“the beaten path is beaten fast”

9/25/11       9:50

Sometimes you just gotta climb a friggin’ mountain by yourself.

And I don’t even mean that metaphorically.

It started last week with a message from my friend, Rich, who studied at Gaidai about four years ago.

“You wanna see a sweet-ass sunset?”

As a self-professed connoisseur of sunrises, sunsets, [and logically, fiddler on the roof], I could not turn down an opportunity presented to me as such. “It’s a great place to view the sunset over the Keihan valley. And it’s beautiful to see the sun go down and the street and window ligh…” Say no more, Rich. I’m already in.

Of course, I tried to get people to come with me in the days before, but everyone sort of bailed. I mean, they were all good reasons, so no hard feelings, but I was sort of annoyed like I get whenever this sort of thing happens. One of my biggest pet peeves… Anyway.

I spent the entire morning lazing about and doing things because I wanted to [which tends to lighten my mood]. I watched the premiere of “the New Girl” and also the season premiere of the Office [which I loved, of course.] I played with Gen-chan and took intermittent naps. I also did a bit of business, rereading Rich’s message and scrawling a map out from Katanoshi Station to the big rock on top of 交野山Katanoyama [zan?] that google-maps helped me locate. I filled a water bottle up, stuffed my cameras and a light sweater in a backpack and set out to do some hiking.

Like I said in the previous post, ever since that last typhoon hit, the weather has been pretty sweet lately. The crisp air of a Florida winter… in September. It’s the best. I walked to Korien station like I do for school every morning, then switched trains at Hirakata to get to Katanoshi station. I got off and started walking. Walking east through Katanoshi, Aoyama, and Jinguji, towards a little blotch on the google map image I had memorized that marked the entrance to the trails up Katano Mountain. There were fields and fields of some sort of grain [I’m assuming rice…] all the way up until… a huge wall.

Hm. What to do… A recently built highway that did not appear on Google maps has suddenly blocked my path. I’ve come all this way just to be foiled by an… Oh, there’s the pedestrian pathway. Derp. And on my merry way I continued.

Jinguji is a town famous for grapes apparently. I walked through vineyard after vineyard trying to get to the back of the town that bordered the foot of the mountain and in my hurry, I didn’t snap any photos, but it’s okay. Grapes aren’t that exciting anyway. If you wanna see grapes, go through the archives and find my Cinque Terre, Italy post.

And then I found it. Behind a tennis court, just as Rich said in his message. The path was overgrown and the shade of the trees held a cool stillness interrupted only by the omnipresent screaming cicadas ._. Also, if I haven’t mentioned already, I hate bugs, so the cicada moltings, praying mantises, spiders, and other critters lining the path up the mountain did nothing to calm my heart-rate already heightened because hiking is a bitch.

Up and up I went on the barely-there path, with the sun quickly threatening to sink below the horizon before I even got to the top. A couple times, I had to collapse on the steps [if you could even call them that anymore] to catch my breath, rest my leg muscles, and slow my heart rate before continuing on the interminable path up the mountain. I passed a few 日本人 hikers but there was nothing more than a こんにちは and a parting 気をつけてください before I was on my way again.

And then, after about one million and a half steps–I counted–the entire valley lay before me. It’s a rocky outcropping [with a steep drop-off x_x one slip and you’re dead] and if you sit at the edge, you’ve got Osaka in the distance on your left, Hirakata and other suburbs before you, Kyoto on your right, and Nara prefecture behind you. Other highlights include Awaji Island beyond the sea past Osaka, Mt. Hiei next to Kyoto, and a mountaintop resort somewhere nearby. Glorious.

[The collection of buildings on the left is Osaka]

Several more hikers came by and stopped by the rock to enjoy the view before leaving without a word. But then the last couple came: an elderly man and I’m assuming his daughter [I turned out to be right]. They set up tripods and took out their Nikon SLRs, aiming to catch the fading sunset. We chatted a little about what we could see from here [which made up the majority of the previous paragraph] and we took pictures for each other.

The older man told me two lies straight off the bat:

# 1) “I mistook you for a Japanese.”


# 2) “You’re a very handsome young man. You look like an actor.”

When I write it out now, it sounds really creepy, but at the time, I was just being enthralled by the view and didn’t really care to think about it that way. Which is how it should be. People are too suspicious these days. But yeah, thanks old man, for the compliment. He took a couple shots for me with my camera and I stayed until the sun sank below the mountains on the opposite side of the valley.

