I’m walking along a dark narrow path; the faint silhouettes of manicured Niwaki trees and traditional Japanese roof tops are just visible around me as the last light of the day fades. I can still see the outlines of the mountains standing out against the sky, and as I look up, three stars have emerged and are twinkling brightly. Stars visible from Tokyo? That’s weird, I think to myself. It's the perfect temperature, and I’m wearing baggy shorts and a loose singlet. As I walk, I feel strangely conscious of the fact that there isn't even the faintest breeze, it's completely still. Even as my arms and legs move through the air, I can’t feel anything, not even the slightest breath of wind. I close my eyes and listen to the sound of the gushing river behind me, and as I open them a pair of white butterflies dart in front of me, circling each other playfully. Suddenly, a little old lady pops her head up over her fence and greets me with “Konbanwa!”. I smile and respond, and continue my walk up to the main road to the local grocery store to buy kewpie mayonnaise and some beer.
I wish this was my life. I mean, it has been for a few weeks now, but unfortunately it's not permanent. I've never been able to see myself living in Japan on a long term basis, but after spending three weeks staying in an enormous 3-bedroom house in a beautiful rural town roughly 60km west of Tokyo, I never want to leave. It's so incredibly tranquil and quiet here, and even though it's been raining quite a bit, each varying weather condition seems to highlight something beautiful about this place. There are a thousand shades of green everywhere you look, the surrounding mountains are all different gradients of greyish blue, with low misty clouds floating in between. Best of all, I haven't even seen one terrifying insect out here... yet.
Backing things up slightly, in my last post I wrote about how Pedey and I could not obtain a visa to allow us to stay in Sweden for more than 3 months, so we had to leave the EU altogether so that we can return at the end of August. This put us in a weird position because we couldn't afford to go all the way back to New Zealand, so we decided to compromise and go halfway, by staying in Japan for a whole three months. At first we weren't sure whether we could do it, as last year we spent six weeks living in a small inner city apartment and it was a bit suffocating for us. But after a bit of research, we discovered an affordable rental house on Airbnb that had huge amounts of space, and even onsite parking! We made a spontaneous decision and booked it, and I'm so glad that we did, because it is absolutely beyond magical out here and it has really changed the way I feel about Japan.
The house itself is great, but the area in which it's located has really captured my heart. What we didn't realise is that it's actually part of the Chichibu Tama Kai National Park, which contains various famous mountain peaks, hiking trails and hundreds of ancient shrines. Even though it's quite far from the center of Tokyo, it still lies within the western boundaries of the Tokyo Prefecture in a smaller, sleepy town called Oume (or Ōme-shi). The name means 'apricot' because the area was once famous for its apricots, and it's been around since at least the 1600s.
面積はChichibu Tama Kai国立公園にあります。多くのハイキングコースや古代の神社があります。町はŌmeです。
The house is down a long skinny road with a lot of houses, but ours is up a driveway and sightly off the road on its own property, right next to a row of giant pink-flowering hydrangea bushes lining a big bamboo forest. Our bedroom looks out into a sea of towering green stalks, with the Tama River flowing behind them. Waking up each morning here, opening all of the doors and windows to the sound of the neighbour's doves softly crooning, birds chirping and the flowing river, making a cup of coffee and opening my laptop to start work for the day is just the best ever.
私の好きな花があります - アジサイは！また、美しい竹林があります。家は多摩川に非常に近いです。それは私たちが機能するための素晴らしい場所です！ピーターと私はSpeedhunters.comのために働きます。これは、フルタイムの仕事です。仕事はオンラインです。我々は、自宅で仕事をすることができます！
Five minutes up the road - the Ōme Kaido highway or 411 - is a mountain called Mitake-san, which we went up yesterday. There's a crazy cable car which runs up a terrifyingly steep incline, and incredibly there's a small village at the top which has a beautiful shrine, Musashi-Mitake. I read somewhere that it's believed that people have been going up there for over 2000 years. You still have to walk quite a bit to get to the shrine after getting off the cable car, and it was so steep, yet whole families with their tiny grandmas with walking sticks were going up there. Amazing.
私たちは、マウント御嶽に非常に近いです。御岳さん！昨日、私たちは山に行ってきました。ケーブルカーがあります - それは怖かったです！山の頂上には、小さな村があります。美しい神社もあります！ビューが素晴らしいです！
And then there's Okutama. Continue up the 411 for another twenty minutes, and you'll reach the enchanting Lake Okutama, a man-made drinking water reservoir formed by the Ogouchi dam, blocking the Tama river which the 411 is built next to. We drove up there a couple of weekends back, and saw a sign for the Ogouchi shrine and walked up there. Along the way we saw some cute fluffy monkeys and a giant deer, as well as the most enchanting view of this S-section in the lake. Is this even real?!
This is our fourth trip to Japan, but this time it's proving to be very different; mainly because we bought our own car to get around in. It's a relatively stock JZX110 Mark II, and we've been trying to drive it as much we can while we're here, as we're going to sell it again before we leave. Last weekend we drove down to Hakone with our friends who were visiting from New Zealand, and we drove up the Hakone Skyline road in an attempt to get a better view of Mount Fuji. This isn't a great time of year for viewing the mountain, but we still caught a glimpse later in the afternoon as Fuji-san peeped out from behind the clouds.
The Japanese countryside isn't just about nature though. If you've ever visited Tokyo and stayed in the center of city and wondered where all the modified cars are, that's your problem. Come out into the mountains, and that's where you'll find them! Down my street alone I've spotted a modified 86, a four door Hakosuka (which I managed to sneak a peek at while its garage door was open), a modified Subaru Legacy wagon and a Honda CR-X, and here's a video I posted not so long ago on Instagram of some rad Skylines cruising past! Pictured above is my friend Tanaka-san's S30 track car which hides out in the lush green mountains of Hakone, along with a bunch of other modified old-school Nissans - more on that soon!
I'm devastated that we've only got a week left staying in Ōme, as the house we're renting wasn't available for any longer. After next week we'll be moving slightly closer to the city into an apartment for another two months, but the dream of owning a big house in the mountains in Japan with a massive garage is definitely going to stick with me forever now. (In that dream I have a Nespresso machine too, obviously).
Stay tuned for more stories on car events and adventures coming up very soon, on here and at Speedhunters.com, including more pictures of old school Nissans, rad drift cars and some of the coolest Porsches I've ever seen at the recent Idlers Games event at Tsukuba!