If extreme sports and hikes are in your circle of likes, then Ugo is still the best place to be. One hour away to the south is Mt Chokai or Chokai-san how people call it here. It is the highest mountain in the Akita prefecture with 2,236 meters of height and 5 kilometres walk. There is also the possibility to take skiis and snowboard up with you as you can take the chance to ski those 5km back. However you might also opt for the sliding down technique which in our opinion was a lot more fun!Depending on the time of the year it might be very cold as you walk up or very hot. We had the in between temperature of some chilly winds yet warm sun. Make sure to bring some sun block, my red burned face regrets not having done that.
It is definitely a relaxing walk for those mountain enthusiasts as unlike other famous mountains in Japan, there are few people coming here, which makes the whole hike a lot more enjoyable and relaxing. No one behind you pressuring to walk faster or to move aside.After reaching the summit there are other small summits to hike nearby to see the other side of the mountain. For those that want to boulder, at the summit there plenty of rocks to choose from. Of course, depending on the season the rocks may be covered in snow.
Following the 8 hours we took to enjoy the mountain it was finally time to enjoy our long awaited onsen moment. If you did get burned by the sun, be careful with the onsen as you will feel the burn even more. We took about an hour to relax before making our way back to town and enjoy a Yakiniku Tabehodai (all you can eat of grilled meat)Day4;
So far I have experienced a few local events of the town which were unique to this area, however I wanted to find out what the people living here thought were the best points of their town. Now, you can imagine after 8 hours at the mountain waking up the next day was not going to be difficult, but I tell you, that onsen made the difference. Of course an onigiri in the morning and a pizza-man and you are good to go. Ask at the convenience store for a pizza-man, you will not regret it!
So I went around with my friend Tasuku, whom helped me meet local people. As a farmer’s town it was easy to find people outside especially now during rice planting season. Some people were shy at first to find the words to explain what they thought are the best points of Ugo yet eventually everyone came around. No one really thinks about their city until someone from outside asks you about it.A few initial similar responses, perhaps due to the shyness of the people and trying to be polite with their answers, were the generosity and peacefulness of the town. However, some people came up with exciting responses. One man mentioned how it’s more fun than the big cities and it is sad that the young people are leaving to go there when they can enjoy their outside here.
I found out many of the farmers currently living in Ugo are from different parts of Japan or at one point moved away to the big cities but wanted to return. Some could not tell me which area they liked best between Tokyo and Ugo, meaning that both are equally as fun, however the outside world still looks more beautifully than an office cubicle.The last response that caught my mind was the Satoyama life people have here. Meaning living off the mountain. That is when I realised and asked where the food I had been eating comes from. So far everything has come from the Ugo area either cultivated or gathered from the mountains. It then hit me, a small town which just like many others in Japan has a population decline and is slowly being forgotten by the big cities is living peacefully from the land.
After hearing this I focused on asking the local people about their satoyama life, until one man said “but that is not really a main point of Ugo, I mean it is normal so I didn’t think about it, but I can guess compared to people in Tokyo it could be something new”
Interviewing people took most of the morning and afternoon which a lunch break in between as we also enjoyed driving around the town and seeing how everyone lives and the various steps needed to farm rice. It is definitely an opportunity to see the real Japan everyone in the big cities talks about. The feeling you get from the people that keep the traditions of this country.So for our night event I had the privilege to stay at Mr Abe’s farm house. Although the farm produced rice as well, they were known for producing flowers. However, since the flowers had already been planted and they still needed time to grow the family explained how a 10×100 meter plot of land can make minimum 1 ton of rice and maximum 2 tons. They owned 6 plots of rice of those sizes. They never had the need to buy rice obviously.We enjoyed the night eating what for them was normal self-gathered and harvested food and for me a delicacy that Tokyo restaurants charge you $40 for. I began to realise in just a few days, I had learned more about Japanese culture and lifestyle than I had in my 2 months of travelling the big cities of Japan. Talking to hostel owners, no matter how nice they are, they will never be able to tell you what it is to live as a Japanese in the older times as this is something that cannot be explained but experienced.
It was 2am when we went to sleep and in 4 hours wake up to see the start of rice planting for Abe’s family.
Written by Alan Roberto T