As our year of study abroad is coming to a close, the ryugakusei bros decided to take one last overnight trip away from Tokyo together. We considered climbing Mt. Fuji but decided that it would be too crowded on the day we had available (David actually ended up climbing it and will be writing a blog post about it). Our next choice was the island of Izu, which has both beautiful beaches and cool, forested, hilly areas. After much debate, we decided on a third option, Okutama, another scenic, hilly area with a river to swim in. Okutama has the advantage of being closer than Izu and thus easier/cheaper to get to, and we also just wanted to try a place that most of us had never been to. My German friend Robin reserved an inexpensive bungalow, (or “bangaloo,” as he called it in a facebook message) we threw a bunch of drinks and bbq ingredients in a cooler, and “men’s retreat Okutama 2013” was on!
After two hours on trains, we were ready to go swimming when we arrived, so we rolled to a campsite about five minutes away from the train station that featured both cabins and a rocky beach (not as uncomfortable as it sounds) to set up tents on. There was a pretty cool crowd at the beach bbqing, chilling, drinking beer, and jumping into the freezing cold river water. I was also impressed by some particularly creative campers who were making bbq-like firepits and even a kiddie pool in the river out of the beach rocks. We had a good time at this beach, and If I were to go to Okutama again it seems like it would be a fun and social place to stay.
Located a little further down the river, our bungalow was managed by an extremely kind and extremely elderly Japanese couple. In contrast to the campsite we spent our afternoon at, there were very few others staying in the area and it felt isolated. We spent the night barbecuing kalbi and yakisoba on one of the communal grills and playing a German drinking game that Robin calls “swimming.”
The bungalow itself was actually just a tatami room with a short table and a couple of chairs in it. Figuring that futons or some other sort of sleeping arrangements would be provided, my group hadn’t brought any sleeping bags, and we ended up sleeping with our bags as pillows and towels for blankets. The night was pretty cold and I think I can say we all felt stupid about it.
Our morning consisted of swimming in the river while playing music through my buddy’s waterproof speakers and taking in the lush nature scene. It felt great to be away from the crowds of Tokyo relaxing in the mountains with my friends.
The last thing we did before returning to the city was bathe at Moegi-no-yu Onsen near Okutama station. In my opinion, if you travel in Japan without bathing publicly in the numerous hot springs, you aren’t doing it right. Even though it cost 750 yen, taking a relaxing soak in a rotemburo seemed like a fitting end to our ryugakusei experience.
For those who are staying in Tokyo, I definitely recommend Okutama due to its relative proximity, inexpensiveness, cool weather and natural beauty. It is probably best to go in the summer to escape Tokyo’s oppressive heat especially because the river water is so cold and refreshing. I also have heard that there are nice hiking trails and a large lake in the area. Check it out if you have the time!
As for studying abroad in Japan, I would have to recommend that as well. It is not always the easiest thing to do, but if you are open to new experiences you are certain to find great ones and you will probably make lifelong friends from all over the world too. If you have the opportunity to do this, make sure to take it!
As I will be returning home to America to finish school, I will no longer be writing for the Ryugakusei Town Blog. I hope some of you have enjoyed my articles and maybe even gotten some useful ideas from them. Thanks for reading!