Japanese Hills Rising from the Inland Sea Part Two

Mount Rokko

Mount Rokko

In the Rokko Mountains

One day in early October I tagged along with my children to their school at the Canadian Academy, perched on the edge of Rokko San above Kobe Harbor whose ships whistled and bellowed far below. I was to climb Mayayama, slightly over two thousand feet, while they attended class. On the trail I had to contend with possible mamushi (a deadly poisonous viper), mukade (a poisonous centipede also found in Hawaii), thick cobwebs that crackled when brushed aside, intense heat, and bugs in general. Perhaps it is more appropriate to quote from my journal:

I hike a steep jungle-like trail straight up without any mercy–straight up up up– and with my sneakers I slip a number of times grabbing roots and sweating likea wild boar (also in these woods). I see small holes in the earth and wonder ifthey are mamushi nests–but the only thing that really bothers me is constantly breaking through thick crackling cobwebs–with hopes I don’t get bitten by something. Up up up!Finally I come to a clearing in the cedar forest of an old abandoned villa where I set and rest and pop open a can of warm soda. I had secretly prayed for such a clearing. I get up to climb a steep path to Buddhist shrines–I hold my hand up vertically and wave before a stone Buddha. On to higher metallic Buddhas that look like they’re from outer space with arms of fire.

I am thankful to them! I climb higher to sit and stare at a gigantic cedar grove with trunks nearly three feet in diameter–as peaceful as the Muir Woods back in California. As I climb still higher I encounter my first mamushi –a slithering black-grey snake about 16 inches long with a triangular head–it slithers quickly away from me into the dark woods. With a palpitating heart, I at last arrive on the summit to stare out at the Rokko Mountains in layers of mist and incredibly dense vegetation. Maples (momiji-wa) make distinct spots ofred and yellow amid green cedars and pines so far above the sea. Hawks sail from pinnacle of rock to pinnacle of rock, glistening in the sun.


View of Tokyo

Rather than trusting my luck to avoid any mishaps going back down, I lazily proceeded to the cable station to ride, or should I say sail, down like one of those hawks of the Rokkos. I eventually met up with my children, who said they had a rather boring day at school but had noticed pretty patterns of mist gathering on the mountains up above.

Professor Sakamoto of the University of Hiroshima (author of a mystical novel, The Islands Within) and his sons met and accompanied us to Miyajima Island, perhaps twenty miles beyond Hiroshima Harbor. On the boat that December Day, he and I chatted a great deal about nature and mysticism and the need for constant renewal in nature> Mysticism, we agreed, could be defined simply as a belief in the unity of life. Nature gives the mystic strong impulses to perceive that unity. Mountains can work splendidly for that purpose.

My wife Maura drew our attention to a dreamy, shimmering orange torii, or Buddhist gateway, in the waters offshore. Before climbing the mountain, we paid homage to the large and brightly colored wooden shrine of Miyajima, nestled in pines directly inshore from the orange torii reflected in green waters. Flickering lights of stone votives (toro wa) lined the shore out from the shrine, lending more mysticism to the place. This shrine or temple, like most Buddhist temples, blend in with the environment so as not to call attention to themselves.

We hiked with the Sakamotos up a steep mountain trail above Miyajima jinja through cedars and pines veiled in gentle mists. We heard, but did not see, monkeys in the trees above. We couldn’t help but smile as we talked of the need to merge with nature, because that’s exactly what we were doing.

Our conversation lightened the miles, as steep as they were, until we stood at the top of one of the twin summits, thickly forested with green conifers. Maura and the children delighted in petting the noses of miniature

Miyajima Island

Miyajima Island

deer (shiga wa) who came right up to us as though we were Saint Francis of Assissi. Far below us lay a scene worthy of Ta Ch’ ih–floating mountain tops sticking through silver sea mist.

We crossed over to the other summit to visit a small temple with chanting monks (that’s what our American forests are lacking– temples with chanting monks). I could not help but think of 1945, when the atomic bomb exploded within view of this temple. They say a lotus blossom’s beauty is further enhanced by its blooming out of muddy waters. Perhaps these monks managed to send forth a lotus blossom of love amid the muddied waters of war and hatred.


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