The first lesson in any course about Japan usually starts with a brief overview of Japanese geography, which naturally starts with a list of the four main islands: Kyushu, Shikoku, Honshu, and Hokkaido. What they don’t typically mention until you get much deeper into the subject is that Hokkaido is the odd-man out. While the former three islands have been inhabited and ruled by the ethnic group that we now call Japanese, Hokkaido only came under their authority in the late 1800s. Prior to that time, that northernmost island was largely unexplored by outsiders, though it was inhabited by a stone-age society of hunter-gatherers called the Ainu. As you read Fukuda’s essay on Daisetsu-yama or the previous one about Akan-dake, you can truly feel the nearness of that history at the time of his writing, from his discussion of Ainu place names and famous northern explorers to  his word choice in distinguishing Hokkaido from “Japan proper.”

 

5. Daisetsu-yama (2290 m)

I don’t know exactly when the name Daisetsu-yama (Big Snow Mountain, 大雪山) appeared, but it was originally called Nutak Kam Ushupe. We can see from the second volume of Mountaineering (『山岳』, 1907) that those people who call themselves the “Hokkaidoans” (Hokkaido-jin, 北海道人), noting the fact that this tallest of Hokkaido peaks hadn’t yet been given a Japanese name, had suggested christening it Shiroginu-yama (White Silk Mountain). From this it’s apparent that around that time at least the name Daisetsu did not yet exist. Probably the point at which the name came into general circulation was after we had already entered into the Taishô Period (1912-1926).

On old 1:50,000 scale maps as well, Nutak Kam Ushupe (ヌタクカムウシュペ) is listed as the primary name, and Daisetsu is marked in parentheses. Even the map’s name was labeled as Nutak Kam Ushupe. However, the newly printed ones have been changed to Daisetsu-yama. Given that there is now both a boat called the SS Daisetsu (大雪丸) on the Seikan Ferry (青函連絡船) and a train named the Daisetsu Express (大雪号), and that Daisetsu National Park has become known far and wide, it seems that the Ainu name will gradually sink into the shadows. The fact that Ainu names exist at all in Hokkaido is an awfully nostalgic thing for we classicists, but it’s hard to hold back the spirit of the times.

I heard that the original name was Nutap Kam Ushupe and meant “the mountain with rivers around it,” but they say that the “p” sound was overwhelmed and became indistinct so that it was heard as a “k,” resulting in Nutak Kam Ushupe. “The mountain with rivers around it” is an example of primitive people’s simple and straightforward way of naming things that truly gets to the point, for the headwaters of the two great rivers Ishikari (石狩) and Tokachi (十勝) spring forth from that mass of mountains and then proceed to flow around its base.

Regardless, now it’s Daisetsu-yama. Daisetsu-yama National Park also includes the Tokachi and Ishikari ranges, but here I will limit my discussion to the original Nutak Kam Ushupe — that is, to the group of volcanoes centered on Asahi-dake (Morning Sun Peak, 旭岳). That volcanic group is comprised of Hokuchin (北鎮), Haku-un (White Cloud, 白雲), Hokkai (North Sea, 北海), Ryô-un (凌雲), Pippu (比布), Aibetsu (愛別) and other peaks as well, all exceeding 2000 meters. Such high peaks are a rarity in Hokkaido, so their location at its very center makes them quite literally the roof of the island.

Mount_Hippu_and_Mount_Hokuchin
Mt. Pippu and Mount Hokuchin
By AlpsdakeOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

There are three trailheads that lead up into this mountain group: Sôun Gorge (層雲峡), Aizan Valley (愛山渓), and Yukoman-betsu (勇駒別). Abundant hot springs well forth at each one.

Among them the best known is Sôun Gorge, which has become a stop that cannot be omitted from any sightseeing tour of Hokkaido. Since magnificent hotels beyond the reach of the meager hiker line the roads, it has been decried as nothing more than a common hot spring village, but the scenery is beautiful nonetheless. When you happen to look up, you see the spectacular towering of Kuro-dake’s (Black Peak, 黒岳) solemn rocky summit right above your head, and the countless great waterfalls on the kilometers-long rock wall of columnar joints is also spectacular. The long gorges named Ôbako (大函) and Kobako (小函) were probably quite a marvel for the people who first pushed up into this valley.

Sounkyo1
One of Soun Gorge’s many waterfalls
Public Domain, Link

Even that glorious scenery has been made into a trail so easy that guide girls now provide eloquent expositions there, but a Hokkaido University dormitory song was once sung as follows:

Jewel glossing Ishikari 瓔珞みがく石狩の
When I visit your source みなもと遠く訪ひ来れば
Its primeval forests darken 原始の森は暗くして
And the springs of snowmelt well forth jewels. 雪消の泉珠と湧く

What happiness must it have been for the pioneers who first explored this valley? The fact that this primordial forest, which had remained for so long, was tragically mowed down by the Ise Bay Typhoon (伊勢湾台風) is heartbreaking indeed.

There is a trail climbing directly to Kuro-dake from Sôun Gorge. Lightly dressed sightseers generally take the hiker’s bus to Ginsen-dai (Silverspring Platform, 銀泉台) and from that terminus climb as far as the scenic flower fields known as Dai-ichi Hanazono (Flower Garden 1 , 第一花園) and Dai-ni Hanazono (Flower Garden 2, 第二花園). With that they pull back, having touched on just one end of Daisetsu-yama. Only spritely people make their way further to Kuro-dake.

