#013 – POM-PON-YAMA
It was in Takatsuki City, a vibrant little town in Northern Osaka, that I’d first heard mention of the lyrically named Pom-pon Mountain. A kids’ English teacher by trade, my employer at the time shipped me out of its flagship school and into a shoebox sized office on the third floor of a building fit to collapse every time a JR train rattled by, mere metres away.
It was there I met ‘Pooh-san,’ an irrepressible Canadian who would incessantly ask kids in his classes:
“Where do you live? Pom-pon Mountain?”
He’d also incessantly ask women in the local bars the same question.
“What is this bloody Pom-pon Mountain you keep carrying on about?” I asked him one evening as we were patronising our favourite watering hole, as well as its rather attractive bar staff.
“Oh you don’t know? It’s the tallest mountain in Takatsuki.”
“Really. Hm, well, we should climb it.”
“Yeah, you know what they say? You know why they call it Pom-pon Mountain?”
“Because when you jump on it it goes pom, pom, pom, like it’s hollow.”
“No shit man. Pom-pom-pom,” and he ordered up another “Cuba Liberator” as he called them.
Nearing ten years on and ‘Pooh-san’s’ a banker back in his homeland and I’m the ‘Lifer’ I swore I would never be. It’s a sentence I’ve come to appreciate, though the irreversible, onward march of winter each year often sees me raising doubts.
We never did climb Pom-pon together. Though not long after hearing of it, I ventured out alone. A cold winter climb over slippery ice encrusted trails. Twice after that, up other courses traversing its flanks I missed the summit, having taken wrong turns.
I redeemed myself one summer; The Missus in tow. We climbed from the back side of the mountain, up past an enormous, droning electrical plant to the summit and feasted on salami and duck and olives and Belgian Beer as sweat dribbled from our brows and cicada song rang out through the forests.
Autumn had well and truly arrived in Kansai on our latest hike up Pom-pon. I was unenthused. A ‘been there, done that’ kind of feeling pervaded my thoughts as we whistled out of Kyoto towards Osaka on an express train. It’s an unspectacular mountain, but The Kid was keen to try out the Pom-pon legend, so who was I to begrudge him of that.
To my surprise, the mountain shone. Under blue skies the momiji at Wakayama jinja seared their reds and yellows against the heavens. Pom-pon was putting on a show. I’d climbed three of four seasons and this was the best I’d witnessed.
On the summit a cold wind howled, cloud brought smatterings of showers. The Kid bounced about trying to elicit the elusive pom-poms from the ground. Atago-yama to the north was strafed with heavier looking rain, sweeping in from the west. We shared the summit, in that biting breeze, with a handful of hikers. On a Sunday, at the height of fall, I was surprised there weren’t more people out and about.
Within minutes though our fellow summit dwellers had packed up and vanished. “As if they’d sensed something,” I’d later thought when streams of hiking parties arrived on the summit simultaneously from both trails accessing it and literally turned the place into a seething hot bed of babbling, nattering, old fogies who scampered about either hollering roll calls or organising group photos at the summit markers.
I stood in shock. Dumbfounded at the suddenness of the invasion. Within a minute – no less – it seemed Takatsuki had relieved itself of pensioners and dumped them out on that cold old hill. If there were less than a hundred grampas and grandmas there at that moment, I’d’ve eaten my hat.
We ran the gauntlet of abuse for daring to take a summit photo amidst their ranks then packed up and fled the scene. Cold winds and cold shoulders weren’t our idea of a good time.
The north west route off Pom-pon took us back into the beautiful red and yellow forests gracing the mountain and though, followed down by a group with a guide sporting a mic and loud speaker, we made it to the bus stop with our sanity intact.