Mount Mitake: Off to See the Red Leaves

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We are going to visit Mt. Mitake for Momijigari 2010, which brings me to the topic of my visit there in October 2009.

Momijigari has many forms.  One version of it is very traditional, simply because slackers have existed since the dawn of civilization.  For the sake of political correctness I will call them “the Sedentary”. The Sedentary enact spring’s Hanami for autumn’s purposes; in sum, they spread a mat under a wilting tree, take out the potato chips, and chuff them in a most social manner.

Of course, being Sedentary is to be a member of a broad group.  We have among them “the Philosophers”, the people who direct misguided poetry at random leaves while sipping their drinks; and, more commonly, we have their levelled version, “The Drunkards”.  This latter group has a most dominant dispersion within Japan and, to borrow local lingo, can frequently be seen “Creating Happy Time” in any local neighbourhood.

On the other hand, we have “the Active”.  For this group Momijigari involves a return to nature, and is best approached with the appropriate footwear and a bundle of hiking sticks.  The less serious of this species can best be observed at Mt. Takao, where they crowd around locality maps trying to find the “You Are Here” mark.  The more serious are found near Fukushima or Gifu, where they huff up mountains, carry bells to ward off bear attacks, and occasionally roll around in the mud after snapping an ankle ligament or two.

So you may ask- what is Mt. Mitake like?  Is it a place to sit, or to stand?

I think you will be thankful to hear that the answer is in the affirmative, twice.

Last I went, we clearly went too early.  We were there in late October, when the leaves had only started turning red.  Nonetheless, it was good weather as we alternated between wading and walking along the river, after which we hiked up Mt. Mitake.

The journey up Mt. Mitake offers great scenery, and involves first a cable car and then a gondola.  The alternative to the cable car is a winding path that takes 45 minutes to scale.  On the other hand, the gondola is not impressive, and, last I remember, has a flight of stairs running parallel to it. “The Stingy” (an unintroduced subspecies within “the Active” Family) will undoubtedly be happy to hear that potential savings of 100 yen are to be had if one chooses to walk.

Once past these two segments, however, the options diverge.  An old Japanese village, offering hot springs and meals, stands beside nature routes winding towards waterfalls.  A bit of hiking leads to a wide plot of land overlooking the valleys below, and it is on this land that families lay contented and friends comatose.  On the other hand, for the overly sporty, the nature routes offer the challenge they seek, and the experience can be anything from challenging to exhausting.   In 2009, it was a story of tramping across stone fields and forgotten rapids, congratulating myself on my athleticism and stamina, only to sprain my ankle on the steps of a toilet out of sheer fatigue.  That done, I proceeded to clomp around for another hour in search of an elusive waterfall, only to find that it was very small indeed.  By the time I returned to Tokyo I was not able to walk, and I took it as a reason not to attend school for two days.  (Obviously, this afternote is nothing more than a demonstration of my sheer idiocy.)

Clearly, then, Mt. Mitake offers the best compromise for the Momiji experience, and I personally find it very exciting that I have a chance to go again this year.  Whether this excitement is out of a desire to seek revenge for a swollen ankle, or whether it is simply because I want to get out of Tokyo, I do not know, and it does not matter; for even more exciting is the fact that we will be split according to what we want to do, and will link up after our separate itineraries for dinner together.  In passing I shall mention (impishly) that both the hot springs and the local sake are of pretty high quality, and I may well succumb to the twin damnations of sloth and alcohol.  Nonetheless, this sounds to me like a great day out, and I am certainly looking forward to the prospect of attending it in a month’s time.

Ku Ka Tsai (Student in University of Tokyo), October 2010