Wednesday, December 31, 2008

HAPPY NEW YEAR

明けましておめでとうございます!

This year I welcomed the New Year in Kyoto with my in-laws. I want to say thank you to all of them for their unceasing warmth and kindness.
いつも、ありがとうございます。
In particular, I would like to say thank you to my mother-in-law for always working so hard to make the New Year holiday special--your food is incredible, as always.


I would also like to express my deep gratitude to the people of Otaki Village for their amazing kindness and support. Moving to Otaki and being allowed to learn about the people and their environment has been wonderful beyond what I ever expected.
I've grown deeply attached to Otaki's landscape and people and feel anxious about having to leave in 3 short months.
皆様、今年も宜しくお願いいたします。

Also, I'd like extend my condolences to the family of H-san, the head of Otaki's village council, who passed away unexpectedly on the night of the 29th. I only met H-san a couple of times, and only talked with him at any length once. However, in that single conversation I gained a strong sense of his love for Otaki and his commitment to seeing it thrive into the future. H-san was warm and spoke with a strong, yet calm, voice. His passing is a great loss to Otaki, but I hope his example might prove inspirational to others.

Lastly, I'd like to express my gratitude to the earth itself. To all its myriad living beings and to the complexities that sustain us all. In my small mind I forget to show my gratitude, but in my larger mind I feel it at every moment--gazing at spirals of forest sunlight or witnessing the blaze of winter stars.

A happy new year to all. . .

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Friday, December 26, 2008

"Itabuki" 板葺: Otaki's traditional roofing

In my previous post I wrote briefly about the wood plank roofing that used to be used in Otaki. These days most homes are roofed using sheets of red tin (I still don't know why red). The tile roofing that is common throughout most of Japan is rarely used--the heavy winds and snows of the area are not friendly.

Wooden planks make sense in Otaki because the village is surrounded by forest. From what residents have told me the planks they used in the past came from the Imperial Forests--known as 御料林 go-ryourin. Sawara cypress was the variety of tree most commonly used for planks.

The wooden planks were laid on top of a roof frame in a staggered pattern with planks on top overlapping those below them, ensuring a watertight covering. Wood-smoke from inside the home would then work to treat the underside of the roof, while the upper-side--exposed to rain and snow--tended to rot. The roof would, therefore, be periodically disassembled and the planks rotated so that exposed sections could be cured by the wood-smoke and previously cured sections faced outwards towards the elements. The planks are rotated and used four times: the initial pattern, an oblong rotation, a single flip, and then one more oblong rotation.
Longer pieces of wood, running the length of the roof, were laid perpendicular to the roof planks and then lined with large rocks to hold the whole thing in place. Otaki's traditional roofs, like the house structures themselves, required no nails--no metal--only wood and stone.

There are only a few of these roofs left in Otaki. I first heard about the old construction techniques during a vist from a Tokyo woman in Kiso to learn lacquerware. She was in Otaki searching for examples of old lacquerware that she could show her teacher. After noticing some of the old planks in my friend S-san's home, the woman was shocked to learn that S-san was using the planks as kindling. The woman used a couple of the planks to create lacquerware plates. She was searching for more, and so a neighbor brought over some unused planks.
One could see clearly how the planks had been peeled from their parent tree. Each plank is chopped away from a larger pie-shaped section of tree. Imagine cutting out a slice of cake and then cutting that slice into a series of thinner slices. Put differently, if one had all the planks from a section of tree, its round shape could be reconstructed by standing the planks on end and fitting them into one another. The grain of the tree runs down the length of each plank, with the tree's growth rings marked across the width.

These planks are beautiful in and of themselves, as objects, but I find beauty in their utilitarian value as well--whether as roofing or firewood (though I prefer the former). Otaki's itabuki made life possible for humans living within the environment from which they themselves were procured. In the global economy, this is a value embodied by fewer and fewer "things". For this reason, more than seeing these wonderful structures preserved, I'd like to see the tradition revived.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Waterwheel 水車

A couple of days before I left for a trip to the U.S., S-san invited me to come by to see her family's waterwheel and mill. I thought I might be too late, but she assured me they would be using the wheel into the first week of December.

I arrived at S-san's on a sunny Wednesday morning. She said she had just been on her way to grind some rice, so the timing was good. S-san's family owns the only waterwheel that remains in Otaki, though it appears that in the past many families operated their own wheels. Every year family's from all over the village bring rice to be ground into flour for making dango, manju and other treats.


