TOHOKU, Japan - Part 4 - MOUNT ZAO, IWATE
As we leave Takkoku no Iwaya, we drive just another 8 km southwest to reach the picturesque Genbikei Gorge (still in Iwate Prefecture).
The best way to enjoy this place is to take a walk along the wild, stony Iwai River down to the Goranba Bridge a few hundred metres away, being careful not to encounter any bears (there are many bear-warning signs all over the place), cross over the bridge, come back along the other side. After returning, you can reward yourself by eating a “flying dango” from the sweet shop called Kakkōdango. Some of you might wonder what it is… dango is a Japanese sweet made of mochi, which is a glutinous rice cake. The flying dango earned its name because it is “flown” across the river in a basket on wires from the shop to the customer. The process is simple, the customer puts money in the basket, the shop owner pulls it across the river and then sends the basket back. When it arrives, there are three colourful dango inside with a cup of green tea for each dango.
What adds to our dango experience is that inside the basket we find a note asking us where we are from. As we write and send the answer back - France and Australia - they hang our respective national flags out on the restaurant wall and play our national anthems, one after the other. Putting a smile on our face, we think, “wow! Only in Japan....”
Leaving this beautiful gorge behind, we carry on to another gorge a bit further east, called the Geibikei Gorge.
The name is so similar to the first one that at the beginning I think it’s the same place. But no, there is a difference between the two. The first one is wild, with massive rocks scattered in the middle of it, while the second is calm, serene. So serene that we can experience it completely differently, by boat instead of by foot along the shoreline. A special motorless boat called kotatsu, takes us along the Satetsu River where we are impressed by the gigantic rockfaces, so high as if they touch the sky. In some parts, there are unique rock formations that make the journey more interesting, including the Cloud-Kissing Rock, the Rain-Shelter Rock and the Horse’s-Mane Rock. This gorge is amazing any time of the year, but the experience is different depending on the season. During spring, the riverbanks will be filled with gorgeous sakura (cherry blossom); in autumn, with momiji (maple trees); in winter with the snow; and in summer with the bright purple-blue hydrangea.
The boat takes us to a special place, the wishing hole, where we can see the snout of the dragon. There we can buy a set of undama stones, which are lucky stones that we throw onto the snout of the dragon. The idea is that if we reach the hole with the stone, it will bring good luck.
Akiu Great Falls
After a long day of fun, we finally end up in a ryokan next to the Akiu Great Falls, one of Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls, where we will stay for a few days. The day we choose to visit the falls is a very very wet day. As soon as we arrive it starts raining, torrentially! In just a few minutes we are drenched. Luckily it is summer, so it is not too cold. All around water puddles quickly build up, joining together to form cascades of water along the path. It feels strange to want to go down the stairs into the valley to see the 55 m-high fall. My brain starts going crazy: “What if the water level of the river goes up too much? Will we be quick enough to climb back up?”
In the end it all works out. Nothing dramatic, only that when we arrive back at the car, we are completely drenched. Luckily I brought some extra clothes so we can all get changed!
Mount Zao and Lake Okama
Our next destination is Mount Zao, a volcano with a beautiful lake in its crater called Lake Okama. Its colour changes regularly depending on the surrounding conditions, hence its nickname goshiki numa (5 colour pond). As the weather is constantly changing around here, we have to make sure we visit the volcano on a day when the weather is expected to be good. The following day the forecast is for sunshine, but only in the morning. So we get up as early as possible to be at the entrance park as it opens. That day the lake is emerald green. The colour of the water is so intense that I am mesmerised by it, as if hypnotised. Speechless. There are no words that can describe it.
After spending a long time around the lake, just enjoying the view, we climb the 1840-metre-high mount. During our ascent the weather changes, the clouds closing in and the temperature drops dramatically. Everything disappears into a thick mist. We manage to climb up to the peak where we find a small shrine, standing there on its own, half hidden in the fog.
As we descend, we meet people who ask us if we have seen the lake. We compare pictures. Although we’re standing right next to the crater, the emerald green lake is now nowhere to be seen. At that moment, I happy to have been able to see its amazing green colour when I did. Not everyone will.
… To be continued…
(If you haven't read part 1, 2 or 3 yet, please go back to my blog www.carolinaveranen.com/blog)
author of “Sakura, Sakura”,
her NEW BOOK about JAPAN.
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