Saturday, December 18, 2010

Okutama - limestone cave, Onzen and more

On 21th November 2010, I went to a small town called Okutama in the western Tama Area of Tokyo.

The location of Okutama in the Western Tama Area of Tokyo Metropolis

Some small words to the administrative area Tokyo Metropolis

Japan is divided into 47 prefectures. Tokyo Metropolis is one of them. In 1943, the former Tokyo Prefecture (Tokyo-fu) and the city of Tokyo (Tokyo-Shi) were merged to what is now the administrative area Tokyo.
The former city of Tokyo was divided into 23 special wards. Each ward is governed as an own city. (Thus, its basically wrong to say Tokyo is a great city; it would be more correct to say Shibuya or Shinjuku or Meguro are great cities. However, everybody will know what you mean ^^) 8 of the 13 million residents of Tokyo life in this eastern area. The population density is 14,061 residents per km2 (e.g. Berlin 3,857 residents per km2). The size of the area is 622 km2 (e.g. Berlin 892 km2)
The former Tokyo Prefecture in the west is also called Western Tama Area, because the Tama-river has its spring here. It is about double the size of “Tokyo downtown” and consists of some smaller citys and towns (However, its population density is still about the same as Berlin). Okutama is one of the towns, respectivily administrative areas. It is the largest administrative area and the most western one. And it's a nice recreational and hiking area.


How to go there

Bad news first: As I mentioned above, Okutama is the furthermost area where you can go in Tokyo. It takes more than one and a half hours by train from Shinjuku Station. However, the way is very simple. You enter the Chuo Line in Shinjuku Station and leave the train 100 minutes later in Okutama. At about half the distance, the Chuo Line becomes the Ome Line in Tachikawa Station. Maybe you will have to change the train here. The next important intermediate stop is Ome. Ome is the last bigger town before you enter the mountains. However, the Ome Line continues to Okutama (but not every train).


What to do there

You can get an English map of the area in Okutama in the tourist information centre. It’s just left hand when you exit the station. Eigo no chizu ga arimaska - 英語の地図がありますか。means do you have an English map (Eigo à English; chizu à map; arimaska à do you have?)
Famous places in Okutama are the Okutama Lake and the Limestone Cave in Nippara. I didn’t try it yet, but I think you can reach the lake by foot in an hour or two. However there is also a bus to the lake and to Nippara. And of course, Okutama is the starting point for many other hiking trails, too. And because Okutama is a popular hot spring area, there are a lot of Onzen in and around Okutama town. I'll come to this later.

To the cave

We wanted to visit the cave and because Nippara is about 10 km to walk, we decided to take the bus. Unfortunately, there is only a bus every 1.5 hours and we had to wait for one hour, so we walked a part of the way. We walked through a gorge along a small river. Although the way was a normal street, the view was amazing.

 an old factory grows out of the mountains near Okutama town

 that's me in front of the factory

 the area offers an amazing view during momiji (fall of the leafs)

this one's for you, Ira ;)

mountains in Japan are steep

 two old bridges

I took the last picture at a fishing place close to the station where we entered the bus. We walked about 3 km to that place,. There is a second smaller limestone cave nearby. Actually, we wanted to visit this one too, but we didn’t understand the old woman who maintained the cave. She said something about small, close and Nippara cave better, but we barely understood a word, so we decided not to annoy her any longer and to enter the bus for Nippara.

Nippara Limestone Cave

Nippara is a small village, 10 km from Okutama. From the bus stop, you can reach the cave in about 15 minutes.
 The Inamura - Rock in Nippara seems to challenge you to climb him

The entrance of the cave with a tomodachi in front

near the entrance is an impressive rock face formation

The cave is the largest in the Tokyo area. A tour through the cave takes about 30 – 40 minutes (it’s a no guided tour, so you can manage the time like you want). Unfortunately, it was very dark in the cave at this day, so the following pictures might be a little noisy.

 that's me exploring the cave

 ok, it's already explored 

Thousands of visitors transported seeds into the cave. Together with the artificial light, they helped a small vegetation to grow

their are some shrines in the cave
 At the end of the cave is a large and very impressive hall. You feel like in a natural cathedral inside a mountain, awesome.

yeah, I was really impressed

Apart from the large hall, the cave offers some (but rare) stalactites and stalagmites and a steep path through the rock. It is a very interesting tour, but be prepared to climb a lot.
Around the cave

The cave lies in a small gorge along a river. After visiting the cave, we walked around a bit. We even found a “secret” path up to a mountain and followed it a while. But we lost the path very soon and decided to go back. However, on our way back, we met a lonely hiker. She told us that the path leads up to a mountain with a large, ancient tree on the top (at least, this is what we understood in Japanese).

a small river along the gorge

the entrance to the "secret" path

very interesting to see at what for places trees can grow

 the tomodachi and me followed the path, as long as we could find it

tomodachi without stamina ^^
can you still see the path??

 amazing momiji

 on the way back to the bus station

Another impressive rock formation; as you can see, it's getting dark soon

Finally, we decided to go back to the station and to Okutama. You should better take a look on the timetable before you start; we had to wait more than an hour for the bus.

Onzen time
To finish the trip, I decided to visit an Onzen in Okutama. The Moeginoyu Onzen is only 15 minutes to walk from Okutama station. I had to wait for a few minutes (shotto matte kudazai しょっと待ってくだざいà please wait a little). You can rest your feet in the Onzen water while you’re waiting. The Onzen was great and I really felt refreshed afterwards. I talked with a Japanese guy about this and that, mainly in English. He told me that I have to try Tempura, deep-fried fish and vegetables. I decided to do so, soon.
The Onzen lies above the Tama River. It has an outdoor pool and you can hear the Tama here and smell the forest. It must be wonderful in winter, when there is snow.
After the Onzen I had a great meal in the Onzen restaurant; rice bowl with pork, mizo soup and salad (unfortunately no Tempura).

This bridge crosses the Tama gorge in Okutama. It was a wonderful evening there.

Summarizing I can say that Okutama is definitely worthwhile to go and there are a lot of spots to discover, but in order to save time its maybe more useful to get spend a night in Okutama. I started my tour at 7 o’clock in the morning and was finally at home at 10 o’clock in the evening.


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