After briefly showing me the contents of the wheel-house, S-san walked up above to open and close gates in order to divert water to the wheel. The sound of rushing water that had been constant since I arrived paused. A moment later it resumed. And, a moment after that, water began spewing from the mouth of a pipe situated next to the wheel. It took a few seconds, but the giant wheel finally lurched into motion and was soon spinning with ease. S-san greased the wheel's axel with a few hearty d0llops of oil from a can.

We moved into the wheel-house, which was now alive with noise and motion. Wooden gears spun, squeaking and jumping, as if they would bound from their interlocked positions. The whole thing resembled some fantastic flying machine one might encounter in a novel or movie. I took the following video.

video

S-san explained to me the art of making rice flour. I call it an art because there's no formula for where to position the funnel into which rice is poured so that it will fall at the right pace to create fine, but not too fine, a flour. There's no manual. It all must be done using one's senses, the way a painter knows if the sky she is painting is the right shade of blue. The same is true, remarked S-san, of the amount of water allowed to power the wheel--too much and the wheel will spin too fast, grind the rice too hard, too little and it won't be fast enough.

The wheel-house itself is only about five feet by five feet and is made entirely of wood. The roof is made of wooden planks that overlap one another--a traditional technique in the Kiso Valley. There are only a few of these roofs left in Otaki. The boards are made by cutting a rounded log into quarter sections, so that it looks like slices of pie. Planks are then cut away from the quartered sections, lengthwise, against the grain of the tree rings. By flipping and rotating the planks a roof can be renewed four times before having to be replaced entirely.

Within the wheel-house are a series of wooden cogs that make up three different stations that can be used by reworking the structure. The first is a grinding station for making rice and other types of flour. The second is a pounding station where a large wooden pestle is pounded into a stone mortar. The third station is also used for grinding, but with fewer cogs, which means it grinds faster therefore creating coarser material. The first griding station consists of two stones that sit within a wooden container above a small box for collecting the flour. A wooden cog sits on top of the stones. Rice is dropped onto the cog from a funnel suspended above it. A small straw broom sweeps the grains of rice from the cog into a hole leading to the spinning stones.

S-san explained to me that this waterwheel has been in her family since the Meiji Period--around the end of the 19th century. She learned from her father and grandfather how to use the wheel. "They used to take it apart and clean everything, but I really can't do that," lamented S-san. Looking at the device one can see why; S-san emphatically stated that moving the grinding stones requires the strength of at least two people.

I got a sense that S-san understands that the use of waterwheels is a dying art in Japan. "Every year I think that perhaps I won't use it," sighed S-san, "but my son said he wanted the manju made with the wheel ground rice flour. He said it tastes better. It does taste better!" Here, I realize, is the heart and future of Otaki--and perhaps other rural areas: the recognition of values aside from convenience, speed, and efficiency. In modern society, a focus on finishing tasks as quickly as possible has collapsed the social spaces where community, art, and tradition are cultivated and cared for. There IS value in slowing down; in living life to the clip-clopping pace of an old rickety waterwheel.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rethinking wildlife relations

A recent post on KenElwood: Rewilding in Japan about crows reminded me of a TED talk that a friend had sent to me some time ago--also about crows.



In the talk, Joshua Klein speaks to the intelligence of crows; and to the lack of intelligence on the part of humans in "dealing" with crows. Klein's point about taking time to rethink our relationships with other animals is well taken. What's the use of evolving such large brains if we're not gonna use them.

Some more fodder for thought is an article in Orion Magazine by Susanne Antonetta in which she describes her experiences meeting Chantek, an orangutan capable of using sign language to communicate.

Many humans in modern society arrogantly dismiss the intelligence and depth of other animals--especially wild animals. KenElwood began his post by alluding to an elder who might reference a crow story. Many cultures have stories concerning animals, there wisdom and connection to humans. Many people in modern societies tend to shirk these stories and give little attention to relationships with other animals, which often become nuisances or pests.

I know in my country, the U.S., we often "battle" things: nature, terrorism, depression, cancer, wildlife, . . .on and on. Perhaps we need to rethink this. Is there a way to "cooperate" with these things? Adding the word to those listed above sounds strange at first: "cooperate with cancer"; "cooperate with terrorism". However, the exercise may also open some new pathways that we might walk down.

