Hiroshima trail running: Ushitayama and Futabayama

Looking south to Hiroshima Bay from Ushitayama
It has taken me some time and distance to be able to write about this run as we were only in Hiroshima because we were fleeing the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011. How paradoxical it was to wind up in Hiroshima, synonymous with the atom bomb and the effects of radiation; but luckily for us friends had offered us shelter for a couple of weeks. I spent most of the time trying and failing to get the authorities and institutions in the city to respond to the crisis, in particular to support the evacuation of children in areas of eastern Fukushima with high levels of radiation. Most are still there in areas that should have been evacuated. Running was a surreal but necessary antidote to the stress and fear of this time, a bubble of normality and beauty....and the gift of temporary forgetfulness.

Ushitayama behind the Ota river and its running path
Hiroshima, like most Japanese cities and towns, is surrounded by hills and mountains and some even poke their heads above the rising tide of buildings within the city itself, protected by their steepness and instability. The horseshoe ridge between Ushitayama and Futabayama is one such survivor, just two kilometers from ground zero and ranged above the Ota river, once full of the bodies of the burned, now the placid companion of joggers and dog walkers. To be in Hiroshima is to inhabit this double identity, the glib present and an inescapable history. It's in the fabric of the place, and literally still, the soil. Sometimes it is necessary to forget for a while, but it is a shame that in 2011 the administration were unable to make the link between Hiroshima's history and the immediate need of Fukushima's children.

A wild boar-proofed flower bed at the top of Ushitayama
I left our accommodation by the river, crossing the busy dual carriageway and ran up through a park with it's incongruous "English Rose Garden" and up a dusty track between signs warning of Inoshishi, wild boar. Signs of their rummaging mastery of this island in the concrete were everywhere at the path side. How quickly the air beneath the trees, their tangled roots and the need to push against gravity worked their everyday magic, the weight of what was happening falling away as my mind was forced to concentrate on balance, co-ordination and finding my way along unknown paths.

Looking east from the ridge

Looking south across downtown Hiroshima
Someone had adopted the top of the hill and made a shelter and flowerbeds. What a nice haven this must be for people living below with little space and no garden. It looks as if people people walk up here and take in the space, free for an hour or two. Over a couple of runs I realized that a ridge formed a semi-circle, with some kind of temple structure on a hill at the far end. I went back and made a circuit of it.

Futabayama crowned by the Peace Pagoda
Futayaba's cemetary and Peace Pagoda with ground zero beyond
As I reached the small area of flat ground near the top of Futayaba I was alarmed to see a big German Shepherd dog jumping up at a man. He was wearing a padded arm and was training the dog to attack. Why? Who was he? An off-duty policeman and his dog, or someone injecting some power into his life through control? A potent symbol in any case, especially next to the ethereal structure only meters away.

Futabayama Peace Pagoda which is in the form of a large Stupa
Dropping into the streets again the schools were emptying, ordinary life unaccountably continuing as if Fukushima was a different country far away with no common history. It can't be understood, but at least there is the consolation of the hills and the simplicity of good food. In Hiroshima that can mean Okonomiyaki like this small local specialist cafe that we found.

Hiroshima City were not yet providing accommodation for evacuees, so we had to move on. I returned to exhibit my collaborative portraits of Fukushima's children at the invitation of the organisers of the annual Peace exhibition and met and drew some Hibakusha  (atom bomb survivors). There I also met activists whose dedication and compassion showed another side of the city.

More on the stupa:
My blog on living in Fukushima:



Running the Mt Takao to Mt Jimba trails

Mt Fuji with a cloud cap in the distance to the south west, seen from the route
Thanks to first time visiting runner Michal who sent photos and a report on his recent run from Takaosanguchi station on the western edge of Tokyo - his gpx file is at the end of the post:

"My recommendations for someone running it for the first time would be to start from Takaosanguchi station; there are shops for water, lockers, and an English-friendly information office with maps etc. and it is easy to get there from Tokyo, for example from Shinjuku. I took route number 5 up and down Mt Takao, which was pretty nice and mostly runnable. From Mt Takao to Mt Jimba there are good markings, but while some are bi-lingual, some are only in Japanese; it's therefore best to memorise the Kanji characters, for example as on this sign:

Sign on Takao-san with approximate walking times - fit runners might take around one third of these times

For many of the hills on the route there are options to go up over the hill or around it with the a more contouring path which re-joins the ridge path later - the latter is usually the more runable option.

The view back East towards the Kanto plain and Tokyo from Takao-san

It's easy to get water at shops or toilets at Mount Takao and Mount Jimba plus several other places in between, but decent food options are limited. There is a new, really good onsen directly attached to Takaosanguchi station (1000 yen entrance fee, 150 yen for towel rental), which is great for post-run recovery!

A shorter alternative to doing the out and back course is to run down to the main valley road south of Mt Jimba (maybe 20 mins running?) where I have heard there is a bus that goes back to Takaosanguchi station. It might be best to check at the information centre before starting though.

The summit of Mt Jimba with its memorable horse statue -the turn-around point on this route

GPX file for the Takao-san Jimba-san out and back route
"Note that I was doing extra “loop” on the way and I got lost in a minor way a few times, so it might not be perfect, or may require corrections. But it gives you an idea of elevations etc. Michal"

Thanks Michal! For other ideas for running near Tokyo click here


Trail and mountain runs near Tokyo

Looking for trail and mountain runs near Tokyo? I'm often asked about this, so here are a few ideas:

The best hills to do within a day when in Tokyo are are on the west side, and if you have an early enough start you should be able to get back in the afternoon. They are mostly less than 1000m high, and you can choose to make it as easy or tough as you like. The stations to start from are marked in red. For example:

Musashi-itsukaichi station on the JR East Itsukaichi Line
The Okutama area: Hinode-san to Odake-san and back – nice undulating ridge running. This post is from that area: http://trailrunningjapan.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/mitake-mountain-trail-race-tokyo.html
Or here is someone's linear route using different station
There is a prestigious 71km race using this area called the Hasetsune Cup with an English webpage: http://www.hasetsune.com/en/cup/

On Hinode-san in winter with Taku and Kick


Takaosanguchi Station on the Keio-Takao Line

Mt Jimba via Takao-san

Ome station on the JR East Ome Line
Head north west for  Takamizu-san. It is also a race course: http://www.kfctriathlon.jp/html/event_trail.html#2009_takamizu_trail

Even ex-international orienteers like Alessandro need to stop and look at the map sometimes! Near Ome

Higashi-Agano Station on the Seibu-Ikebukero Line
Trails to the north for Koruyama-san-taki and Kamakitako lake see this post: http://trailrunningjapan.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/running-from-kamakita-lake-and-kuroyama.html

A hot runner cooling down under Shukuya no Taki near Kamakitako: me

Seibukyujo-Mae Station on the Seibu Sayama Line
For runs round Tayama and Sayama lakes and woodland - rolling trails and roads, an oasis within the city - not mountain but OK if you are short of time.

I advise your to buy a map of the area (Mapple Yamachizu series), and if time is an issue doing an out-and-back course is safer than doing a circle or point-to point when you don't know the area. The navigation is up to you, but I advise a map and compass and take time to match the signs with the map – all mountain trails in Japan can be complicated, especially if you don't read Japanese, so allow time for checking as you go along. Mistakes will occur!

Enjoy, and please send photos and a report to go on the website to help other runners who come later. 

Please note: a certain amount of radiation from the Fukushima Daichi disaster reached this area. Please research the risk before eating local food or drinking from springs.