Photo/IllutrationBritish students walk toward the summit of Mount Omuroyama in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, against the backdrop of the beach along the Sea of Sagaminada. (Eiichi Murano)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories featuring the aesthetic landscapes of Mount Fuji, Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture and Izu in Shizuoka Prefecture, which have been visited by an increasing number of tourists from overseas. Based on conversations with travelers, the series casts light on sceneries and cultural heritages that gave form to these areas.

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Just like at any ski resort, a gondola lift is the easiest way to reach the summit of Mount Omuroyama in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture. Disembarking after the six-minute ride above the grassy slopes of the conical mountain, passengers are greeted by autumnal breezes blowing across an elevated platform.

This leads to a 1-kilometer pathway built around the outer rim of the crater, which last erupted 4,000 years ago. It offers panoramic views of the hilly areas of the Izu Plateau and the Sea of Sagaminada.

On Oct. 23, I walked in the company of 20 students from Holcombe and Rochester Grammar Schools in Medway of Kent in England. The summit rises to 580 meters above sea level.

“Good views!” Elijah Link, 15, said.

When I asked which part of the landscape he found particularly attractive, Link gladly showed off what he had learned in class: “I think the volcano and the coast where the lava flows goes. That’s the best.”

Eight archery targets are set up for sightseers at the base of the cone-shaped crater. Archery became a popular hobby with the aristocracy in England in the 16th century.

When I asked if he wanted to loose off some shots, Link replied, “Yes, I would if I had time.”

In 1600, a Dutch ship arrived off the coast of the feudal province of Bungo (present-day Oita Prefecture). One of the crew members was a British navigator from the Medway area named William Adams. He became a diplomatic adviser to Tokugawa Shogunate founder Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) and went by the name of Miura Anjin.

In Ito, Adams oversaw construction of two Western-style sailing ships, the first to be built in Japan. He was later granted samurai status and estates.

British students have been making annual visits to the city with such close historical links to Britain since 2014.

On this trip, the students also visited the city hall to view a model of a ship from the time that Adams lived, which was built by local hobbyists.

“Every year, Medway holds a William Adams festival, celebrating his life and his connections with Japan,” Jodie Frost, 17, told Deputy Mayor Hiroyuki Sano. “He was rewarded with an honored title of samurai. We have this incredible opportunity to experience Japanese culture. We’d like to thank you for your hospitality.”

The visits to Ito by the grammar school students were organized by Yuki Kushida, who runs ANJIN (Anglo-Japan International Network) that offers English conversation classes and language training sessions in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. She taught Japanese language at a school in Medway between 2002 and 2014, mediating exchanges between Japan and Britain at the grass-root level.

Kushida suggests ways to strike up entertaining conversations with foreign visitors.

“Anjin influenced Japanese history and his stories are also inspiring,” she said. “Anjin would be a good topic for a conversation with British people, and Mount Fuji is desirable, too. And also food. (British people) love sushi and tempura, as well as ramen and teriyaki chicken. I hope you actively talk to them.”

Mount Omuroyama is also very popular with Chinese tourists.

But on Nov. 3, a man and a woman who were enjoying ice cream in front of the gondola lift were Dutch. The pair said they had already visited Tokyo, Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, Kyoto and Hiroshima, adding that they came to Ito the day before they were to return home.

Peter Geertsma, 36, said they wanted to find somewhere quiet, away from the big cities. Although he didn’t know much about the volcanoes in the Izu Peninsula, he found cone-shaped Mount Omuroyama “very nice.”

Geertsma said he had read about Adams and was familiar with Japan's isolationist policy that was implemented after his death.

“The Netherlands had been trading quite a lot as well through the (East India) Company,” he noted.

When I thanked Geertsma for the mutually beneficial exchanges from centuries past when feudal Japan was isolated, he replied with “Arigato,” or “thank you” in Japanese, before taking the lift to the mountaintop.

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Eiichi Murano is chief of The Asahi Shimbun’s Odawara and Atami bureaus.