This post is somewhat off topic from my research here in Otaki. But, here too I am constantly seeking new ways of thinking that might blossom into new ways of doing. Also, we are close to many animals here--and these relationships are becoming problematic. People seem to be shifting into a defensive mode, which is not sustainable. How might we rethink it all?

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

San Francisco Interlude

Fog slinking through the building tops,
makes me remember
the hip chill of San Francisco.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Becoming "アルプス"

The blog One Hundred Mountains recently contained a post Weighing up Walter Weston, that explores the validity of Weston's title as "the father of the Japanese Alps".

Weston's place in Japanese history has a lot to do with what was happening in Japan at the time as the Meiji government was creating a political space that required a reconfiguring of the entire landscape. Berkeley geographer Karen Wigen takes up this topic and argues that the mountains of central Japan were "discovered" as the alps (アルプス) and reconfigured to meet the political and social needs of the Meiji regime.

Here is the full reference

Wigen K. 2005. Discovering the Japanese Alps: Meiji Mountaineering and the Quest for Geographical Enlightenment. Journal of Japanese Studies 31

If anyone wants the article, but can't find it online, I can email a PDF.

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寒山の御嶽山 Cold mountain, Ontake-san

I'll be leaving Otaki in March of next year, and I'm not sure if I'll have a chance to climb Ontake-san on the other side of winter. I've wanted to see san-no-ike (三ノ池), Ontake's third pond, since I arrived here in Otaki. So, though it was late in the season, on Halloween day I decided to give it a go. This is the Ontake-san that had peaked out at me the morning of the previous day. . .irresistable.

I had been busy until about 10:00 that morning, but should have gone--the weather was perfect. Instead I kept my eyes on the weather forecasts and decided that the next day would be best for an ascent; I could get an early start.

I was climbing the road to Ta-no-hara 田の原 by about 5:30 the next morning. When I reached the clearings of Ontake 2240's ski hills I could gaze clearly at the first stirrings of the morning swelling up behind the Kiso Range.
At Ta-no-hara I climbed from my car and took in my first breaths of the cool air there. I looked up at Ontake-san. The mountain was exquisite.
Eager to get climbing, I tightened my boots and quickly hefted my pack. My worshiper's bell, that I had inherited from the summit on a previous ascent, rang out, cracking the solitude of the cold air. Just below the treeline the sun spilled over the Kiso Range and flooded the landscape with it's warmth and light.

Above the treeline I gained views of the hills and valleys below, with just enough time to see the wall of clouds about to smack into Ontake-san. In my head--and just a bit outside of my head-- I cursed the weather forecasters of the world.

"Keep going". . ."retreat". . ."wait a few minutes". . ."fuck"--my head was a snowstorm of thoughts. I wasn't so concerned with bad weather on the mountain; I knew my way at least as far as the summit. The fear that was nagging me was of snow down below. I had come in a small "k-car" (660cc engine) with no snow tires; THAT was the descent I was worried about. However, always a captive of the lure of the mountain I kept moving upward, promising myself that I'd turn back if the weather didn't let up.

I made it to the Otaki summit in about an hour and a half. There I encountered a frozen world. Everything was still within the stone walls of the shrine, but stepping out towards Ken-ga-mine 剣ヶ峰, Ontake's true summit, I was smacked by wind coursing up from the southwest.
Below I had insincerely promised myself that if upon reaching the Otaki summit the weather had not cleared I would head down the mountain. The weather had not cleared, but the mountain beckoned. I began making my way across Ontake's southeasern face, but encountered deep snow and knew that a fall would send me hurling down the mountain towards Hyakkentaki 百間滝. From here I knew the climb to the true summit at ken-ga-mine would be short and I was familiar with the route, so I took off skyward. I arrived at the summit within about 30 minutes. The weather had not changed and the top of Ontake-san was blustering.

Though it was freezing cold and somewhat cumbersome to move around I forced myself to eat some of the onigiri I had brought. The balls of rice were cold and stiff, but I gobbled them down gleefully. Hot tea would have been wonderful, but I settled for cold water. I ended my quick meal with a piece of chocolate that took ages to melt in my mouth.

I started down from the summit with the intention to descend back to the parking lot at Ta-no-hara, but was drawn off course by the distant call of Ontake's third pond, san-no-ike--my original goal for the day. According to local legend, long ago Ontake was home to only one pond, within which dwelled a dragon who remained undisturbed within it's depths. The dragon was awoken by a curious traveler who peered into the pond. The dragon was angered and thrashed about in the pond, scattering it's waters and giving birth to five ponds within which were born five dragons of different colors. Those dragons are said to live in the ponds to this day.

