An offbeat excursion to Chugoku’s tallest peak brings its own rewards and it’s equally as nice as Mt Fuji.
I’VE always been a bit out of the mainstream. Although most people would think of climbing Mt Fuji, which was officially registered as a Unesco World Cultural Heritage site, I set my sights on another “Fuji” far from Tokyo.
I headed to Mt Daisen (1,709m), also known as “Hoki Fuji”, the tallest mountain in the Chugoku region. Hoki is an old term referring to the western part of the prefecture.
The mountain and its surrounding areas have a certain charm. There is a skiing area that once served as a venue for a winter national athletic meet and a ranch whose soft-serve ice cream is popular with visitors.
Additionally, there are other facilities at the foot of Mt Daisen where visitors can enjoy scenic views against the backdrop of the magnificent mountain. Constructed in 1999 in Nambu in the prefecture, Tottori Hana Kairo (Tottori flower corridor) is one such area.
“There was a tug-of-war between nearby municipalities over the flower park. But the deciding factor was the beauty of Mt Daisen,” said Shinichi Kamon, 36, the spokesman of the facility.
Upon entering the flower park, I spotted a large dome-shaped greenhouse that stands in parallel with the mountain. Against the mountain scenery and Hana no Oka flower hill, which was blooming with poppies of orange, yellow and other colours, the view was in a word, picturesque.
The Shoji Ueda Museum of Photography in Hoki in the prefecture also commands a fine view. From the window, I could see an inverted Mt Daisen reflected in the water outside.
“Ueda’s photo compositions are interesting, and many of them feature strange designs using shadows. He had aimed at becoming a picture book illustrator, so he has a sense for picture book painting,” said photo museum director Michihiko Mori, 50.
Ueda, who spent his entire life in Tottori Prefecture, cautioned others against photographing rural scenery. In his photo of the Tottori Sand Dunes, a person sticks out against the scenery, giving the viewers the impression the photo was taken in an exotic foreign land or even another universe.
Only a few of Ueda’s works feature Mt Daisen, even though he primarily focused on a panoramic view of the mountain in his later days and purchased land there for his gallery. With the help of the town government, the gallery evolved into an art museum.
As this year marks the 100th anniversary of his birth, the museum plans to host various memorial events.
The mountain’s shadow
Visitors can drive up to the start of a mountain trail about 800 metres above sea level that leads up to Daisenji temple. From that point, there is a spectacular view of the rugged north side of the mountain.
At the height of its power, Daisenji temple, built in the Nara period (710-784), had more than 100 affiliated temples to train mountain worshippers and 3,000 warrior priests.
“The area surrounding Daisenji was crowded as cow and horse markets were held there during the Edo period (1603-1867). But mainly because of the anti-Buddhist movement in the Meiji era (1868-1912), there are only 10 affiliate temples remaining,” lamented Koyu Odate, 53. Odate is a priest at the Enryuin temple, one of the 10 remaining affiliate temples.
While walking around Daisenji, I found many traces of old temples.
Previously, I thought I could enjoy a trip to Daisen without having to climb the mountain. But my view was shaken after Shigeaki Yatagai, 60, director of the Daisen Museum of Nature and History, told me that all the local fifth-grade primary school students trekked up the mountain as a school event.
In the climax of the Naoya Shiga novel, Anya Koro (A Dark Night’s Passing), there is a description of Kage Daisen (the shadow of Mt Daisen): “On the highest mountain in the Chugoku region, with its strong and clear ridges, it was very rare to see the shadow of the mountain in the lowlands. Kensaku [the protagonist] was impressed by the view.”
Kage Daisen can only be seen for a limited time at dawn near the mountaintop.
At 2.30am, I woke up at the temple I was lodging at and headed to the summer mountain trail. The path was almost straight and had a sharp incline. Thankfully, the terraced slope meant I could make the trek in normal walking shoes.
The clean mountain air and vegetarian meal I’d eaten for dinner put me in good spirits. The wonderfully starry sky, the distant night view of Yonago, and the way the sky turned from purple to pink at dawn encouraged me.
It took two and a half hours to reach the summit. The shadow of the mountain loomed over a sea of clouds in the morning sunshine. Beyond the mountain’s shadow, I could see the Yumigahama Peninsula. After basking in the view, I made my way down the mountain.
The rest of the day was spent at the Kaike hot spring, which was less than a 30-minute drive from the Sea of Japan. Having seen the mountain’s shadow, I was filled with a sense of fulfilment as I enjoyed the mild hot spring and feasted on delicious sea food.
Not so bad for a trip planned by someone out of touch with the mainstream.
It takes one hour and 15 minutes from Haneda Airport to Yonago Airport. From there, it is about 20 minutes by bus to JR Yonago Station. From the station, transfer to another bus to the area around Mt Daisen. On Saturdays and Sundays during the tourist season, a special round-trip “Daisen Loop Bus” also is available.
For more information, call the Tottori prefectural tourist association at +81 (0857) 39-2111, or the Daisen town tourist information office at +81 (0859) 52-2502. – The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan/Asia News Network