Archive | September 2010

Mount Maya

This continues my after the fact travel blogs. I figure it will assist in keeping me in a state of denial that I’m back in the land of liberty, even though writing about things that happened two weeks ago strikes me as disingenuous. Regardless, Fumie and I decided to brave the heat and scale Mount Maya, part of the Rokko mountains outside Kobe, Japan. While I could find no evidence of legends of ghosts of spirits on Mount Maya (unlike Mount Mulanje in Malawi), the name derives from the Mayabujin, or the mother of the Buddha Shakyamuni, who is enshrined here.

The path up the mountain is well prepared, requiring no special skill to reach the top. Centuries of travel through the mountain have worn out walking paths. Maps are provided at various points and sign point the way to prevent being lost in the woods. The trip is mostly easy (assuming cool weather), aside from a series of stairways ending in what’s known as the “agony slope”, a nearly vertical, seeming endless slope. Fortunately, there’s much to see along the way and one can always stick one’s feet in one of the mountain streams to cool down.

Aside from the multitude of shrines and odd abandoned houses along the way, one passes by dam which provides the city of Kobe with fresh water. I was always curious as to where Japanese cities got their water and now I know how. Seeing this pristine water in the middle of a mountain top causes me to question the nearly obsessive water quality suspicions Japanese residents have. The water in Kobe is likely cleaner than the water in Michigan.

It takes about six hours to reach the top of Mount Maya. Highlight of the trip was stopping to read a sign describing the types of people who get dementia and having a female wild boar sneak up behind us. Presumably, the boaress has a strategy where she frightens people who stop for lunch into running away from their bentos. After we walked way, she started gnawing on the bench hungrily. These animals are feared throughout Japan, being known for quickly attacking and biting humans with little provocation. However, I could tell that this one was just after lunch.

One can do the walk back down the mountain to catch the train home, but then you would miss the sweet cable car ride back down. While the view is excellent, it’s a bit disconcerting to spend a mere ten minutes going down a mountain that took you six hours to scale. Conclusion? Highly recommended. Easy and safe walk, great scenery and if you get into real trouble there are people around. Maps and vending machines abound. I’m still wondering why I didn’t do this kind of thing when I actually lived in Japan. The twenties have to be the dumbest period of person’s lifetime, at least for me.

Himeji Heat Wave

This summer in Japan was the hottest on record in six decades. Even after 13 years enduring Mississippi summers, I can never get used to such unbearable heat. More than 300 people died from the heat while we were there and there were at least 40,000 hospitalizations due to complications from heat stroke. As in the US, elderly individuals are at the highest risk of adverse effects from heat exposure, and many either can’t afford air conditioning or refuse to run it, thinking it a waste of money. Maybe it’s my public health training, but I can’t help but think that dying of heat stroke is inherently an affliction of the poor. Rich people have air conditioners and don’t mind using them. Regardless, Japanese air conditioners are ill equipped to deal with Japanese summers.

Braving the heat, I borrowed my brother in law’s bike and rode the Akashi/Himeji Cycling Road from Akashi Okubo Station to Himeji. It was only 100 degrees but I wanted to get in a least some amount of bike time in while I was in Japan. Japan is excellent for cycling. The government has created a vast network of paved cycling roads, well off the main automobile infested streets, with detailed signs and maps along the way so that one does not get lost. Convenience stores and vending machines are everywhere, no fear of getting mugged or sick, it’s tailor made for cycling. Plus, one gets to enjoy the incredible scenery along the way. Unfortunately, though, the Akashi-Himeji Cycling Road is mostly under a Shinkansen track and looks like the picture on the right for miles. The plus side is that there is shade underneath the track.

Once one actually gets to Himeji, however, the challenge is to find the castle. After getting some miserable directions that took me at least 5 miles out of my way, I finally made it to the castle. Himeji castle is famous for being one of the most beautiful existing castles in Japan. Kurosawa filmed both Kagemusha and Ran at the site. It’s breathtaking, but now looking at the pictures, I realize that the heat must have been getting to me (some pictures are fairly inexplicable). I don’t think I really appreciated how fantastic it is. Unfortunately, the main building is closed for renovation and will be for the next 5 years or so. One can still get into one of the minor buildings, though.

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