“The forecast is looking bleak,” I pleaded to Kin. “Go. It’ll be good to learn about running in the rain,” she replied, none too softly. She was right, of course, but the thought of a warm weekend at home was tugging at my weakness. Reluctantly, I booked the car and train, and set off into the late Friday night from Osaka station as the first spots of rain splashed onto the windscreen and filled me with dread. They would not stop until returning to Tokyo two days later.
At least I was with Hana. I had suspected that dogs were not allowed on the shinkansen, so had hidden her carrier beneath a pile of bags, bento box and goretex gear – and did the same when picking up the car. Fortunately she never makes a sound, so much so that I have on occasion peered into the carrier to check she’s still breathing.
There is something about driving at night, away from the bright lights of the last town, deeper and deeper into the mountains until there are neither cars on the road nor any sign of habitation, that goes against a very basic human instinct. Dogs disappear into the forest away from their owners to die on their own, and driving up that unknown road felt that way. I’ve been living in a city too long.
After 3 hours of fitful sleep (Mitsubishi Colt designers should try sleeping in their own design), it was with immense reluctance that I pulled us both out of the sleeping bag and into the rain for a slippery ascent up the tree roots of Omine. After an hour, a huge figure sitting silently in the rain loomed out of the mist and my heart jumped, but it was just a bronze statue.
On the way up, I had seen a small lonely tent deep in the mottled buna forest. I imagined that the occupant had come to escape from his problems for the weekend, intentionally choosing a remote location when the weather was poor. On the descent, I met the occupant trudging slowly up. After a few words of exchange, he silently unshouldered his large pack, burrowed deep, and pulled out a large bag of quality green tea from his hometown. “Here, please take this,” he said. “I like giving to people.”
After a quick run up Odaigahara on the path-turned-river, the worst part of the hyakumeizan followed. The drive to Ibuki took 5 hours, for the route went through Nara, where the Chinese premier happened to be sightseeing and the entire police force had been mobilised to ensure that no cars could approach. At the entrance to Ibuki, the toll road collector asked, “Sure you really want to go up today?” “Yes, I won’t be long.” “Well, that’ll be 3000 yen and you won’t see anything up there in the fog.” The vast carpark was running water, with not a soul to be seen.
After just 20 minutes round-trip, another 3 hours of driving followed, chewing Black-Black gum and slapping my face to stay awake. This was not fun, so I called Kin. “I’m sooooo sorry,” she said, remorseful after packing me off like that.