By Koichi Saijo / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKOFU, Tottori — Mt. Daisen, 1,729 meters high, is the tallest mountain in the Chugoku region. The mountain has been attracting people since the medieval Heian period (late eighth century to late 12th century) as a hub for Shugendo mountain asceticism.
This year marks 1,300 years since the foundation of Daisenji temple, and many events have been held. The southern side of Mt. Daisen in Kofu, Tottori Prefecture, is called Okudaisen, as it is located at the back, or oku in Japanese, when seen from the Sea of Japan.
Scaling the sacred mountain was regulated for a long time. Thus, the rich forest of Japanese beeches remained untouched, becoming a good production spot for mineral water of excellent quality. Wanting to see the headwaters, I visited in late October.
Heading to the Kitanizawa mountain stream, I took a 15-minute car trip along an uphill road from Ebi Station on the JR Hakubi Line. The stream is at an altitude of about 700 meters. I was prepared to find that this beautiful stream would be deep in the mountains, however, it was only a few minutes’ walk from the car park. I was rather surprised.
Shingo Endo, 35, a staff member of the tourist association in Kofu, said with a smile: “Visitors are often surprised because it’s much easier to get there than they think.” Amid the deep forest, including Japanese horse chestnut, beech and mizunara oak trees, water flowed rapidly between numerous mossy stones.
The hiking trail was about 1 kilometer long in total. I walked over the autumn leaves that lay thick along the path; the trail is popular with elderly people at this time of year as their knees feel less stress.
Even though the sun was shining, I felt a bit cool in the shade along the river. It was still comfortable, though.
“I can become calm while watching the stream. There are some people who want to stay in the forest all day because they are able to relax,” said Endo.
The bridge that crosses the stream is the best place to take pictures. There were other tourists at the spot, and we all took photos after some back-and-forth of “after you.”
Polished by time
In Okudaisen, Water Factory YODEL and Suntory Products Ltd. pump underground water and sell it in bottles. I joined a tour at Suntory’s Okudaisen Bunanomori Water Plant (closed on weekends in December and during winter from Dec. 22) and looked around its facility. Atsushi Yoshioka, 51, senior general manager of the plant, said: “Mineral water from Okudaisen is refreshing and light. Some people even say it tastes sweet.”
In Tokyo, where I live, I often see bottles of Suntory Minami Alps Tennensui. Suntory Okudaisen Tennensui is mainly sold in the Chugoku and Shikoku regions, so this was first time for me to drink it. It is soft water, which has an extremely low level of hardness, and flowed smoothly down my throat.
“Melted snow and rain that fell in the beech forest have soaked into the soil slowly and deeply over 20 years. The water includes minerals and is high-quality water. I feel the history is so romantic,” said Yoshioka, who moved from Tokyo this April.
The plant is working on protections for the beech forest, and runs the Outdoor School of Forest and Water for local children in summer. Through programs to experience nature, they teach children the importance of protecting forests that produce water.
Torrential rain hit western Japan in July, and I learned the danger of flooding rivers. I was forced to think thoroughly about what it means to live with water.
Harmony with whiskey
I stayed at Kyukamura Oku-Daisen, at an altitude of about 920 meters, even higher than the Kitanizawa stream. The beech forest had already turned yellow, and I enjoyed the elegant autumn atmosphere. The baths at Kyukamura Oku-Daisen use heated soft water that is pumped up from below ground and is gentle on the skin.
Dinner was Tottorigyu local specialty beef and seafood from the Sea of Japan, including blackthroat seaperch. Whiskey mixed with water and ice from Okudaisen was especially nice with the meal.
It takes about 3 hours 20 minutes from JR Tokyo Station to Okayama Station by Shinkansen bullet train, and about 1 hour 50 minutes to Neu Station by limited express train on the Hakubi Line.
From there to Ebi Station, it takes seven more minutes by local train. You can also use trains from Yonago Airport.
Inquiries: Tourist association in Kofu at (0859) 75-6007
To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit http://the-japan-news.com/news/d&dSpeech