Take a walk on the wild side
Outdoor Club Japan
Tokyoites needn't just pine for the pristine. Some of the big city's best-kept secrets are where and how to escape its bustle for hiking, rock climbing, sawanobori, cycling and more. Outdoor enthusiasts often heed the call of the wild and call on others to join their wilderness adventures. So what are you waiting for?
What puts these adventurers ahead of the pack is that they compete with - not against - nature. Their prize is the privilege of communing with it. Their challenge is to boldly go where few, if any, have gone before. Their sport: Well, that depends on who you ask and what's in season.
"I prefer finding new routes and the whole-body workout of rock scrambling," Andrew Duggan, 42, says of scaling wild rocky inclines using all fours. Heralding from London, the teacher and civil engineer now lives in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture. "(Rock) climbing has a lot of inactive time. But not with scrambling. We don't usually see other people and we often see more animals. Sawanobori (upstream river hikes) is great in summer as you stay cool and the stream valleys are often untouched."
When Duggan is not hiking, scrambling, rock climbing or taking to the powder on snowshoes or snowblades (skiboards) he can be found on a badminton or squash court. But his heart lies with the great outdoors. So much, in fact, that the former president and a current member of International Adventure Club (IAC) boasts 40 outings in 2005 and an average of 30 a year. He started Outdoor Club Japan (OCJ) in April to facilitate group adventures with an emphasis on socializing and to give members a variety of activities in each trip to choose from.
"There is no off season," says Duggan, adding that aerobic classes and planning the next big adventure help him through the weekday drudgery. "I have activities for all seasons." He says the key to communing with nature as a concrete-jungle dweller is to, "Get a tent, sleeping bag, stove and go!" But he cautions that, "For activities with more risks, it's worth joining a club of similar minded people."
Outdoor Club Japan
The power in numbers is indeed a valuable asset for getting back to nature, says Kevin Cameron, 32. The avid countryside cyclist and born-again hiker traded Michigan for Tokyo nearly a decade ago. Although these days he's busy turning his passion for pedaling into One Life Japan, a business offering bucolic bike tours along scenic routes most only see from a train window, he just rejoined IAC for that very reason.
"It offers me a chance to find other people to do things with," says, Cameron, a former Web developer and environmental planner. "I can send out an e-mail and say, 'hey I'm going hiking' and people respond - it's great. I started my own blog 4 years ago to tell folks about things I've been doing and people contact me for activities or they write to me about something I'm interested in."
For Cameron, the key to escaping the urban rat race for the great outdoors is simple: "Don't look for time - make time." Where you choose to live and what you do for work in the big city can help. He notes that as a resident of Tokyo"s Nakano he's only 20 minutes by train to Shinjuku, which puts him within an hour of great spots for mountain hiking along the JR Okutama Line route. He also made an important career decision: "I quit my job.
"Now I'm trying to make a biking business and a lot of my work is going out planning trips, finding farmers that will let me stay at their houses when touring," he says "The adventure is about being in nature and meeting people you wouldn't normally meet - like tea farmers."
As for keeping fit for the job, the vegan turns to macrobiotic foods, running, pushups and of course hiking, which he notes offers a greater benefit than expected: "I found that after a three-day hike I could run faster and farther than before." Indeed, few adventurers dispute the advantages outdoor adventures have over more traditional urban workouts.
"I think some people want more than what a gym offers," explains Patrick Deblaise, 45, a technician from Montpellier, France. As a long-time active adventurer and core member of the newly founded OCJ, he looks to mountaineering, hiking, climbing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, camping and sawanobori for, "hidden trails, forgotten countrysides and new places.
"For me the gym is for exercising the body; it's better for training during the week," Deblaise says. "Being in nature and meeting different people is a lot more of an interesting challenge. It can be difficult to talk to people in the gym but in the mountains we need to talk to each other; we depend on each other for safety. And the fresh clean air gives you different mindset. It's something a gym can't provide."
A Tokyoite for 11 years, Deblaise is not about to let urbanity bog him down. He says it's easy, especially when adventuring with other OCJ members: "We go on Saturday's or Sundays - sometimes both - by train or car about an hour from Tokyo. We arrive at one station cross the mountains and return by another. Anybody can do it and we have a star system (on OCJ's Web's site) for ranking our trips so beginners and those interested in more advanced trips that include climbing and repelling with equipment can choose. Anyone interested should come join us!"
To learn more about Outdoor Club Japan (OCJ) and its ongoing adventures check out http://outdoorclubjapan.com or e-mail Andrew Duggan at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Details on International Adventure Club (IAC) are at: http://www.iac-tokyo.org/. The scoop on Kevin Cameron's One Life Japan cycling tours (and a blog with stunning pics that will make you pine for the outdoors) are at: http://www.onelifejapan.com/.