Well, firstly, most articles you read on hiking Mt Tsukuba classify it as a ‘fairly easy’ hike. This is a lie. Mt Tsukuba is gloriously adorned by forests, tree roots, and boulders. This certainly didn’t make for an ‘easy’ hike in Tokyo summer. But, Mt Tsukuba has an interesting history as a rival of Mt Fuji. As legend has it, a deity came down to Japan one night to visit. Looking for somewhere to stay, he first asked the mighty Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji refused, but Mt Tsukuba offered its twin peaks as a resting place for the night. This legend is why Tsukuba is full of lush greenery and Mt. Fuji is…well, a sort of barren wasteland.
We arrived at the Tsukuba bus station ready to board the only bus to the base of the mountain at 7:50, just 10 minutes before the first bus was leaving. To our amazement, many other people also had the same idea of getting up and at em’ to climb the mountain, so we boarded the bus with the other 40 people already lined up. Unfortunately, we had to stand for the 40 ride so we got to wear in our new hiking boots nicely. When we reached the mountain, we were greeted by Japanese locals dressed in full hiking gear including big floppy hats and hiking poles, so we felt a little under-dressed. However, we had been forewarned that Japanese people tend to overdress for mountain climbing, still, had us a little worried about what we were about to get ourselves into. The climb starts at a beautiful and magnificent temple above ancient stones steps (of course, its Japan, most hikes start with a temple). The first part of the hike was stepping over tree roots and experiencing how damp the forest is (thank god we had our hiking boots cause…mud). But this was okay until…stairs. To quote my friend Po the Panda ‘ahhhh, my worst enemy…stairs’, and indeed they were. Although very well maintained, the stairs leading to the top were endless and steep, not to mention the added level of discomfort that comes with Japan heat and humidity in summer.
Then came the boulders. The rest of the hike was a delightful combination of stairs, steepness, and bouldering. Luckily, we had set aside the entire day for this mountain so we took frequent rest and water stops (Aussies know how not to get heat stroke). Although quite a difficult hike, we both thoroughly enjoyed the scenery, nature, and friendliness of the others hikers, always saying ‘こんにちは!’ to us as they passed by (Konnichiwa=hello).
It was a peanut butter and jam sandwich kind of day which we thought was delicious when we reached the cable car summit (cheaters). However, the hike doesn’t end there! See, Mt Tsukuba has two peaks, one named 男体山(male body mountain) which is just a few hundred meters more uphill. The second and more spectacular peak is rightly named 女体山 (female body mountain, of course the female peak stands higher) and requires another 600m hike (aren’t we finished yet?!). Of course we did them both! With shaky and tired legs, we visited both peaks, ending on the better and more spectacular peak with surrounding views of the beautiful Tsukuba area. Of course we were joined at the view point by the other thousand people trying to get Instagram-worthy photos so we had to wait awhile before there was room on the rocks overlooking the valley. Though it was definitely worth the wait! The views were spectacular (and we did get our Instagram photo of course, thanks for asking).
On the way to the second and highest peak of Mt Tsukuba, lies the frog rock. This uniquely shaped rock prompted the Japanese people to make everything on the mountain about frogs. Seriously. All the souvenirs are frog-based because of the one rock. Visitors try to throw a small rock into the mouth of the frog rock, which is supposed to give you long lasting wealth, or a wish you have may be granted. We both got a rock in the frog’s mouth so now I’m just awaiting my $1 million. The frog has now become the symbol for the entire mountain, and what a wonderful and surprising thing to learn when you arrive.
Let me explain how we got down the mountain. Before you judge us, majority of people take the rope-way down! So we did too. Before starting the hike, we thought that would be a cop-out but after tackling the dangerous paths, slippery rocks, and muddy soil, we also decided that the rope-way would be best. It is known that descending Mt Tsukuba can be a dangerous task, so we joined the other smart people and headed down on the rope-way and were awarded with a gorgeous view of the mountain.
When we reached the bottom, Georgia tried her first proper mountain団子 (dango). This is a common dish served and eaten on mountains in Japan and is basically a Japanese sweet dumpling made from rice flour.
Thankfully, she loved it! After 1.5 hours of travel, we finally made I back to our sweet little apartment and were glad to finally remove our shoes and relax on the couch!
One thing we have learned whilst living in Tokyo, is the necessity to leave the city and find some nature to disappear in! Coming from the vast expansiveness of Australia, spending the day being surrounded by nature was comforting and relaxing. Now, back to work!