#029 – NANAZU-GA-TAKE
Northward bound, on an early train out of Kyoto, we spied Mikami-yama on the far side of Lake Biwa, silhouetted against the sunrise, flickering between the rooftops.
From one mini Fuji to another. Our sights were set on Nanazu-ga-take, or Niyu Fuji as some call it.
And what a steep little, tick infested, scrubber she was. And this was in early spring, when the waters at her foot were still churning with snow melt from the surrounding mountains and the undergrowth was still relatively stand offish. Camelia and magnolia bloomed amongst the bamboo and dried grasses. Ancient beeches sat stoically leafless, resisting budburst, in the warming spring sunshine. It was t-shirt weather for the Kid and I. The Missus feels the cold a little more and so remained cozily clad in her soft shell.
Sitting in the shadow of a range of taller counterparts we wondered about Nanazu’s claim to Kansai Hyakumeizan fame.
The story goes, that down in one of the villages at her foot, young girls were selected to dance before the shrine on Nanazu’s summit in the hope of invoking a fruitful harvest season. Six long centuries ago one of these chosen village girls developed a cyst on her arm in the lead up to the ceremony and in short order the complaint engulfed her entire body.
It was said, that if one goes to pray at the shrine on Nanazu’s summit for seven days straight, that the god residing there will grant a single wish. The girl’s mother climbed the mountain and prayed every day for a week, longing for some divine remedy to be bestowed upon her daughter. On the seventh day an ancient looking, white haired man appeared and told the woman that there was a small pond, just a short walk from the mountaintop to the west and that she should gather some of its waters and bathe her daughter with them.
And so, the woman did exactly as she was directed and her daughter was cured of her ills and able to take part in the mountain ceremony. That year, the legend goes on to say, the harvest was bountiful and to this day the people of the village – though the pond has turned to a mere spring – still tend to the water source on Nanazu’s summit.
Having climbed from the south we ventured off behind the shrine to the north, on an even more scrubby trail that hurled us down the mountain’s sasa clad slopes. Here and there small patches of snow hid in depressions amongst the grasses. Between watching each footfall, I peered out through the leafless trees to the north, in the hope of spying old friends – Arashima and Haku-san – though I couldn’t be sure if I was at a high enough altitude to see them.
Before we knew it the trail dropped away at an even steeper gradient. Every step had to be carefully chosen. A chilly, southerly gale picked up, blowing in off Lake Biwa and funnelled along the valley. We ducked out of the winds as cedar plantations swallowed us and the views.
Popping out into a tiny wind battered village at the northern foot of the mountain, I went to take a step over a small irrigation ditch channelling water off the slopes and startled a pair of rat snakes frolicking in the sunshine at my feet. The Missus shrieked, I squealed and the Kid snapped out of a daydream too late to catch any of the action, as the culprits squeezed into gaps in the stonework lining the ditch.
Heartrates returning to normal, we checked for ticks. On the climb they had been quite fiesty. But on the cooler northern side of Nanazu it seemed they hadn’t woken from their winter slumber and, for once, we were happily free of the pesky little critters that have caused more than their fair share of dramas in the past.
Before boarding the homebound bus, we visited another shrine a little further up the road. Poking around, we silently thanked the local kamisama for the safe trip before returning to the bus stop, and Kyoto, and home.