What do you do when your city, sits halfway between the bright lights of Kobe – all class and sophistication – and Himeji with its magnificent castle?  How do you pull the crowds?  Get the tourist dollar – or yen, rather?  Rice paddies and temples ain’t going to do it.

‘Them hills out there on the edge of town,’ I bet some bright spark once said.  ‘Call ’em the Alps.  That’ll bring ’em in.’  It wasn’t as if it hadn’t been done before.  Japan’s highest mountain ranges sport the moniker and not out of any Japanese inferiority complex either.  It was Walter Weston, the instigator of mountaineering in Japan, who christened them so and since then Alps of far less stature have popped up across the nation.

The Harima Alps barely break the three hundred metre mark as they horseshoe around the northern reaches of Takasago City.  Takamikura-yama is the high point and it scrapes the underbelly of the heavens at a head spinning three hundred and four metres.  While it’s the baby of the KINKAN bunch it proved to be a great day out.  We climbed from the opposite end of the horseshoe-shaped range and made our way towards Takamikura, a ten or so kilometre hike away.  The autumn colours were putting on a show and all the dips and rises in the trail kept our attention.

Himeji Castle stood proudly far out across the plain to the west.  It’s new, all white paint job, standing out like a beacon in the morning sunlight.  The Kid collected pine cones and poked at praying mantis crossing our path.  The Missus grew grimfaced at times, favouring her still tender ‘Nyudo’ knee.

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Takamikura grew ever closer as we worked our way around the hills.  Someone along the shores of a lake below us, on the flats, had built a golf range.

‘Let ’em hit the balls out into the water,’ the bright spark who built the place probably said. ‘That’ll bring ’em in.’

‘As if golfers don’t hit their balls into the drink enough,’ I scoffed.

Nearing halfway around the undulating arc we met the trail coming up from Kashima Shrine from where most people began their hike.  Other climbers soon joined the trail.  The Harima Alps were pulling the crowds after all.  We walked for most of the day and arrived at Takamikura’s mountaintop shrine late in the afternoon.  From there we watched as rock climbers attacked the ramparts below the summit.

We chatted with a bloke on his third go through Japan’s Hundred Famous Mountains.  The recent eruption of Mount Ontake and its subsequent closure was playing on his mind.  A delay in proceedings seemed inevitable.  A dog tried to mount The Kid.  The sun dropped behind cloud moving in from the west.  We took a trail plummeting down an exposed spur, with views back up to the summit.tmk (1 of 1)  A chilly, late afternoon breeze hurried us on.

Another bright spark: This one wanders the streets with little laminated signs stuck on chopsticks and marks out dog grogins.  ‘Owner-san!  Don’t leave your dog’s poo behind!  We are watching you!’  The surveillance state had reached Takasago City – all in the name of the The War on Terriers!  We headed for home before I had one of my mountain bowel moments.  Heaven forbid a little fella with one of his chopstick signs stumbled across one of my efforts.

With the baby of the bunch, Takamikura in the books, we were done for the year.  Weather, work and winter thwarted any plans to squeeze in another hike before Christmas.  Our journey over the peaks of Kansai still had a long way to go…

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