Friday, May 15, 2009

Curvet Over Ground and Nikko

I arrived in Akihabara around lunch time, too early for my meet with Zach. I sat in the sun in front of the station for awhile, my mind pulled back and forth from William Weston's descriptions of 19th century Japanese Alps, to the fascinating characters of 21st Century Tokyo. Many of the people were the stereotyped Akiba characters I'd expected. Strangely, nearly all the women I saw had really big breasts, and in their high heels, looked to be in a perpetual state of pitching forward.

Zach showed up, and fueled by a pizza lunch, we set out to follow the Kanda River across the city. Most of it was along or under busy streets, but eventually we found ourselves walking a berm lined with cherry trees. This berm took us away from the river and around the Imperial Palace's western boundary. We discovered our mistake late, but just kept on heading west, past the squatting frog-shaped Canadian Embassy, past Kanze's Sogetsu Hall next door, and on into Aoyama where we caught a train to Shimokitazawa and some fine Microbeers.

The next morning was an early start to Nikko. Just off the train, Zach and I moved through the forest, past lone Jizo under the high trees, and past rows of devas guarding cliffs. There is such a solid grounding energy there, with the mountains and water and very tall trees. We found a small temple dedicated to En-no-Gyoja, which led to us a trail head we would have missed otherwise. This was the path to Nyoho-zan, a climb that is a whole lot of up. It never really levels off at all, and is pretty punishing for the calves. Most of my recent hikes have been along roads and paths and were therefore pretty low. Getting up high was a reminder of different trees and vegetation, especially the birches, stunning white against all the new green. The vegetation in Kanto is different than in Kansai, and I spent most of the walk marveling at new shapes and colors. A long trench led us far below the mountain floor, the high grass that lined it waving as we passed. Some of this had been smoothed out and used by deer for their naps. We followed suit, flattening out a good lunch spot, with the views of lakes and other peaks further out. Moving on, we passed the only other two hikers we'd see, though later we'd find reminders that others had come before. Close to the top, the mountain's vegetation fell away to become tall spires of rock. A small plague had been hammered into one high formation, telling of a climber (or climbers) who's died here in October 1958. It was an ominious introduction to the rock field to follow, which required a sideways walk against the steep side, shoes succumbing to gravity and sliding every few steps. Once across, we were rewarded with a view of hell itself, down into an immense valley which was hundreds of feet directly below. Looking over into he abyss, I could feel my own nether parts trying to retreat into my body, and taking that first step away from the edge was to move feet suddenly heavy and firmly fixed to the ground. The dark earth and black rocks gave this place the name Kuroiwa, a col that seemed as if it would just break off and fall into space at any moment. The sound of falling rocks and landslides was constant through the fifteen minutes or so that we'd been up there, adding to the ominous feel. Across from us, long slabs of snow were melting into the valley, dropping as waterfalls for hundreds of feet. There also appeared to be a cave sealed in ice. The peak still rose well above, but the remaining snow and the late afternnoon conspired from letting us summit. We turned and went across the rock field again, a little more quickly now. Upon reaching the other side, I could finally exhale. At 2295m, I'd climbed higher than I'd been in years. And though I'm no stranger to walking over 20 km, I really paid for those first 10. But while the feet soon forget, the mind retains: the feel of the air, the smell of trees, that peaceful feeling of gratitude. I need to get up high again soon.

The remaining time in Nikko entailed lots of good food, hot baths, and sadistic massage chairs. Five year old Eli enjoyed the latter most of all, his face a mix of wonder and joy, with just a dash of fear. One morning he and Zach and I hiked smooth boulders along a fast moving river, under the watchful eye of a hundred Jizo covered in moss. Leaving the river, we'd marvel at the height of trees, at stones with just the right heft for throwing, at shrines acting as portals to those places where kami dwell. The final morning, I did yoga in a weathered Tendai temple hundreds of years old, planting my feet firmly and twisting up like all those wonderful trees outside.

Back in rainy Tokyo Tuesday night to meet up with Taiko Tari. The next morning was clear and offered promise. After a breakfast of pancakes on her balcony, we headed west, about halfway to Takao, where we'd planned to walk an old village and enjoy an onsen. But we arrived at the station to heavy rains and a 45 minute wait for the bus. Plan B was an Italian lunch in Shinjuku at Fungo, though I saw no one playing baseball at all.

Rain accompanied me all the way back to Kyoto. Surprisingly, I got a clear view of Fuji when the clouds parted, to reveal a hint of high mountains to come...

On the turntable: Southside Johnny, "Grapefruit Moon"

On the nighttable: Eric Rohmer, "Six Moral Tales"


Maren said...

Microbrewery... mmm. those beers were good!

D said...

Hi Makes me feel very excited about being in Nikko soon.

I have a five year old daughter and she and I and her dad are travelling from Australia in a few weeks.

I want to go walking up there but am unsure where to get info about short walks that are ok with small children. My girl would love the bolders walk.

I agree what you say about the ground up there. It's really powerful. Your post took me back and I made me even more excited about returning to Japan with my family.

Great post!

ted said...

Thanks Daniela,

Hope you have a good trip.