CATERPILLAR COUNTRY

MAY 2015

#043 – TAISHAKU-SAN

taishaku lr (1 of 7)

The Tanjo Mountains are a cluster of low peaks sitting at the western extremeties of the Rokko Range, the otherwise precipitous line of mountains that hem Kobe City in along the shoreline of Osaka Bay.  Taishaku-san, the highest point in the mountains and the nearby Tanjo-san, scene of one of the warlord Hideyoshi’s many mauraudings, were to be our targets for the day’s outing.

Though renowned for their autumnal splendour, a late spring sunshine lit the mountains in a vibrant patchwork of new season greens.  The Missus, The Kid and I climbed from a trail heading up into the hills abutting the back of a small township.  Through a darkened, swampy grove of  bamboo, where fat black frogs eyed our progress, we followed a gravelly path up to the main ridge.  There the fresh, soft leaves of spring proved hearty fare for newly hatched caterpillars.  Drunken and dislodged they dangled on thin, silky fibres from the trees overhanging our path.

We ducked and weaved like limbo dancers and prize fighters.  We flicked little greenies from our shoulders and packs and kept our eyes peeled for the ones reputed to be armed with payloads of stinging hairs.

On Tanjo-san we stood in a temple forecourt built on the foundations of the ruined Miki Castle and marvelled at the splendour of the maple canopy overhead.  A rogue suzumebachi startled us, flying out of a crack in the stonework.  Get stung by one of these giant Japanese hornets and you’ll know about it they say.  Get stung a second time and you’ll be dead or so their story goes.

Following the path that climbed towards Taishaku-san we passed a quiet cluster of graves in the woods.  It’s said that after the siege of Miki Castle by Hideyoshi the children who perished were buried on the mountain and we wondered if this was that place.

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Soon we were sweating on the open summit.  As we picnicked in the sunshine a woman appeared from the trail we’d climbed brandishing a shiny, silver, unfurled umbrella.  She was a local and knew to be prepared when on a spring hike in those parts, not, as we assumed, in case of any sudden early season squall or to counter the heat of the sun, but to shield herself from the onslaught of the caterpillars.

With morning turning to afternoon we continued our mountain traverse and took a plunging trail that eventually sent us down a dried up watercourse to a point where a side track led up over what I assumed were the old tailings of an abandoned mine shaft.  The Kid and I investigated, clambering across loose gravel and up to the base of a wooded cliff face where we found ourselves at a cave entrance barred by a sturdy metal grate.

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The story goes that copper and other ores were procured from this mine, and others in the area, from at least the time of the Bessho Clan’s claim over this district.  A point before Hideyoshi turned up and had his way with them near on 500 years ago.  After Tokugawa Ieyasu ousted Hideyoshi from top spot in the coalescing nation of Japan he sent prisoners to work the mines.  It’s said of the numerous souls that perished there on Taishaku most were uncerimoniously disposed of in a valley on the eastern side of the mountains, in a spot that became known as Hone-dani or Bone Valley.

The mine reached peak production during the Second World War when the scrounging for resources to equip the war effort reached fever pitch.  By the early 1970s however the mines in the district had fizzled out of existence.  The Kid and I dared not squeeze ourselves into the dark, waterlogged shaft that headed straight into the mountain.  Instead, after a couple of photos, we made our way back to the main path where The Missus patiently waited.  From there we strolled the trails dotted with stone relics out into the surrounding rice fields to a bus stop and a ride home.

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