mont-bell Tateyama Alpine Hill Climb 2013

Tateyama Alpine Hill Climb

Originally written for the Vol.7-No.1 edition (April 4, 2013) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

On Sunday, June 23, cyclists will be able to race toward the clouds along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route in the mont-bell Tateyama Alpine Hill Climb 2013. This event is organized by an executive committee composed of members from Toyama Prefecture, Tateyama Town, and the Toyama Cycling Federation.

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is usually closed to personal vehicles for nature protection purposes, and this is the first time a cycling event open to the public will be held there. One of the aims is to create further promotional appeal for the Alpine Route as a sports tourism destination.

There are two options for the Tateyama Alpine Hill Climb: a “long course” and a “nature ride course.” The “long course” traverses 22.3 km (13.9 mi.), and begins at Bijodaira Station (977m/ 3,200 ft. elevation) and finishes at Murodo (2,450m/ 8,040 ft. elevation). The route climbs 1,473 m (4,833 ft.) at an average 6.6% incline, offering a challenging ride for advanced cyclists. The “nature ride course” is 7.6 km (4.7 mi.) and climbs 520 m (1,706 ft.) at an average 6.8% incline from Midagahara (1,930m/6,332 ft. elevation) to Murodo, and is geared toward less experienced cycling enthusiasts and mountain aficionados.

On the “long course,” participants will be able to see the dramatic change in scenery from Tateyama cedar and beech forests to small alpine plants. The “nature ride course” begins with magnificent views of Midagahara and Dainichidaira, which are recognized as important wetlands by the Ramsar Convention. A unique feature of the Tateyama Alpine Hill Climb is that unlike most hill climb events in Japan that simply go through forests, this event offers sweeping mountain views. In addition, participants may even see snow toward the end of their rides; along Yuki-no-Otani on the approach to Murodo, walls of snow 6 to 7 meters (20 to 23 ft.) usually still remain around this time of year.

Start time for the “long course” is 5:30 a.m., and 6:00 a.m. for the “nature ride course.” The event is scheduled to end at 8:00 a.m., and regular buses between Bijodaira and Murodo will be suspended for the duration of the event. The participant limit is 100 people per course. “Long course” registrants need to present a record of a previous cycling event.

The entry fees are 50,000 yen for the “long course” and 55,000 yen for the “nature ride course,” and include one night accommodation, two meals, and bicycle transportation back, and bus transportation.

Official event website:

Source (article and image): Toyama Just Now


First Glaciers in Japan Discovered in Toyama

Originally written for the Vol.6-No.2 edition (June 1, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

Three snow valleys in the Tateyama Mountain Range of Toyama that were being studied by the Tateyama Caldera Sabo Museum have been scientifically recognized to be glaciers. This recognition was the result of the dangerous work conducted from 2009 to 2011, in which researchers risked their lives working in areas with high risk of falling into crevices and icy pits.

It was previously thought that the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia had the southernmost glaciers in East Asia, but Tateyama now holds that distinction. Raicho (Rock Ptarmigan) that live in Tateyama are thought to be remnants of the Ice Age, and now seem especially interesting with the recognition of the glaciers.

Glaciers are defined as masses of snow and ice that continually flow over long periods of time, and must also be a certain thickness. Until now, it was believed that Japan did not have anything that fits the criteria.

The movement of the glaciers was measured between the end of August and October using GPS. Poles were drilled into the ice and their positions were measured over a couple months using high-precision GPS. In order to measure the thickness, electronic waves were shot into the surface, and then researchers used radars to measure the waves that bounced back off the bedrock.

In September 2009, an ice mass in the Gozenzawa ravine was measured to be about 200 meters wide and 23 meters thick on the upper side, and about 400 meters wide and 27 meters thick on the lower side. GPS measurements in 2010 and 2011 showed that the ice mass was moving at about 10 centimeters a month. The Gozenzawa ravine can be seen from the shrine at Oyama summit, at the end of a popular hiking trail.

San no Mado ravine holds a glacier of over 40 meters thick, and Komado ravine holds a glacier of over 30 meters thick, and both can move more than 30 centimeters in a month. Yearly movement is estimated to be approximately 4 meters, which would rival the smaller glaciers of Patagonia and the Himalayas.

This news has also been published in the English-language newspapers The Mainichi, The Daily Yomiuri, and The Japan Times.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now

Tateyama’s Traditional Ceremony “Nunobashi Kanjoe” Recognized by UNESCO Japan

Originally written for the Vol.6-No.2 edition (June 1, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

“Nunobashi Kanjoe,” a ceremony performed in Tateyama, Toyama, has been registered in the 3rd “Heritage for the Future” list by the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan, the first in Toyama Prefecture.

Nunobashi Kanjoe began in the Edo Period, when women were not allowed into the sacred mountain of Tateyama. Nuno-bashi (Nuno Bridge) symbolized the boundary between this life and the afterlife. The women wore white robes and crossed the bridge blindfolded. After reciting prayers, they crossed back over the bridge. This ceremony was believed to be a path for salvation.

The practice was discontinued in the early Meiji Period (1868-1912) due to the anti-Buddhism movement, but was recreated 136 years later, in 1996 at the National Cultural Festival. Thereafter, the ceremony was also performed in 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2011.

This past September, roughly three thousand spectators watched seventy participants from all over the country — mainly in their fifties and sixties – walked across the white cloth spread over the red bridge, accompanied by gagaku (traditional Japanese court music). At a joint event, the women’s group at Ashikura Temple provided local specialty foods such as rice cake and a stew of carrots, taro, and fried tofu.

