20 March: we coast in above Niigata at more than 1,000 kilometres an hour. Not bad for a vintage Airbus, although one should thank the jetstream for a fifth of that groundspeed. So meteoric is our progress that I almost miss the sprawl of mountains that slides past my portside window.
And sprawl is the operative word here.
Iide is more a range than a mountain, writes Fukada Kyūya in One Hundred Mountains of Japan: The enormous massif sprawls over the three prefectures of Niigata, Yamagata, and Fukushima.
The Hyakumeizan author liked to view his mountains at a leisurely pace, ideally on foot or, at a pinch, from the windows of a train. In our day, though, a glimpse from a speeding jet can sometimes help to illustrate his words:
We simply followed the main ridge system, Fukada wrote, but this was to ignore the lengthy ridges that spread from this axis and the deep-drawn valleys between them. Seeing how the massif sprawled out in all directions, I sensed an infinitude of mysteries lurking within.
There’s barely time to snap a photo of that wild dendrite of ridgelines before the engines fade to a whisper and we start slanting down towards Narita, still hundreds of kilometres away. Wait, isn’t that Bandai-san coming up now? Goodness, it's one Meizan after another on this flight....