Climbing Tateyama

The original version of this article was written for the Vol.5-No.7 edition (September 2, 2011) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

One of the most significant natural features of Toyama Prefecture is the Tateyama Mountain Range. It is considered one of Japan’s three “Holy Mountains,” along with Mt. Fuji and Mt. Haku (Hakusan). Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hiking to the top of Oyama, a peak 3,003 meters (9,852 ft.) above sea level, with the newest of my fellow JET Program participants.

The roughly two-hour (each way) hike began at Murodo Station, at 2,450-meter (8,038 ft.) elevation. It was cloudy and very foggy with a chance of rain. We set out on the stone hiking path, through the plains surrounded by mountain slopes. Soon, we reached our first obstacle: snow. There was a large patch of snow covering the trail, and it took small steps and careful concentration to not fall over.

The stone path ended at a resting hut, and I looked up at the steep, rocky mass that was the way to the top. As someone who had been on countless hikes in California and Oregon and a runner in good shape, I had been absolutely confident about this hike, but I admit that suddenly looking up at a giant pile of rocks that faded up into the fog gave me some pause.

It turned out, though, that scrambling up the rocks was my favorite part! There was no real “trail” – just some occasional red arrows marking the best route – and it was great fun climbing from rock to rock. I felt excited, as if I were back in the playground on a jungle gym. Sometimes, the fog would momentarily clear, offering panoramic views of the valley and of the now-tiny buildings below. I also enjoyed the flowering alpine plants – little bright spots of color bursting out from the cracks between the rocks.

Perched at the top is Oyama Shrine. While the thick fog made it impossible to see anything below (I was told that you can even see Mt. Fuji on a clear day), I found myself not minding much. The torii (shrine gate) looked ghostly in the mist, which somehow felt like an iconic sight. As an actively functioning shrine, I went up and received a blessing (and a sip of sake) from the priest, before starting my way back down the mountain.

This Tateyama trip is part of the annual Toyama Prefecture Orientation for new JET Program participants here. I cannot think of a better way to be introduced to Toyama.