#40 – THE TANZAWA MOUNTAINS
It was my fifth night in the capital.
I sucked on another beer.
The music in the dirty club was loud, thumping, repetitive. I wasn’t getting any action – mountains or otherwise.
September had arrived. Autumn. I should have been up and down Tanzawa-san by then but the weather had me stuck in a holding pattern. The blue skies of August had been summarily banished and replaced with a dark, impenetrable layer of moisture laden cloud that hung over the city like a sodden sleeping bag. At its worst, sudden bursts of monsoon like torrents would send the masses, young and old alike, scattering into department stores, street side cafes, under overpasses. At best the oppressive humidity whipped the air to the consistency of porridge, virtually suspending in mid air the mistlike drizzle drifting through it. Barely a breath of breeze blew. Daylight struggled to penetrate the cloud.
I’d holed up with Kitty-chan, a former work colleague from my teaching days in Osaka. While I was hiking through Japan she had been eeking out a Masters thesis involving something geo-political that resided well beyond the scope of my intelligence.
She’d generously shoehorned me into her matchbox sized dorm room out in Tokyo’s leafy suburbia. The campus was quiet. Summer break stretched into Autumn for most of the students. There was a coin laundry and a bank of vending machines within reach and a convenience store and station were a short stroll away. Ah, life in the big smoke.
I’ll probably just be there a week or two at the most,” I assured her when I called ahead from Maebashi, “And the majority of that I’ll be out in the mountains.”
Five days after arriving I was yet to hit the hills.
Shod with a new pair of boots, invigorated by the promise of a new leg of the journey, a journey over hills sporting the backdrop of the magnificent Mount Fuji, I was ready for action.
Amidst all the grey, a window of blue skied days opened up and I headed staraight for the Tanzawa Mountains, not far out of Tokyo. By late afternoon that sunny September day I arrived on top of Tanzawa-san and set up shop in the cosy hut situated slap bang on the summit.
Five hours of hiking on trail had set my new boots off into a feeding frenzy in which they attempted to devour my heels and toes. Pounding the Tokyo pavement had done little to soften up the boots, something they were working at their utmost to achieve on me.
The trails winding up into the Tanzawa Mountains took my mind off the pain. Soft, leafy pathways snaked gently upwards through splendid woodland scenery cleansed by the recent rains. On top, outside the hut, Fuji-san was no longer a distant blip on the horizon.
Pale blue in the lengthening afternoon light, Fuji-san dominated the view to the west off the mountain. I stared out across a cotton wool cloud sea lapping at the flanks of the mountainside below me. Mountain grasses swayed in the breeze, their heads laden with fluffy payloads of seed glowing golden in the afternoon light. I watched Fuji turn a deep shade of apricot and patted myself on the back for waiting out the grey days to witness such a sight.
Three of us shared the top floor of the hut that night. I had expected to see more hikers given the mountains’ proximity to the Tokyo-Yokohama conflagration. The night turned out to be a quiet one and much to my relief, that meant a snoreless one as well.
The following morning I strolled over to Hiru-ga-take, the highest peak in the Tanzawas, watching a deep purpley-brown Fuji be slowly consumed by cloud sweeping in through the mountains from the east.
I headed out of the hills on a northerly course after chatting with the master at the Hiru-ga-take Hut who shared some of his breakfast of pickles and rice. Downhill wasn’t as rough on the feet as uphill. Brilliant sunlight returned, chasing the mid morning mountain mists away and I quietly prayed for more days of the same.
Sadly though, the gods had wetter ideas…