Monday, 2 July 2007

Driving in Japan

In short:
1) Yes, you can drive in Japan.
2) Get an international driving permit before coming to Japan.
3) If you view yourself as a resident of Japan, you must obtain a Japanese driving license.

A climber without a car is like a fish without gills. A climber must have some wheels, lest he's willing to suffocate.

People tend to discourage you from driving in Japan. Don't listen to the naysayers. Sure, if you cannot read Japanese, it's a bit harder to drive in Japan than in other foreign countries, but not massively so. A good co-driver or a carefully preplanned route helps. And it's not hard getting used to drive on the other side of the road if that applies to you.

The motorways are convenient and in excellent condition, but charges the highest tolls in the world. Some of them are not much in the way of expressways either. The Tokyo-Nagoya expressway is a particularly perma-congested example; fortunately the 2nd Tokyo-Nagoya expressway, running a few kilometer north of the first is under construction. (And yippie! It will have an intersection in Shinshiro-city, cutting the time to get from Nagoya to Horai in half, I would guess.)

For short-time visitors it make sense to rent a car. Car-rental is a relatively painless process, and can be quite cheap as well, especially if you rent a “kei-jiitousha” or “kei-car”, i.e. a car with an engine having maximum displacement less than 660 cc. Some low-price car rentals will not let you rent a car if you don't have a Japanese driving permit.

Unless you “reside” in Japan you can drive freely using an international driving permit. Get your international license well in advance. In Sweden it only takes a few days to get one, you may not be so lucky.

If you are a “resident” a Japanese drivers license must be obtained. How to go about this depends on where you got your license. If you have an American (North- or South-) license I pity you. Australia and most western European countries have a bilateral agreement with Japan which makes it relatively painless to get a Japanese license. Google the process.

People using an international drivers license who are resident in Japan can be subject to arrest. What is then a “resident”?, you may ask. Well, exactly what constitutes the boundary between “resident” and “not resident” is not clear. Simply put that is for the police to know and for you to find out. Anyway, driving without a valid permit is a serious crime: don't even think about it.

Don't go to a driving test center to transfer your license or to do the tests without either speaking some rudimentary Japanese, or bringing an interpreter. Count on having to spend most of the day on the test center.

If you buy a car from a retailer, have them do the paper work for transfer of ownership and parking permit. They should be able to do that for a nominal fee, which is well worth paying, regardless of what the fee might be. If you're buying your car privately — like I did — you have to do this yourself. The transfer of ownership was quite quick and painless, but to correctly fill out the forms for the parking permit tested my skills and patience to the limit.

Funny enough you don't need a stamp to transfer ownership, as long as you show up in person, but I needed one to get the parking permit.

It might be a bit of a pain to do all the necessary paperwork, and you shouldn't be surprised if the parking is way more expensive than the car, but the freedom of having your own car is well worth the price of admission. Good luck!

Friday, 29 June 2007

Japanese-English Climbing Dictionary

I've made a spread sheet containing a small Japanese-English climbing dictionary

I'm sure there are a lot of mistakes and I would be glad for any help I could get.

If you feel that you can contribute, send me an e-mail (my mail-address can be found on my profile page) and I can add you as an collaborator on google docs.

When compiling the list Yuuko Yamaguchi's Japanese translation of Carl J. Ockier's “The Climbing Dictionary” was very helpful. Mr Morimoto and Mr Yamada have also been very helpful.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Mysterious ways

So exactly what does the red light indicate?

Friday, 1 June 2007

Toyota Riverside

Riverside, originally uploaded by Jonas Wiklund.

Wataru Yamada on 黒い鬼 (Kuroi-oni="Black demon") a really cool boulderproblem in a riversida area in Toyota, Toyota g

In an upcoming series here on Thousand Cranes, I will describe some of the more well-known spots around Toyota. A few of them are described in the guide book Free climbing: Nihon 100 Iwaba <4>

Thursday, 31 May 2007

Sportclimbing & bouldering in Horai

Some dude does Metaforce, 8c+, ハイカラ岩,
originally uploaded by Jonas Wiklund.

Hōrai is written 鳳来 in Japanese. The first kanji depicts the male phoenix, the second kanji carries the meaning of arrival. Hence, Mount Hōrai is a place where the phoenix swings by on occasion. Alas, more rarely than oft, I would think.

Type of climbing
Vertical to steep to very-steep-indeed sportclimbing on volcanic tuff. A good spread of routes from 5.7 to 5.14d. Almost everyone, even world-class climbers, will find enough routes to go at for an extended stay. Josune Bereziartu and Rikar Otegi stayed for forty days a few years back. I'm just saying.

Hōrai have some high class bouldering as well, but almost nothing, and certainly nothing good, under 1kyū/1-dan (7A/A+). Hōrai is very popular with the Tokyo elite, so there are a number of hard problems up to 5-dan (8C). Initiation, 4-dan, is a very well-known problem with three pinky-only pockets in a row on a 45 degree overhanging face. A must do for the so inclined.

