“Mt. Oe is known as the Oni mountain”, explains Mr. Murata, the caretaker on duty at the visitor’s center at the base of the mountain. I had just alighted from a tongue-twister of a train station named Oeyamaguchinaiku, the closest public transport link to the trailhead. Since the station was deserted and in the middle of nowhere, I stumbled into the center and Murata-san called for a taxi, which would arrive in about half an hour. We spend the next 30 minutes deep in conversation, with my host explaining in great detail about the differences between oni and obake. Dreadfully, most was lost in the rapid-fire Japanese coming out of his mouth, but I did pick up enough to realize the historical importance of Mt. Oe’s volcanic peaks. Although many theories abound about the oni, one of the more popular legends states that the mythical oni-king Shuten-doji used the mountain as his home base while terrorizing people in the ancient capital of Kyoto. Oni can be translated as demon or devil, but the creatures are much more than just simple monsters, explained Mr. Murata. By the time the taxi showed up, I felt immersed in the basics on devil-ology, even if I can’t seem to recall much else from that conversation. (Mental note to oneself: next time carry an audio recorder or at the very least try not to wait 6 months before writing up a trip report)
The taxi driver dropped me off at Onidake Inari shrine, a small nondescript building sitting three-quarters of the way up the rolling massif. A dozen hikers sat in repose on a handful of metal benches overlooking a spectacular vista into the valley below. The fresh greenery of the encroaching summer glowed brilliantly in the May sunshine. I turned away from the group and entered a virgin forest of beech trees clinging tightly to the eroding hillside. Wooden steps and gentle switchbacks made for an easy ascent, and the ridge line was breached in less than twenty minutes. Half a dozen ticks on the clock later, and the high point of Mt. Oe came into view, the exposed, grassy knob of the summit plateau affording incredible panoramic views of several neighboring prefectures. The folds of mountain ranges flowed seamlessly across the expanding horizon. Visibility this clear in a rarity in these parts, especially when the spring gales push the pollution across the sea from neighboring China. This was one of the fastest ascents of any of the Kansai 100, but fortunately the mountain range was an undulating ridge traversing over all of Mt. Oe’s quartet of peaks, giving me ample excuse to wander.
The path dropped steeply to a saddle before rising abruptly through a boulder field lined with alpine flowers and bamboo grass. After topping out on Hato-ga-mine (the pigeon peak), I took a brief rest, taking in the views straight down a valley tucked off to the north. My eyes traced the curves of a river vanishing off to the horizon where it met the azure waters of the sea expanding out to the curvature of the earth beyond. I could have stayed up here for hours, daydreaming about the locals preoccupied in the villages underneath my outstretched legs. My reverie was short-lived, broken by the cacophony of a trio of young, beautiful females dressed to the nines in sparkling fresh mountain gear and beaming with enthusiasm. Our brief conversation sent my blood pressure soaring above the charts, an indication that I had better get a move on.
I continued strolling along the pleasant spine of the range, reaching a parking lot filled with vehicles at the mountain pass. Most visitors end their excursion here, either entering their cars or walking down the paved forest road to the bus stop and Oni museum situated at the foot of the mountain. There was still one more peak to conquer, however, as I continued north to the conical mound of Mt. Nabezuka, which afforded views back towards the high point. From here, the ridge actually continued to yet another peak marked by a red building that appeared to be some kind of weather station. I made a cup of yama coffee, a concoction whose reputation is beginning to precede myself. The ingredients I cannot divulge, but partakers of the rejuvenating beverage are rarely left disappointed.
Once again I drifted off into reverie, only to be once again disturbed by a trio of middle-aged men huffing and puffing up to the high point, lit cigarettes in hand. Why someone would need a hit of chemical-laced nicotine in the middle of the mountains is something I’ll never come to terms with, but I took the sign as an indication to keep moving and for good reason: the next bus left in less than 50 minutes.
I retreated back to a junction and turned left, following a seldom-used path that spit me out onto a forest road, where a signpost sent my blood pressure escalating once again: Oeyama bus stop 3.5km. The race was on to make the bus, as my engines geared up. I stowed the camera away in the pack, knowing that snapping any superfluous photos would eat away precious seconds off the clock. I hate racing against time, especially after savoring the leisurely pace, but if I didn’t make this bus, I’d have to loiter around for 2-1/2 addition hours, meaning I wouldn’t get back to Osaka until well after dark. I darted off in the pace of a brisk walk. If I burst into a gallop I would likely send my heart rate into choppy waters, putting my mechanical heart valve at risk of overload. I kept my eyes focused on the trail, skirting the switchbacks with the speed and agility of a mogul competitor. I reached the top of the paved road in only 15 minutes, despite the map times indicating a one hour descent. From here, I continued the escalated pace, finally arriving at the bus stop with only 5 minutes to spare, which meant I had no time to check out the museum to learn more about the oni legend.
Mt. Nabezuka took precedence to any cultural investigations, but perhaps it is a blessing in disguise. By forfeiting a visit to the museum, it offered an excuse to return. The beauty of Mt. Oe on a clear day is unheralded, so perhaps I may just have to join Mr. Banff on his visit to the peak, since it is still on his long list of mountains left to climb.