Fukuda’s Akan-dake (100 Famous Mountains #4)

One of the joys of reading Fukuda’s book is not just learning about the mountains contained within, but also the glimpses, page by page, of the kind of person that Fukuda is and his own attitude towards the mountains that he writes about. One the recurring themes that appears is his disdain for conventional tourists, whom he views partially as interlopers come to spoil the mountains he loves and partially as philistines who fail to appreciate these places with perspicacity that he himself has. Fukuda possesses an eye for subtleties of mountains with a refined taste every bit as fine-tuned as a master sommelier — and just like a master sommelier his is incapable of looking positively on those who pass over a fine wine in favor of a cheap bottle. I sense in him a kindred spirit.

4. Akan-dake

Thirty years ago hardly anyone ever visited Akan Lake (阿寒湖), but ever since it was made into a national park in Shôwa 9 (1934) it became ever more bustling with each passing year. Today, it has become Hokkaido’s most prosperous tourist destination to the point that in the summer you can’t find lodgings at all if you haven’t previously made a reservation.

Me-Akan and Akan Fuji
GFDL-no-disclaimers, Link

There are two famous attractions at Akan Lake: the marimo algae and the Takuboku Monument. The tourists who hasten to the lake seldom climb O-akan (“Male-Akan,” 雄阿寒) and Me-akan (Female-Akan, 雌阿寒), the two peaks standing at the edge of the lake, but they certainly don’t overlook the algae or the monument. The marimo are only faintly visible through the bottoms of the sightseeing boats that go out on the lake, but apparently if you call something “famous” then tourists won’t miss a chance to see it.

The following poem is carved on the Takuboku Monument by the lakeshore:

It’s the work of the gods 神のごと
To be able to reveal that far away figure: 遠く姿をあらはせる
The snowy dawn on the Mountain of Akan 阿寒の山の雪のあけぼの

To tell the truth, this poem isn’t suitable for the place. What I mean is, Takuboku composed it while viewing Akan-dake from the sea near Kushiro (釧路) — he had never gone to Akan Lake himself. But, the vendors in the area haven’t forgotten to make use of such a lucrative literary figure as Ishikawa Takuboku.

This business policy is effective: travelers line up to the monument in droves and take commemorative photos in front of it. However, as evidence of how unfair that thing they call fame is, hardly a person ever stands before the monument bearing the poem of Matsuura Takashiro located on the way to Takuboku’s. The following is carved into the stone:

At sunset the wind stills on the water’s surface 水面風収夕照間
I row a small boat home along the cliffs 小舟撑棹沿崖還
Suddenly there falls the endless shadow of the Silver Peak 忽落銀峯千仭影
The mountain I stood on yesterday 是吾昨日所攀山
 26 May 1858  安政戊午年三月廿八日
 Matsuura Takeshirô,
The Chronicle of Minamoto no Hiromu
 松浦竹四郎 源弘記

Both monuments were built after the war, but nothing is superior to Matsuura’s in terms of its suitability to this place. At the age of 27 Matsuura Takeshiro (松浦竹四郎) braved hardship while probing the unexplored lands of Ezo (Hokkaido) from Kôka 2 (1845) to Ansei 5 (1858), establishing the cornerstone for the development of Hokkaido. His writings concerning Ezo alone are vast.

In the front yard of the community center on the hill in Kushiro City stands a small bronze statue of Takeshirô that hardly anyone notices. Dressed in the traditional Japanese garb called tattsuke, he stares off in the direction of Akan-dake with a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other, while by his side an Ainu servant points in the same direction — a depiction of Takeshiro taking notes of what the Ainu is teaching him. It’s a statue that captures well both the person and the place. Facing north from that hill the Akan Mountain Range is easily visible. O-Akan, Me-Akan, and — as though it were piled up on top of Me-Akan — Akan Fuji. On a clear morning at the end of autumn my heart was stolen by that view.

Akan from the Kushiro Wetlands
By Highten31投稿者自身による作品, CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link

The fact that Takeshiro actually went to Akan-dake is even evident from the aforementioned poem. Even in May Hokkaido would still have been cold. Having launched a boat upon the lake, he returns home following along the cliffs while bathing in the evening sun. What drops a shadow on the water’s surface is a tall, snow-capped peak. It was the mountain he had just climbed the previous day.

