2010/08/11

Peekaboo Fuji-san

Last week we took a trip to Wakayama Prefecture which I'll be blogging about in this and coming posts. Our first destination was Koyasan, a mountain village founded in 819 by the Buddhist Monk Kukai (now referred to as Kōbō-Daishi by followers), who brought the Shingon sect of Buddhism from China to Japan. At one time, there were over 900 temples there. Today there are still over 100 temples, and it is a very active place for religious studies, pilgrimages, and tourists interested in Japanese history, religions, and natural beauty. About half the temples offer accommodations to visitors.

Koyasan is located at the north end of the Kii Mountains. For its natural spendor and historical significance as an area long traveled by pilgrims, the entire area was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

To get there, we took the Nozomi Super Express train from Tokyo to Osaka.


Nozomi 700 series trains in Tokyo Station. Earlier cab design (the Duck) on the right; latest design (the Eagle) on the left. The aerodynamics of the Eagle squeezes an additional 30 kph out of the Nozomi, allowing it to hit 300 kph (186 mph) on some sections of the Shinkansen line. The main limit to speed is noise, so near cities, the trains are a bit slower.

As I have written before, taking into consideration the time required to get to and from airports, check in, security screening, and waiting for baggage, the trains are often faster than the airlines. And there's one leaving every ten minutes, so forget the scheduling hassles.

I had only seen Mt. Fuji once from the Shinkansen, and that was over twenty years ago. It is often shrouded in clouds. So, this trip I was hoping to be lucky. Well, Fuji-san was indeed shrouded in clouds, but came out to play a game of peek-a-boo as we sped past.



At this time of year there is no snow atop the mountain, but it was an impressive sight none the less. Thank you for making an appearance, Fuji-san!

We got off the Shinkansen at Shin-Osaka station, took a short subway ride and a little wallk to reach Namba station. From there, the Nankai Koya line would take us up to the base of Koyasan.



The ride takes about an hour and a half and goes from near sea level to an elevation of about 600 meters, at Gokurakubashi station (literally "Pure Land bridge" a religious reference to the Buddhist paradise).

The ride is quite scenic, especially as you climb into the mountains, and the train has big windows so you need't miss anything. If you take this train, do try to get seats on the right hand side as this will give you the best of the scenery. Luckily, our train had few passengers, so we were able to switch sides at will. Still, photography proved tricky due to greenery close to the tracks, the reflections on the windows, and speed of the train. So, perhaps, just sit back and enjoy the view.



At the end of the line, you switch to the Koya Cable Car, a funicular train which opened in 1930 that takes you the rest of the way up the mountain - another 200 meters - in about five minutes. It's a steep climb at angle of 30°. The mother of the little girl in the cable car image was just in front of us. She motioned to her daughter to hang on tight. How unusual in Japan to see a parent allow their child to have such an exciting experience on their own without being overprotective (aka "helicopter mom").

From there, it's short bus ride into the town, where this story really begins....

つづく (to be continued)

next: Saizen-in

5 comments:

PinkPanther said...

Ok, finished reading first part. Go ahead,Panda.

Oh, you must let MoMO alone in home this time. Poor momo.

Anonymous said...

"funicular" - something to do with having fun?

I'm in Takayama, just back from a great train trip to Hida Furukawa, so I just had to ask ;)

M

Pandabonium said...

PP - not to worry, Kimie's mom took care of Momo.

M - I'd like to visit Takayama again someday.

Funicular: from the Latin funiculus, a diminutive of funis, "rope".

Oddly enough, what Japanese call cable car, Americans call funicular railway. And what Japanese call ropeway, Americans call "aerial tram". In America, cable cars use a system where the cable is always moving and cars grab or release the cable as needed. Funicular trains are permanently attached to the cable.

Aren't you glad you asked? ;^)

Pandabonium said...

Also, it's a good thing that San Francisco's transport uses cable cars. Can you imagine Tony Bennett singing "where little funicular railway cars..." ?

nzm said...

Love this trip, PB and looking forward to the next installment. It's a desire of mine to come back to Japan and really take the time to look around. I've only been to Tokyo 3 times on business, so there just wasn't the chance to see more. But I did see Mt. Fuji in the far distance on a rare clear day as we came in to land at Narita - I was so excited!