Week 62

The trailhead at Kogane-yama is a sloped parking lot, typically gravel, with a small hutted toilet and a fence. Below, off to the left, runs a narrow stream, a babbling-type brook on steroids, which isn't saying much. I'm coming to associate that wooded sound of water with mountain-climbing: it's always after a drive along a poorly-maintained trail up to the trailhead that I step out, a little stiff from the drive, into air violently clean, as if years of living amongst cities and concrete has adapted me for city living, has adapted my respiratory system for carbon di- & monoxides, and so breathing totally clean air again, out in the wilderness, does for the first couple of minutes more harm than good, like starved prisoners eating their fill and collapsing from the shock.

Even if you don't like nature, if you're metro-/cosmopolitan and you own a MacBook Pro and a sound system worth more than $1000 and you wear lipstick and have a small fortune's worth of dressy-ass clothing for quote-unquote going out, your body will thank you for getting away from it. No number of cleanses or purges or whatever will clean out your body like a rough hike and three liters of water passed from pack through your body and back out again. It's like going to a spa or something, except you come out stronger for the experience.

Kogane-yama is a bit of a tricky mountain, visually speaking. You can see it from the main thoroughfare, Route 451 from Hamamasu to Takikawa, but it rears up with such misanthropic steepness that you can't believe, from where you stand, that it's climable without serious rock-face-mounting gear. And then along the rocky trail up to the trailhead the mountain disappears entirely and maybe you forget it for a little while, concerning yourself with the supplies (water, mixed nuts, bananas, &c.) that you forgot to bring, as I did. And so the hike starts out reasonably easily, a shallow grade along a trail wide enough to fit two, maybe three abreast in some places, grassy and strewn this time of year with fiery leaves, clean and quiet but for the whupping of birds' wings and the sound of the sea's wind coming up across the low bushes. When you stop moving you can catch the strangest noises, little scuttlings of tiny animals, usually drowned out by the roar of the world around them: you can hear the individual footprints of birds, of single leaves brushing up against others, of someone's bear bell distorted by the intervening forest, somewhere off in the distance. You can hear speaking, but not individual words: a distilled sound of humanity & of communication, totally unlike the sounds around it, wholly parsable from all those quiet forest noises even though you can't make out words or syllables or any kind of detail whatsoever.

But then with time you scale up what I might be able to stretch to call the lumbar of the mountain, the small of its back, the place that gentlemountains might place their hand to lead Kogane-yama out onto some tectonic dancefloor, and the trail starts getting a little steeper. We're (Jordan's here too) out of the sunlight at this point, in the shadow of the mountain itself, and the baked dirt on the sunny side gives way to full-on college-diploma mud, which for the record Vibram doesn't stand up very well to, grip-wise. This trail winds back up around the side, where the gentlemountain's hand will roam mid-dance, and we're back in the sun enough that the mud isn't so much sloppy muck as it was before and has congealed to a solid foothold, which thank goodness for that because the grade has increased from somewhere around 15 or 20 degrees to something like 50, and the path has disappeared almost entirely in favor of something like a well-trodden ravine directly up the side, complete w/ dangling paracord, and we're not so much going for a leisurely forest stroll so much as clambering, Batman-&-Robin-style, upwards across tree roots and boulders, using all four appendages, faintly aware that at any given moment something might give.

But once we get past the terror-of-the-unknown stuff & just let go of needing to know exactly when we're going to fall way way way off down this sort of huge outcropping which drops perilously & fatally to the right, there's a kind of serious beauty of the Edge, there. It comes close to, but isn't exactly, the beauty of balance, of everything being stacked together in just the perfect arrangement for momentary stasis to hold on to the world. All of which is compounded against the balance of our bodies by the rope against the mountain face, which is pretty cool on its own because it's halfway between hiking and rock climbing -- to say nothing of the whole I-see-a-sheer-drop-therefore-I-must-jump-off-it complex, knowing that at any moment you could fall over the Edge, that there's nothing actuallyholding you onto the side of the mountain but your own impulse and gravity; and gravity at any moment could become a serious problem for you, if you Go Over.

And that's the big like danger we face as we near the top: the fear and primordial thrill of Going Over. The mountain narrows way down as we near the summit, dropping off more of itself than any real mountain peak ought to. By the time we can hear the happy conversation of those already on the peak, there isn't much more left of Kogane-yama than a slim ridgeline and cliff faces on either side. And the peak itself -- more of a triple-peak, little saddles between them -- consists of a series of cold dirty outcroppings that look out of an old watercolor more than something time and pressure could have actually built.

And it's here that that dual fear-thrill of Going Over hits you the worst, holds you in the tight arms of vertigo, because you can stand up on the outcropping and look out over the valley below you, and off the fifteen or so kilometers to the Sea of Japan, and out to the Oshima Peninsula beyond, and everything before you is empty air. The ground drops off before your vision can pick it up, standing normally, which puts this weird optical-illusion sense in your head that you're already falling, that there's nothing beneath you at all. It's hypnotic. You stand and you stand and you don't really look at anything -- maybe at the white quivering waves just offshore, distantly -- and you just experience that big emptiness, the thin weight of all that air, of the wind, and then you realize that Jordan's been talking for maybe the past forty seconds or so and only now are you really processing that she's talking at all, because all sensory information has just been kinda backing up in your mental inbox for when you finally come back from the Edge, from the tunnel vision between you and the void before you.

Everything You Have Heard JET Programme Japan


Week 64

Twenty-fourth tour round the sun and I'm still enamoured of the autumn.


Week 61

Running 10 kilometres in Okoppe.