2006/11/24

Tsukuba Doobie Doo - Part I

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Monday, the 13th, was holiday - Ibaraki Prefecture Citizen's Day. We had hoped for good weather and got it - warm and clear. (Well K thought it was a bit cool, but I was content. Now there's a switch.)

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We headed for our preplanned destination: Tsukuba-san, the mountain I have photographed and featured on this blog many times, but always from our distance of 20 miles. In addition to my interest in its beautiful double peaked profile, it has been the butt of many of my puns (sorry, but puns run in my family). As Tsukuba is pronounced much like "SCUBA", I talk about "tsukuba diving", "tsukuba doobie doo", and poke fun at its diminutive 877 meter height in comparison to Maui's Haleakala which rises to 3,055 meters. This day I'd get a chance to experience this mini-mountain first hand and see what it is really made of.

I was going to call this post "There and Back Again" but that would be plagiarizing Tolkien, so changed it to "Up and Down Again", but in fact we would ascend the mountain twice, and "Up and Down and Up and Down Again" sounds weird in ways I'd rather not discuss. So we're stuck with the silly title above. I'm also didn't mean to write a "Blogopotamus" (super long post), but this is turning into one, so I'll try to cover that up but making it two parts.

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An armored van pulled off on the side lane of Rokko Bridge

We drove up the east side of Lake Kitaura and crossed at Rokko Bridge - the name being made up of Kashima and Namegata, the two cities it connects. Sadly, the bridge's replacement sits unfinished right next to it, for lack of funding. Concrete pillars stand in the middle of the lake with no bridge atop them. We go across the old bridge which is one lane wide with two sidings for the eastbound traffic. At busy times there are traffic cops to manage the flow, but otherwise you just hope everyone is thinking alike as they converge head-on. Seriously.
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Lake Kasumigaura and Tsukuba-san

Then across Namegata City to the Kasumigaura Bridge from which we could see the mountain. "As the crow flies" the mountain is only 20 miles from home, but in road distance it is more than twice that. Given the speed limit of 50 kph (31 mph), it would take an hour and half or more to reach Tsukuba-san. Yes, everyone drives 60 kph, but red signal lights along the way eat up the extra speed, and today being a beautiful day, the motorcycle cops are out in force. A speeding ticket from them is an expensive joke. (As for myself, I have yet to get a speeding ticket on my bicycle, though my brother managed to do so - really!)

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Getting closer

As we got closer, the communications towers atop the mountain came into view, as did the "ropeway" (aerial tram) station below the taller of the two peaks (on the right in the picture above). From this angle, the peaks appear farther apart than they do from home and the mountain loses some of that volcanic cone look.

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We arrived at the mountainside shrine "Tsukubasan Shrine" at the 270 meter level, which is dedicated to the god or spirit of the mountain, and settled on a close by parking lot. There is no town here really (Tsukuba City is miles away), just a collection of restaurants, souvenir shops, and hotels. Any business with a parking lot has someone out by the road waving in cars with a flag. Usually, the further from the main attraction, the cheaper the parking, and free if you spend enough money in their store. 500 yen was the average price for a day's parking. The place was busy, but I wouldn't say crowded for a holiday.

One of the things Tsukuba-san is famous for is "toad oil", or grease, which is (I'm not making this up) applied to the skin - particularly the face - in order to heal damaged skin and improve the complexion. In the Edo period it was highly valued by Samurai for treating cuts. There is also an annual toad festival here in which a portable toad shaped shrine is carried through the streets.

To obtain the oil, a toad is placed inside a mirrored box and seeing his/her own reflection scares the oil out of the toad - or so I'm told.

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Toad Oil - not be confused with Dick Cheney who is an "Oil Toad".


After disposing of the car, we start up the first of countless steps up the mountain, first passing an old arched bridge, then a wonderful gate, to the shrine. I was carrying a backpack and had volunteered to carry our lunch (which K had prepared this morning), bottles of home brewed "mugicha" (roasted barley tea), water, sweater, camera tripod, and emergency kit (I was never a Boy Scout, but I follow their motto - "Be Prepared"). That I had forgotten to remove my bicycle tool kit only added to the weight. In retrospect I should have asked K to carry the pack. She is lighter than I am by goodly amount and runs up and down the stairs at her school every day. I on the other hand get my exercise on a bicycle, which involves a different set of muscles than does hiking or stair climbing. This would be driven home to me in a lesson not soon to be forgotten. When we're riding bicycles I have to go easy for K's sake, but when climbing steps, she bounds up them like a gazelle (mountain goat would be more accurate, but it's not a very flattering analogy) as I plod along in trail.

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Left to right - main entrance "torii" of the shrine, souvenir shops, wooden roof of the bridge, patinaed metal roof of the shrine gate, and barely visible next to the gate, the roof of the main shrine building. Oh, the modern building on the right above the bus? More souvenir shops, of course.

Along the way, we try to avoid the souvenir shops, but a woman with a flag is waving everyone off the path toward her shop as she shouts about toads and toad oil.

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The people inside the shop are looking at an aquarium holding six or so toads as the proprietor hawks his toad oil - 600 yen for looks to be 10 grams or less. I wonder if it could be used for trombone slide cream? It seems incredible to me that anyone would put it on their face in an attempt to improve their complexion. Have you ever noticed a toad's complexion?


