(Hailstone Autumn Haike 2022, Day 1 – Oct.8)
Gose* is today a small, rural town in Nara Prefecture, but it was once one of the most developed areas in Japan. It used to be the home of the Katsuragi clan, which disappeared from the foreground of Japanese history at the end of fifth century, in spite of intermarriage with the imperial family. Mt. Katsuragi (959m) and Mt. Kongo (1125m) rise up steeply behind Gose.
harried by winds
yet holding fast ……. (David)
Under cloudy skies, seven Hailstone poets start climbing Mt. Katsuragi from a hamlet called Kujira. At first, the trail is a steep, zigzag climb, but before long we find a good vantage point and have lunch. Below us, we can see the landscape of Gose with its golden rice fields ready for harvest, scenery that has been sung about since Manyo* times.
The slope of the ridge trail then slackens a bit, and we join the Diamond Trail, which runs for about 45km from Nara to Wakayama and Osaka through Mt. Katsuragi and Mt. Kongo.
Katsuragi’s ridge －
one giant red pine
reaches for the sky ……. (Akishige)
Repeated ups and downs lead to the summit of Mt. Katsuragi. Unlike other mountains in Japan, it is covered with silvergrass (miscanthus), and one can see Nara, Wakayama, Osaka, and even Awaji Island and Kobe across Osaka Bay. To the north, the ridge extends all the way to the border with Kyoto. For most of its history the capital of Japan was located in the basin east of this ridge, moving northward (6th-19th centuries) from Asuka (just east of Gose), through Fujiwara, Nara, and finally to Kyoto. Originally, this would have been in consideration of protecting the capital from raids from the west (Asian continent).
Behind the silvergrass
shades of distant mountains
my mind goes quiet ……. (Margarite)
When we check in at the lodge just below the summit, we are joined by two friends who have come up by ropeway, but we part ways then and there with another friend who must return by the ropeway before nightfall.
the public bath to myself . . .
gushing from the stone lion’s mouth
steaming hot water ……. (Duro)
Harvest has come －
hastily a crow flies home
persimmon in beak ……. (Akishige, now down in Gose)
About a thousand years ago, Sei Shonagon, the female author of the Makura-no-Soshi*, asserted that autumn is best appreciated at sunset. Things have not changed! The sky is clearing, with the sun now dropping out of the clouds. Someone starts singing the Beatles’ “Here comes the sun.” Others join in. This evening, over the silvergrass moor, the lodgers will have to themselves the ever-changing sky and Osaka cityscape during sunset, dusk, and night.
to the purple mountains ……. (Kazue)
mountain view . . .
colors of the autumn sunset
sink into the sea ……. (Duro)
Tonight’s dinner is the lodge’s specialty, duck hot pot in citron-flavored soup stock. We soon realize why it had previously won the grand prix in the National Local Hot Pot Contest! In ancient times, the people of Yamato (Nara), as a show of gratitude, had offered to the gods some of the ducks and pheasants they had caught in the marshlands and along the irrigation channels. This custom is still preserved in the “Kaketori-no-Gi” ceremony of the On-matsuri festival at Kasuga Shrine in Nara.
After dinner, we gather in Tito & Kazue’s room and share some of our own haiku from the first day, while sipping Nara’s famous “Kaze-no-Mori” sake, made with local rice grown on the lower slopes of the mountain.*
(Day 2 – Oct.9)
Sun worshippers at dawn —
through trailing clouds
with an indigo halo
she shows her face ……. (Kyoko)
The early birds amongst us enjoy the changing colors of elongated clouds. Looking south, Mt. Kongo can be seen in the distance, a little stratus tethered to its summit. Just visible nestling in the hills to the east is the Gills’ new home, the ancient village of Asuka.
lakes of cloud,
a cloud that’s going
nowhere ……. (Tito)
After breakfast, waving goodbye to those descending by ropeway, five of us leave the lodge to descend Mt. Katsuragi to a col and, from there, climb Mt. Kongo. Rainclouds are approaching from the south. How long will the weather hold?