Most of the climbing is on pockets and slopers. So if you have fat fingers, prepare to be humbled. (As an aside, I once met the father of rotpunkt, Kurt Albert, on a small nondescript crag in Frankenjura. When we asked him which crag he liked best in Northern Franken he held up his huge hands and said “this one, everywhere else is just pockets”.)

For sportclimbing, the most impressive faces with the coolest and most unique routes are on the various cliffs surrounding 鬼岩 (oni-iwa=demon rock), unfortunately it is an one-hour steep uphill slog to get there. ガンコ岩 (Gangko-iwa), a 30-40 min hike from the parking lot, is also a good choice for first-time visitors.

Year round. Some faces will be too cold during January-February, but there are some south facing alternatives, and bouldering is of course possible year round. Everything is to hot during July-August and early September.

Wakabayashi tries Shamo, 2-dan,
originally uploaded by Jonas Wiklund.

Photos & Videos
I have a slideshow from Horai on my flickr-account. My good friend Yamada Wataru also have some photos from Horai.

Check the local weather-forecast before you go on

Just north of Shinshiroshi 新城市, north of Toyokawa 豊川, in Aichi-prefecture (愛知県). Here is a map from, a more zoomed-out map will give you an idea of where it is.

Getting there
From the Toyokawa intersection (豊川IC) on the Tomei Expressway (東名高速道路) running between Nagoya and Tokyo, turn up on Road 151 in the direction of Shinshiro city (新城市). Keep your eyes open all the time to follow the sharp turns on road 151 as it crosses Shinshiro. After passing Yuyaonsen (湯谷温泉), keep straight on 151 until you take off left towards Ure dam (宇連ダム) and then Lake Horai (鳳来湖 only signposted in Japanses I'm afraid). After crossing the railroad, take right across a small bridge, and then directly left. Keep going until the road ends at a parking place with a public restroom. This is a good starting point for many of the best crags on Mount Horai.

Me failing to onsight THC, 5.12c,
originally uploaded by Jonas Wiklund.

The parking just mentioned consists of two zones. After the first zone there is a U-turn area. After the U-turn area there is another parking zone. The second parking zone is reserved for people staying less then 1.5 hours and for visitors to the shrine on the top of Mt. Horai.

If the first zone is full (more than likely on weekends after 7.30 AM) do not park on the upper parking zone! Instead, drop your gear and let the person who draw the shortest straw drive back across the bridge, turn right up towards Lake Horai and park on the big parking-lot on the right. From there, it is a 40 min walk back to the original car park.

Rules and regulations
Climbers are not allowed to leave quick-draws hanging from the routes overnight. According to the priests in charge of the many shrines on Mount Horai, this would greatly upset the numerous spirits that visits the forest; therefore, all QDs have to be taken down before nightfall. For the same reason, stashing of ropes is frowned upon.

Unfortunately climbing is banned on 乳岩 (chi-iwa=tits-rock*, the priests must have been lonely). The old man who have set himself in charge of the parking-lot will be delighted to tell you this in his not always completely understandable dialect.

フリークライミング 日本100岩場〈4〉 (Free climbing: Nihon 100 Iwaba <4> by Kitayama) cover most of the routes in Horai, and is available through as well as through every climbing gym and climbing store in Japan.

Sorry for being such a broken record: there is no topo for the bouldering in Horai. Seriously, someone got to take charge of the situation and start producing topos for all the bouldering in Japan. It's not that hard. Where are the trustafarians when you actually need them?

Staying there
There are two campsites marked in the guidebook. I have only stayed in one of them. To get to that one, drive up past Lake Horai, after the tunnel and the second bridge there is a T-junction. Take left and the campsite is directly on the left. The campsite has a disgusting dry toilet, and running water from a tap. That's it. It is really cheap though, 300 ¥ pppn. No showers, but there are quite a few onsen in the vicinity anyway. My favorite one is Toei-onsen (とうえい温泉) in nearby Toei (東栄町). To get there just continue north up into the mountains along road 151 and follow the signs. Toei-onsen also serves decent set-meals in Japanese style.

When you arrive at the campsite, the owner will probably be asleep. Just knock on the door to his house in the morning. The fella keep a rooster that start crowing at around 4 am, so try to find a spot not that close to the hen-house.

Unfortunately I have no information about Hotels and Ryokan around Hōrai.

C. Norgren climbs Okurimono, 5.11b/c, originally uploaded by Jonas Wiklund.

More info
Climbing magazine (US) had an artice about climbing in Japan a few years ago. Horai is mentioned in the article “The Way of the Weekend Warrior”.

This years summer issue of ROCK&SNOW (issue 36) has an extended article by KOYAMADA Dai about the famous roof ハイカラ岩 (=High collar-rock). The article has directions, and an updated topo for the roof. Funny enough the topo was outdated a few days before the issue was shipped due to a new 14d, Spectator, by Mr. Koyamada himself. Back issues of ROCK&SNOW can be bought through

Handy words & phrases
Nanmei-sama mattemas ka? How many people are waiting (queuing to do the route)?