The old man had told me that, well, “These mountain… here… is … my garden.” [Oh, really] “I can… get down… without… blind.” [Gotcha.] So I started down the path with the old man and his daughter because otherwise I’d be navigating these steep stairs without a flashlight and that would probably mean me tangled in some roots, with a broken leg, and being eaten by spiders. ::shudder:: We made more small talk about where I was studying and where we’ve traveled. I actually didn’t know the way down the mountain so I just trusted that they knew where they were going. And they came across… their car.

Oh no, they’re going to give me a ride. I’ve been such an inconvenience already. ;_; We drove through the narrow paths that criss-crossed the Jinguji vineyards and he said that “maybe we can stop by my clinic and get something to eat.” I refused politely but they insisted. Apparently the old man is an acupuncturist with a clinic in Katanoshi. We drove to the office and parked outside. This was already too much but they invited me in. So their house is the back of the acupuncture office. Nice. I went inside, took my shoes off, and they ushered me in to sit at their dining table. His wife was a little surprised, but gracious, and served what I thought was going to be just some tea, but turned out to be dinner.

“Oh, here is some sushi made from some fish we caught in Wakayama yesterday.”

“Oh, here is some tsukemono made from [some Okinawan vegetable].”

“Oh, here is a bowl of fresh ramen and some tamagoyaki.”

“Oh, we usually have this red rice for celebratory occasions but here, definitely try some!”

“What? You’ve never had real maccha? Takako, please, go to the kitchen and make some for our guest.”

And as I heard Takako whirring the maccha into a froth with the bamboo whisk in the kitchen, I thought to myself,  “oh my God. I am being such a burden. But everything’s so delicious! And they didn’t even have to do this. D;” And then Takako brought out some expensive looking maccha in some expensive looking bowls [they were the asymmetrical kind that Japanese tea ceremony people go nuts over.] It was so. great. And then me and the old man had beers and we talked a lot about photography and he showed me some of his [awesome] shots of Mongolia and a million Japanese mountains covered in snow, fog, and clouds. We also introduced ourselves [way late], and now I know that these are the Asanos. They have a big family, but as of right now, it’s only grandma, grandpa, and one of their daughters living behind the acupuncture clinic.

Anyway, Mr. Asano had been part of a Wandervogel [sp?] club when he was a student and he got to climb mountains and hike through forests with a lot of Japanese people and foreigners. And as such, he got to like hanging around and talking to gaijin. He said that a lot of Japanese people in Japan won’t talk to foreigners, really. When he saw me sitting alone at the top of the mountain, his “feelings reached out” [I don’t know if I’m translating that correctly, but that’s what it sounded like]. But yeah, this is the second time in my traveling experience where older people have helped me out because I was a single traveler. And not only that, but because they have traveled alone when they were younger and they know what it’s like.

Afterwards, I took a photo with them, the mother said I could come back anytime, and they drove me to the station where I thanked them profusely and they responded with a “楽しかったよ!”–“It was fun!”. And it really was fun. I had a nice smile on all the way back to Hirakata and you know what I did then?

I bought a manga that I really wanted without caring about the price. Tsutaya is an expensive book-store but who really cares when my prize is a manga called しろくまカフェwhere all the main characters are anthropomorphic bears and a penguin.

It’s so cute and awesome I think I might explode. And you know what? I bought it because I wanted to buy it. And that’s great catharsis. Doing things because you want to is one of the aspects of traveling alone that I enjoyed the most. Today, I hiked up a mountain because I wanted to see a sunset. I may have gotten tired on the way and there may have been a lot of bugs, but the end result was worth it in my eyes. And really, that’s all that matters. No one else’s opinion had a chance to dampen my day and that’s part of the appeal in solo traveling.

So for being so miffed at the beginning, I think I ended up having a pretty kick-ass day. Even host-mom thought so. (“いい経験やな?”) “It was a good experience, wasn’t it?”

Yeah, it was.

One Response to ““the beaten path is beaten fast””
  1. Go Fujita says:

    I always love seeing the photos on your blog, but the ones on this blog are particularly dear to my heart. Having lived in Kyoto and moving to Florida, I dearly miss the mountain scenery.

    If you want a close up view of Kyoto, 東大文字山 is an excellent place to take in the whole city. It’s a bit taller than 交野山、but the entrance to the mountain leads up from 銀閣寺, and it’s catered to tourists so the path is probably better serviced than what you experienced ( I assume from your blog, since I’ve never climbed 交野山 ) . It’s one place I go back every time I fly to Japan, and on a clear day the view is breathtaking.

    If you want a view from the heart of the city, both the Osaka Station and Kyoto Station (JR) are excellent places to bring your camera. I would love to see your take on it. They’ve redesigned it so that there’s a lot of public space near the top. It’s a bit of a “date spot” to see the nightlight.

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