Yoro – You Only Ribu Once
The other day I was finally able to take a day out of my schedule to go for a good long walk. It turned out to be a much longer walk than expected, which in itself was a pleasant surprise. Since I decided to spend less time on the Internet and to pry my hands away from my smartphone as much as I can, I have to think of ways to fill in those gaps, those hours every day that were surreptitiously siphoned off drip by drip like a Brit sneakily stealing petrol from a Shell garage. This was an opportunity to try a day out of the house (albeit it admittedly still with my phone; I can’t deny that the map is irreplaceable) and start to explore my surroundings a bit more in the real world.
In this real world, there is a place called Yoro. It had been on my list of places to go for a while; it’s not too far out from Nagoya and is easily accessible by train. The day started early, but the journey started late and although we left approximately one and half hours later than I had planned, we made it there in good time and were simply able to rock up the gate and breeze through with our IC cards without too much worry. Japanese trains are known for their convenience and time-keeping, and I can say that is certainly no misconception.
Continuing on my journey through 17th century Japan in the form of David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, we slowly trundled along through the Japanese countryside to the constant clattering of the train, during which time I had to consciously make efforts to not look at my phone. Many people may question my reasoning for wanting to use it less and might think me odd for doing so, but I outline some of the reasons why I decided to do so here. It doesn’t take long to enter what the Japanese would refer to as the ‘countryside’, but maybe a little longer for a Brit. Once you get out into the sticks, then it really is like going back in time 50 years or so. It may not be the 17th century Japan in the book, but the differences are quite staggering in places. I suppose that is the same with any country really.
When we arrived at Yoro station there was a shuttle bus offering a free ride up to the foot of the mountain, but we opted to walk. One of the reasons I wanted to go out was because I had to accrue the number of steps that were required as part of the Step Up Challenge, which was organised by a colleague at work to raise awareness of suicide. As part of the challenge we were asked to walk a total of 21,081 steps in a single day and it was nearing the end of the deadline so I thought I’d better get my walking shoes on! You can find some more information here if you’re interested in finding out what it’s about.
From the moment we left the station it was all uphill from there. The incline was very modest at first and gradually became steeper as we neared the entrance to the mountain walk.
As we made our way there we passed Yoro Land, which was literally like an old amusement park that you would find in a horror film: creepy old music, rickety rides, about two or so guests that will never leave… that kind of thing. Unfortunately I didn’t think to take any pictures, but here is one I nabbed from Trip Advisor that I think gives a taste of what I mean.
Yoro Land. You’ll Never Reabu.
Yōrō Falls (養老の滝, Yōrō no Taki)
After escaping Yoro Land, we finally made it to the start of our hike. Before we got into the real meat of the walk, we joined a small group of like-minded people who had come to visit Yoro Falls, a famous waterfall in that area of Japan that is found just before the trek up the mountain. Walking up a very steep but consistently well-paved path, we reached the waterfall and naturally took a few pictures. The path up to the water offered a lot of beautiful scenery but unfortunately while the sight of the waterfall was certainly impressive and the air much cooler and fresher around it, due to a sign and an ill-placed rope, it wasn’t possible to get anywhere near the water.
After a short rest and nourishment, we left the waterfall to start our journey on the mountain path. It’s very common to find a register at the start of a hiking trail in Japan. While not mandatory, it’s highly advised that travellers write their names down with some basic contact information in the event that you go missing or get injured and cannot return. I can’t say I’ve been on many hikes that I ever truly felt like that is a possibility, but this one would turn out to be an exception as we would discover.
With a friendly greeting from the mountain guard, we were off. It started off very gently but in only a few minutes the path suddenly got very steep indeed. I wouldn’t say I’m the fittest person in the world, but I’m certainly not unfit. That being said, I do find that I have a real battle on my hands when gravity is involved. Maybe that’s the asthma. Couple the constant pressing of this mysterious force with an encroaching pain in my left leg and that’s the perfect combination for discomfort. Still, it could definitely be a lot worse!
As we climbed and appreciated the nature around us, we would come across great carvings in the mountains where staggered dams had been erected. I am sure there are valid reasons for tearing up a mountain, but it’s something I see in Japan a lot more than I would like: beautiful surroundings suddenly ruined by ugly man-made structures and leftover diggers destroying the view as much as their surroundings. I tried not to let it bother me too much as we climbed, but as we finally got nearer the top and had a clearer view, I noticed that far off to the west, a whole mountain side had been completely carved out. I get it. Humans need stone and all that, but it’s doesn’t make it any more accepting to me and the level of destruction is quite something.
Despite all that, when we did make it to the top (or at least as far as we had time to climb. I think there was a little more we could have gone) we were treated to a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains and the town below with views that stretched as far as Nagoya city itself. It was blissfully quiet with a lovely, cool breeze and only the sound of the moving trees and bushes and the birds flying around. Oh, and the occasional train. That noise really does travel! We also saw a plane much closer than we would have from the ground, which was a little surreal. I don’t think I’d ever experienced that before.
After a short rest we took one last look at the view and then made our way back down the mountain. There were two paths that we could have taken from the bottom, so we decided to take the other path on the way down which was called the ‘steep path’. I thought it might have been easier to go down the steep path, so I was glad that we chose the other path for our journey up the mountain. While I think that is most probably true, this path turned out to be very, very steep and surprisingly arduous. We’d been spoiled for most of the path up with generally well-paved paths and wooden logs for steps where needed, but on our way down all that ingenuity seemed to have been abandoned. One fatal slip would have certainly put that register into good use.
The logs were often rotten or had been completely dislodged. There were stones and rocks of various sizes littered all over the path; often I would slip or trip with only the gnarly tree roots or the occasional rope to grab hold of to keep my balance. I felt like I had to stop more to catch my breath on the way down than on the way up, as each step felt very heavy and hard on my leg. There was no let-up and it was just a constant drop all the way down until we could finally heard the sound of running water, which we assumed was the waterfall.
My flask was empty at this point, so I was relieved when we finally came across a river that I think would eventually become the Yoro Falls. I took a few sips (it’s safe, right?) and after a brief stop, we finally reached the last leg of the journey. We made it just in time before it started to get dark and after we walked through the gate and signed the register to confirm we had safely returned, we stopped off at the shop to get some local beer made with water from the mountain. I was tempted to take the ropeway down, but that was obviously very much out of service.
We made in time for the last train. Both knackered, but desperately trying to stay awake to make sure we didn’t miss our stop, by the time we got home an hour and a half or so later, a very well-deserved and much-needed lie-down was had before dinner and an early night.
I hear Yoro is beautiful in the autumn when the leaves start to fall. I think it may deserve another visit.