Autumn Haike 2015

Compared with last year’s Autumn Haike–-a four-day muscle-straining event on and around Mt. Tsubakurodake in Nagano–-this year’s, held on October 31st, was a low-key affair, and a very pleasant one at that: a day’s climb up and down Mt. Bunagatake, one of Japan’s 二百名山 (200 Famous Mountains). Its popular trail begins about an hour’s drive to the northeast of Kyoto city.

Following some last-minute cancellations and adjustments, we find ourselves a party of nine, arriving from different directions (Kyoto, Osaka and Shiga) huddled, respectively, into three vehicles. Five of us travel in a van: Stephen (driver), his wife Kazue, Richard Donovan, Kumiko and myself. At about 9:40 we pull into the car park, nestled in the gorgeous Hosonogawa valley. We seem to be the last to get here and are promptly told the car park is full! Stephen gives it a try anyway, and after some wheeling around the lot, he spots a narrow opening between two SUV’s. The van just fits!

We put on our hiking gear, double-check the contents of rucksacks, adjust the length of trekking poles, take a sip of water for luck. As promised, Stephen lends me his wooden stick, and, for the day at least, I fancy myself a wandering Bashō.

Before starting the ascent, we walk past some pretty wooden houses. A woman is washing daikon radishes in a clear stream. We proceed over a red wooden bridge and past some maple trees beginning to turn orange.

The path is suddenly constricted by the low buildings of Myōō-in temple. Here, there is a water-basin (chōzubachi), enveloped in moss, and a moss-capped lantern (ishidōrō). Under an eave of the main sanctuary hangs a massive hornets’ nest no one dares approach. Some of our hikers are already moving up the hill, so the rest of us try to catch up, only to realize this mountain is not to be taken lightly!

Fluffy dog:
an all-important guide
up the staircase slope

……………………………. Kumiko

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Bright leaves on the ridge —
there is one mikan
deep in my pack
……………………………. Richard

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Making a dash
across fallen red maples …
a monkey brat!
……………………………. Tito

a bright tinted beech forest
after the dark cedar slope:
Pocari-Sweat!
……………………………. Hisashi

It takes most of us two hours of trekking through dense woodland to reach the top of Gotenyama. Here, at long last, we are able to appreciate panoramic views.

not lonely at all
but filled with a hum of voices,
autumnal peak
……………………………. Hisashi

Five of our entourage choose to remain here, while the ‘shifters’ trek on towards Mt. Bunagatake’s crest. I stay with the ‘loungers’, blaming my untrained legs. We savour lunch packs as rays of sunshine warm our wind-thumped backs.

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The windy summit…
you walk over, slide the hood
over my shaven head
……………………………. Branko

On their return from Bunagatake peak, the ‘shifters’ tell us of a 360-degree vista which included the vast blue expanse of Lake Biwa. They have even witnessed the celebrity, Youki Tanaka, summitting, together with a camera crew, no. 184 of the 200 Famous Mounts he is running up.

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The descent–often the more perilous part of tackling a mountain–shows us the world in a rather different light.

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A bending cedar
creaks like a rusty door:
and I’d thought that trees
couldn’t speak!
……………………………. Branko

We notice photos of a hiker gone missing a week or two ago pinned here and there along the trail. He’s probably in his late fifties, and his face looks grim. What on earth could have happened to him?

To an uprooted tree
still clinging onto
its root-trapped stones,
Halloween breeze
……………………………. Tito

Apart from minor slips, the descent goes smoothly… and, one by one, all of us reach the valley floor in one piece. As the sun sinks behind the western mountain ridge, the temperature suddenly drops. At Chizuru’s recommendation, we drive off to a restaurant in Katata: an opportunity to revitalize and share some of the day’s haiku.

On the way back home, winding along the pitch-black mountain roads, some of us remember ghost stories. Just ask Kazue. She will surely tell you a spine-chilling one!

7 Responses to “Autumn Haike 2015”

  1. A great day, wonderfully recounted! Some excellent haiku too. I think my favourite is the very last one, Tito’s four-line ku. Thank you, Branko, for sharing this with us.

    • I also enjoyed reading this account of the autumn haike. I had many occasions to look at the Hira mountains from the Biwako lakeside, but I have never attempted to climb. In my opinion, they are most beautiful in late autumn when the peaks are snow-capped and bottoms are in autumn colours. Mt. Bunagatake looks rather dry in the pictures. So is the prose section, especially at the beginning, but the poems are interesting. I especially enjoyed reading Tito’s haiku on the monkey brat. Branko’s poem on the creaking cedar tree is also very fine. Big trees creak when we have strong wind as if they were complaining. That is exactly what I do now as an old man. Sosui (Nobuyuki Yuasa)

  2. thank you sharing for these brilliant reflections of the day…feels like being there esp for those unable to attend.

  3. Richard Donovan Says:

    Thanks, Branko. An evocative balance of prose and poems. As one of the ‘shifters’, I can confirm Bunagatake offered fabulous panoramic views — and the first biting wind of autumn. The hike is almost unique among the mountain hikes I’ve done in the Kansai area in the way it opens out onto that vast plateau between Gotenyama and Bunagatake, affording an expansive vista of pampas grass, autumnal trees, rippling ridgelines, extending outward to Lake Biwa and even Kyoto City. But the first and last hours are brutal on the ascent and descent.

  4. Kazue doesn’t remember the ghost story she told us!

  5. Richard Donovan Says:

    Spooky, Tito! 乗っ取られたかも….

    • Tito, Kazue’s story was the one about the two of you visiting one ghostly manor house in England. It is genuinely spooky esp. being a firsthand experience. Worth being shared, or turned into a short story!

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