第一塩江ハイキング体験 – Shionoe Hiking Experience #1

There is a lady in my town who has long been inviting me to join in on one of the hikes that takes place a few times each year.  Along the way she talks about some of the history of the area so I put off my participation in the event until I could make better sense of it.  In the end, language skills didn’t really factor into my enjoyment and appreciation of our outing, but some of what she said was interesting.  I thought that perhaps some of my city based friends might like to get in on the fun so I made a little event of it.  In total, six of them  joined with some locals and I.

On a beautiful Sunday morning, we all met at the designated spot before departing as a group.  After a quick stop at a nearby convenience store, and a round of introductions we were off and on our way.  With five countries represented, it was about as diverse as my small town gets.

Pictures of pictures rarely turn out.  But alas…

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We turned onto a nearby back road and followed it along for a while, chatting happily under the blue sky.  I was talking with someone about a dog cafe that was just a ways up the road we were walking, and then by chance it was announced that we would be stopping there for coffee.  When we got there, there was a very stinky though undeniably cute St. Bernard waiting happily for us.  When I discovered this little shop almost two years ago, I never expected that I would actually find a reason to go.

After a group photo we were back on the road.  We soon split off it and went up a steep path into the mountains.  Our guide was huffing and puffing and even taking breaks after difficult sections.  In between breaths she offered up a few tidbits about wild boars rooting around for worms and the practical uses of some of the plants.  That path that we were walking on was actually paved long ago, but the lack of use over many, many years meant that the leaves and brush had reclaimed all but a few spots of tarmac.  A more obvious sign of human involvement was an abandoned house which looked pretty cool, all nestled into the encroaching wood.

We paused there only briefly before carrying onward and upward.  At points there would be a clearing in the trees and our guide would explain what we were looking at.  Eventually we came to and climbed up some stone steps until we reached an old Shinto shrine.  Despite being far from the reaches of ordinary human involvement, festivals are still held here every so often, and it did seem surprisingly well maintained.  This was where we would be breaking for lunch.

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We took a seat behind the main hall at a spot with an incredible view out over Takamatsu.  It would have been better, but a dark wall of weather was approaching on the stiff wind and swallowing everything along the way.  Hoping to get as much of our hike in before yielding to the weather we cleaned up and got ready to go.  During  this time, at least one of our party utilized the chic poop sacks provided at the beginning.  Their purpose was explained to me as something for ”dirty garbage”.

Ask Ben about how to use it…

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Back on the path, we were going up and down some rather formidable slopes that were littered with logs and brush.  It wouldn’t quite be accurate to call it difficult, but it was definitely more of a hike than any of us were expecting.  It didn’t take much longer for the weather to catch up and begin dumping sleet on us.  With nothing but my t-shirt and jeans, I was well prepared for the elements.  We were all soaked in no time.

Shortly before the torrent.

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We took refuge in a small greenhouse shrine that housed a Jizo statue.  Our leader was insultingly incessant about us not touching it.  I wouldn’t have minded if it were just a casual warning, but I had already heard it from her so many times in the days leading up to the event.  Twice she had traveled to my school with the sole purpose of telling me to neither touch the shrines or cut the course ropes, as if those were likely concerns.  It came up again when I happened across her at a recent festival as well.  If she does it again before the hike this weekend, I intend to politely remind her that even as foreigners we are all adults and such repeated instruction is a bit insulting.

We carried on through the cold rain and along the increasingly challenging path.  The weather was worsening our footings and making the loose gravel even more difficult to navigate.  There were a few slips and falls but in the end we all made it to another random house, this time occupied.  After talking with the guy there for just  little bit, we carried on just a bit further where we reached one final cottage that had hot tea and sweet bean soup waiting for us.

By this time my uncontrollable shivering was drawing the attention of the guide and some other ladies.  And despite my stating that I was alright, they insisted that I wear whatever clothing that they could find.  Some combination of towels and old lady vests draped over me simply getting out of the rain caused my tremors to abate.

The rain was really coming down so our leader decided that we would finish out the trip by car.  It took some time for us to send the drivers down the mountain to the parking lot and then for them to return, so we just kept on enjoying our hot soup.  When we at last arrived at our starting point, we hurried off to my house the change out of our freezing clothes and warm up.  We did agree that despite the unfortunate turn of the weather, the outing was well worth the memory.  There will be one more of these events and hopefully the sky will be blue and the foliage lush.

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