Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A meizanologist's diary (6)

October 13: to dinner in Kobe with the Senpai. The Senpai and I go back some decades. In our student days in Kyoto, we climbed Hakusan together. Just below Murodo, sandwiched between layers of rainy season clouds, we met the monks of Eiheiji, the Zen temple founded by Dōgen, filing down the narrow path in their black robes and straw sandals. Although I hadn’t yet learned the word for “reihō” (sacred peak), this scene got the concept across handsomely.

Much later, the Senpai made a vital contribution to Project Hyakumeizan by providing, in best just-in-time fashion, a copy of Heibonsha's Hito wa naze yama ni noboru no ka (Why do people climb mountains), a kind of who’s who in Japan's mountaineering history. At that time, I’d just started writing the introduction to the Nihon Hyakumeizan translation and was struggling to find out more about all the early mountaineers it mentions. The Senpai’s book set me on the way to finding the answers.

We stagger off home burdened with a large bag of delicacies furnished by the Senpai’s wife. Tucked into it are some mountain brochures that the Senpai thinks we might find interesting. Brochures for mountains? At first, I admit, I’m put off by the idea of marketing famous mountains like soap-powder. But a closer look helps to change my mind.

The brochure for climbing Mt Fuji is well-produced. It has a set of detailed maps, complete with realistic course times, for climbing the mountain from the Fuji-Yoshida (eastern) side. There’s good advice on planning your approach and what to bring – although do people really now wear helmets against stonefall on the Yoshida trail? Perhaps times have changed. At any rates, these hints should help to cut the accident rate.

What really gets my attention, though, is that the brochure gives you all the information you need to climb Mt Fuji from the mountain's foot – even though the authors recognize that most will take the bus to the Subaru Line station at 2,500 metres before starting to walk.

You start out from the big torii in the centre of Fuji-Yoshida and walk (or take a taxi) up the road to Naka-no-Chaya, the middle tea-house. A neat new pavilion has replaced the ruined teahouse (below) that you used to see here twenty years ago. And then up through the forest to Umagaeshi, the place where the horses used to stop ...

Climbing Mt Fuji this way takes more time - just over five extra hours, according to the map - but you'll walk in the path of pilgrims approaching their "reihō".

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