Tuesday, March 23, 2010

sensenshuu Takaosan ni itta, tanoshikatta yo.

I’m back from Ishigaki – only a small amount worse for the wear, and I really need to catch up on my blogging for all my intrepid readers. I got some photos from my trip to Takao-san, which seems like it happened weeks ago for some reason.

We decided to go because there was to be a himatsuri (or fire festival) at the mountain that day, which means firewalking for nihonjin, and coal walking for gaikokujin (I know how it feels to be a second class citizen). We had also heard tell of a monkey sanctuary near the top of the mountain, and my fellow gaijins lost in this godforsaken country seem to have developed a healthy obsession with monkeys.

The mountain was a bit of a trek away, so I gave myself some buffer time above and beyond what Jorudan (my super duper Tokyo-to route planner) recommended to me. Of course I ended up there right when expected (I love you, Japanese public transit system) and had to wait around for my tardy buddies. There was this white guy on the train with me who kept giving me that “I’m a white guy, you’re a white guy, we’re both in Japan surrounded by Nipponese, I know I probably wouldn’t talk to you if we crossed paths in a predominantly Caucasian environment, but I feel some kind of bizarre kinship to you right now” look while I was waiting for my friends (it’s a complicated look; part surprise, part furtive curiosity, part disinterest and part longing). Anyway he eventually came out and asked me “are you waiting for someone?” (with a notable American Midwest accent)

This provided me with a delicious opportunity to answer and apologize in French and show this guy that not all random white guys in Japan speak American. But I was feeling especially friendly at the time, and responded with a grunt and a “yeh”. A few minutes of unwanted conversation later and I figure out he’s a pompous Napoleonic syndrome case from Chicago with a chip on his shoulders, a friend from Hamilton (Ontario) and gradient sunglasses on his face. Thanks for that, “R. J.”. If that’s even your REAL name.

Sorry. Tangent. Voila, fire festival!

These were the lucky ones, they got to sit in front of the tall gaijin. Much of the crowd is actually in line already for firewalking. So no coal walking for us.

I believe that all announcements given during this thing were in chant form, so it was quite difficult to follow along. There was this massive pile/pyre of what looked like evergreen limbs (that were still quite green) in the middle of a cordoned off area. The whole area was surrounded by at least 2 fire brigades, suggesting that they might light this thing on fire.

First you sprinkle some oil around the thing (or maybe holy water? Either way, something combustive)

Then you bring out the monks, who try to achieve ignition through applied chanting (it didn’t work).

Now they’re bringing out the big guns. This guy looks like the Dalai Lama, but I assume he isn’t. The Dalai Lama wouldn’t need no stinking umbrella, not to mention this guy was wearing shoes.

I can’t really recall how this fire started, but probably something vaguely Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon crossed with Agumon.


Raaah, fire.
Then we decided to actually climb the mountain. It’s a little guy, with paths and stairs pretty much the whole way up (if you take the pussy way, that is). Sparks & co. set a crazy fast pace, as they either wished to put the rest of us in our unfit-place, or was in a rush to get to the top, go back down, and end up right where she started. Anyway we fairly promptly got to a pretty outlook place where you can see much of Tokyo.

You’re supposed to be able to see Shinjuku (a fancy neighbourhood of Tokyo) in this picture, or so the crazy Japanamantourguide said.

This one has some very, very corrugated hills, backed by Yokohama (That’s where I live!) in the background. No, I can’t see my house.

It was just about here that a couple of European noobies (a recent arrival from France, and from the Netherlands) and myself decided to branch a bit off the beaten path. So we jumped over some obviously mistaken obstacles and warning signs and headed onto a very sketchy path with promises of a waterfall and a shrine at the end.

The source of these pictures (Jessica) continued on her merry way, so the inevitably harrowing adventures that soon came my way went undocumented. But suffice to say we saw a lot of pretty flowers, dangerous precipices, waterfalls, albino monkeys with beards, Fujisan, etc...

We actually didn’t see any of these. I have no idea what they are.

We also saw a lot of stone Buddhas with hats, scarves, cardigans and earmuffs. I’m not clear on the reasoning behind these little accoutrements, but even the Buddhas on the tiny shrines we found in the mysterious waterfall area were well adorned with red hats and scarves at the very least.

Awwww, baby Siddharta!

This is the first time I've seen a Buddha in a toque.

It’s a shame there aren’t any photos of the massive Japanese temple complex at the top of the mountain (come on Jess, get with the program!), or the platform with an entrance to the temples that clearly says “Priests only!!” (which I accidentally explored, and was summarily cursed by). There is this one that I think is taken from the top, with (what I think might be) Fujisan very very dimly in the middle of the shot.

A very ambiguously dim caldera.

Right now I’m literally falling apart at work. My Ishigaki sun burns and coral wounds have left me horribly scarred and with mild necrosis of the right hand. I have 1.6GB of Ishigaki photos to steal from Jessica and Arianna and add to my own, I’ll post some goodies in a bit.


  1. Man these are GORGEOUS photos Blake...you're so skilled!

  2. I can't take all the credit Jess, that Agumon one is definitely copyright Cartoon Network or something.