The “Heritage for the Future” program was started in 2009 to impart cultural and natural heritage for future generations, and ten projects are selected each year. Last year, there were 33 applications from 22 prefectures. Nunobashi Kanjoe was praised for its originality, and the way the entire region has worked together to pass on traditions.

The next ceremony is scheduled for 2014.

The Tateyama Museum is open all-year (except New Year’s holidays), and visitors can learn about Tateyama’s traditional religions, history, and nature. The main exhibit areas introduce the nature and religions of Tateyama, and feature a mandala, dioramas, and films. Then, visitors can experience “heaven” and “hell” in the themed areas.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now

Climbing Tateyama

The original version of this article was written for the Vol.5-No.7 edition (September 2, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

One of the most significant natural features of Toyama Prefecture is the Tateyama Mountain Range. It is considered one of Japan’s three “Holy Mountains,” along with Mt. Fuji and Mt. Haku (Hakusan). Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hiking to the top of Oyama, a peak 3,003 meters (9,852 ft.) above sea level, with the newest of my fellow JET Program participants.

The roughly two-hour (each way) hike began at Murodo Station, at 2,450-meter (8,038 ft.) elevation. It was cloudy and very foggy with a chance of rain. We set out on the stone hiking path, through the plains surrounded by mountain slopes. Soon, we reached our first obstacle: snow. There was a large patch of snow covering the trail, and it took small steps and careful concentration to not fall over.

The stone path ended at a resting hut, and I looked up at the steep, rocky mass that was the way to the top. As someone who had been on countless hikes in California and Oregon and a runner in good shape, I had been absolutely confident about this hike, but I admit that suddenly looking up at a giant pile of rocks that faded up into the fog gave me some pause.

It turned out, though, that scrambling up the rocks was my favorite part! There was no real “trail” – just some occasional red arrows marking the best route – and it was great fun climbing from rock to rock. I felt excited, as if I were back in the playground on a jungle gym. Sometimes, the fog would momentarily clear, offering panoramic views of the valley and of the now-tiny buildings below. I also enjoyed the flowering alpine plants – little bright spots of color bursting out from the cracks between the rocks.

Perched at the top is Oyama Shrine. While the thick fog made it impossible to see anything below (I was told that you can even see Mt. Fuji on a clear day), I found myself not minding much. The torii (shrine gate) looked ghostly in the mist, which somehow felt like an iconic sight. As an actively functioning shrine, I went up and received a blessing (and a sip of sake) from the priest, before starting my way back down the mountain.

This Tateyama trip is part of the annual Toyama Prefecture Orientation for new JET Program participants here. I cannot think of a better way to be introduced to Toyama.

Toyama Cup in Portland and My Yuki-no-Otani Experience

The original version of this article was written for the Vol.5-No.4 edition (May 27, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

First, I want to share some news with you that is directly related to our sister state relationship! On Sunday, May 15th, the Toyama Cup Japanese Speech Contest was held in the World Trade Center in downtown Portland. The first speech contest was held in commemoration of the 5th anniversary of the relationship between Toyama and Oregon, and this year’s was the 15th speech contest. It is open to students attending colleges and universities in Oregon and Southwest Washington. This year’s winner is Rebecca Coffelt, a junior attending Linfield College in McMinnville. As the grand prize winner, she will be visiting Toyama later this year. Congratulations to Rebecca, and thank you to all of the participants!

I would also like to give you my personal report on the Yuki-no-Otani (Snow Canyon) walk. On May 14th, I went up to Tateyama (or Mt. Tate) on a bus tour with many other foreigners. It was a fun ride up winding hilly roads. Japan usually does not have very tall trees, but on the way to Tateyama, there were forests with nice big trees that reminded me strongly of Oregon, especially of the area near Mt. Jefferson. As much as I knew that I was going on a trip to see walls of snow, it was still a shock to see all the green trees give way to a landscape of white snow. It was a warm spring day at the base of the mountain, but it was mid-winter by the time we reached the Yuki-no-Otani. The temperature was below freezing, and it was actually snowing! We braved the weather though, and walked through the snow canyon. At the highest point, the wall of snow was 16 meters (52 1/2 ft.) tall. As advertised, it did make the buses look small!

Enjoy the Snow Events of Toyama!

Originally written for the Vol.4-No.3 edition (February 10, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

The cold, long winter continues in Toyama, but all around the
prefecture, there are a variety of ways to enjoy the winter and the

In Nanto City, World Heritage Site Suganuma Gassho-zukuri Village in
Gokayama was specially open at night so that visitors could see the
village lit up against the snowy white background. There were also
folk song performances and an area to sample the local foods.

On February 11th and 12th, Unazuki Onsen (Hot Springs) will have a bar
counter made of snow, where they will offer cocktails with soda made
from local water! This year, they will also have fireworks every
Saturday night all the way through March 12th.

In the town of Kamiichi, on February 11th, there will be a Snow
Festival that focuses on traditional performing arts and nabe (hot
pot) to warm you up.

For an experience with more direct contact with the snow, also on the
11th, the Tonami Ski Resort will have a Snow Festival where visitors
can try riding a snow mobile or participate in slalom and snowshoeing

At Toyama’s largest winter resort on Mt. Tateyama, blue, red, and
yellow lanterns will light up the base of the mountain. Complete with
a fireworks show set to music, this is sure to be a romantic way to
spend a cold evening.

Finally, at the Ice Festival this weekend in Inami – an area famous
for woodcarving – there will be ice carving demonstrations and
exhibitions. This is a great way to enjoy the sculpture art of “Snow

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now