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Monday, July 9, 2018

Exploring Japan Vol. 5 - Aokigahara Ice Cave

So as I mentioned last week, we didn’t necessarily want to go to the well-traveled paths of the Aokigahara forest for obvious reasons.  That’s why, when my wife found out that there was a company who would take us on a less popular path and let us explore an ice cave, I jumped at the opportunity.  In fact, there were really only three things I insisted on doing while in Tokyo this last time:  Aokigahara, the Kappa Derra Temple and the festival at Asakusa.  Other than that, I told her I’d follow she and my daughter wherever they wanted to go.

The ice cave sits in a giant hole in the ground about a quarter of a mile from where our guide parked the van.  As you can see from the picture above, I wasn't lying in the last post when I said there was basically about 12 cm of soil for these trees to grow.  Everything beneath that is rock and in this case, the roof of this section of the cave fell in hundreds of years ago and left openings on either end.  In the picture above, you are looking at one end that has limited access.

The other side (where we entered) is much bigger and accessible without ropes or climbing gear, however the path down isn’t for everyone.  First of all, you have to make your way down a rocky ledge to the cave entrance.  Then, you climb down a bamboo ladder to another ledge inside the cave.  

From this point on, your guide will tell you to always use three points of contact as you move through the cave because instantly, there is ice.  The cave goes back pretty far and as you go, you’ll begin seeing the occasional sign of civilization. Sometimes, it’s just a survey marker.  Other times, it’s a rock with a cylinder shaped scar on it from dynamite charges.  

Later, you’ll pass what looks like the remains of a bamboo cart.  Pretty soon you start to think to yourself, “Wait a minute.  How long have people been coming down here?”
Well, the answer is pretty much since people started settling the area.  A couple of the businesses that were run from the cave are an ice business (that’s what the bamboo cart was used for) and a man who used it to store silkworms.  The latter figured out that because of the temperature in the cave, the silkworms produced four times as much than when they were kept topside. 

The amazing thing is how far back you find these bits and pieces.  It doesn’t take much traveling until you are completely in the dark and if not for the lanterns on our helmets, we wouldn’t have been able to see much of anything.

Oh, and if you’re over five feet tall, you’ll definitely appreciate the hard hat.  It’s not that the ceiling is low (it’s not).  It’s that because of the “three points of contact” rule, you’re hugging the walls pretty closely and it seemed like my head scratched an outcrop above every few steps.

Once you get back that far, you’ll start to see some really cool stuff.  First, the ice is crystal clear and absolutely beautiful.  Next, as you look up you’ll see what look like stalactites, but they’re actually just very large icicles.  Back in the cave, we found some that had fallen and shattered. 

You can also ask your significant other to recreate the poster from John Carpenter’s The Thing.

I have to say, that of all the days we were in Japan this last time, the visit to Aokigahara and the ice cave was my favorite day. 
We spent about an hour in the cave itself, maybe a little longer.  Once out, we hiked back through the forest to the van and our guide dropped us off at the bus station so we could catch a ride back to Tokyo. 
Now, if you happen to end up at the bus station, you’ll find a small snack bar where they serve Mt. Fuji Volcano Chicken.  Get it.

Sure, it looks burnt to a crisp, but it’s really just fried chicken with a squid ink batter.  It was delicious and really hits the spot with a cold beer after you’ve been climbing/hiking around.

Next week, we’ll get back to the city proper and start exploring the cafĂ© culture in Tokyo.  Get ready for strange animals, stranger themed restaurants and a little bit of Ultraman!
See you next week!

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