Before long I had reached ni-no-ike (二ノ池), the second pond, which was frozen solid. I walked along it's edge, searching for a trail sign that could lead me in the direction of san-no-ike. The wooden signs, however, were all covered with thick layers of blown snow and ice, making them difficult to read.

Eventually I did find the trail leading towards san-no-ike. The weather was still no good, but it made little sense to turn back at this point. I encountered some deeper snow and the trail became harder and harder to decipher in the frozen landscape. Slipping and stumbling down a small drop I spotted a ptarmigan (raichou 雷鳥) puffed up on a snow bank in front of me; I fumbled for my camera and luckily got a shot off before the bird took flight, cutting the air with it's strange song of clicks.

Another 30 minutes or so of stumbling over snow covered rocks I began up a small rise. At the top I encountered a small shrine covered in wind blown snow; it looked as though time had stopped in the middle of some molecular event where the shrine's very form was exploding into space. I was intrigued, and just a little disturbed, by the abstract beauty of the scene.
Just beyond the shrine a steep slope opened up to the east. Looking down I could see through the clouds a dark oblong form. I brushed the snow from a nearby sign and confirmed that the form below me was san-no-ike. The descent to the pond seemed a bit precarious, but I was prepared to make my way down for a better view. However, just as I was about to start the climb down, the clouds began to lift and san-no-ike came into full view. Soon I could see the pond clearly and I was perfectly content to enjoy the scene from above.
Wrapped in the contentment of having attained my goal, I was able now to begin my descent. The thick clouds that had blanketed Ontake's crown through the morning had now retreated and the peaks of the Kiso Range stood like sentinels overlooking the valley below. I gazed at the peaks as I stumbled my way back through the mine-field of slippery stones and snow drifts, retracing, as I best I could, my footsteps from before. In a valley to my right I spotted a thick bank of clouds lurking like a shark; I quickened my pace.
I stopped only briefly at the former sight of the Ontake Fire Festival and gave a bow to the frozen buddhas and gods there. The mountain is their realm and I admire their diligent meditation that will continue despite the icy winds of winter. For me, the world lay below. . .and so I left that place and began my descent.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Common forests: rediscovering a good idea

An article in Northern Woodlands Magazine entitled, A Forest for Every Town, talks about the Vermont Town Forest Program, which aims to ensure common forestlands for municipalities in Vermont. The program's idea has grown, in part, out of movements, such as the slow food movement, that strive to use local products. It sounds like the program is quite successful so far. From the article:

Hinesburg’s forests exemplify town forest potential. They have recreation: world-class mountain biking trails, along with skiing, hiking, and horseback riding. They also serve as outdoor classrooms, both for local teachers and for the University of Vermont, whose students have conducted dozens of projects there.

And the older forest also has active forest management: one recent harvest took out white ash, which was then milled and kiln-dried locally and installed to replace the floor of the Hinesburg Town Hall, which had been sanded so many times that the tongue of each tongue-and-groove board was exposed. All this at a total cost of $2.48 per square foot, about what you’d pay commercially.

The great thing is, Hinesburg is only one of many Vermont communities with town forests. Some towns have had forests for years, while others are just now acquiring them – a task made easier by the assistance provided by the Vermont Town Forest Project and the federal Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program, which will provide 50-50 matching grants for towns to acquire town forests.

It's encouraging to see support for this project at local, state, and even federal levels. This kind of institutional networking is woefully lacking in Japan, making it hard to institute programs like this. It's a shame, because there is a lot of forestland out there that could be put to good use by local communities; and there are local communities that are struggling to survive. Seems a perfect match.

Otaki has about 2,600 hectares of common forest, which, ecologically speaking, is some of the best in the area with a diversity of both broadleaf and pine varities (there are, however, some large tracts of karamatsu, which is not uncommon in Nagano). Residents of Otaki struggle, however, with the management of these forests and so many of them are becoming overgrown to the point of being a nuisance.

There's a need in Japanese society for greater recognition of the value these forestlands have and for more support to maintain forest communities. A "forest for every town" is a wonderful ideal to shoot for.

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An anthropology of resilience: AAA paper

The following is a link to a paper providing a brief overview of my research that I will be presenting during a panel discussion entitled, "Graduate Student Collaborations and Engagements in Environmental Change Research", at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) meetings in San Francisco this month.

