After the chaos, noise, lights, crowds, traffic, sky scrapers and general unabashed madness of Tokyo, we decided a few days in the countryside would give us some time to recover.
Thus we turned north, and boarded a train heading for Urabandai, and the Bandai plateau. There they’ve got lakes, mountains, forests, waterfalls, wildlife, and very generally loads of really green naturey stuff.
We booked a three night stay in the Urabandai Youth Hostel, a lovingly maintained establishment run by Kenichiro, who is very possibly the nicest man in the whole of Japan. During our three nights, Keni cooked us remarkably tasty and beautifully presented meals, gave us advice on hikes and climbs we could do, told us where we could find a good onsen. He even drove us to the bottom of Mount Bandai when we decided we’d like to climb it.
I really can’t recommend Kenichiro and the Urabandai Youth Hostel enough. Don’t let the ‘Youth Hostel’ tag put you off – this place is readily set up for people of any age. If you go to the Bandai plateau, it really is a great place to stay. A night for one person including breakfast and dinner cost us around 5,500 yen each – value for money in a country not known for budget travelling.
On our first day in Urabandai we went on a lengthy (well… a mile and a half… which is lengthy for me…) hike around the Goshiki Numa trail – a series of paths circling several rather beautiful ponds.
The water in these ponds is filled with volcanic minerals distributed volcanically from volcanic things happening deep within the earth (a sentence which stretches my geological knowledge to its absolute limit and beyond). These mineral deposits give the water in the ponds different colors. Most of them were a beautifully clear turquoise blue on the day we went, pleasingly making each pond look like it had been photoshopped shortly before we arrived.
The Goshiki Numa trail is an easy, unchallenging hike. The inclines are shallow, the paths good, the climbs few and easy. The trail begins right next to the Urabandai Youth Hostel.
Our second day was spent climbing Mount Bandai. Unlike the trail the day before, Mount Bandai was an altogether different beast. The three hour climb was really quite difficult much of the way, with narrow and sometimes hazardous forest paths to the summit requiring us to negotiate rocky inclines and tree-blocked routes.
I’ll admit we found it quite hard work. We were soon stopping for regular breaks to catch our breath. We also quickly realised that we had come somewhat ill equipped for what was turning out to be quite a challenging climb. The Japanese hikers with whom we shared the route predictably came geared up with all sorts of fancy hiking clobber, from double walking poles and rehydrating energy drinks to proper big walking boots, and from specially designed hats and gloves and socks and coats and trousers to specialist GPS satellite navigation devices.
We had two utterly useless plastic umbrellas and some sandwiches. One of the umbrellas broke when I tried to use it as a walking stick and leaned on it too heavily.
In fact, Trang didn’t even have proper shoes. She walked the whole 8km route in a flimsy pair of very light, flat soled slip ons, drawing several raised eyebrows and incredulent jokes from those we passed on the way. Quite how she managed it I don’t know.
But manage it she did, much to her credit. We scaled the 1819m peak in a little over three hours, and were duly met with dramatic circular views all around the Bandai Plateau.
Thus, climbing Mount Bandai is absolutely possible, and despite our lack of preparation I’d say you don’t even need too much proper professional gear to do it with. Maybe a comfortable pair of shoes is advisable. Just because Trang managed it in a pair of slip ons doesn’t mean you should do the same thing.
I’d also take plenty of water – the only rest station is a few hundred meters short of the summit.
Check the weather forecast as well – we were blessed with a dry day to climb, but I can imagine the already challenging route would become positively hazardous with a bit of rain.
A few days in the Bandai Plateau was absolutely what we needed, after the draining chaos of Tokyo. It’s only three hours traveling north of the city, and you won’t regret choosing to spend some time there. Just take my word for it, again, and stay with Keni in the Urabandai Youth Hostel. He really was the nicest bloke!
To get to Urabandai from Tokyo takes around two hours. Take the Tokohu Shinkansen as far as Koriyama, and then change to the Ban-Etsu west line. A JR Japan Rail Pass will get you the whole way there.
Get off at Inawashiro. From Inawashiro station, its a half hour bus ride for 770 yen to the Goshiki Numa bus stop.
The Urabandai Youth Hostel is located near the trailhead, but finding it can be a little difficult. From the bus stop, walk towards the large tourist information centre, turning right along the path that leads up into the trees just before you reach the building. Keep going until you see a car park, and then turn right along a gravel path, past what looks like a memorial stone with a big red cross on it. The Urabandai Youth Hostel is on your right hand side about 100 metres up that track.