Bidding farewell to friends:
one miscanthus swaying
in the autumn breeze ……. (Tomiko)
We descend Mt. Katsuragi by continuing on the Diamond Trail, looking out over the silvergrass ears at distant mountains in multiple layers, and head for Mizukoshi Pass 450m below. This pass was once the site of a water rights struggle between Yamato (Nara) and Kawachi (Osaka).
wanting to stay
in this green hollow
so I can listen
to the invisible waterfall ……. (David)
After the pass, the track gradually increases in gradient and a murmuring in the distance becomes clearer. The spring water in this area is called “Kongo-no-Mizu” (water of Kongo) and is famous for its good quality. It is used to produce delicious sake and tofu in the towns below. Passing through a forest of cedar and cypress trees, we take a break at a panoramic spot looking back at Mt. Katsuragi. Although the feet and legs of some are beginning to scream, it surprises us to see just how far we have already come!
Mt. Kongo is a mountain of Shugendo practitioners (mountain ascetics in white livery who often carry a conch-shell on a rope around their necks). It is the mountain where En no Ozunu (En-no-Gyoja), the founder of Shugendo, practiced asceticism. Emerging from a beech forest, we visit Katsuragi Shrine, said to be headed by a descendant of the Katsuragi clan. Then, on the far side of the summit, we are greeted by the blowing of a conch and reach Temporinji Temple and assorted hiking shelters, where we must say goodbye to David, who as part of his race training is to run ahead of us down the mount!
As predicted, it begins to rain. We have lunch under an old lean-to, put on our rain gear, and leave the summit for our destination, Takamahiko Shrine, abode of the Katsuragi clan’s guardian deity, far below. We take the so-called “Postal Road,” where mail carriers used to shuttle between Gose town and the temple and shrine at the summit. The path has in recent years been severely damaged by typhoons, but is now passable once again, though in one landslip area, we are obliged to use a long, fixed ladder.
It is said Shugendo practitioners abandon their attachments by toughening themselves in the mountains. This is a time to confront themselves and try to appreciate that their own mind is gradually being sharpened as they walk. Far from their ascetic state, however, two of the party are now beginning to feel plain exhausted and to learn how very hard it is to descend such a mountain in the sombre rain, every step an ordeal!
The scar of landslide －
mountain rain trickles
down the madder* ……. (Akihiko)
Takamahiko Jinja is an ancient shrine with a rustic but sublime tree-lined approach. The deity is Takamimusubi, who resides on Mt. Haku’un, a spur of Mt. Kongo located behind the shrine. This area is said to be close to Takama-ga-Hara (Takamahara), the original realm of the Shinto gods, as described in the Kojiki*. The view from this hillside may truly be thought of as the original landscape of Japan, “Toyo-Ashi-Hara Mizuho-no-Kuni” (the country of rich marshy rice fields).
After crossing a rushing stream by a cascade, the mountain trail finally flattens out. Passing a watermill we see the sacred arch of the Shrine and learn that our long trail has come to an end.
Beyond a sea of tumuli
a peninsula of cloud:
our Takamahara view ……. (Tito)
1 Gose – lit. ‘August Palace’. This placename is pronounced “goss-eh.”
2 Manyoshu – the oldest collection of poetry in Japan, which features verse mainly from the 7th and 8th centuries.
3 Makura-no-Soshi – Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book, the earliest extant Japanese essay, thought to have been completed ca. 1001.
4 Nara is considered to be the ‘birthplace’ of sake.
5 madder – akane in Japanese, a local plant whose roots are used to make a crimson dye; akane-sasu is a pillow-word for dawn.
6 Kojiki – ‘Records of Ancient Matters’, compiled in 712, an early Japanese chronicle of myths, legends, and semi-historical accounts down to 641, concerning the origin of the Japanese archipelago, the kami (deities), and the Japanese Imperial House.