Take a look if it's of any interest.


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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Keeping with Tradition: "Aka-kabu" and "Sunki"

*I've received comments from observant readers informing me that 赤カブ akakabu are not in fact "red beets", but rather are a member of the brassica genus, and therefore a variety of turnip.

To order Otaki "aka-kabura-zuke" or "sunki-zuke" please write to otakimura@gmail.com.

My good friend TS-san invited Chizuko and I to come watch her and two other women from a cooperative called "Himawari-market" (ひまわりマーケット) prepare tsukemono. "Tsukemono" refers to a huge variety of pickled vegetables that are ubiquitous in the Japanese diet. In Otaki, there are two main types of tsukemono. The first is "aka-kabu" (赤かぶ), which means red beets in English. The second is a type of tsukemono that is unique to this region, called "sunki" (すんき). This tsukemono is made using the leafy tops of red beets and is peculiar in that the process requires no salt.

We arrived at sunki-n0-sato (すんきの里)--meaning "house of sunki"--at about 10 in the morning. The woman were already furiously at work cutting the kabu. The sweet smell of smoke drifted through the air from a wood-fired cauldron of water burning outside. Chizuko and I announced ourselves and the women welcomed us in. TS-san introduced us to GS-san and O-san, who are both experts in the pickling process.

GS-san commented that the kabu is slow this year and she wonders whether this is not connected to global warming. Usually its better to do sunki when it's really cold, she continued, but since we harvested the kabu, we have to do the sunki as well. I ask how much they will pickle today. About 70 kilograms of kabu!! I watch the speed with which GS-san cuts the kabu and realize that the goal is perhaps not so lofty for her. The women explain to me that in the past residents of Otaki used aka-kabu to pay taxes to the Owari-clan (尾張藩) that maintained political control over the Kiso Valley in the Edo Period. The tradition of pickling aka-kabu apparently is a long one in Otaki.

After a short break for tea, it was time to get to work on the sunki. Outside, piles of beet-tops lay in small bundles. Each one will be boiled briefly and then placed in a pickling barrel along with sunki from last year. The use of sunki that has been saved from the year before is what makes this process so fascinating. The old sunki is called "tane", which means seed in Japanese, though I don't know that the etymology is the same. When I asked GS-san how the tane was originally made, she said that she didn't know. I've since asked other women in the village and have gotten some ideas that it may have involved the use of some wild products gathered from the forest. The truth is, no one really knows how sunki was originally made. Today, the process of making sunki relies totally on the existence of tane that are reserved from the stock made each year. In other words, a cultural knowledge set continues to be handed down from generation to generation in a physical form. The practice of making sunki relies totally on the transmission of this cultural product.
Himawari-market, the group that makes aka-kabu and sunki in Otaki is a totally locally grown cooperative business. Women in the village who had long made these tsukemono for their own use got together and began producing them for sale. They have since invested in their company by purchasing needed equipment using their own funds. Everything they make is locally produced and 100% organic.
The aka-kabura-tsuke (赤かぶら漬) is absolutely wonderful; one of the best tsukemono I've ever tried. Sunki is a bit of an acquired taste, but very good, and it goes well in a variety of dishes from miso soup to pasta. Also, it is totally salt-free, so you don't have to worry about excessive sodium intake.

If you are interested in trying either of these products, please contact me at otakimura@gmail.com.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Valley of waterfalls: Ontake's Kurozawa route

time slipping by; writing and preparations for this and that. . .behind on work. . .so it goes.
My friend, T-san, had been offering for some time to take me out and show me some of the sights around Otaki. Originally, the plan had been to go fishing, but the good season passed without us ever getting a date set. So, last week we finally forced each other to schedule a time when we could take a walk together to enjoy Ontake's fall colors.

On the scheduled day T-san arrived at my house at 8:00 on the morning. A thick haze that had been sitting in the Otaki Valley when I awoke that morning, had all burned off by the surprisingly penetrating rays of the fall sun; now we had blue skies. Chizuko accompanied T-san and I as we all crawled into his van and took off down the valley, skirting the south side of Ontake reservoir. The water was smooth and glassy, offering a parallel set of hillsides alight with autumn's palette and topped with a sky of deep azure. We descended from the reservoir paralleling Makio Dam and then swung through a series of S-curves. Right at the Hino-seiyaku gift shop and then further on down the valley we zoomed, the Otaki River tumbling alongside us.

