The shoulder season in Japan is always a gamble of sorts, and April is no exception. Paul M., Mayumi, and I all boarded the JR train from Osaka in t-shirts and thin nylon pants, but once arriving at Omi-imazu station we were all reaching for extra layers to protect us from the biting winds.
From the station, a bus shuttled us along route 303 and the Saba kaido to Kaminaka station in Fukui prefecture. This was the closest station to our target peak of Sanjūngen (the mountain of 33 gates), but it was hardly within walking distance. Instead, we hired a taxi to chauffeur us the remainder of the way. For some reason there were no taxis in sight at the station, so we called the number in my guidebook and one came to our rescue a short time later.
The twenty-minute journey through the broad valley lined with carp streamers was enchanting, and soon we were dropped off in Kurami village, our wallets a bit lighter than when we had set out that morning. The path was fortunately well-marked and easy to follow, and after 90 minutes of steady climbing through an impressive beech forest, we reached the ridge of the elongated peak.
Just below the crest of the ridge, we found a small Buddhist statue dedicated to the god of wind, whose prayers were surely being answered on this unusually gusty morning. We turned left on the spine, through an area of broad grasslands and tall susuki grass. The wind was pushing south from the Sea of Japan directly in front of us, making forward progress a struggle. On our leeward side, a broad mountain range still dotted with blotches of snow caught our attention. According to my map, it was the summit of Mt. Sanjo (三重嶽), one of the Kinki Hyakumeizan and a part of the 80-km long Takashima trail. The mountain looked absolutely salacious in the mid-day light. I vowed to return some day for a more in-depth look.
After a half-hour of accelerated climbing, we reached the high point and paused briefly for a bite to eat. Ill-equipped as we were, we put on every layer that we had in a futile attempt to stay warm. The thermometer on my backpack read 5 degrees, a stark contrast to the 20 degree temperatures wafting through Osaka city. We’d been caught off guard once again, forcing ourselves to dance around between bites from our bento lunches.
Once we could tolerate the cold no longer, we dropped back down off the ridge and into the sheltered confines of the hardwood forest. The leaves had yet to sprout as we were constantly reminded that winter had yet to release these exposed highlands from its tight grasp.
Back at the trailhead, we once again called the taxi for the short ride back to the station and awaiting bus. Sanjūsangen was an impressive mountain and would have been much more enjoyable had we been better prepared to face the shoulder season with a bit more padding.