The ancient gate to the shrine is flanked by an old Japanese cedar on the right and a ginkgo tree, the leaves of which were turning brilliant yellow, on the left.

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The architecture of the buildings is reminiscent of the temples in Nara. Tsukuba Shrine has a history dating back seventeen centuries. From the eighth century it also served as a Buddhist temple. The present hall was built by the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1633. It was turned back into a Shinto Shrine During the Meiji Era, when the Emperor returned to the throne.

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The shrine had chrysanthemums on display which rivaled those of Kashima.

Past some more souvenir shops, and up more steps, we arrived at the cable car station. Happily for me, we did not have time for the hour and a half hike to the summit and would ride most of the way. The ride is 500 yen each way but we opted for a special ticket that allowed us to ride the cable car and the ropeway both ways for 1500 yen per person.

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Pardon me boy, is that the Tsukuba-nooga choo choo? The flag says, "Tsukuba-yama Momiji Matsuri" - "Mt. Tsukuba Maple Festival"

"A cable car AND a ropeway on such a diminutive mountain?", you may ask. Of course! As I observed in "Japan As Disneyland - What A Country", in many ways Japan is one big Disneyland-style theme park, except that the props - such as mountains - are real.

The cable car ride is 1600 meters long and takes six minutes. The track reaches a 33 percent grade which gets really fun when you go through a tunnel. If the cable breaks - how much good are brakes? The trees along the track were lovely and though it was a bit early, we did get to see some autumn colors.

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Momiji - Japanese maples (acer palmatum) Whatever you call them, they are always beautiful.


The station at the top is located on the saddle between the peaks, closest to the lower of the two. The peaks are called Nantai-san and Nyotai-san (man body-mountain and woman body-mountain), with Nyotai-san being six meters higher. We would hike to the top of Nyotai-san before descending to the ropeway station.

In keeping with the "Japan as Disneyland" theme, as soon as one exits the cable car station, the eye is greeted with, what else?, a rotating restaurant and more souvenir shops. Sigh. There are also great views of the Kanto plain, and today, though it was getting a bit hazy, we could see all the way to Kashima to the southeast and the snow capped mountains to the northwest. Hang gliding and soaring are popular here and a motor glider (a glider with a small engine and retractable propeller) was silently looking for updrafts.
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If you click the picture above, you'll get a much wider view that includes Lake Kasumigaura.

Tune in again for part two wherein we are attacked by a giant granite oil toad, conquer Nyotai-san and find ourselves dangling over an abyss by a slender thread!

11 comments:

Reena said...

A ticket for speeding on a bicycle!!!!! Never ever heard of such a thing, well atleast in this part of the world!
And Toad oil, that just reminded me of chicken fat, that my mother-in-law says is good for healing burns! Im still trying to figure out how they get that oil out, not a nice thought!

Pandabonium said...

Reena - it's true - my brother (in his youth) got a speeding ticket going down a steep grade. I forget the exact figures but it was something like going 55 mph in a 45 zone (I get scared going over 20 on a bike). He fought the ticket in court and the judge dismissed the charge because he could not believe it.

May daughter the nurse will never forgive me if I don't say: Never put butter, oil, ice or ice water or chicken fat on a burn as it will only damage the skin - doesn't do the chicken much good either :) I won't cover it all here, but if you google "burn first aid" you can find what to do for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree burns. Important to know, as they happen to us all at some point.

I don't want to think about how animal oils are obtained either - yuck.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Getting speeding tickets while on bicycles was a very common occurrence in my college days. It used to tick us students off, not just for the fact of getting tickets, but because the campus cops tended to be really anal about it, but they were rarely any help if a real emergency, let alone a real crime, ever occurred.

Selba said...

Whoaaa.. the first picture really looks amazing, with the round frame makes like a chinese panting :)

Pandabonium said...

MM - yes, but were they in a 45 mph zone? Our campus cops were pretty laid back. One of them was a graduate student from Sweden who was especially cool.

Selba - 'glad you like it. I was trying to do something to help put the focus on the mountain.

Martin J Frid said...

Toad oil? Hmmm... The Food Safety Commission had better get to work! Looking forward to Tsukuba II.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

The pictures got better and better as you went along but my computer sometimes doesn't like your long posts - says something about a long stack or overstack or something!
Toad oil? Well, there's a new industry for Fiji to make the cane toads melt in the sun. Ugh!
W.

Pandabonium said...

Martin - I kind of wondered how one would know if one were really getting toad oil. More than that, I wondered why anyone would want it. Part II soon.

Wendy - thanks. Don't know why you computer doesn't like my post - some blogs post much longer ones than I do.

We could open a toad oil spa where people could visit Fiji and sit in a tub full of oily toads....

Reena said...

haa, haa thats hilarious, judge dismissing it because he wouldnt believe it ! :)
oh yes, thats what they say about burns, never to put any kind of fats etc and I always believe that clean water is the best bet. For a very long time I had that disgusting chicken fat in a bottle in my kitchen, and then one fine day, it found itself in the bin..

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

A tub full of oily toads at a spa in Fiji! Sounds interesting. Maybe we'll need something like that if the standoff between the military and the rest doesn't calm down soon!
W.
PS The warning about the overstacking didn't pop up this time.

Fernando said...

hehehehe - Oil Toad Dick....