The Hills Are Alive
Imitating a mountain goat on a hillside a long way from civilization can be strangely enjoyable. Claire Usmar reports that the mountains are where the action is in Mie.
Hiking or 山登り (lit. mountain climbing) is an insanely popular pastime in Japan. Last year alone about 12.3 million people hiked Japan’s mountains, according to a Japan Productivity Centre White Paper on Leisure.
While Mie is home to part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Komono Kodo, located in far southern Mie, there are plenty of other trails of varying intensity all over the prefecture.
A popular beginners’ trail is up Kyogamine (経ヶ峰, 819m) in Tsu. The climb to the summit takes around an hour and there are toilet and rest station facilities on the trail. The trail head can be reached by buses bound for Kyogamine-guchi (経ヶ峰口) or Tachiai (立合) from Kintetsu Tsu-Shinmachi Station.
My colleagues, however, chose to pit me against Hinokizukaokumine (桧塚奥峰) on my first hike in Japan, as I had some prior hiking experience. Alas, that counted for very little. The mountain is located in Matsusaka, right on the border with Nara Prefecture. Awesome scenery abounded everywhere we looked, but, at seven hours long, a beginners’ hike this was not.
Our party departed Tsu before dawn and by sunrise it was clear we were almost there as the mountains had begun closing in on all sides. We drove right into the spine of Mie until when could go no farther, we found a scrap of earth to park on beside the narrow half-sealed road.
The entire day felt like we were walking through Middle Earth in perfect travel-brochure weather. We saw dark pine forests like those through which the Ringwraiths chased Frodo, open deciduous forests where a second breakfast would not have been out of place, and even the wild open hills of Rohan.
After following a forestry access road for the first 30 minutes, we took what looked little more than a deer trail straight into the forest. We had seen the last of the easy going and our only guide would be the coloured trail markers tied to trees along our route.
We found ourselves in a forest of cedar and black pine where the sun was an infrequent visitor. Perfect bear country, my colleagues cheerily informed me as they broke out the bear whistles and gave them a blow. Sensing my alarm my colleague offered, “Don’t worry, you’re safe. You’re in the middle (of our hiking party). They’ll attack the people at the back first.”
Eventually, our party popped out onto the other side of the mountain where we did our best imitation of a mountain goat as we picked our way across two fresh landslides and up into the natural deciduous forest that clad the ridgeline.
Being mid November, winter had already arrived in the mountains and stripped the trees of their foliage.
The level going along the ridgeline was a welcome respite. We’d been going relentlessly upwards before that. My 24-years-young heart had been threatening to thunder out of my chest and I was gasping as though I’d been sprinting (and I’m someone who runs 10km road races for fun). I couldn’t fathom how our party’s sempai, a sprightly 60-year-old, was keeping up with such a pace.
With the warm weather now here...
Grab some friends, kit up and get out there. Happy hiking!
Hiking guidebooks like Mie-ken no Yama (三重県の山) are a good source of essential information such as trail difficultly and access info.
Also see Lonely Planet: Hiking in Japan 2
I had thought that my hiking pals had been joking as we set out when they said that we were headed for the mountain opposite us – the one which we climbing away from. No joke, it was true, and at the first peak we conquered, our ‘nice’ hike ended; more like was murdered. We started to head for our true destination straight over the top of the mountains in the way, following along a wide switchback.
Still channeling our inner mountain goats, we clung to the ridgeline, no matter how narrow the trail grew nor how sheer the drop became either side of the trail. That glorified “goat trail” narrowed to much less than half a meter wide at times.
Our chipper crew reached the summit of Hinokizukaokumine three hours after setting out. Cheesy but true, the view from the top made the exertion more than worthwhile.
After surviving that seven- hour ordeal, I’m intrigued that I’ve have been scrambling up many mountains across Mie. Such a baptism of fire does wonders for one’s confidence.