Winter climb of snow-covered Mount Tsukuba

Mount Tsukuba winter hike: snow on branches
Deciduous trees near the peak, with their leafless branches covered in snow.

877-meter Mount Tsukuba (筑波山) in Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture is one of the most well-known mountains of Japan, the highest protrusion of land in an otherwise flat Kantō Plain. Despite its modest height, mountaineer and author Kyūya Fukada included it in his 100 Famous Mountains of Japan.

Hiking Mount Tsukuba is a regular activity for us residents of Tsukuba City year after year after year. Sometimes when we want something different, we climb its nearby cousins like Mount Kaba (加波山) or Mount Hōkyō (宝篋山). But it’s always Mount Tsukuba that we come back to.

I’ve climbed Mount Tsukuba countless times, but one of the most memorable was when my friend Ali came to visit from Tokyo one winter. A blanket of snow has just covered the mountain the previous day and although it was past noon, we decided to go for it.

Mount Tsukuba winter hike: inside the woods
Inside the woods, the rocks were not as slippery as we thought. It was especially cold under the shade of these big cedars.

Mount Tsukuba winter hike: brown trucks and white snow
Near the top, the brown of the tree trunks contrasts sharply with the thick white snow.

Mount Tsukuba winter hike: white trees
Trees and communication towers on the peak are covered with snow.

Mount Tsukuba winter hike: snow-covered landscape below
The view at the top: snow-covered landscape below. On clear winter mornings, snow-capped Mount Fuji to the south is easily visible, but not on this afternoon.

Mount Tsukuba winter hike: shooting a couple
We shared the peak with a couple who asked us to take their photo (selfies were not a thing back then).

Mount Tsukuba winter hike: communication towers in afternoon glow
Communication towers on the other peak bathed in the glow of the setting sun.

Mount Tsukuba winter hike: almost dark
One last photo before heading back down. It was getting dark fast.

On our way down, with the sun fast sinking, we met another couple on their way up from the cable car station. I remember them clearly because they seemed ill-prepared for the climb–they were wearing light clothing and the woman was on high-heels.

I always feel uneasy meeting people on the way up who seem not to take mountains seriously. I’ve climbed enough mountains to regard them with the respect they deserve and to know that climbing unprepared might easily end up in disaster, especially when climbing in cold weather.

Hesitation

Inside a Laundry Shop
Inside a Laundry Shop by Xavier L.

It’s probably frequency bias but I’ve been seeing more and more of this word lately:

ちゅう ちょ

躊躇

chūcho

I saw this word for the first time at a laundry shop, on a sign telling customers to get their clothes out as soon as they’re finished because theft of clothes are being reported more than usual all over the country. (I suspect this is just a ploy to scare people who leave their clothes inside the dryer for a long time, inconveniencing other customers.)

The rest of the sign read:

不審者を見かけたら躊躇なく警察に通報してください。

Fushinsha wo mikaketara, chūchonaku keisatsu ni tsūhō shite kudasai.

Even seeing the word for the first time it’s not hard to guess what it means: “If you see a suspicious-looking person, do not _______ to call the police.”

These are no ordinary kanji, made up of 21 and 19 strokes, respectively. They’re not in my Kanji Learner’s Dictionary. This is probably the only combination where you’ll find any of these two.

Well, actually that’s not quite true. If you put う at the end, you get 躊躇う (tamerau) which means “to hesitate.” Very complicated kanji to denote a very ordinary word.

I took a photo of the sign, and took out my kanji practice sheet as soon as I got home and resolved to learn these two. (I don’t think I’ve really learned a kanji unless I know how to write it.)

You learn little bits of Nihongo from the most mundane of places.

What is Japan’s ‘flattest’ prefecture?

View from Minami Bōsō Quasi-National Park
View from Minami Bōsō Quasi-National Park from Wikipedia.

Seventy-five percent of Japan’s land area is mountainous and even parts of the country that we consider relatively flat, like Tokyo, have tall mountains.

(The highest point in Tokyo is the peak of Mount Kumotori (雲取山), a 2,017-meter mountain that stands on its boundary with Saitama and Yamanashi Prefectures.)

In a country where prefectures and regions are bounded by mountain ranges, Japan’s flattest prefecture is separated from its neighbors by bodies of water, not mountainous peaks. In the country of Mount Fuji and the 3,000-meter mountains of central Honshū, this prefecture is so flat its highest point, Mount Atago (愛宕山), is a 408-meter dwarf, shorter than the Sky Tree.

So which prefecture is it?

If you guessed “Okinawa,” you wouldn’t be far off the mark. But even Okinawa’s diminutive 526-meter Mount Omoto is just a little bit taller than Mount Atago of Chiba Prefecture, which claims the title of Japan’s “flattest prefecture.” (See the list of highest mountains by prefecture below.)

Chiba, the land of a thousand leaves and Japan’s flattest prefecture

For people living in the Greater Tokyo Area, Chiba Prefecture (千葉県) is mostly associated with Tokyo Disney Resort located in Urayasu City and Narita International Airport located in the Narita City.

It borders Ibaraki Prefecture (茨城県) to the north by the Tone River and Saitama Prefecture (埼玉県) and Tokyo to the west by the smaller Edo River. That’s as flat a boundary as you can get.

It is also part of the great Kantō Plane, the widest flat land in the whole of Japan.

Chiba Prefecture relief map
Relief map of Chiba Prefecture and surrounding areas of the Kantō region from Google Maps.

On the map above, Tokyo and Saitama appear flatter, but are actually quite mountanous on their westernmost parts, while Chiba is uniformly flat with some hilly areas on the lower part of the peninsula.

No worries about accidentally bumping into mountains for airplanes landing on Narita International Airport.

Highest mountains in each prefecture in Japan

Many prefectures are separated by mountains and mountain ranges. For example, Mount Fuji is shared by Shizuoka and Yamanashi Prefectures, and Tochigi and Gunma share Mount Nikkō-Shirane, a volcano in the Nikkō National Park.

Prefecture Mountain Elevation (m)
Chiba Mount Atago 408
Okinawa Mount Omoto 526
Osaka Mount Yamato Katsuragi 959
Kyoto Mount Minago 972
Ibaraki Mount Yamizo 1,022
Kagawa Mount Ryūō 1,060
Saga Mount Kyōgatake 1,076
Fukuoka Mount Shakagatake 1,230
Yamaguchi Mount Jakuchi 1,337
Okayama Mount Ushiro 1,345
Shimane Mount Osorakan 1,346
Hiroshima Mount Osorakan 1,346
Shiga Mount Ibuki 1,377
Wakayama Mount Ryūjin 1,382
Aichi Mount Chausu 1,415
Nagasaki Mount Unzen 1,486
Hyogo Mount Hyōno 1,510
Aomori Mount Iwaki 1,625
Akita Mount Akita-Komagatake 1,637
Kanagawa Mount Hiru 1,673
Mie Mount Ōdaigahara 1,695
Tottori Mount Daisen 1,729
Kumamoto Mount Kunimi 1,739
Miyazaki Mount Sobo 1,756
Ōita Mount Kujū 1,791
Miyagi Mount Byōbu 1,825
Kochi Mount Miune 1,893
Nara Prefecture Mount Hakkyō 1,915
Kagoshima Mount Miyanoura 1,936
Tokushima Mount Tsurugi 1,955
Ehime Mount Ishizuchi 1,982
Tokyo Mount Kumotori 2,017
Iwate Mount Iwate 2,038
Fukui Mount Sannomine 2,095
Yamagata Mount Chōkai 2,236
Hokkaido Daisetsuzan 2,291
Fukushima Mount Hiuchigatake 2,356
Saitama Mount Sanpō 2,483
Tochigi Mount Nikkō-Shirane 2,578
Gunma Mount Nikkō-Shirane 2,578
Ishikawa Mount Haku 2,702
Niigata Mount Korenge 2,766
Toyama Mount Tate 3,015
Nagano Mount Hotakadake 3,190
Gifu Mount Hotakadake 3,190
Yamanashi Mount Fuji 3,776
Shizuoka Mount Fuji 3,776
Data from the Geospacial Information Authority of Japan.

Ōarai Beach circa 2005

Ōarai Beach circa 2005

Japan seems to be in the throes of a cold wave and the last few days feel like chilling me to the bones. You know it’s definitely winter when just being outside might kill you.

Which makes me long for warmer weather, like this one summer when we went to Ōarai in northern Ibaraki to see the beach. There was mist in the sea, which made the beach look colder than it really was.

Which is not to say that the sea in Japan during summer is as warm as those we have grown accustomed to in the Philippines, even during the coldest months of December and January. Not even close.

Ōarai Beach circa 2005
A lifeguard casts a watchful eye over beachgoers in Ōarai, Ibaraki.

Ōarai (大洗), by the way, is a small seaside town in Ibaraki Prefecture which in recent times has become a mecca for fans of the highly popular Girls und Panzer anime franchise, whose female characters study tankery, or the art of fighting with tanks, in Ōarai Girls Academy.

Ōarai Beach circa 2005

Parking spaces near the Philippine Embassy in Roppongi, Tokyo

Parking spaces near Philippine Embassy in Tokyo
Honda Kei Car by Daniel Klein

The Embassy’s website for passport renewal recommends that visitors to the Consular Section use public transport. However, for many people going by car may be more convenient and cheaper especially if travelling in a group.

If you decide to go by car, you need to pay for a parking space because the Embassy does not provide one and Roppongi 5-chōme, where the Embassy is located is a strictly no-parking area. Illegally parked cars are quickly towed away.

Here are the nearest parking spaces around the Embassy:

Meitetsu Roppongi 5-chōme

The most convenient parking, right next to the Embassy. And because it’s the nearest parking, it tends to fill up easily, especially if you come after 10:00.

Website Link
Address 5-15-15 Roppongi, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0032
住所 〒106-0032 東京都港区六本木5-15-15
Basic cost 07:00-18:00 JPY400/10min
Maximum cost 07:00-18:00 JPY3,500 to JPY3,900 depending on the parking number

Repark Roppongi 5-Chome #4

This is about 240 meters, or about 3 minutes walk from the Embassy, and a lot cheaper. Parking spaces are limited, so it also tends to fill up.

Website Link
Address 5-12-11 Roppongi, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0032
住所 〒106-0032 東京都港区六本木5-12-11
Basic cost 8:00-22:00 JPY300/20min
Maximum cost All hours JPY1,700/4hr

Tokyo Public Azabu Nagasaka Parking

About as far from the Embassy as Repark Roppongi above, this parking space sits right under the C1 Expressway. It has 9 available parking spaces but also get full just as quickly.

Website Link
Address 13 Azabunagasakacho, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0043
住所 〒106-0043 東京都港区麻布永坂町13
Basic cost 8:00-22:00 JPY300/15min
Maximum cost 8:00-22:00 JPY3,300