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The Japanese and their Environment

We arrived (as previously discussed) by train to Takayama, a well-preserved little town that is proud of its craftsmanship and heritage. We were transferred to another ryokan this time a little larger, nestling in the beautiful Northern Alps. A British missionary, Walter Weston, gave the range this name, having been struck at how similar they looked to those he climbed in Europe. He was also instrumental in the foundation of the Japanese Alpine Club at the turn of the last century. We really do get everywhere.

We took advantage of the location by hopping on the Shin Hodaka cable car up to a typically well-organised observation platform which afforded gorgeous views of a majestically mountainous and deserted landscape. One really needs to recalibrate one’s preconception that Japan is just heaving with people, all reading cartoon mags and playing tamagochi. We also travelled to Kamikochi and went for a three hour hike up the paths following the Azusa River deep into the mountains: although both Karen and I were suffering from “Fuji legs” (Son was showing off, jumping from rock to rock. Oh to be 12), it was a beautiful walk, one that the Japanese are rightly proud of. The river is a fast flowing beast, discarding rocks and stones on the way down. It was crystal clear and freezing. As at Fuji we encountered many a local off for a hike in the mountains, all kitted out to the nines. The sun was out and it glinted off the river, providing dappled light in the woods alongside the mountains that rose steeply from the narrow valley. We rounded off the day with a (now) obligatory soak in the hot springs at the ryokan and some magnificent beef.

Which brings me onto the point of the post: the bemusing approach the Japanese take to their environment. It is clearly big news, given Fukushima and most locals I spoke to were keen to ween themselves off the nuclear curse (although it will take some doing: it is astonishingly hot and humid, and the modern Japanese shopper has little time for a shop that has no aircon). On the one hand, the Japanese venerate their surroundings like no other: as I said, Mount Fuji has its own religion and Shinto is at least partly based on a communion with nature. On the other, they are quite happy to scar their beautiful valleys with concrete slabs, all in the name of infrastructure stimulus, and they throw up huge golf driving range nets that quite dwarf their surroundings (planning, anyone?). Maybe the contradiction arises from the fact that I am looking at it from the lens of my own experience, that of the British obsession with conservation. Off to Hiroshima tomorrow.

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