also felt refreshed and relaxed by my ride through the country (even though I had to climb over 634 metres on my bicycle). With that in mind, everyone should be able to enjoy what Japan has to offer at their own pace, at least once in a while! 


So obviously I wasn't satisfied with my trip to Koya, since I didn't even get to see the town properly. So on April 4th I went again. This time I managed to leave at 10:00... I still should have gone earlier though! oh well. By that time, I was staying at the Egawas in Aridagawa, so first I biked up to Kainan city, then through Kimino and Katsuragi towns, and finally arriving at Koyasan. Kimino is a tough ride going east, because it's long and narrow, and there is a slight incline all the way. and at the end there is an 800 metre mountain to ride up. I got to Koyasan around 3 or 4 pm, I think. 
I stayed until around 5 and then left by a road that looked like it hadn't seen a car in months. there was also a rest stop/"picnic area" that was completely deserted and looked abandoned, as the water in the washroom didn't work! It was also a very steep road. luckily I was going down but I actually got off and walked my bike part of the way to save my brakes. 
so to go home I went through Shimizu, which is the easternmost (inland) part of Aridagawa. it's very countryside. it's hard to get cell reception in some places and there is no train that goes out there. I think there might be a bus of some sort. Luckily the road home was mostly downhill, an easy grade.
wild sakura trees in Kimino
wild sakura trees in Kimino
this is where I stopped for lunch, by a river
I don't think you can see them, but the wind was blowing the petals everywhere, it looked like it was snowing!

at Kongobuji Temple in Koya
At Kongobuji Temple in Koya
at Kongobuji Temple in Koya
another temple that had a cute statue
me at Kongobuji Temple, pretending to be a first grader
on the road home... nothing, nothing and more nothing for as far as the eye can see!

No comments: