Who doesn’t love sunrises? This was the thought going through my head as J and I discussed our plans to take an early morning bus ride to the top of Mount Norikura to watch the sun come up.
The two of us were enjoying some nature time in the Japanese wilderness of the Norikura Kogen area, located about 2 hours west (via train and bus) from Matsumoto.
After a couple weeks exploring the bustling metropolis areas of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, it felt rejuvenating to get out of the cramped urban areas and experience some crisp, clean, Japanese mountain air.
We were visiting Japan in mid-September, and the big cities had been unseasonably hot and humid. In fact, it had been so hot, I accidentally on purpose left my only warm sweater behind at a hostel after growing tired of carrying it around. Silly girl. We certainly weren’t in the city anymore.
“It’s going to be amazing!” J exclaimed, forever the optimist. Of course, I had doubts. My anxiety can’t let me just enjoy anything and I worried about getting car sick on the winding bus ride to the top, and driving in the dark on a narrow road meant the bus might fall off the side of the mountain. But I was going, anxiety or not, because I was determined to see the sun rise over the Japanese Alps.
It was barely considered morning when the alarm buzzed us awake at 3am and, for a brief moment, I questioned my sanity. Who in their right mind agrees to do anything that requires getting up this early? An ungodly hour for sure unless you’re a creature of the night or a bar star, and it has been a lot of years since I was either of those things.
There was a brief conversation between us regarding how many layers of clothing might be required for this excursion, but both of us agreed that Japan is hot and failed to take into account that we were about to go up a mountain. Considering both of us have spent countless hours in the mountains at home in Canada, we probably should have been slightly more prepared. However, at that time of the morning, I’m surprised we knew each others names let alone possess the ability to think logically. We hurriedly tossed on long sleeved shirts, pants, and windbreaker jackets and walked to the information center where our chariot awaited. Good enough.
Upon boarding the bus, I noticed that other people were wearing thick jackets, gloves, and toques. Those people are going to be so hot! I thought to myself as I unconsciously rubbed the gooseflesh on my arms. Don’t they know how hot it is in Japan?
Our trusty steed pulled out of the information center and we started the hour drive in the pitch blackness to the top of the mountain. Spoiler alert: We didn’t fall off the side. Apparently these drivers do this multiple times a day and they know those roads better than anyone. Also, no private cars are allowed on the summit road so they can drive straight down the middle if they want.
We arrived at the summit and stepped out to the highest bus stop in Japan, located just over 2700 meters above sea level, and directly into the path of an icy cold wind that went straight to my bones. Damn it was cold up here!
The view was magical though and my frozen fingers fumbled to get my camera out and snap some pictures.
The sun created this incredible glow and as the first rays peeked over the mountain tops, and the valley below lit up in shades of purple and red. It was unbelievable and for the moment, I could care less how bad my teeth were chattering.
Shadows danced across the land then slowly pulled away as the sky became brighter and brighter, making the mild hypothermia totally worth it.
After the sun came up, we opted to hike back down to our guest house where we discovered the abundance of black bears in Japan. But that’s another story for another day.