Walking Lake Okutama
Well, not really. Walking the whole lake, even though it is quite small, would take a day or two due to the unusual shape – long and with lots of inlets and valleys. Halfway around it there’s a quite pretty floating bridge made from old oil drums. The only problem is that during drought (as it was when I visited) this bridge is removed and people not knowing this can be in for quite a surprise if they walk all they way too it and then find that they have to walk all the way back, a good 4-5 hour detour. I just walked part of the way from the dam further east but someday when the floating bridge is in place I’d like to make it a whole day event.
The hiking is very easy with a good path wide enough for cars and there shouldn’t be any problems but in reality it can be dangerous. Not only are there a lot of Japanese giant hornets, the biggest hornet species in the world, but also land leeches that are easy to pick up if you move through the underbrush and can be quite unpleasant with their bites. I actually spent some time looking at a massive hornet nest before I figured out what it was and very quickly made my way to a safer distance, it must have been about half a meter long, as you can see in the photo. These hornets are actually the deadliest animal in Japan, responsible for about 30 deaths every year, most in September and October when they are especially protective of their nests.
The scariest animal in the area though is the Japanese black bear. These are quite numerous and often appear suddenly in the dense undergrowth of the forest near the hiking trails. For this reason hikers are advised to wear bells or other noisy metal things to ward of bears. I was a bit wary since there have been at least three bad bear attack in this area in the last nine years, but the other hikers there didn’t wear any bells at all. Well, rather safe than sorry I always say! The Okutama visitors center publishes a list of all bear sightings (in Japanese), but I am glad I didn’t see any this time.
If you have the chance to visit lake Okutama and need a break from all the concrete in Tokyo I can really recommend it! It is amazing that this kind of place exists in a metropolis like Tokyo, although it is just on the extreme edge of Tokyo, where it intersects with Yamanashi and Saitama prefectures.