* Or more appropriately, “Milky rock”. Whatever.

† If you are interested in buying high collars, I refer you to The Vintage Shirt Company. According to my Japanese dictonary ハイカラ from high collar means a westernized, stylish fellow.

Such high collars are called parasite in French. According to one theory some joker twisted parasite into parricide, and thus the style became known as Vatermörder in German, and fadermördare in Swedish. However, the type of collar originated in Germany, and therefore the aforementioned theory doesn't ring true to my ears.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Bouldering in Fukube—瓢が丘

originally uploaded by Jonas Wiklund.

Type of climbing
Mostly steep bouldering on some form of volcanic rock. Very high friction but the holds can be a bit snappy. Due to attention from some of the best climbers in Japan (and for that matter, the world) there are quite a few hard problems in Fukube, up to at least Fb 8b (hard 4-dan). First-time visitors would do well to know that the grading is very inconsistent, but rather stiff. On average, the newer problems in Fukube might be almost a full grade harder compared to Ogawayama.

March to December. The road is closed during winter. Most of the bouldering is at around 700 meters, not enough to escape the heat during the hottest months.

Photos & Videos
I have a slideshow from Fukube on my flickr-account. You can also see all pictures on flickr, tagged “fukube”. If you do a search for photos tagged with “瓢” you get a lot of pictures of cucurbitaceae, since the meaning of the Chinese character 瓢 is gourd.

Check the weather-forecast before you go on

Just north of Mino-city 美濃市, north of Gifu-city (岐阜市), in Gifu-prefecture (岐阜県). Here is a map from, a more zoomed-out map will give you an idea of where it is.

Liberty, originally uploaded by Jonas Wiklund.

Getting there
From Mino-intersection (美濃IC) on Tohkai-hokuriku Expressway (東海陸自動車道), turn right and then left onto Road 156. Turn left onto Road 81 between a Circle K and a Lawson and Cross the river on Shinmino-bridge (新美濃橋) and turn right. After crossing the next bridge (新長瀬橋) continue past a small supermarket (YAMASAKU) and turn right at the Statue of Liberty. From here it's around 5 km until the road steepens by a Shinto Shrine; across the street from the shrine there is a hut with a register behind the windows. Write your name and time of entry in the register, you must also stop on your way back to write the time of exit. Drive up the steep road quite high up the mountain, until you see a restroom area and a car park.

If you park your car and walk down back the road and turn left up on a wide dirt road you will get to a good area.

As far as I know, there isn't any topo for Fukube readily available. There is an old photocopied topo that has been floating around, but it is not for sale anywhere, as far as I know. However, a few topos and some info can be found in the Japanese climbing magazine Rock&Snow, issue 30, 33 and 36.

More info
Well, you can always give google a shot. If you do a search for "bouldering fukube" you'll only get traces left behind by me, I'm afraid. A search for フクベ & ボルダー generate more hits; how much that will help you depends.

Sunday, 13 May 2007


Last Saturday I went with Wataru to Byoubuyama, a collection of granite outcrops above Mizunomi in Gifu-prefecture, an hour north of Nagoya. Mr. Kitayama had us driving in circles by the usual quality of his maps and directions. Anyway, we warmed up on a surprisingly difficult and dirty right-leaning hand-crack. I cannot for the life of me understand why such a nice climb can become so dirty. It should have tons of ascents.


Wataru wanted to do Eve, a well-known ultra-thin layback, that lay baking in the sun. He made a valiant effort to onsight the route but was stymied by the first really hard bit. The third piece (top-piece) blocked a key hold and he declared defeat and lowered down. I took over and removed the second piece, a red alien also blocking one of the few useful holds. I moved the stopper that was the top piece to a bomber placement a bit higher up.

Eve The Crack .2, originally uploaded by Wataru Yamada.

Due to a mixture of general crappieness, fat fingers that wouldn't fit the ridiculous thin crack, bad smears on too-hot rock, and a million other excuses, I too declared defeat.

Wataru gave it another go, on the two pieces I had left in place, and after first taking a 4-5 meter fall onto the high stopper he managed to climb from the top piece to the top. An impressive piece of climbing, and quite run-out as well.

After removing both pieces from the crack Wataru gave it another go. Unfortunately the top stopper didn't go into the slot I used, and he expressed some doubts. From my position it still looked like a decent placement, so, and I feel so bad for this, I didn't implore him to back down. Of course I should have told him a solid piece of advice: When not happy with the protection you have to go down, if possible.

Anyway. On the last hard move he lost his footing and fell. The stopper ripped and much to my surprise the rope stretched a bit on the first piece. Alas, not enough. Wataru broke both heels on impact with the ledge at the base of the route.

A couple from Toyota helped calling for an ambulance and we taped his feet and carried him, through some rather rugged terrain, down to the road. Wataru is really light by the way.

Mizunomi fire-department responded to the accident with haste and competence and took Wataru to Sogou general hosptital in Toki city.

I have been told that fractures in the heels are the most painful fractures you can get.