#041 – KASAGATA-YAMA
Another faux Fuji and not even a volcano, rather an upthrust of crust that poked out skyward and took on the vague appearance of Japan’s most beloved mountain. Come to think of it, I wasn’t sure any of the faux Fujis we’d hit that winter and spring were wrought by the machinations of vulcanism.
The Harima district in Hyogo has its own ‘Alps’, the Harima Alps (where we’d scaled to heady heights on the three hundred metre Takamikura that last fall) so a nearby Fuji to complement them makes sense I suppose.
Kasagata was our first foray out into Hyogo Prefecture for the year and hike up over the 900 metre mark. A great day out culminating in splendid summit views towards the high mountains on the Hyogo/Okayama border. In those early days of April the distant peaks were still snow bound and we were satisfied eyeing them off from warmer, if not still a little chilly, elevations. There were a hell of a lot of stairs though, I’ll tell you that. “The Old Man wouldn’t like this,” we always say as we huff and puff our own ways up the latest endless flight of stairs in our travels around Japan. He’s no fan of the stairs, nor the shoes off at the door business. Both demands when encountered are met with exasperated mutterings of “Bloody hell!” It’s his knees and hips. Heaven forbid he be required to remove his shoes at the top of a particularly exhausting flight of stairs, beer right around the corner or not.
You don’t need to travel too far from Kasagata-yama before you arrive in the city of Himeji, a place renowned for its spectacular castle, the largest surviving structure of its sort in Japan and one of only a handful that survived the rout of all things feudal during the Meiji Restoration towards the end of the 19th century. Allied bombs failed to flatten it at the end of the Second World War as did the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. It was between those two events, from 1956 to 1964, that Himeji Castle underwent a major renovation. Inspection of the main pillars that supported the keep resulted in the discovery of a major case of rot in one of the main pillars. A frantic, Japan-wide search was undertaken to find a tree exactly matching the dimensions of the rotting pillar and it was eventually discovered growing right under the search parties noses at Kasagata Shrine.
It was a sacred cypress, thought to be more than 600 years old. When the tree was relinquished for its newfound duty and felled, a violent thunderstorm swept over the mountain, with lightning erupting horizontally across the darkened heavens.
That spring of 2015 Himeji Castle was nearing the completion of its next major restoration. A couple of years earlier, we’d taken The Old Man on a road trip around western Kansai during his annual sojourn up from Australia, only to be greeted by the massive structure encased in a complex shroud of high-tech scaffold, replete with elevator rides and air conditioning, tour guides and video screens. That summer he was due back for a much anticipated inspection of the finished product, all elevators and air con removed, and we could already hear him cussing at the steep haul up narrow wooden stairs to the top…