Monthly Archives: December 2013

Hiking Yakushi Ridge, Circa “1854”

Yesterday, I was walking along the ridge of Yakushi-dake (Mt. Yakushi). After an hour’s climb the path had leveled out. The sunlight was flickering here and there among the cedar trunks–and all of a sudden I was  wondering if the good feeling (dare we say exhiliration???) was all that different from what Mr. Thoreau felt all those years ago tramping about the woods surrounding Walden Pond. I’m guessing it was pretty much the same.


Today I was reading an article from the The New York Times, “The Great War’s Ominous Echoes,” which discussed how we had best keep attuned to the lessons of history. No joke. “History, in the saying attributed to Mark Twain,” the article declares, “never repeats itself but it rhymes.” Yeah, I thought I’d heard something like that before.

History at least rhymes. But of course. Beause we retain individual desire, group desire, but simultaneously, the ability to listen to the “better” angels. Am I allowed, in the 21st century, to talk about better angels? Regardless, I will!

But back to Thoreau. What a time that was, the twenty or thirty years leading up to the American Civil War! There were those trying to escape the burden of trying religious doctrine (those angry with Puritan hypocrisy and/or angry with the angry Calvinistic God). There were those trying to save a society–one which defined itself as a model of liberty and justice (a self-proclaimed beacon to the world, “a city on a hill”)–from its promulgation of a system (slavery) that blatantly mocked all that society supposedly stood for. There were those amidst all the self-interest (yes, yes, nothing new, nothing old, not always bad) . . . amidst all the self-interest and crisis in belief, who still believed in the possibility of belief, who sensed there might just be worse guides than intuition and individual conscience, and who could thus believe that there might be something to be gained from taking a walk in the woods and at least contemplating the possibility that one could establish and “enjoy an original relation to the universe.”

And what an extraordinary five years in (American) literature we saw: The Scarlet Letter (1850), Moby-Dick (1851), Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Walden (1854). Throw in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1853 . . . yes, yes, British), and you could have a lot worse liberal-arts-college, introduction-to-the-human-experience introductory course.

Sometimes you see Fuji, sometimes you don’t.


Sometimes, you park your car under a ginko tree, ablaze in sunlight, a brilliant, warming yellow gleam in the eye of the mountain. Sometimes, your timing’s off. You find the limbs bare, the leaves in the road, wet, fading fast.


Of course, you can imagine any fallen ginko leaf at its brightest–and whether you do or you don’t, the sun will remain “a morning star.”

Another Climb Up Ryuso Mountain

Today was my first time up Mt. Ryuso in a month or so.

As always, though, a great walk. For me, when I go by myself, like today, both settling and inspiring. Beauty and daydreaming galore. But I hope next time, someone will go with me. Because it’s a great walk for a talk, too! The beauty’s better that way, too!

Just get in the blue hybrid and head for Senna. From the bypass, go ten, fifteen minutes up the only road that’ll get you to the parking lot beside the torii gate–where your walk will start. Notice the bear signs. Never saw a bear on Ryuso myself, but did see someone scared to death at bottom of the mountain, just as I’d gotten down. He said he’d seen one–which meant I must have walked by one, too. I’d only been a hundred meters or so behind that guy. Some people have bells. But I think it’s like getting hit by lightning.

Depending on your pace, it’s an hour or so up to Hozumi Shrine. If you’re lucky, someone’ll be there with a hot cup of tea for you. Take a picture with the two giant cedars (see “Three Cedars” from September). Take a rest room break, if you like. Then up, up up the trail.

131208_trail1_290 131208_trail2_290


How big the cedars!

Even those who rose early

Not so far ahead!

Just before you get to the top of Mt. Yakushi, an hour or so beyond Hozumi Shrine, you come to an opening where you get a gorgeous view of Mt. Fuji. Only today . . . Internet: sunny skies. Reality: lots of clouds.

Still, you know Mt. Fuji’s there. (Actually, if you look close, you can see the lower slope of Fuji poking out from the cloud cover.)


What to do atop Mt. Yakushi? Check out the temperature. The Internet said it was 9 degrees Celsius down in Shizuoka City at 10:41 A.M, and as you can see, it was 2 degrees below zero atop Yakushi. (I trust the metal thermometer nailed to the tree more than I do the Internet.)

131208_monju_sign_290 131208_thermometer

If your tired, you’re in for a disappointment, because you’re one peak away from your final destination. And Mt. Monju is virtually the same height as Mt. Yakushi, so you’ve got to go back down–so you can go back up. But the dip, then the dash up to the top of Monju is only twenty minutes or so, and then, all of a sudden you’ve got lovely views of the Southern Alps on one side of the ridge, and on the other, a panoramic view that sweeps from Mt. Fuji, to  Shimuzu Port, to downtown Shizuoka City, to the mountains beyond. It’s beautiful when the skies are blue and a snow-topped Mt. Fuji throws a gleam into your eye, but even like it was today, a faint sunlight can do some pretty cool things with the sea and the clouds.

131208_monju_view2_290 131208_monju_view1_290

Have a picnic. Talk to some folks. Someone is sure to give you a mikan. Or something. Well, probably someone will. Smile. No pouty aloofness allowed.

Then you gotta go back down. Get out of the woods before four or four thirty. Yes, yes, it gets dark quickly. I usually take the “old” trail going up, but the “new” one going down. The new trail’s slightly longer, less steep. If you have a gimpy knee, it will appreciate you taking the new road.  And the different way gives you a chance to see new stuff the whole livelong day.

131208_yellow_maple1_290 131208_yellow_maple2_290

If I could have captured

The sun torching the maple leaves–

You too would have a seen

A flock of giddy yellow birds take wing

And dance with cedars.

A couple of weeks can make all the difference. December. The tsubaki (camellia) were lovely–and back down near the bottom, I noticed for the first time ever, the persimmons growing along the bank of the river.

131208_tsubaki_290 131208_persimmons_290

Yes, eventually you will get back down. And you will have to get back in the blue hybrid and drive back to the city. Sorry. . . .


But the mountain’s aura will be with you to the very end, and it’ll be there when you come back, whenever that is. Did you see the size of those cedars? You think they’re going somewhere?