Monthly Archives: February 2016

Keen eyes and the Shizuhata ridge trail


A bouquet for you! . . . From the cherry trees that dot the ridge of Shizuhata Mountain.

Blind spots can absolutely amaze. I’d lived in Shizuoka for more than fifteen years, been actively hiking for last three or so—and had never walked the Shizuhata ridge.


It isn’t hard to find. Starts right downtown, out the back of Sengen Shrine, and goes about 8 kilometers to Sakura Pass and the Kujira (“whale”) Pond. If you go up the other side of the Sakura Pass, you’ll eventually get to the top of Ryuso. The walk from the Sakura Pass to my house is maybe two more kilometers.

With a group hike planned for early March, I thought I should give it a go by myself, to see how much up-and-down there was. . . .

That’s a funny thing to say: if you’re anywhere in town, you can look over your shoulder and see the ridge, you can see how far it is to the pass, you can see the up-and-down.


I walked from my house (near the Sakura Pass) downtown—just one way—on January 24th, by myself. On February 23rd, I did it again, this time a round-trip, with a fellow Hearty Hiker.

Times and such. On February 23rd, walking into town, we stopped to take a lot to take pictures—and also stopped a lot to watch the birds, especially the kites. Kites don’t say poo-tee-weet. They say piiii-pyo-ro-ro-ro-ro. They’ve got keen eyes. They circle high, say piiiii-pyo-ro-ro-ro-ro, and use their keen eyes to search out tasty morsels in the woods, citrus groves, bamboo thickets, and tea fields that blanket the Shizuhata ridge.


Yep, that’s what you’ll walk through when you walk the ridge. Throw in views of the skyline of our beloved “The Big Mikan,” and good views of Fuji-kun, Suruga Bay, Izu Peninsula, and you might feel you can see everything in Shizuoka.


Okay, okay, the times and such. Slow pace (taking pictures, watching the kites) from my house:  House = 8:50, Sakura Pass trailhead = 9:15, Fukunari Shrine = 9:50, Sengen Shrine = 12:50. A faster pace, after lunch, going back, though there’s a bit more climbing up going back: Sengen Shrine departure = 13:20, Ippon-no-sugi = 14:15, Fukunari Shrine = 15:30, Sakura Pass trailhead = 16:00, House = 16:35.

The kites prove that keen eyes are necessary to make the most of a hike along the ridge.


But you don’t need keen eyes to see the blue sky, to take joy in the way the various oranges shine under it.


And you don’t need keen eyes to enjoy the plum blossoms . . .


. . . or the cherry blossoms either.


You’d have to be blind not to see them.


Nope, you can’t miss the tea fields, either. Parts of the trail will have your hips brushing the leaves of the bushes. Most likely you’ll see how the fields form a ladder to the sky. Go ahead. Climb on every rung.


You could miss Fuji-kun, especially on a hazy day, or a day on which the clouds are shifting a lot, if you don’t think to look up from the trail and peer off in the right direction.

Little plots of vegetables are everywhere, and signs warn that wild boars abound, but the only fierce beast we came across was this lion.


The ridge, however, possesses an artistic spirit and an extraordinary life force  that you may not see without keen eyes. Keen, focused eyes.


Wood sculptures, big and small, dot the course.


Look for them.


And faces pop out from trees when the light hits them just right.


Sometimes the trees themselves seem to express a force of mobility that isn’t often recognized. For some reason, this guy got worked up, and jammed his own fingers into the hard dirt off to his right, and got them stuck. When you go by, see if he’s gotten them unstuck. Or if he’s maybe decided to “stand” on that hand.


And this tree may seem to be a pitiful sort of guy at first glance—battered and lumpy, barkless, his better days behind him, out of place among the bamboo—but actually, he’s quite the painter, and doing quite well, as a closer look reveals.


I took the liberty of naming this canvas “Ophelia in the Stream at Sunrise,” but when you come across it, you can name it what you like.


If you’ve got the time, stop and watch the birds. See how they go about their day. Listen to their chatter.

I remember that when I was a little boy pigeons were often hated, mainly because they pooped in places where poop was not appreciated.  Here, though, they’ve got the whole mountain at their disposal. Their pooping probably won’t bother you. (Probably.) And once you’re past that issue (after all, even the camels that carried the wise men to see the baby Jesus stopped to poop once in a while), you can look into their eyes and see their personalities, see their moods.


