#038 – MISEN-SAN
Head north out of Kyoto City and the hills just roll on and on all the way to the Sea of Japan. Few mountains really stand out. The higher ones, the Minagos and Minetokos, Sajikis and Kumotoris of that world all seem to blend into one mass of undulating blue unless, I suppose, you really know what you’re looking for. Or at. I’d have better luck recognising their names scrawled in kanji on the back of a beer coaster, in a darkened bar, a few pints in. Misen-san on the other hand, a pre-schooler could pick out of a Kyoto mountain line-up. She’s a sweet little pointy peak out off the road to Maizuru, up past Choro-ga-take, that the locals have claimed as their own Mount Fuji. Tamba-fuji. The Fuji-san of the Tamba district. Over 3000 metres shorter than the real deal. Though in truth she’s a little upthrust of oceanic rock, rather than any kind of lava spewing nubbin. Rising up at the end of a charming valley dotted with a few old residences, the little mountain beckoned us on a grey February day. Though only topping out in the 600 metre range we wondered how much snow would be greeting us on the climb. The northern reaches of Kyoto do indeed catch their fair share of wintry payload over the course of the season.
The lower reaches of the climb up Misen through the obligatory cedar plantation was sodden with snowmelt dispensed from higher up and as we climbed, the trail became icier and then, once free of the cedar canopy, snowbound, in a knee-deep white powder. We broke trail. Imagining the route through the leafless woodland, curling around the northern exposed flank of the narrowing peak. No one had climbed at least since the last snowfall that year. On the summit, surprisingly bereft of snow, we paid our respects at the mountain top shrine and then turned for home. I suggested we take an alternative route back to the car. Take in some different scenery. Break some more trail. The Missus was all for retracing our steps. The snowy climb had slowed our progress, it was the sensible option, what with The Kid due back from the schoolyard grind coinciding with our predicted return.
But if only we’d known about the rocks! We could have leant a helping hand. Back in the day, or probably night I imagine, a villager living in the shadow of Misen-san was visited by the god of the mountain in a dream. The being, a bit of a competitive one by all accounts, informed the slumbering villager of his desire to have his peak outstrip the not too distant Aoba-yama in height. When the man told the townsfolk of his dream they promptly organised a seasonal pilgrimage to the summit of the mountain, four times a year, lugging stones from the foot of Misen-san to pile upon its summit.
And as in all good tales such as this, if you continue the tradition and pay your respects to the god at the mountain top shrine your wishes will be granted. And never fear, there’s plenty more work to do, according to my records Aoba’s still some 30 metres to the good at 693 metres to Misen’s measley 664.