There’s no doubt that this snow-capped peak is O-Akan. In the Akan area there stands both O-Akan and Me-Akan; of the two the latter is the tallest, but to the eye the former is the most prominent. Me-Akan is nothing but gentle slopes and stands far off from the lakeshore, but O-Akan has a powerful and noble cone-shape that drops a shadow directly on the lake’s surface. Among the two Akan peaks, what bestowed the character “O” (雄, “male”) upon this mighty dome was the good sense of the old residents. What puts the life in Akan Lake is this very O-Akan Peak.

O-Akan in winter
GFDL-no-disclaimers, Link

Being an active volcano, Me-Akan had just started erupting when I visited in the summer of Shôwa 34 (1959), so climbing was forbidden. Among the two Akan peaks, Me-Akan is the easiest one to climb: it has gentle slopes in exchange for long distance, making it a mountain fit for a stroll. In contrast, O-Akan is the inferior in height, and due to it’s steepness climbers are rare.

I, who had planned to climb both of the Akans, had to be satisfied with only O-Akan. I started climbing from the end of the ridge extending to the south. At first it was steep, but eventually the trail entered a gently sloping forest that later changed to shrubs; once it rose up to curl around the summit it came out in an alpine zone spreading a mattress of hime-iso rhododendrons stitched together luxuriantly with the fruits of black crowberry. Upon reaching the summit where there was a large hut (apparently it had been originally constructed as an observatory), the dormant crater opened it’s great maw below. Passing along the rim of that mortar-like crater, I stood at the summit where lay a triangulation point.

O-Akan in the summer
By Ogiyoshisan – 投稿者自身による作品, パブリック・ドメイン, Link

The summit was riddled with boulders, and between those boulders was the sweet purple of Aleutian bellflower. The slightly level ground was surrounded by yama-hôko, creeping pines, and alder. Being wrapped in mist, I wasn’t able to see the view, but I was satisfied with being the only person on the quiet mountaintop. At the bottom of this mountain, some thousands of tourists were swarming. However, there wasn’t a single one trying to climb up here.

I stayed at the summit for two hours waiting for the mist to clear. When I listened carefully, I suddenly heard a sound from below like a branch snapping underfoot and from time to time I could also hear huffing, like something breathing heavily. Could it be a bear? I thought with a chill, for the east side of O-Akan leads to a great primordial forest. I had heard stories that there were times in the past when climbing here was forbidden due to concerns about the bears.

On the way back I took the new trail descending to the lakeshore, but the way became steep and, moreover it hadn’t yet been tamped down by footsteps and so, to make matters worse, it had become an awful quagmire owing to the rain; I returned to the crowd of finely-dressed tourists having become thoroughly muddied.

The way to Me-Akan parts from the lakeshore and goes up sluggishly through its broad moor-like foothills. Since a “no hiking” notice had been posted at the trailhead, I only went up a little bit to see the sunset on the mountains continuing on from Me-Akan to Furebetsu-dake before pulling back. On the way back I approached an Ainu village. Of course it was a tourist-oriented artificial village: both the thatched roofs and clothing with bear designs in the shops were all done up in Ainu style, but it was nothing more than a kind of show.

GFDL-no-disclaimers, Link

Many of the tourists came to the lakeshore from Kushiro by bus, and from there crossed over once more by bus to Teshikaga (弟子屈) through a deep primordial forest. This forest really is a spectacle. From the lookout platform called Futako-dai (Twin Lakes Platform, 双湖台) located along the way you can see Penkato and the two Penkato lakes through the forest. These two were separated from Akan Lake by one of O-Akan’s eruptions. There is also a lookout platform called Futadake-dai (Twin Peaks Platform, 双岳台), and from there you can look back at O-Akan and Me-Akan. After getting one last look at them, the bus speeds on to the next tourist destination: Mashu Lake (摩周湖).

Me-Akan and Akan Fuji
By Ogiyoshisan – 投稿者自身による作品, パブリック・ドメイン, Link

Translation © Brian Heise, 2018
All photos belong to Wikicommons


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