15 April: at Imajo, the sakura glow brighter under a leaden overcast. The townlet lies south of Fukui, yet its cherry trees have yet to start shedding their petals. That may be due to a slightly cooler climate, thanks to the wooded hills that backstop the town’s southern boundary. These we’ve come to inspect.
We start our climb of Fujikura up a flight of stone steps that leads past vegetable gardens to a shrine.
A sign warns us about bears, but the wire fence at the wood’s edge suggests that wild boars are the real menace around here, especially if you grow vegetables. This slope will soon shimmer blue with dog violets (katakuri), says the Sensei, but we seem to be a few weeks early. Ah well, you can’t have your sakura and see your katakuri too.
The grey skies spit with rain as we zig-zag higher. The Sensei wears a cagoule, and I wield an umbrella, which is bad for my balance. “Shall we give up?” she asks, sensing my lack of enthusiasm for this slippery path. “Give up what?” I reply, “We haven’t got anywhere yet.” Fujikura does not promise to be one of our more inspirational outings.
At half height on the ridge, we pass a course of stonework and the bramble-filled shadow of a ditch. Apparently, there was a castle here during the warring country period, although too little remains to prompt Bashō-style ruminations on forgotten warriors’ deeds. Besides, I remind myself, we don’t do mujō.
Crossing from Fujikura to Nabekura, the twin summit, we enter a beechwood. At 500 metres or so, this seems remarkably low for trees that favour a cool climate. A snowpatch that we crunch through as we start descending the northern slope helps to explain the presence of a particularly magnificent beech grove, the leafless trees sheltering the path like a pillared hall.
Lower down, we come across a climatic signal of another kind. The tree trunks in a plantation of cryptomeria are bound up in plastic twine – to protect them against deer, explains the Sensei. In days gone by, the snow would have been too deep for these animals to make a living up here.
As the rain has stopped, a late lunch is taken on the steps of a deserted temple. Tucking into the Sensei’s industrial-strength onigiri, we’re too hungry to be distracted by the flowering tree over by the belfry. The operative haiku is this one:-
花よりもよしや吉野の葛団子 (17th century; anonymous)
Hana mo yoshi ya, Yoshino no kuzudango
Lo, they beat the blossoms; Yoshino’s kudzu dumplings.
(Translation: Robin D. Gill)