While I was preparing my trip to Japan, I really wanted to run a long trail through its forests. It ended up being difficult to organise with the little time I had and with all the things I wanted to see. However, I still managed to sneak in a little trail on a hiking path around the little temple town of Koyasan.
I had decided to run the Nyonimichi trail, one of the hiking paths around Koyasan. Centuries ago, female pilgrims weren’t allowed inside the town. Like the men, they walked from all over Japan, moved by their faith, only to arrive at Koyasan and not be allowed inside the town because they were women. So, they walked the paths in the mountains around Koyasan, making offering and benefiting from being as close as possible to their spiritual epicentre. I am not at all Buddhist, and what took me to Koyasan was curiosity, but this story moved me and I chose the trail because of it.
The map for the trail came in Japanese. I got it from the tourist information office on the day before. A very nice Japanese man gently told me that the trail was 16km long and that it was too long. I told him it would be ok. He gently insisted. I said OK, I’ll do the short one. He shrugged, probably thinking I was another stubborn tourist. He was right.
I set off as early as I could. I wanted to have time to digest the Japanese breakfast I had at the temple, but I didn’t want to leave it for too late because the temperatures were going up on that day. When I headed off, it was already hot.
Shortly after I started running uphill, I saw a bear warning. Now, in my usual world, bears are in zoos, in parks or in movies. I wasn’t prepared for this at all and stopped to thing about what I’d do. Turn back? No, my mind was set that I would be running. I have a big run coming up and I need to keep fit. Try to run behind someone? Not a chance. There was no living soul in earshot and I didn’t cross anyone for a few km. So, I did what you do. I searched for an app that would simulate bear bells or at least a radio… and I found one! A few minutes later, I carried on running with a jingle every 5 seconds to warn bears that I was around. In reality, it ended up triggering all these thoughts of how I would react if I were to cross paths with a bear, which lasted for the most part of my run.
A few km into the run, I find this. Of course, I’d completely overlooked the possibility of signposts being only in Japanese. I quickly tried to figure out which one was mine using the map from the tourist office and carried on with confidence. A few minutes later, I notice familiar landmarks and realise that I had just run a closed loop, completely off my supposed track. I went down into the town again and found the next part of my track using the map and entered the main part of my run, through the forest.
It was a beautiful run. There were ferns, mosses and cedar trees. There was dry ground, steps, straight little paths with tree roots I had to be careful not to trip on. I walked uphill when it was really steep, I ran swiftly when it went downhill. I didn’t cross a soul until 7km or 8km. There were shrines, ponds, houses. I heard the birds and the insects and felt the light breeze cooling off my sweaty neck and arms. Most of the run was in the shade so it wasn’t as hot, but it was still very humid.
At one of the shrines, I came across a group of Japanese hikers. Well equipped with their boots, bâtons, cameras, hats and techy clothes, they were having their lunch and relaxing when I arrived with my european face glowing red from the effort of running uphill, dripping sweat in my leggings and bright yellow t-shirt, wearing noelaborate equipment other than my watch. I didn’t even have a bottle of water.
They politely sneaked some looks, while I politely smiled. We exchanged some impressions. Them, in fast Japanese. I, using gestures. We seemed to understand each other, or at least each one was happy with what they understood. We waved each other off with enthusiasm and I ran down the hill.
When I reached the cemitery, I took a wrong turn and ended up doing a few more km than I should. At this point, it was getting late, and if I carried on I would’ve run around 20km by the end of the run, so I decided to take a shortcut and use the rest of the time I had for sightseeing.
Running while visiting new places makes you discover things in a very different way, which I’m really enjoying.
- Pleasure: 8/10
- Pain: 4/10
- Heat: 8/10
- Scenery: 8/10
- Adventure: 9/10