Archive for August, 2020

I feel violated, a victim of a robbery I knew was coming but was not completely prepared for. While I thought the thieves would access the motherlode via the lower extremities, I had forgotten rule #1 of hiking in the mountains of Ōhara: watch your head. So, as I wipe the blood from my abdomen, I reflect upon my crucial mistake.

Ted pulls his car into a small lot just off route 477 in the tiny hamlet of Momoi in northern Kyoto. It is just before 8:30 as the morning cloud conceals the piercing heat of the rising sun, a day which threatens to bring temperatures in the upper 30s. Our task is simple: a quick loop up Mt Naccho, the final of the 10 peaks of Ōhara and a chance for me to stretch the legs after self-quarantining for half the year. Mid-summer and blood-thirsty leeches go hand-in-hand in these stretches of cedar-choked hills, so I tighten the cordage on my summer gaiters in order to keep the thieves out of my shoes and trousers. William, in true Aussie fashion, opts for the t-shirt and shorts approach, while Ted feels confident in his long trousers and nimble reflexes.

The three of us stop off at a small nondescript shrine adjacent to our parking space and offer a quick greeting to the mountain gods. William spots the first of the leeches descending the moss-smothered staircase with the grace and agility of a miniature Slinky. This one looks fully grown and well-fed, feasting on the inadvertent handouts of the shrine worshippers. We retreat back to the safety of the asphalt and walk through the sleepy village to the trailhead. Ted offers his respects to the grave of a fallen naval soldier, timely it is on the cusp of the 75th anniversary of the end of the war.

The trailhead is soon reached, marked by a handmade sign for ナッチョ. Our peak goes by two names, the first of which is 天ヶ森 or heavenly forest, but it is this other name in katakana that intrigues us all. Where did it come from and what does it mean? It is in these forests that we seek answers to our questions.

A meandering forest road ushers us past a collection of discarded refrigerators and other appliances rusting away beneath the moss. Perhaps ナッチョ is an obscure Kyoto-dialact term for neglect. While those thoughts float around in my head, the relatively cool temperatures afforded by the cloud cover provide us the opportunity to make good work of this abandoned road to nowhere. Using the GPS to help show us the way, we leave the road on an unmarked path switchbacking its way through the upper reaches of the cedar plantations to the summit ridge alive with the lush greenery of an untouched swath of hardwoods.

With cedar on our left and deciduous trees to the right, we straddle the ridge, enjoying the contrast of the conflicting forestry policies of the neighboring villages. The trail leads above the forest road towards an unmarked summit before cutting a sharp right for a short traverse below the ridge with intermittent vistas to Lake Biwa in the east. The sun shines through gaps in the clouds, so the pace is swift yet relaxed, and just one hour after leaving the car the summit of the 813m peak is reached. We celebrate as any mountaineer would – by breaking out the nachos!

The tortilla chips are spread between us, with a cup of store-bought nacho cheese dip that looks unnaturally green and has the taste and smell of a neglected pickle. Ted screams in disgust, kicking himself in his haste for accidentally purchasing the guacamole version of the dip instead of the savory fondue con queso. We stick to just the chips themselves, be it as it is still just 9:30 in the morning and way too early for a filling lunch. Summit proofs are snapped as the clouds threaten to burn off completely, forcing us on the move to escape the heat.

Instead of returning down the same trail, a track to the northeast sticks to the ridge and meanders along the undulating contours of the mountain range. Well-marked with pink tape in places, followed by a tricky exercise in route-finding past a lush valley and along an adjacent ridge to reach Mitani-tōge. A left turn here off the ridge leads through a narrow rope-lined traverse above a mountain stream. The track is wet and apparently filled with leeches, who take advantage of our slow, absentminded descent to commence their heist. As we reach the forest road, Ted feels a pinch on his leg, lifting his trousers to reveal the blood-sucking culprit feasting on a vein of red gold.

As I laugh at Ted’s expense, I too feel a pinch on my belly just below my liver. Lifting my shirt, I find the leech firmly attached to my midriff – how it got there I can only surmise, but neither thought is very comforting. Ted offers a bandage so I can keep the oozing of blood off of my one and only shirt. William, the one left most exposed in his shorts, has not one leech attached to his legs. Whatever he ate for breakfast I would like to know, for it must surely be a leech-repellent.

As we reach the outskirts of Momoi village, an abandoned elementary school sits idle yet well-kept. It’s likely been converted into a community center/evacuation shelter for the local residents. Next door, a stone monument has been erected to a fallen air force soldier – for such a small village to have two fallen war veterans is a testament to just how many available men were forced to do the emperor’s dirty work. I scan the monument, hoping that perhaps this gentlemen went by the name of Mr. Naccho but to no avail.

The car ride back to town is smooth, and even after a quick dip in the river I could still make it back home by 4pm, in time for a refreshing shower to wash away the grime. As I strip off my hiking gear, I notice the upper part of my shirt and rucksack are covered with blood, and in the mirror I spot the kissmark left by a leech right on my juglar! The leech must have parachuted down from the trees while I was navigating that narrow traverse above the ravine. Perhaps it had its fill and dropped off inside my shirt, had a short nap, and then started feasting again on my belly. Or likely there were two different leeches indulging themselves on my succulent B-positive blood cells.

Clean and refreshed, I use my sleuthing powers and old man Google to investigate the origin of the name Naccho. The most likely explanation is a local dialect for the word Nassho (納所), the office for collecting land taxes in the form of rice. Perhaps the local villagers would climb this mountain to escape from the tax collectors or perhaps they would set up a lookout so they could see when the bakufu were arriving from Edo. Or it could have much older connection with Hieizan and Heian-era Kyoto. Regardless, the mountain is apparently on the list of strange mountain names in Japan, and attracts hikers with the sole purpose of climbing the Chinmeizan (珍名山).



Read Full Post »