Sometimes they seem at peace with things.

160223_grey_pigeon_600Sometimes they seem to have a chip on their shoulders—want to know what you’re looking at.

Imagine that.

Sign speaks for itself. No one likes bombs dropped on their home.



Just plum beautiful!



On October 22nd, 1837, Henry David Thoreau decided to begin a journal. Years later, he’d written right around a zillion pages. Only a slight exaggeration.


The third little thing he jotted down that first day was this: “The Germans say — Es is alles wahr wodurch du besser wirst.” The quotation is from Goethe. “Everything is true by which you become better.”

I thought that was just plum beautiful.


And it was a great thing to have in mind the night before a day of plum-viewing.


The plum-viewing was just behind a friend’s house, which backs up to the Setonoya River  and the plum trees that grow down by its banks. 160211_plum_picnic8_450

It was warmer than in past years. We all seemed content, under the blossoms, to let the day flow on by.


Under the trees . . .


. . . the words would sometimes pop into my head:

Everything is true by which you become better.160211_plum_picnic13_450

Of course they did.

One cherry tree was down there, too. He couldn’t wait another month to bloom. Wanted to be out and about with the plums. Who could blame him?


Walking in the dark


Risshun just passed, and on the old calendar, the New Year has just begun. This morning seemed the perfect time to take the Hearty Hiker who missed the January 1st Sunrise Hike due to a cold another chance to ascend Ryuso Mountain in the dark . . . in time to see the sunrise.

I suspect that a person or two out there might have wanted to ask (had I not just told you the reason: to see the sunrise), “Why would you want to walk in the dark?”

It’s a fair question. My first instinct would be to say, “You’d better be willing to walk in the dark—or you’re going to get yourself stuck in bad places a lot more than you want to get yourself stuck in bad places.”

But before I attempt to answer this why question, let me handle some easier ones.  1) “When did you start?” Answer: 4:37 AM.  2) “What time was the sunrise?” Answer: 6:43 A.M. 3) “How does one climb in the dark?”


Answer: With a light.

You take your light and just point it down at the dry leaves that cover the trail. Just follow the big, dry leaves.

Follow them up for about two hours.

Okay, now, WHY?

Well, let’s head on up the mountain and see if we can find the answer.

Or as the famous poet said, as he prepared to climb a mountain in the dark, “The answer, what is it?—Let’s go see—let’s go and make our visit.”

So here we go. We follow our lit-up leaves, one after another after another, and before we know it (after an hour or so) . . .


. . . the sky, off to our left, begins to lighten. Black goes dark blue . . .

160206_rosy_dawn_branches2_600. . . and the horizon goes all rosy (at least on this day with a bit of low cloud cover). And then you jig-jag through the cedars,  come to where you can see out off your right shoulder, and low and behold . . .  160206_fuji_pre-dawn_2_600

there’s a magical mountain—floating in the sky.


And when you’re face-to-face with such extraordinary beauty, you stop asking “Why should we walk in the dark?”—and start asking, “Why don’t we walk in the dark more often?”

In case you wondered, we weren’t the only ones out and about in the wee hours of the morning.


This guy, too, seemed to think it was a special time of the day. He’s a Japanese Serow.


So no more questions. Let’s get to the summit.


And enjoy the sunrise. (Yes, we got up there with a minute or two to spare.)


I think you know I have a thing for persimmon orange . . .


. . . and that I think that I can feel love coming through the blue.  (For details on blue and orange, visit a previous post.)

. . . So it was a great morning.


And the sun, as we sometimes do, kept getting bigger.  It got, as we sometimes do, really big.

Ah, two New Year’s hikes in one year! Marvelous! So lucky!

I imagine there will be a lot of special images floating around in my noggin for a long time to come.



Tell me what you see


Open up your eyes now.


Tell me what you see.


It is no surprise now. What you see is me.


How grateful I am that I can commute to work by bicycle!


Always with the freedom to stop and just look in wonder. Whenever. At whatever.


It doesn’t matter where you live. Or how long the commute. (For the record, mine’s about forty-five minute now.) Or how deep your water is. If you’re on a bicycle, you can always stop. Stop and look.


There’s always so much to see. In any season.

And you wake up the next morning, remembering all the things that gave your eyes joy the day before, and it just seems so easy to walk out into the cold February morning, right past the car—and  get right back up on the saddle.