Reflections from Mt. Takao

For a ghost of a moment, as the train heads west, I think I’m back in Los Angeles for the New Year. The brown, distant mountains form a craggy bowl around this massive region. Were it not for the distinctive curved tile roofs and — ah! — Fuji-san! Out from behind a building!

Like that, the spell is broken.

The path leading up is paved. Because today is a national holiday, countless people young and old are hiking it. As we get close to the top there are temples, shrines, places to clap your hands and toss in a yen for blessings in this life and the next. I place a 100¥ piece in a small box and light a stick of incense. I’m told to waft the smoke over my head for intelligence, but I aim for my ears. I ask to hear better and listen more closely.

All around, it’s a carnival atmosphere. Tiny, hunched grandmothers coddle toddlers carried up by their parents in little travel backpacks. Tokyoites and Edokkos from across the region take part in what is quite obviously a national past-time of hiking in the company of friends and family. Jordan, Frank, and his friends from church chomp on fire-roasted mochi on a stick, coated in sweet, sticky soy sauce. We later get soba in a crowded noodle shop back at the base of the mountain. The whole day is delightful.

I personally reflected on my relationship with nature and how it contrasts with the broader Japanese approach. The path up, as I said, is paved, and there’s basically a town along the top once you emerge from the valleys at Takao’s base. Temples, temples, for at least a kilometer, the sacred and the earthly combining for a holiday afternoon. The differences with California (and our “cathedrals to nature”) are clearly apparent, but Frank’s explanation of how he views the Japanese approach to spirituality and nature help it make a bit more sense.

At the top of Mt. Takao, ironically, is the view of a different mountain: Fuji-san. In fact, it seems to be the main attraction, and I can’t help but feel a bit bad for Takao-san that we tramp up its slopes just to gawk at another, more imposing peak. To our east is Tokyo, all of it, as far as the eye can see. J and I joke that it’s like a not-shitty version of L.A.

This account of the day is, of course, incomplete. But it was certainly the first peak experience of our time in Japan so far.

Peak — get it?



Listening to: Tokyo” by Lianne La Havas

Reading: “Tokyo” by [dammit the book is downstairs again]

Smoking: Mevius mentholated blueberry deathsticks (yes that’s their name)