Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fuji, Twice Around

(Fragments from a longer work in progress.)

I'm undertaking a walk through a new geographical area, creating a new mental map of place and story and legend: 

Shiraito-no Taki, once a powereful pilgrimage spot is now a tourist site that time forgot.  Construction has torn into the hills above the falls, making it impossible to get down to where Kakugyo did his practice.

Along the ridge above Tanuki-ko, beneath my beloved Buna trees..  This forest has a spooky nature, with the ominous and prolonged cries of deer sounding again and again.  The landscape lending itself to the images of a state of decay.  The sky is turning cold and gray.  The mind of an American begins to turn itself to Halloween, to spooks and goblins, and the ghostly nature of this type of landscape.  As I finally reach an overlook, drums begin to beat down in the valley below.

The hillsides above Tanuki-ko are completely harvested and replanted with sugi.   Absolutely no deviation.  Forest as desert.  Lining the lake sides are the ubiquitous sakura, bare symbols at this time of year, a textbook definition for mono no aware.

Walking the long twenty km stretch to Motosu-ko.  Hang gliders ride the thermals in the hills above.   Down here is an entire village of abandoned bessho, everything overgrown.  A monument to the bubble years, and a testament to the short term lifespan of excess.  That uncrossable stream in the rains of September is now completely dry.  Cars drive across as we pass over the narrow rock 'bridge.'  The brilliant green waters of the wasabi farms.

Aokigahara as life affirming, life enhancing rather than a place for suicide. Ancient caves and tubes, many collapsed upon one another, completely overgrown with trees and moss. Trees of an older type, ancient forest; the roughness of terrain prevents forestry. Mismanagement down the left side of trail, all sugi monoculture.  A strong contrast on the right side, wild and untouched. Here, there is birdsong. 

At Lake Saiko, a town on cusp of autumn.  The occasional view of people walking along the lakeside, and as the sun goes over the ridge line at 4 o'clock, they begin to appear in warmer jackets.  There's a little slice of West Virginia behind the hotel, in a little rustic cabin in a campsite out of season.  I decide to take a stroll, but it becomes chilly quickly, so come back to my room, and to tea.

A taxi ride at dawn to Sengen Jinja with a stinky cab driver reeking of cigarettes.  At this early hour, miko are doing their thing, sweeping and bowing, sweeping and bowing. I remember the trail up to the summit from where I started in the summer of 1995, lined with giants cedars.  Outside the main torii, a couple of bucks are practicing their bujutsu, locking horns in a loud clack that sounds exactly like a pair of bokken.  After days on ridges and through forest, I'm disappointed that this section of trail to Yamanaka-ko takes me along so many roads.  I'm accompanied for awhile by the sound of gunshots, and the maps begin to diverge from reality.  This is all SDF land here, and the trail has been diverted around it.  Back in a level section of forest, I meet an Iranian guy who is a journalist for Al-Jazeera, a nice fellow. I eventually get to the trailhead, but decide on a bowl of noodles first.  There is a film crew there, who are doing a tourist piece for NHK.  They order for me and buy my meal, which I eat on camera.  Thankfully, they don't ask me to say, "Oishi!" and make cum faces.  I chat with the producer awhile, and we share a half dozen friends in common.  Small place, this Japan.  I carry on uphill, over very challenging terrain.  At the top are a few hiking groups, eating lunch in the sun.  I rest awhile, then go over and over the rolling hills and those annoying wooden logs that cause grief for the knees.  I descend along a washed out section of trail, using my poles like I'm skiing, moving at great speed down to the lake.  I'm not exactly clear how to get down to Hakone, so wind up hitching and allow someone else decide.  My driver seems to dislike foreigners, railing a long while about the Chinese, and I'm not exactly sure why he gave me a lift.  My next ride is with a bus, into Yumoto, and the night brings the rain that had been threatening all day. 

 I'm falling in love with this mountain.  I'm seeing it from all angles, ala Hokusai, noting the subtle differences in complexion, and the changes in expression.  I begin to see the mountain everywhere,  in the shape of pots, or other man-made objects.  One morning I sit before a mirror in the hotel bath, noting the slopes of the mountain reflected over my bare shoulders, and am lost awhile in how my trapezius muscles have a similar pitch.   

On my September walks, the mountain had hidden herself in cloud, offering up only small parts of herself.  But like the glimpse of the back of a woman's neck, they were tantalizing.  In the clearer days of October, she revealed all.  For an entire week, I'd been looking at a mountain that had commanded the landscape, its broad base stretching to the limits of vision.  The surrounding hills that I walked had ringed a vacuum, one created by, and now filled with, this immense volcano.

I'll be back in spring...

On the turntable:  Gary Numan:  "Living Ornaments '80"
On the nighttable:  Merry White, "Coffee Life in Japan"


blaine said...

These are my favorite kind of your posts. This was really good.

"Forest as desert."

As much as I like being out in the mountains I always think about this. I try to imagine the original forest. It makes me sad in a way. I also find it amazing that people could cut so much of the mountain forest down.

ted said...

That will change I think, as Japan, Inc. is losing so much money due to absenteeism related to pollen allergies. Millions of dollars a year, I heard. I think the current plan is a reversion to the older forests.

In the meantime, go higher...