At Mitake--a former village, now part of Kiso Town--we turned north, heading across Ontake's eastern slope. At a major shrine of Ontake-kyo (the religious sect associated with Ontake) we turned left, west, up the mountain's eastern slope. Farm houses gave way to forest, which then gave way to several series of ireihi 慰霊碑--what we might call "spirit stones" or "death monuments". The road here was lined with hundreds of these stone monuments; some of which, according to T-san, have stood here since around the 18th century.

We continued up and across by climbing one ridge along Ontake's broad base, turning back onto that ridge, following it back to it's u-shaped apex, and then turning once again away from the mountain along the top of another. Back and forth, back and forth; T-san commented about how decieving the smooth shape of a mountain like Ontake can be when viewed from afar--it's only when you get up close that you begin to understand its true shape.

We stopped at a pasture that sits atop a low hill above the Mitake section of Kiso Town. Ontake's eastern slope opened up in front of us, yawning in the blue sky. Open fields like this one were once prevalent on the slopes of Ontake, T-san informs me, villagers used to burn the areas and use them to gather feed for cows and horses kept near houses below. "I like these open spaces," he laments.
"Me too".
Back into the van. We circle back a bit and then head straight up a ridgeline, as if to simply drive straight up to the summit. But, the road eventually levels a bit and then breaks to the south. We switch back our way up a few hundred meters; we're in the middle of Ontake Ropeway Ski Hill's gerund now. A few more twists and we arrive at a parking lot; end of the road.

T-san, Chizuko, and I shoulder our packs and start off across Ontake's broad slope. Walls of bamboo grass line the trail, threatening our hands with their paper thin leaves--we all put on gloves. We go down first into a small ravine. At the bottom runs a small stream flowing over rust-colored rocks. Tanaka tells me that the stream carries heavy loads of iron, which accounts for the rocks. I run my hand through the water, expecting the warmth of a hot spring, but it's icy cold.

We cross the river and climb the other side of the ravine. We're in a mixed forest that appears to have remained largely untouched. Two to three hundred year old hinoki cypresses tower above the more modestly sized broadleafed varieties: oak, beech, birch, and other varieties.
At one point T-san bends down, plucks a couple of mushrooms and hands them to me, "these are pretty good." I take the mushrooms, pause and watch colored leaves spin through the columns of soft autumn light that pours in through the canopy above. The air is crisp and cool; it nips at my exposed skin where beads of sweat are beginning to form.

We top another ridge and turn east, away from the mountain. There we encounter the remains of a mountain hut. The hut had been used in the past by worshipers on their ascents of the sacred mountain, but roads and lifts have long since made it obsolete--even the worshipers use buses. The hut simply sits now. It will whisper its stories of the past until the forest takes it back and the stories are forgotten.

The valley we've come to see is visible now to our right. I see one waterfall and my eyes light up. T-san must notice because at that moment he tells me, "you can see much better just up ahead." I follow eagerly behind until we reach a flat area that looks out over the valley. As I gaze out I have to catch my breath. Below me the earth arcs downward into a great basin of space that curves up to the Ta-no-hara plateau on the far side. The valley is steep and sudden, giving me the sense that it wasn't carved gradually, but rather fell, like a failed souffle. I spot one waterfall and then another, and another, and another--there's four or five in the valley. Again I sense the violence and ferosity with which this landscape must have been shaped so many years ago.
Yet now all is silent. The hillsides are alight with the autumn's blaze and the scene draws me away from myself , down and into the valley itself. As I look down upon them I explore each of the valley's waterfalls. I imagine myself a river of water flowing down and over each precipice. I feel my being flung into myriad pieces as I fall, glimmering in the sun for a moment, then smack into earth, flowing back into something new and different than I had been before.

We move to a nearby clearing for lunch. Chizuko and I have brought bentos. T-san pulls out onigiri wrapped in houba leaves and also small cups of ramen and a stove for water. He offers Chizuko and I one of the onigiri; it's slathered with miso on one side and looks irresistable. I hestitate before taking the precious gift--I remove beers from my pack and hand one to T-san as compensation, knowing it's too little; still, he gladly accepts.

The water boils and T-san prepares ramen. We sit, and eat, and let the time slip away from us. "I'm really glad you got to see this place," says T-san.
"Me too."

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