DOING THE TANGO

MAY 2015

#44 – TAIKO-YAMA

#45 – ICHIGAO-YAMA

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The Kid had been dispatched to school early, much to his dismay and we headed for the rental car shop on Kawabata Street. From downtown Kyoto we had designs on the northern reaches of the prefecture where the Japan Sea tickles the inlets and promontaries of its serrated coastline and laps at the sandy shorelines stretching out in between.

On the Tango Peninsula two mountains on our KINKAN hitlist rose out of the lushly forested hill country, their peaks caressed by the season’s warming sea breezes.

Caressed may well be understating things. Up on Taiko-yama, the peninsula’s highest peak, the aircurrents sweeping in off the Japan Sea had put pay to at least one of the windmills in its windfarm. So much for harnessing the power of Mother Nature.

Six hundred vertical metres below Taiko, at sea level, The Missus and I strolled the sands on Tango’s eastern shoreline. Here and there, little wooden houses huddled together along the seaside road and little wooden boats sat amongst flower strewn dunes. It was the end of our Golden Week break, drenched in sunshine, no harsh climes assaulted the northern beaches this day.

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We drove into the hills, navigating along an ever narrowing mountain road, where grasses split the tarmac and new spring saplings slapped at our windshield.  At Taiko’s ski field, ablaze with planted flowers, we parked amongst the familiar scene of trashy ski buildings and claimed the summit via a steep, sustained, ten minute assault, via a stretch of open ground beneath a silent chairlift.

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Old ladies in bonnets tended to the flowers at the bottom of the short ski runs. Some old coot, working hard at looking busy, cruised around in a tiny truck. We hung on immobile chairlift seats dangling above a wooden platform up on the peak, watching butterflies and catching a few cool breaths of breeze.  And that was that.  Taiko-yama…ho-hum.

Within half an hour we were back in the car cruising wider roads down into Tango’s valleys, westwards off Taiko, through small villages and across the flats where water filled paddy fields, yet to be choked with the new season’s rice, reflected the brilliant blue sky overhead.

Windows down, shunning the car’s airconditioning for fresh country air, we spied Ichigao-yama recling beyond a series of low lying hills, like a headless sphinx, coated in a sumptuous, leafy green hide.

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A stump stuffed with hewn walking sticks greeted us at the trailhead alongside a roughly carved sign directing us upwards.  We soon arrived at a strange grass hut. For what purpose it served we could only guess.  Was it a re-creation of a structure typically used inhabitants of the land in some long lost past? Could it have been a mock-up of hunter or woodsman’s temporary shelter from a period somewhat closer to the present? Or was it simply something slapped up by members of the local hiking club for the likes of us to huddle in when the weather turned sour?

We marched along a narrow path, up beneath the branches of a stately tree amass with new spring foliage. Soon into Ichigao’s woods, greenery stifled any view until we reached the open summit. There, butterflies danced and an expansive view of sea and mountain stretched out before us.

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There’s an old story about a huge serpent that once lived on Ichigao-yama. The inhabitants of Yahata, a district below the mountain, would often spot this creature. At some point in time, the serpent spied a princess paying her respects at a local shrine and of course, as is the way with attractive princesses and old snakes in such stories,  he became enchanted by her beauty.

The creature, enraptured though he was, couldn’t approach the princess as she prayed on sacred ground. When she visited the shrine he would sometimes be hiding in the dark folds of the mountain, watching her.

The God of the Sun, felt pity for the old snake and one winter organised a place at the shrine to rendezvous with the princess, 210 days later. When the seasons turned to the following fall, the princess had a dream. The Sun God appeared and told her to visit the shrine and pray.

On the day the princess journeyed to the shrine, a strong wind blew and heavy rain fell from looming, dark clouds. The villagers below Ichigao saw the serpent riding high on this tempest, but with the weather the way it was he still couldn’t manage to enter the shrine’s grounds.

Since then, the local villagers, watch the skies in the fall, keeping an eye out for any foul weather, believing the serpent returns each year at that time in the hope of meeting his beloved princess.

A meeting of another kind was soon on our agenda. A double header mountain day didn’t allow us a lot of time up top before we had to turn our attentions to getting back to the car and Kyoto and meet up with a hungry Kid returning from his day at school.

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