AUGUST, 2007


“Akagi, Akaagiii,” I sung the name of the mountain on the day’s agenda while admiring my whiskery self in the bathroom mirror.  I scoured my bristles for an ingrown hair or two to yank at with uncut fingernails, before washing the sleep out of my eyes, getting dressed and heading out.  Welcome to Maebashi and in particular The Hotel Aburaya: cheap rooms, peeling wallpaper held in place by cobwebs, coin operated television, soft porn DVDs in the cabinet below, aircon that made more noise than wind.  The woman downstairs at the front desk was happy to have me.  When I was out in the hills, she had agreed to hold my belongings until my return.  Once safely back I’d kip there for a night or two before venturing off again.  I was in prime position to knock off a slew of the Kanto Hyakumeizan.

Outside the sun was shining brilliantly.  After Tsukuba-san, everything boded well for a second easy, though undoubtedly sweaty, midsummer day in the mountains.

Akagi-yama wasn’t in my trusty old hiking guide but from the Japanese map I’d woken up with stuck to my wet chest, I ascertained a bus from Maebashi station would be required.  I bought a convenience store breakfast at the station shop and went about hitting up a driver relaxing in his empty bus.

“Tonk, tonk, tonk,” went my index finger’s knuckle on the front door’s glass.  The driver immediately sat to attention, staring helplessly at the unkempt, round eyed devil peering in at him from the outside world.  There was no escape.  He fumbled for the mechanism to open the door.

“Hai,” he said, door open.

“Ahh, Akagi-yama no bu-su,” I started pointing randomly at each of the bus stop bays in front of the station like old Doctor Spock on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise frantically trying to find the windscreen wiper switch amidst a sudden meteor shower.

“Hai,” he obediently climbed out of his seat and lead me across to the correct bus stop,  ran a finger down the timetable posted there and pointed out I had an hour to wait.  I smiled and thanked him graciously and he nodded and gave a half bow and returned to his bus.

Akagi-yama, Red Castle Mountain, sounds a lot more imposing than it actually is.  These days at least, one could be forgiven likening it to nothing more than one of those fairground jumping castles.  Much like Tsukuba-san, it’s a user friendly mountain, replete with large visitor centre and lake full of plastic swans that you can peddle around in as you suck on ice cream.  The road winds up into the crater area of the ancient tree covered volcano, a mere four hundred odd metres below the summit.  There by ten, I wandered up into the forests as fluffy white clouds began to amass like a collection of cotton wool in the blue sky.  Exertion wasn’t required but the sweat pores opened up in the stifling heat and once I made the ridgeline running north over the minor peak of Koma-ga-take I had, for the second day running, began ‘running’.  Though the sunshine beat down from above, the gathering cloud and thick haze stifled any views out through the gaps in the woods.

Approaching the summit, Kurobi-san, the laughter and nattering of kids caught my attention and as I appeared out of the trees, a great dripping mess, I ran into a troupe of Scouts feasting on their bento box lunches, squeezing into the shade of the scrub.  The mountain was nothing much to write home about.  Fukada-san said that you can basically divide mountains into two distinct groups, the severe and foreboding peaks and the warm, welcoming ones of which Akagi was definitely a member of.  Making my way from the top down a steep, rocky trail through the forests leading to the shores of the crater lake, Onuma, I could hear the motorbikes of the Sunday riders out to burn some rubber in the mountains.  Families milled around the lakeshore and I headed for a tea house, where out of curiosity, ordered up a black sesame soft serve ice cream and instantly fell in love with the thing – so much so that I got a hold of another one just to make sure they really were that good…


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