In Winter, it’s Usually Clear Skies in Tsukuba – bringing distant sacred mountains into view!
By Avi Landau
A climb up the slopes of Mt Tsukuba has long provided a view, which in this mostly mountainous country, can be said to be unique – a vast plain, rolling out into the horizon. For a nation of herders or ranchers ( which the Japanese are not), this part of Japan might have been the most attractive part of the whole archipelago, and the Tsukuba area would long, long ago have been turned into pastureland for grazing cattle.
Others might also have been very attracted to the Tsukuba area`s extremely hospitable climate ( where a great variety of produce can be grown- Ibaraki Prefecture is the northern limit for citrus and tea, and the southern limit for apples and salmon), its once abundant wildlife, and the easy travelling which the flat land ( and numerous rivers) could offer ( and in fact the hunter gathers of the Jomon period thrived in this area).
The Yamato people, however, did NOT like to establish cities in wide open spaces. As a rule, they built their major settlements in basins (BONCHI, 盆地), surrounded by mountains- not only for the safety this provided, but even more importantly for them, to be in accordance with the rules of traditional FU-SUI (風水), or Feng Shui, as it is called in Japanese, which set the criteria for finding and building a safe place to live.
This is one of the reasons why, until about 40 years ago, what is now Tsukuba City, remained mostly forested and sparsely populated ( the other reasons would be the lack of water for irrigation, and the stigma attached to this area which has stuck since the 10th century when the rebel warrior Taira no Masakado declared himself the New Emperor ( SHIN-NO) and ruled around here for about two years. Later, there was also the onus of being in the UNLUCKY DIRECTION (KIMON, 鬼門) in relation Edo Castle.
These are some of the thoughts which usually fill my mind whenever I gaze out on the view of the Kanto plain. And what better time to admire this uniquely FLAT of part Japan, than in WINTER- when for reasons that I don’t quite understand**, the air is very clear (and visibility excellent). In summer, nearby Mt. Tsukuba is often invisible, not because of clouds, but because of…… well something like fumes or haze. Anyway, the air is just NOT CLEAR in summer. Its usually only when the weather turns cold that you can see the horizon.
These clear skies make enjoying PANORAMIC VIEWS one of the great pleasures of winter. The top of Mt Tsukuba is surely the best place for this. But the mountain IS far away(for most of us), and very COLD, in winter.
The place which had for me been the best place to enjoy fantastic views from the comforts of the warm indoors was Tsukuba`s ( once) tallest building- the 19-story high Mitsui Building, located a couple of hundred meters from the Tsukuba Station.
From its top floor observatory, winter views are spectacular. To the east- Tsuchiura and Lake Kasumigaura. To the far north- the mountains of Nikko ( never visible outside of winter), and nearer , of course, Mt Tsukuba. To the south, the immense figure of the Ushiku Daibutsu( the Great Buddha of Ushiku) can be seen ( if you look carefully) watching serenely out over the endless plain.
And to the the west, there is the biggest attraction of them all. What everyone comes to see. Maybe the worlds most recognizable mountain… Mt Fuji, which from Tsukuba is especially beautiful at sunset, when the familiar cone of the volcano is shrouded in a crimson halo and looks VERY LARGE.
Well at least that’s what we USED TO be able to see from the Mitsui Building. On the 19th floor there used to be a Chinese restaurant, with windows which faced due west. But as I found out today ( after not having been up there in years) this restaurant, which used to let visitors admire the view ( even if they were not customers), had long gone out of business ( maybe BECAUSE they had always let us in!), only to be replaced by suits of offices- which, as you might have guessed- DO NOT let visitors in to look out their windows.
Last week I arrived at the 19th floor at just after 4 PM looking forward to the sunset which would be just after 4:30 . Disappointed to find the Chinese restaurant, and the steakhouse across from it gone, I still enjoyed the views ( I always enjoy trying to spot familiar places from up high), and thought that by some chance I might be able somehow to see Mt Fuji by pressing my face sideways to either the north or south facing windows.
As the sun started going down, a few people, one after the other arrived at the top floor to join me in some sunset Mt Fuji viewing. They all left disappointed after a quick glance, believing that there was no chance to see the famous mountain out of the available windows. As for me, I still had hope ( and anyway was mesmerized by how the reflected light of the sinking sun continuously changed how the scene looked)..
As the sunset deepened, I walked back and forth, from the north-glass to the south-glass, each time pressing my face and straining my eyes to the west.
Nothing. Though most people imagine that Fuji is to the south, it is in fact almost due east.
I had just about given up. But when the sun had already set behind the mountain ( which I could not see), by straining against the northern window, I could clearly make out the tip of the Mt. Fuji`s northern slope!
I have to admit, though, that half a Fuji just didn’t do it for me. will have to find another good Fuji-viewing spot.
( Thanks to Tsukublog COMMENTER Keiko for recommending the roof of the IIAS shopping mall. I checked it out at sunset- stunning! If you go for some Fuji-viewing- and you should- don’t forget that its best for the ten minutes AFTER THE SUN HAS GONE DOWN!)
Oh, one thing that I haven’t mentioned, which might be even more exciting than mountain-views for some of you- you can see various birds of prey flying around which apparently use the roof as a perch or nesting area.
Here is an article I have written about a great place to enjoy view of Tokyo:
and here is a song I’ve written called CLEAR SKIES, recorded by the TenGooz:
* Shodo Shonin was born in Moka in what is now Tochigi Prefecture in the year 735 AD. His father was the lord of Shimotsuke (now Tochigi Prefecture) which was at that time the Northern-most limit of the Yamato Empire. After training as a Buddhist priest he set out for Mt. Nantai (in 766) – which had been considered sacred since ancient times and Shodo Shonin associated with Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. At that time the mountain was called Futarasan or Futarakusan). His first attempt to reach the top (in 767) failed – but he did discover Lake Chuzenji at the time. His second attempt to scale the peak in 781, also ended in failure. He finally made it to the summit at the age of 48 in the year 782.
Thirty-four years later, a year before he died at the age of 83, Shodo Shonin made it to the top of Mt. Nantai one last time….
and that’s why I think of him up there wherever I catch glimpse of that mountain far off in the distance.
**Apparently the air has here has much less moisture in it in winter – and more wind… which makes it much clearer than in other seasons.