Daisen National Park

During the fall break we took a few days to visit the prefecture of Tottori and the Daisen-Oki national park. It is my favorite place in Japan (so far) and it was our second visit to the area. We went with two other families from the school community. The kids had a blast, and the adults too!

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photo – Evan, Owen, Bill and Noah at Misen Peak

The highlight for me was the hike on Tuesday. We walked to the 1,709  (5,608 feet) meter high Misen Peak, in the Mount Daisen National Park. Despite fog, rain and cold winds, I had a wonderful day with my family and friends. Much of the pleasure of the hike was taken away by the clouds and fog obscuring the spectacular views to the nearby Sea of Japan. It was made up for me by spending the day outdoors and with my family. Highlights included walking through the gloomy beech forests near the town, with the falling leaves and then leaving the forest past the tree line to the summit. The winds whipping up the face of the mountain and going over at low points on the ridge were amazing to walk through! They were interspersed by quiet areas protected by rocks and bushes. It was a difficult hike with rocky steps mostly going straight up for the 6 miles up and down the trail. Nadia and the rest of the mothers and children made it to the turnaround point, close to the end of the beech forest. Owen and I and the three others went on from there to make the summit. The next day we saw snow on the mountain, so overnight, the icy winds and rain must have turned to snow, shortly after we left the summit. It was about 3 hours walk up and 2 hours walk back. The hot bath at our pension was just what the doctor ordered upon return, and a 2 hour nap!

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photo – Although it Daisen looks like Michigan, you don’t get Buddhist shrines in the forest like in Japan.

Daisen mountain has that classic volcano look from the west, but it has not erupted for the past 10,000 years. It has long been the center of worship, with the Daisen-ji temple founded almost 1,300 years ago. Shugendo, an ancient Japanese religion adapting shinto, taoism, buddhism and other beliefs, is practiced here. Adherents seek awakening through understanding the relationship between humans and nature and practitioners do this through denying themselves worldly pleasures and spending a lot of time on the mountain.

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photo – The kids heading up the stairs of the Daisen-ji temple.

It is pretty close to Osaka (2-4 hours) and is a relatively remote, unpopulated part of Japan. The area around the mountain reminds me of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, so that might be one of the reasons why I love going there.

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On the other side of the prefecture(state) are the Tottori sand dunes, which we visited the day before. Kids love them! It made for a perfect sunny afternoon. The weather was so nice that a couple of us even went for a swim. The huge dunes were a blast to climb up and sprint down. The crashing waves of the sea were relaxing. It might have been our last warm day of the season, as it is getting cold with the onset of winter.

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The dunes were shaped by winds bringing sand up from the sea. Over 100,000 years of this formed the only large dunes in Japan. Since World War II however, they have been shrinking due to a government reforestation program and tsunami walls further up the coast, changing wind patterns. Today they are 16 kilometers long and 2 kilometers wide.

A wonderful autumn break!

Daisen National Park

Our first view of the Mountain

I can see why ancient people worshipped volcanoes. There is a sense of awe at the force of nature of something that big coming out of the earth. Above is our first view of Mount Daisen, located on the Sea of Japan coast of the main island of Honshu.

During this fall break from school, we rented a car and drove to the Daisen-Oki National Park.  We had a fantastic stay, enjoying the peace and serenity of the forests and mountains of the park, gourmet meals at a cozy bed and breakfast, and some quality family time. It was a holiday I won’t forget soon.

We only began to explore the park as it includes a large mountain range and even several islands. My highlight was the hike we took to Misen Peak. The trail goes through the Daisen-ji, a Buddhist temple dating from the eighth century. We are getting into the Buddhist and Shinto traditions of washing away the negativity in one’s life and ringing the gong to awaken our ancestors. The kids were pretty good and we made it to the snow line, which is over 1,100 meters. The peak is about 1,700 meters, but I don’t think Nadia was ready to go all the way. There were plenty of old growth trees and spectacular views of the snow-capped peaks. It was great to get away from the crowds of urban Japan as there were only a handful of people on the trail. The mountain is called a “mini-Mount Fuji” and is so far our favorite place in Japan. The fall colors were also out in full force and the drive through the forests reminded me of my home in Michigan.

The trail leading from the back of the temple.

I am really interested in the geology of Japan as it is one of the most seismically active places on earth. Daisen last erupted about 10,000 years ago, but an earthquake in 2000, made one of its flanks unstable. The pre-Buddhist sect, Shugeno, a group of acsetic monks, used to call it the mountain of the great god. The god may awake again someday. Another interesting thing about the mountain chain is their proximity to the Sea of Japan, which you can see from mountains.

We will definitely be back to explore more of the park and maybe even for some skiing this winter.

Safe and sound back in the Daisen village