#48 – BANZABURO-DAKE
‘A shower swept toward me from the foot of the mountain, touching the cedar forests white, as the road began to wind up into the pass. I was nineteen and travelling alone through the Izu Peninsula. My clothes were of the sort students wear, dark kimono, high wooden sandals, a school cap, a book sack over my shoulder. I had spent three nights at hot springs near the center of the peninsula, and now, my fourth day out of Tokyo, I was climbing toward Amagi Pass and South Izu. The autumn scenery was pleasant enough, mountains rising one on another, open forests, deep valleys, but I was excited less by the scenery than by a certain hope. I ran on up the road…to a teahouse. It was almost too lucky: the dancers were resting inside.’
from ‘The Izu Dancer’ by Yasunari Kawabata
In late September, on my own solitary journey toward Amagi Pass, somewhat mirroring the young student in Yasunari Kawabata’s revered ‘Izu Dancer’, I too was gripped by a certain hope and, though mine concerned a looming meeting with late fall, Alpine Japan rather than a young dancing girl, a similar cocktail of anxiety, excitement and trepidation held sway.
From the deserted, black sanded flanks of Fuji-san, I’d journeyed south into the lush, forested mountains of the Izu Peninsula. Arriving late in the afternoon in the hot spring town of Shuzenji, I holed up in a large, spartan hostel for the night, appearing to be only one of two guests. The other was a young girl, a motorcyclist from Osaka, who was doing some hostel work in return for free lodgings. If there were others, I met them not at dinner nor breakfast, consigned as I was to my own quiet wing of the building.
The following morning, under blue skies I left as unassumingly as I had arrived, stowed most of my gear at the station in town and boarded a bus bound for Amagi Pass. The Peninsula oozes sentimentality and nostalgia of a bygone age. Even the small booklet accompanying my hiking map was still a black and white edition. The photographs of rocky coves and fishing villages framing sandy inlets with views out into the vast Pacific or back across the bay to the soaring cone of Fuji-san elicit a feeling of something lost…or maybe it was simply the melancholy of the turning of the season.
Fukada-san wrote of a classmate returning from a holiday on Izu and regaling tales of midsummer frolics beneath the gaze of Amagi-yama. In his mind, those tales conjured up images of a warm place, comfortably disconnected from the hustle and bustle of modern day Japan.
Eventually, Fukada himself set foot on Amagi-yama, a broad east-west confluence of peaks spanning the peninsula on a cold, crystal clear December day. He took in the views of Fuji-san to the north and the islands stretching to the south, including the smouldering O-shima, home to the troupe of dancers in Kawabata’s story.
From Fuji a volcanic chain of peaks, encompassing Amagi stretches across Izu and out, far into the Pacific to the distant territories of the Marianas. Fukada’s plans to spend the night alone on the mountain were snaffled by the chilliness of the season and, ultimately, like many a hiker in the Land of the Rising sun the lure of the hot spring got the better of him and he descended quickly as night came on.
At the pass my journey diverted from the path of the fictional student boy and I set off up the mountain on a trail near the Old Amagi Tunnel, hidden in the trees above the bus stop. I struck out on a fairly energetic pace, map times said nine hours were required for the return trip, the bus timetable informed me I had eight. It was a messy track, washed out in parts from the recent rains. Mushrooms and toadstools of all shapes and sizes covered swathes of forest floor.
Cloud slowly swept across the blue sky, turning it an indistinct but thankfully rainless grey. At a lake I sat alone on a low, stepped concrete section of banking back from the edge of the waters and munched down a few handfuls of chocolate almonds. A chilly breeze blew. Summer’s strength was on the wane. I pulled up my collar and stared blankly across the expanse of water.
The forests became drier as I climbed up a steep, rocky buttress. Mountain mists silently crept through the woodland. Dropping down again off the rise the trail lead me to the final ascent up onto the viewless, yet evocatively monikered highpoint of Amagi: Banzaburo-dake.
Not until after climbing Amagi did I hear of the tragic story of two young lovers who met their ends up there deep in the forested folds of the mountain. In the winter of 1957 their bodies were discovered in the woods, both with a single gunshot wound to the head. She was a Manchu princess and he, the son of a railway executive. Studying in Tokyo and with their marriage plans disapproved, they headed to Izu and caught a taxi up into the highlands of Amagi on a cold, wet day. While they wandered though misty forests overcome with a feeling of loss, the princess’ mother was frantically broadcasting a message via the radio permitting the marriage and begging for her daughter’s safe return. But the plea never reached the couple and at dusk, they fell to their knees in the woods, took clippings of each other’s hair and wrapped them in white paper as mementos for their families. The boy changed into a new pair of shoes and the princess gently laid her head in his arm and he shot her in the temple before turning the weapon on himself.
It was dark as I boarded the quiet train to commence my journey back to Tokyo. Heavy shouldered and trail weary I slumped into a seat and let the muffled clatter of the rails serenade me into a half sleep. It was approaching midnight as I shuffled along the tree lined paths of the university and through the glass doors of the dormitory entrance. A few students sat off in a side common room chatting. On Kittie-chan’s floor, all was quiet. I slipped into the tiny room. She was at the computer, thesis writing or job hunting. As I wearily hauled off my boots I announced:
“That’s it, I’m done, I’ll be out of your hair in a day or two.”
It was time to get back on the road.