Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Out in the Blue
Wes sat out front of Tenri Station, warming himself in the sun. Someone was sitting beside him, who I thought might be a missionary from this town's eponymous sect of Buddhism, but it turned out to be a farmer, who wanted Wes to commit to nothing more than explaining what he was doing in this remote part of Nara prefecture. As he and I walked off, a nearby pair of proselytizers kept up their rap, until the closing of the taxi door severed the flow.
I was happy that I was able to propose to Wes a hike that he hadn't yet done, as he has seemingly hiked just about everything in Japan, every step well documented in his web site, Hiking in Japan. This particular peak of Ryu-ō-zan was for me the final hike in a book on the Tokai Shizen Hōdō, and while the mountain wasn't on the course itself, it promised a pleasant diversion.
Another goal for the day would be a gear test of sorts, as I wanted to see how a couple of new jackets would fare in preparation for a trip to Lapland later in the month. But the 16 degree skies put an end to that, and inevitably the only thing to get tested was my patience, as a guardman tried to tell us that we couldn't walk through. He wasn't terribly persistent, as we didn't even change stride, not even for the actual workmen further on, who seemed not to see us.
A sign warning us about wild dogs was a brief concern, but they proved to be no obstacle either, probably off sunbathing somewhere. We arrived unmolested at the first promontory of the day, upon a wide open clearing that had once served as the northern castle keep for the Toochi-clan during the mid-16th Century. The views beneath the day's clear clear skies inspired, but were topped by the ruins of the slightly higher southern keep a short walk away. To the south lay Hira and Ibuki, with the Omine peaks far to the south. Osaka lay at the edge of the eye's reach, backlit by the sun. Below, the Yamato plain was nocked and grooved with the dormant paddies of winter, their bounty once the source of economy for the great burial tombs that brought imperfection to their straight lines.
After a quick lunch we made an even quicker descent down past the Fudo-myō statue towering over the stream at Chōgaku-ji's Oku-no-in, then past a shrine for the mountain above, with its warning about dangerous reptiles. While exploring a slightly overgrown side path we came across the entrance for a seemingly nameless burial mound, one that puzzled as it was halfway up the mountain rather than on the plains as was more common. As I prepared to enter, Wes warned me about wild boars, but all we found was a bricked up doorway in the darkness.
There were further mysteries on the way down, including well-kept but forbidden side trails, places for aescetic waterfall practice, and some unusually carved Jizo. Back in the sunshine again, we passed a car that had been driven into an irrigation ditch, and sat a long while in front of a new hiker's center that hadn't been here when I passed through ten years ago. While that had been hot stroll along a mid-summer Yama-no-be-no-michi, todays' weather was far more pleasant, even as we replicated the walk at a much quicker pace, so quick that I completely missed the burial mound for the legendary shaman-queen Himiko just to the west.
The idea had been to get to Miwa station before the train to grab a coffee. We were literally racing the clock, and arrived just as my transport home pulled in. But the day was too nice, the air too warm, so I decided to catch a later one and pick my daughter from school up a few minutes late. So Wes and I leaned into our respective ergonomic grooves in the trunk of an ancient oak, reminiscing about the days when of youth, when the future was open and ripe for building the civilization that is adulthood.
On the nighttable: Ian Buruma, "Anglomania"
On the turntable: 77, "Revolution Rock"