Mount_Niseykauspe_and_Mount_Kuro
Kuro-dake
By AlpsdakeOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

When you compare it with Sôun Gorge, the other two trailheads are still relatively untouched. The deep coniferous forests of Yukoman-betsu would amaze anyone. Asahi-dake towering straight up above that forest is the pinnacle of noble beauty — it is not at all ashamed to be called Hokkaido’s highest point. When you pass the pleasant wetland called Tennyo-ga-Hara (Field of Nymphs, 天女ヶ原) while walking amid those trees, the path becomes steep and eventually you come out at Sugata-mi Pond (Looking-glass Pond, 姿見の池). At this beautiful pond located right below Asahi-dake the great eruption crater directly ahead forms a precipitous rock wall; in Jigoku Tani (Hell Valley, 地獄谷), which flows out from there, white smoke rises in several places. It seems bathers from Yukoman-betsu come as far as here to relax.

140724_Asahi-dake_and_Sugatami-no-ike_Hokkaido_Japan01bs3
Sugatami Pond
By 663highland, CC BY 2.5, Link

From there on the path is nothing but a steep slope heading up towards the summit along the ridge making up the southern edge of the crater, and on top of that it’s hard to walk on owing to the crunching eruption gravel beneath your feet. As you climb while stopping time and again to catch your breath, a majestic view unfolds. Stretching out peacefully far off beyond the Chûbetsu River (忠別川) is Takane-ga-Hara (高根ヶ原), looking entirely like a giant sports field. When you look down, you see a broad flat area covered in forest; amid the green, a number of small marshes shine in the sunlight. Hikers who come here for the first time will realize that, compared with the other mountains in our country, there is no place with a scale so extraordinary.

On the day that I stood at the summit of Asahi-dake I was met with a perfectly clear autumn sky, so naturally the Daisetsu, Tokachi, and Ishikari ranges seemed within hailing distance, but far off I was also able to more or less see all of the principal mountains of Hokkaido — Akan, Shiretoko, Tenshio, Yubari, and Mashike.

Ohachidaira_caldera_2006-07-13
The mountains of Daisetsu-yama
By Miya.mMiya.m‘s file, CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link

The typical course is to come out at Kuro-dake’s (黒岳) stone hut after passing by Mamiya-dake (間宮岳) and Hokkai-dake (北海岳) via Asahi-dake, but in the vast Daisetsu group paths branch out in all directions. On the course going down from Asahi towards Susoaida-daira (裾間平) and coming out at Numa-no-Daira (沼の平) there were few people and moreover I was able to enjoy scenery that was full of variation. Numa-no-Daira is a quiet marsh that still remains in a pristine state, and when you go there ponds of various shapes appear one after another to the left and right of the path. It was a beautiful wetland scene.

Aizan Valley too is a rustic hot spring. From there the road passes on to Hokuchin-dake — Daisetsu-yama’s second highest peak — after crossing over Nagayama-dake (永山岳) and Pippu-dake (比布岳), but the rugged form of Aibetsu-dake, which can be seen along the way, is also impressive. On the whole the mountains of Daisetsu all possess gentle curves and so are said to be somewhat feminine or graceful, but Aibetsu alone is a precipitous rocky peak and stands out all the more for that contrast.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Aibetsu-dake
GFDL, Link

The long path that descends from Hokuchin and cuts across Kumo-no-Daira (雲の平) was a pleasant highland stroll where I lost track of the distance. There are many such large moors on Daisetsu-yama. If you were to bring that concentration to Japan proper, highlands apt to be boasted of just by their moors alone would be strewn about left and right. This extravagance, this wildness — these are the charms of Daisetsu-yama.

At the end of the Kumo-no-Daira Trail is Kurodake’s stone hut. Being that long ago it was the sole mountain hut within Daisetsu-yama, even today the only place where there are guards on the mountain is here. A wooden hut has been constructed and added to the original stone building. As this stone hut was formerly the historical basecamp of Daisetsu-yama, the inscription “Terra incognita” written on the gate might have been left behind by the students of Hokkaido University, who held the dream of exploration back in those days.

北海平のチングルマ_-_panoramio
Autumn in Daisetsu-yama National Park
By pakku, CC 表示 3.0, Link

Nearby the hut is Keigetsu-dake (桂月岳), whose name memorializes Ômachi Keigetsu’s (大町桂月) climb, but there are also many other peaks in addition to this one that, in the manner of Mamiya-dake (間宮岳) for Mamiya Rinzô (間宮林蔵), Matsuda-dake (松田岳) for Matsuda Ichitarô (松田市太郎), and Koizumi-dake (小泉岳) for Koizumi Hideo (小泉秀雄), were named after a person connected with Daisetsu-yama. As for me, I passed over Eboshi-dake (烏帽子岳) and Aka-dake (赤岳) before going down towards Ginsen-dai, and from there I took the bus to Sôun Gorge.


Translation © Brian Heise
All photos belong to Wikicommons

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3 thoughts

    1. Thanks for your comment! I love to hear back from readers. You’re right about the varying pronunciation. This article is a translation of another article, so I followed the furigana that the original author used. It was an old article, so perhaps the reading has changed since then.

      Liked by 1 person

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