Friday, March 14, 2014

Mount Tsukuba

Tsukuba is a science and technology town, built by the Japanese Government in the 1960’s.  It features a number of research campuses, a university, and a satellite assembly facility.  Like many places built in the 60’s, it is not particularly culturally striking in the architecture department, and in fact it is ignored entirely by many tourists guidebooks that focus on Japanese culture. 

Tsukuba is also the home of Japan’s newest SHRIMP, so I was there for three weeks as part of a team that upgraded that instrument from single collector to multicollector. And as the research park and the downtown area were a bit utilitarian, a few of us decided to look for something a bit more distinctively Japanese on our day off. 

Luckily for us, 20 km north of Tsukuba is Mount Tsukuba.  This 800 meter peak dominates the eastern plains NE of Tokyo, and is significant in Japanese culture.

At the base of the mountain is a Shinto shrine.  I’m not up on my Shinto, bet the gardens were fantastic.  Even if there was still ice on the pond, the Japanese Cedar were stately, the arrangement and general attention to detail were striking and pleasing.  
I didn’t spend much time around the shrine itself- there were a fair few people praying there and I didn’t want to make an ass of myself, so I headed up the mountain to meet my colleagues for lunch.

The track up started off through plantation Japanese cedar, but got scenic and atmospheric as I got above about 450 meters and the snow deepened. The last half of the walk was a bit treacherous, but the forest gets more mature and spectacular on the steep upper reaches of the mountain.  

The Japanese Cedar, which grows in fantastic stands on the south side of the mountain, gives way to deciduous trees on the ridgeline and north face. Jules and James will note that the camellia was not blooming.  I don’t know what the signs said.  The first character is “mountain”, the second “fire”. I haven’t learned the next three yet; Bushfire blah blah blah.  Hopefully the message is less urgent with snow everywhere.

Mount Tsukuba has two peaks: Nantai-San (male) and Nayotai-san (female).  The top of Mount Nantai-san is topped by two shrines to the gods Izanagi-no-mikoto and Softbank. Mount Nayotai had fantastic views to the south and East, which disappeared in a snow flurry just as I reached the top.

Due to the icy conditions, we headed down on the cable car.  I then took another walk, this one going around the mountains base. This forest included Japanese cedar and cypress, but also had a fir species and some very large plum or cherry trees, which I could not distinguish without flowers or leaves. As this was my first weekend in the winter hemisphere, the snow was a welcome novelty after a very hot Australian summer.
Oh the rocks.  Well, it was my day off, and most of them were covered with snow, but here and there a coarse grained dolerite reared its pyroxinitic head.

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