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Kamakura Alps

December 29, 2015

Miura Peninsula is the location of the southernmost suburbs of Tokyo, the most populated city in the entire world! However, Miura Peninsula is not just a prolongation of the urban sprawl of Tokyo, rather much like most of Japan, civilization here has wrest itself into a tumultuous landscape seeking to find a balance between necessity and natural beauty. Consequently this region of Japan has more of a country feel to it, despite its proximity to Tokyo. This unique area is surrounded by farmland and three distinct "mountain" ranges - the Miura Hills, Miura Alps, and the Kamakura Alps. Each of these "mountain ranges" have their own attributes: Ogusuyama, which is located in the Miura Hills, is the highest point on Miura Peninsula (244m), the most rugged of the three ranges is certainly the Miura Alps, and the Kamakura Alps are dotted with ancient ruins, temples, shrines, fortifications, ancient roads, and even a castle!

I recently acquired a trail map for the Kamakura Alps and was itching to do some exploring, so on a crisp winter day with hardly a cloud in the sky I hopped in my Kei van and drove to the trailhead. Sadly, winter has been a little slow in getting to Japan this season. Many of the trees are just starting to show their fall colors, one week after the winter solstice! While I do mourn the lack of cold weather the gold, red, orange, and yellow foliage did lend an aura of beauty to the landscape that was hard not to appreciate.

I set off up the valley following a babbling brook before coming to an intersection - left up a steep staircase or right across a very narrow bridge. I chose the bridge hoping it wouldn't break under my weight. Safely on the other side I continued up the trail passing several caves and small statues. I continued on up the valley before coming to a well traveled trail. I opted to go left and after a few hundred meters I came across a Buddhist temple called the Zuisen-ji Temple.

Zuisenji temple-kamakura alps-zen-japan

The Muromachi Period (also known as the Ashikaga Period) was a time of great cultural growth in Japan, particularly under the influence of Zen Buddhism and lasted nearly 240 years. The unique Japanese arts of the tea ceremony, flower arranging, and nō drama were developed during this time period.

The Zuisen-ji Temple was the family temple of the head of the representatives of [the] Kanto region of the Muromachi Shogunate. Consequently, it is one of the 10 most important temples in the Kanto region, second only to Kamakura’s five principle temples of the Zen sect…

The founding priest of the Zuisen-ji Temple, Muso Kokushi, was a very gifted gardener and the grounds of the temple are absolutely beautiful. In my opinion it is one of the most beautiful temples I have visited in Japan.

After thoroughly exploring the Temple I pressed on, my objective was Mount Ohira the highest point in the city of Yokohama.

trailside shrine-kamakura alps-zen-japan

After exploring several side trails I finally made it to the summit and was greeted by two huts serving all sorts of Japanese food, beer, and sake!

panorama-kamakura alps-zen-japan Lunch with a view of Kamakura & Sagami Bay!

After soaking in the sun on the summit I laced up my boots and began making my way back to the car. On the journey back I noticed a faint trail branching off the main path that plunged into a dense thicket of bamboo. I was curious so I put on my snake gaiters (in case I came across any Mamushi Pit Vipers) and set off. Part of the way down the trail I came across a recently eaten dove (or maybe it was a pigeon) the feathers were still in great condition so I picked up a few for fly tying.

^Before & After^

As I pressed on the trail dramatically descended into an unnamed valley below a cemetery. Nestled in the valley was a brook, that was hardly more than a trickle. As I followed it downstream though it began to grow, and eventually I came across a small water slide, perfect for a Nihon Kawanezumi, that the brook had worn into the soft volcanic ash bedrock.

babbling brook-kamakura alps-zen-japan

Below the water slide was a massive plunge pool with Japanese Maples towering above wearing the finest orange and red fall coats. The birds were singing and the sun was setting, casting a melodic glow through the cedars that stretched into the deep blue of the sky. I did not want to leave, the beauty was indescribable. So I sat by the pool listening to the silence of nature and reflected on where the day's travels had taken me and what I had seen. Everyday in Japan is special but occasionally a day comes along that just blows my mind, when I stop and think.

"Can this really be happening? Can a place such as this really exist on this planet?"

Those are the days I cherish and that will always hold a special place in my mind. In that moment in time I knew that today was one of those days.

GPS Track

Written by Isaac Tait who now lives in San Diego but dreams of returning, one day, to Japan. You should follow him on Twitter