What Is the Good Life?
Dylan and I reached the valley floor before noon on the third day of our trip. There we found Kawahake (川端下), an small farming village nestled in the embrace of two long spurs emanating out from the main ridge above, one from Asahi-dake and the other from Kokushi-ga-Take. The whole hike down the forest road from Ôdarumi provided us with plenty of views of jagged rock formations standing like watchtowers guarding the village below. At some point down the slope, we began to follow along a pristine stream flowing with turquoise water. Beyond that were the fields, which the townsfolk were plowing in preparation for the planting season. Left and right, vibrant flowers bloomed in reds, blues, whites, and purples. In all, it as a thoroughly idyllic place.
As Dylan and I walked along the road towards the village proper, and there the bus stop, I couldn’t help but imagine what kind of bliss it would be to grow up in a place like this, to spend your childhood amid such beauty, to hike the mountains and climb the watchtowers, and to build a strong body and an appreciation for growing things.
But after a moment, I repudiated the thought with the bitter knowledge that being born surrounded by beauty is to be unable to truly appreciate it. Beauty lives in the uncommon and the unfamiliar. Things seen every day, however beautiful, lose their luster under the weight of the ordinary, and just as a field of flowers once well tread will die, so too will the impression of beauty be marred by frequent viewing. In fact, the children who grow up here will likely only dream of getting away to Tokyo to seek their fortune, never realizing that the stuff of dreams was all around them from the start. Then, for the rest of their lives they will just be left with the memory of what they left behind, but find themselves too entrenched in their lives to ever really go back.
Perhaps the only consolation is the thought that it’s better to have known that life and given it up than never to have experienced it. Or could it be better to live life without knowing what you’ve lost?
The Kômi Line
After a quick lunch at the bus stop in Kawahake, Dylan and I boarded the bus to Shinano, where we then transferred to the JR Kômi Line (JR小海線). My first trip on this line was back in December; due to the short winter days, I rode this stretch entirely in darkness, and so I failed to truly appreciate what a wonder this section of track is. Stretching roughly 80 kilometers through the highlands of Nagano from Kobuchizawa Station (小淵沢駅) to Komoro Station (小諸駅), this scenic route traverses the fertile farmlands of the Saku Basin (佐久盆地), wide green fields backed by some of the tallest mountains in Japan, among them a fair collection of Fukuda’s 100 Famous. Given the beautiful views along this route, this train is a destination unto itself, although there are also plenty of attractions at many of the stops along the way. It’s definitely on my list of places to go back to.
Back in Tokyo
It took us some three hours to get back to Tokyo, but we had hardly a minute to relax as we needed to prepare ourselves for our pending trip to Osaka. There we had yet one more mountain waiting for us — after all, you couldn’t believe that I would let a vacation go by without reaching a single one of the 100 Famous Mountains. Yes indeed, from the start I had considered the possibility of a misadventure, and so I made a point of setting aside one day in Osaka to go up into the densely packed mountains of the Kii Peninsula (紀伊半島) south of the city. This is one of Japan’s most historic regions, painted with legend surrounding the earliest history of the Yamato people, and home to two members of the 100 Famous Mountains. Of those, I chose Ôdai-ga-hara (大台ヶ原). Be sure to check in next week to get the story on our visit to this renowned peak.
© Brian Heise, 2018