“Japan has four seasons, you must know, which is unique!”
Without warning you just got hit over the head with an example of nihonjinron, “theories about the Japanese” – a conglomerate of BS rooted so deeply in Japanese society that most people in the land of the rising sun don’t even realize how stupid the majority of those theories are… and yet they are a popular conversation topic; especially when somebody tries to impress you with how unique Japan is. Not only are there plenty of other countries with four seasons, Japan stretches across several climate zones from the Kuril Islands to close to Taiwan, and therefore the weather differs drastically depending on where in Japan you reside. In my personal experience, living for more than eight years in Kansai, Japan has only two seasons – “nightmarish hot and humid” and “kind of bearable”. The beginning and the end of “kind of bearable” are marked by two periods of about 15 days each, which are really lovely… other countries would call them spring and autumn, but in my book those phases are way too short to be called seasons! (Hey, the Japanese have nihonjinron and I have my own set of theories about this country!)
Anyway, for about one month per year it’s actually really nice outside – then the sun feels like a warm hug instead of a laser beam trying to kill you, and people are having lots of BBQs. Those four to five weeks are also the best time to hike… and one of my favorite hikes is up Mount Atago in the outskirts of Kyoto.
Mount Atago Cable Car Revisited
Before I picked up urban exploration as a hobby, I enjoyed hiking a lot – and so it was no surprise that my first exploration ever in November of 2009 was the *Mount Atago Cable Car*, basically combining *haikyo* and hiking. Almost a year later, in October 2010, I went back as I really wanted to see the cable car station in full green, also taking advantage of the beautiful weather during that time. Walking along the abandoned track was still tiring, but the steep climb around the collapsed tunnel #5 was a lot easier then, because somebody strained new ropes. On my third visit in total I took some time to have a closer look at some of the bridges leading up the mountain, and I have to say that they were in pretty bad shape after almost 70 years of abandonment. I got that feeling walking along the uneven and sometimes dangerously eroded track, but having a look from below didn’t exactly make me feel more comfortable. One of the bridges had already collapsed in parts and I guess more damage by natural decay follow since then – especially at those parts not protected by trees and therefore at the mercy of wind, rain and snow.
The still existing cable car station at the top didn’t change a lot in those 11 months, although the weather (and maybe some people who couldn’t leave their hands off the concrete pillars) contributed to the progressing decay there. This time I shot most of the station with my ultra-wide angle lens I didn’t have last time, which allowed me to explore the place with a different set of eyes.
Going to the Mount Atago Cable Car again wasn’t spectacular, but I didn’t expect it to be any other way – it was a nice autumn hike with some wonderful views and a trip down memory lane, a perfect way to start a day at Mount Atago.
Mount Atago Hotel Revisited
What a surprise: The ruins of the *Mount Atago Hotel* were still just a stone’s throw away from the Mount Atago Cable Car – and again nothing had changed, except for the lens on my camera. The mosaic at the entrance seemed to be a bit more loose than during my first visit… and the pile of broken dishes in the back was more spread out, partly covered by freshly cut trees. Woodworkers in action, I guess…
At first I wondered if I should write about the Ryokan Mizuguchi at all, as there was little to nothing of it left – but then I came up with this 4 in 1 idea, and now I am really happy that I took some photos back in 2010. While the Mount Atago Hotel and the Mount Atago Cable Car are all over the internet, barely anybody bothers with this couple of concrete walls a few hundred meters away from the hotel, towards the famous Mount Atago Shrine. I saw the remains last time I went up the mountain, but since I was tired and running out of time then, I didn’t have a closer look. During this visit I was more relaxed and took a few rather vacuous pictures… until I found a bottle that caught my eyes. What really intrigued me about it was the fact that it had a metal cap that looked like it was never off. An old unopened bottle at the top of a mountain isn’t something you find every day! If it ever had a label, of course it was long gone, but on the lower end of the bottle the glass had some kanji – later I found out that the company (日本麦酒鉱泉株式会社 – something like “Japanese Beer Mineral Spring Company”) only existed from 1922 till 1933, before becoming part of Mitsuya Foods – nowadays famous in Japan under the name Asahi and for brands like Mitsuya Cider, Bireley and Wonda (coffee). Since the hotel and the cable car both opened in 1929, it’s rather likely that this water hole went into business around the same time, which means that the bottle I had in my hands was up there for about 80 years, manufactured at a time when my grandmother went to elementary school or middle school.
The few Japanese pages on the internet covering the Mizuguchi Ryokan speculate that the place must have been made of wood with only the cellar being cast of cement. There are no pictures, no blueprints and hardly any information in general, and therefore I can only assume that the place closed down together with the hotel and the cable car in 1944. So while the pictures still might not be that spectacular, it was just an awesome feeling to hold that bottle in my hand – and I hope somebody will have a similar experience when the bottle is 90 or 100 years old…
Mount Atago Ski Resort
The fourth and final stop of my haikyo hiking at Mount Atago was the Mount Atago Ski Resort; one of the reasons the hotel and the cable car were built in the first place. Located about 45 minutes away from the hotel, the Mount Atago Ski Resort would be almost impossible to find nowadays, if it wasn’t for a few signs that were put up in 2006 and that direct hikers to the middle of nowhere – although I doubt many people will walk 190 meters up an earth wall and along an overgrown plain. While the area with its gentle slopes looked perfectly suited for a ski area targeting beginners, there were barely any hints left that the place once was populated by hundreds of sport freaks. You really have to explore thoroughly to find signs like red plastic posts, concrete sockets, scattered china and even some solid ramune glass bottles (ramune is a Japanese lemonade – the opening gets blocked by a marble when you drink, making it extremely popular amongst kids). Construction of the ski resort began in 1928 and like the hotel and the cable car, it opened in 1929 and closed in 1944, when the latter was demolished for scrap in a last futile attempt to support Japan’s war efforts.
On my way back to the Mount Atago Shrine I found some collapsed shacks and a Komatsu D205 bulldozer, though I can’t say for sure if they were in any way related to the ski resort.
The Ruins Of Mount Atago might not be the most spectacular ones in Japan, but if you enjoy hiking and are interested in (pre-)WW2 history, this is the place to visit in Kansai on a sunny spring or autumn day. You probably won’t get an adrenalin kick (unless you get lost bypassing the two collapsed tunnels of the cable car track), but you’ll return from the mountain with a deep comforting feeling of accomplishment. (Oh, and don’t be as stupid as I was – bring at least one friend, because the cable car part of the hike really is quite dangerous!)
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