26 October (continued): starting down Amakazari, we swap the chill northside shadows for a sunny east-facing ridge. At first, the path is easy. Then the ridge pinches down into the spiny back of a stegosaurus. We put our hands to stone again.
After scrambling down the warm, dry rocks, we pause to admire their grey-green hue, subtle as a celadon vase. This must be the “hornblend porphyrite”, as marked on the Geopark map given us by our kind host this morning (“Agemasu!”, he said when I asked for one).
Descending into the trees turns the calendar back to mid-autumn. The blizzards of falling leaves we saw on the north side haven’t started here; instead, the woods flaunt their yellow and gold intact. We’ve arrived in peak koyo.
Now the going is easier, I wonder why Fukada chose this mountain as one of his elite one hundred. Amakazari lacks the literary fame of, say, Naeba and Myoko, two nearby Meizan. And, unlike them, it doesn’t top the 2,000-metre line. Nor, apart from Monk Rakan, was it a mountain that pilgrims sought out.
Perhaps that's why Fukada himself seems a bit diffident about introducing its attractions: Indeed, he writes in Nihon Hyakumeizan, most travelers will hardly notice this shy, almost petite mountain, spell-bound as they are by the ramparts of the Ushiro-Tateyama range towering over the road to their left.
After failing to scale the mountain’s northern side with his brother – this was in the early summer of 1941 – Fukada came back two weeks later, to try his luck from the Otari hot springs. This time his companion was Koba Shigeko, an acquaintance and perhaps a sweetheart from his high-school days. Shigeko is airbrushed out of the relevant Nihon Hyakumeizan chapter – with good reason, as Fukada was still married to his first wife at that time. In the end, four days of rain forced them to give up.
Could it be that memories of this romantic interlude swayed the Hyakumeizan author's judgment when it came to selecting Amakazari for his list? The question has just floated to mind when the path rounds a corner, presenting us with a classic view – the cliffs of Futonbishi erupting, well, metaphorically speaking, above the rugged defile of Arasuge-sawa.
When, after the war, Fukada returned to Amakazari, it was this gully that led him and his guide towards the long-sought summit – in those days, there was no manicured path up the mountain. But the scenery in that gully must be spectacular, even if you need to keep a wary eye open for rocks bouncing down from above.
From this angle, Amakazari looks to the tourist like a bunched fist, punching its way clear of the moribund terrain that surrounds it. And, for once, the savants might agree with that touristic impression. A glance at the geological map shows how Amakazari’s igneous rocks have intruded through older, softer sedimentary beds.
Thirdly, a mountain must have an air of distinction, wrote Fukada in the essay explaining how he chose his mountains … I do not concern myself with humdrum, run-of-the-mill mountains. It may be true that, as all mountains are different, all have distinguishing features. But this is not enough. What I look for is an extraordinary distinctiveness.
Clambering over the gully’s parapet, we walk down into an easier country of woods and marshes - the iron-hard porphyrite has given way to sandstones of a loucher character.
In this hospitable landscape the trees grow taller and, before they hide the view, I glance back for a last look at Amakazari. Yes, Fukada was right: “Extraordinary distinctiveness," I find myself murmuring.
But there's nobody left to listen: the Sensei has gone on to find a sunny glade for our lunchtime halt.