外国人の日本体験 Experiences in Japan
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A Mountain of Pride (Part 3)
by Michael Buder (Canada)
Ohanabatake station was really old and full of character. You could tell immediately that it was built many years before because of the profusion of wood used in its construction and the noticeable lack of modern technology. There was a kiosk on the platform to buy hot udon and snacks.
Since there were no ticket machines you had to buy your ticket from an attendant inside a ticket kiosk. The attendant was a gray-haired man of about fifty in a well-worn, slightly undersized attendant suit. I asked the man in my broken Japanese what time the train for Mitsumine Guchi arrived. He pointed to the schedule posted above the ticket booth. I guess he thought this would be easier than explaining it to me. The schedule wasn’t as clearly laid out as the ones in the city were. I found it confusing because of the abundant use of Japanese text but I was able to deduce that the train would be arriving within a half hour.
There was already a gathering of people waiting for the train; you could tell that most were hikers because they had packs, walking sticks, and maps. I bought a ticket and sat on a weathered, wooden bench seat on the platform. When the train started approaching, I got up and went to the ticket gate and waited for the man to let me through. The attendant was now at the gate about to unhook the chain to let people on to the boarding side of the platform. He looked at my ticket, mumbled something in Japanese and motioned for me to go back where I had just come from. I gathered he was telling me to sit back down. I guess this wasn’t my train.
I was also very fond of the restaurants where customers could cook their dinner on a hot plate in the centre of the table. I visited such a restaurant with some other teaching colleagues (not the one who tried to eat the artificial sushi!). We had a difficult time deciding what to order and operating the hot plate was also a little difficult. The results, however, were very good. The meal was excellent - delicious thin strips of meat cooked quickly before our eyes and the aroma from the cooking was very pleasant. We enjoyed the experience.
I sat back down and watched, as about thirty pre-school children got off the train in neat orderly pairs all holding hands. They followed two ladies who watched them closely as they walked obediently across the platform down the stairs and down the street to school. They were wearing little yellow hats and reminded me of ducklings following their mother.
I realized that the people still waiting for the train were mostly hikers. I figured if I just followed them I would probably end up on the right train. Eventually a train showed up that caused all the hikers to rise and approach the gate. I should have known to just follow the other hikers in the first place and then I would have eventually found my way. The attendant punched a hole in my ticket with a hand-held punch and I boarded a rickety old train to Mitsumine Guchi.
Once on the train I exchanged some glances with other hikers on board. It feels good to belong, and on a train full of people who spoke a different language and had so many cultural differences from my own, I felt as if I belonged. I was part of a fraternity of nature lovers and adventurers who regardless of their origins were all looking for something that the concrete, neon polluted, cacophony of the city could not provide. I felt really comfortable, these were my people.
The old train lurched through more beautiful mountains and river-laden valleys. It really gave me a good glimpse of Japanese country life. This was a rhythm of Japan that I had only recently been exposed to, a definite contrast to the chaos of Tokyo.
I finally arrived at Mitsumine Guchi station where I now had to wait for a bus to Owa to take me to the start of the trail. The station was very simple, it had a couple of concrete platforms and a small room for the attendants to issue tickets from and watch television if they got bored, which I am sure they did in such a remote place. There were a couple of vending machines for drinks and that was it.
The town, if you could call it that, was comprised of a couple of shops and a handful of houses. I wondered which came first, the people or the station. I crossed what looked to be the only street and looked at a bulletin board with the bus information on it. Again I was confused by the schedule, but knew that I only had to follow the other hikers of which there were five, and I would get to my destination.
I bought a drink and stood by the side of the road waiting for the bus. One of the hikers, a healthy looking man in his forties started talking to me. He asked if I was going to climb Mount Kumotori. I said yes and asked him the same. He replied that he was going to climb part of the way today then finish the rest tomorrow. I read in my book earlier that there were cabins along the way one could spend the night in to break the hike up into two days so I gathered this was what he was going to do. He asked where I would be staying. I told him I was going to climb the mountain and return today. He didn’t seem surprised by this and we finished our conversation by wishing each other good luck.
I started to think about how the man said he was going to hike the mountain tomorrow. Now I was wondering if it was too much to hike in one day? He didn’t seem surprised when I told him I would be hiking the whole route today. I’m sure he would have said something if he thought it was a bad idea. I thought maybe he was taking an extra day because he wanted to relax and enjoy a leisurely hike. I was starting to second-guess whether this was a good idea or not.
A small yet modern bus drove up and parked by the bus stop. I waited
anxiously to see what the other hikers would do. The side door at the
rear of the bus opened and the hikers started to climb on, I grabbed my
pack, finished my drink, and boarded the bus with the rest of the hikers.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the man I had just spoken to. He was staying
over night, the book said to stay over night. Was I underestimating the
task? I was determined to find out.