大山 – Literally: ‘big mountain’. It was the Sunday following the Jack Johnson concert that Kyunai Ayaka-san’s enthusiasm for hiking took us up to the summit of Mt. Daisen (height 1729m) – an extinct volcano located in Tottori Prefecture.
While the height is about 1700m, I think the foot of the mountain is already 900m or so above sea level, meaning we only actually climbed about 800m. I may be wrong on this, but anyway, I know that’s the minimum we climbed. In addition to that, the path (in most places, where not damaged from fallen trees in last year’s typhoons) was laid out with steps and rocks, so it was a simple enough ascent without any scrambling or real danger – though it would be a tougher climb if it was done off the beaten track.
Kyunai-san arrived at 00.30am to pick me and we drove to the foot of Daisen in around 3 hours, travelling down the almost deserted expressway. Conversation was scattered and ran fleetingly across various topics. But sometimes when words did not manifest, long distances of black road with nothing but Sting’s ‘Mercury Falling’ CD playing. Am I alone in feeling awkward when silence becomes between two people? At least with people I feel I don’t know well enough… I sit in a strained wonder, as if hoping for some telepathic reassurance that the other person, too, feels uncomfortable. Some signal to vanquish the sense of failure in relating…
Mist began to sweep over the windshield of the car as we neared Daisen, a heavy, wet air but thankfully at that time, without any rain. We parked up and rested in the car for a half hour until 4.00am. I guess Kyunai-san was fairly tired (and I gathered, hungry, from the acute grumblings of her stomach ^_^;;), but I felt unusually awake and so sat listening to the ensemble of stomach noises and twanging sounds of raindrops falling on the car’s roof – we so happened to have parked under a water-ladden tree.
We set off at good pace along the steep woodland staircase ascending the mountain, having to use torches at first as only transparent rays of night light broke through the trees. The odd early bird called to us in a tropical accent, and I was reminded of the Malaysian rainforest. Before I came to Japan, I foolishly envisioned it as only a country made of concrete and neon, but in fact, as you leave the cities, and certainly, to the extreme North and South of the country, a whole new side appears. As we strode on, the forest canopy leaked a new rain, soaking through my rucksack and providing that uncomfortable sticky sensation from being too hot and wet. Kyunai-san was tiring quickly at the pace on an empty stomach, so we alternated leading.
Soon though, a strikingly atmospheric gossamer light emerged as we climbed, lifting our spirits; a battle between the dark of night and blue morning in a ring of mist. And the air was so fresh once we broke through the lower level forest! I sucked in great gulps of it hoping to retain it’s energy and stared blindly into the thick white sky around us. I could have been carrying a Duke of Edinburgh’s pack, or, dare I say it, even Chris’s monsterously heavy army kit and I wouldn’t have cared less. For the vigour the air gave me! ‘This is what walking’s all about’ I thought ^_^. It couldn’t be helped.
We pushed hard to the top, the visibility poor beyond 20m, and along the shallower wooden walkways that laid the final steps to the marked summit. Kyunai-san stopped us at odd times to point out random flowers and even snap a small plant from the ground and toasted to eat it ^_^. It’s fun to walk with someone who knows what the fauna and flora are – and most of the things she pointed out were additionally ‘oishii!’ (delicious) when used in foods :p. I was disappointed to hear a great commotion along the final stretch due to a wind-powered generator feeding a small building. But, aside from the noise and poor visibility, a pale disc burned through the cloud about 6.00am. We’d missed the sunrise (which would have been obscured by the cloud anyway), but it didn’t detract from the happy sensation of making it up there.
We rested in the warm building for a couple of hours; a lively jostle of people eating noodles and snacks and a line of younger students tucked up in sleeping bags along the upper floor. Curry rice and ramen cooked on a portable stove and slurped down noisily in gratitude – we had a pleasant chat while eating and mused over the design ‘ingenuity’ of cheap metal-handled pans (oO;) and general outdoor topics. It was one of those moments that I think has become locked in my memory.
A vignette: a small frosted window showed nothing but mist outside, the sloping recline of the attic-style wooden roof above us, the slumbering of multi-coloured sleeping bags behind me, Kyunai-san’s yellow raincoat, defined wet hair and glowing smile as she toasted the cup ramen. Sometimes scenes become locked instantaneously, and other times, I ponder over an event recently happened and can recall a frame in vivid detail. Whether or not these images will be subject to the ebb of time and have focus blurred like even those less-defined memories, I don’t know, so I’ll try to hold onto them all the more. I hope such words might help solidify their presence and falsify that nasty supposition that: ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. Can any amount words ever capture the real essence of the image to be conveyed? I, myself, fear they cannot; but yet books continue to be written and words wrangled furiously to depict pictures. ~~I’m following a tangent here, so perhaps I’ll revisit this another time…
Trudging down the mountain was generally painful and not as fun as the ascent. It rained, it hurt, and it rained. Not hard, but with a dejected ‘splish-splash’ drizzling that carried more force than any heavy shower. Today’s rain didn’t invigorate me like it usually does. We reached the array of temples at the bottom and walked around a bit before heading back to the car, stopping only for the resonant clicking of a frog, hidden somewhere beneath the large stepping-stone path we trailed. Kyunai-san seemed to share an affection for frogs; no doubt enhanced by my charged marvel at the topic ^_^;. It was such that, later that day, back near Shiso, she drove us to a stretch of road where she’d seen tree-frog nests. Between that time, we stopped in Yubara (Okayama prefecture) for an outdoor onsen to wash away mountain fatigue. My first proper outdoor onsen! – save for this one not having medicial properties – and also a bowl of soba noodles.
I feel I’ve written far too much description already to further, no doubt, *enthrall* you with the goings-on of these frogs and their strange bubbly-wads of eggs, so I’ll draw this day to a close. Suffice to say, it was a fantastic day by the end of it. As I wrote in my paperback diary; I’m glad I stayed longer in Japan, at least just for this ^_^.