Sunday, March 25, 2012

Goshiki or Bust

Despite it being Sunday I set my alarm so I would wake up around 8AM. I couldn't shake the desire to reach Goshiki waterfall. I ate some maple cream cookies with the last bit of milk I had in the carton. The lip of the carton was still stained from the Oreo binge I undertook Thursday at lunch time. That milk was way past the expiration date but as long as it doesn't smell bad it's fair game. Fueled by old milk and addictive maple cookies I threw on my expedition jeans. The jeans are called that because they haven't been washed for awhile and continue to build up a layer of filth from my excursions. When I put those on it's serious business time. Out the door I went about 8:30AM. I made good time over to the Yodo as the sunshine beamed through scattered clouds. What wonderful weather I thought to myself. Yet, I couldn't have expected to see the gamut of weather that the heavens rolled in today.

From my surveying on Wednesday I knew that to reach Goshiki was going to be a grueling task. As I locked up the car the wind blew and pierced through my two synthetic layers and the cotton hooded sweatshirt I had on. The tops of mountains in those parts were dusted with light snow so I ditched the hooded sweatshirt and took my coat along. I would later be glad to have hauled that coat all the way up into the hills. I hurried down into the valley which by now is my third time. I still don't have a regular path. I just ambled down slippery soil hugging sugi trees at free will. I'm used to it though. It had rained pretty heavily all day on Friday so I was unsure of how the first stream crossing would be. Yes the water was a little higher some of the rocks wetter than last time. Jumping would be out of the question. I know too well the dangers of wet rocks. But I ended up jumping across at first anyway. My feet hit the rock and my backpack flew up toward my head. I then heard a clunking noise and saw something go sailing into the stream. I looked in terror.

My cell phone had popped out of my backpack and sank down about a foot into the water. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! I was horrified because I wouldn't want to replace a cell phone. I pushed up my coat sleeve and reached my arm down into the stream to retrieve the white plastic. I knew what to expect. A non working, water logged chunk of plastic. I accidentally brushed a button on the side and the time on the outer screen came up. Wait, what!? I flipped it open and saw that it was still on. As quickly as I could I cut the power and pulled the battery. I'll give it a few days to dry and chances are it will still work. How lucky I was. There was no way to tell if that was a good or bad omen.

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The problem of more water in the valley today was readily apparent. The next major crossing left me dumb founded for a few minutes. Jumping was too risky but there was no other way. I ripped a tree off the nearby cliff. It was long and had a big root ball. I dropped this into a crevice and made sure it wouldn't move. I then leaped across with the tree supporting me. This kept me from sliding off the rock on the other side. I tried to save the support for when I came back but a log I had thrown in the stream earlier grabbed it and almost pulled me off. Oh well, I would find another way somehow. I slogged through the underbrush and trees to get farther up stream. I then did the first sugi slant climb to reach an old path. This path was my shortcut to having to traverse narrow canyon walls and rocks.

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So we meet again. I was expecting it though. It looked strong enough but these types of things make me hesitant. Old logs can play nasty tricks. I inched my way onto the log and began to go across. This was the route I had to take so there was no other option. I stopped to gather myself and thought if the log were to collapse what would be the best way to avoid serious injury on the rocks below.

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A brief moment later I planted my feet on the stones at the other side. What a relief. But I couldn't wait to walk back across again. From there I started the most grueling part of trek. I had to tackle the slopes of a sprawling sugi forest. The only thing I was sure of was that staying close to the stream would help guide me along. The elevation rapidly went up and brief drop offs kept pushing me higher up as I had to find safe routes to ascend. This is the slowest type of hiking I know. It feels lonely and hopeless in those forests. I always feel defeated before having accomplished my goals. True jungles must feel infinitely worse. By now it had turned very cloudy and overcast so the light was even more dimmer than earlier under the canopy. I saw the waterfall from Wednesday in the distance and knew I was right on track. After ascending for what seemed like hours I stumbled upon something that looked like a path that ran parallel to the slope. Any kind of path that takes the stress off my ankles being slanted is welcomed. A break in the trees appeared and I could see half of a tiny village in the distance. I knew I could see the fall from most of the village so I was on the right track. This brought me past some makeshift dwelling of some sort. The rocks had been stacked in a circle with an opening. It must have been a supply hut long ago when the forests were planted and being maintained more often. Maybe I should turn that into a little mountain hut of my own. I doubt anyone would care, until they find it though.

So where was at this point anyway? I thought I should be able to see Goshiki waterfall by now but the only sign was a stream cascading down an open slope that was obviously coming from the fall. It got steep and increasingly rocky. There was no option but to press forward into the unknown. I felt better for a brief moment when I saw a Pocari Sweat bottle wrapper lying on the top of the countless layers of dead sugi branches. I don't know how that wrapper got there but this human object in a place so far removed people warmed my spirit. The sound of water was growing louder too. I came upon a small waterfall and sat down to catch my breath.

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The elevation change and the water acted as a super cooler. I had to put on my coat to keep the wind from chilling my sweaty body. I had come a long from the bottom of the river crossing where my day had started. It was clear that overnight the temperatures had dropped because of the ice clinging to the grassy plants tucked in the rock faces. It was growing colder the farther I went.

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After passing the small waterfall my eyes were caught by long sheets of water pouring from high above. I was so close and didn't even realize it. Goshiki was finally within reach. It was still going to take every bit of effort to get closer.


The water draining off the cliff above coated everything around the south side of the fall in ice. There some light snow on the ground as well. It was cold wet and messy to work through those conditions. The ground was muddy. The trees were icy. My hands were freezing trying to climb toward the basin of the fall. Water was splattering from above and my camera isn't weather sealed so that is that.

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I kept telling myself that I was crazy but I had come all this way so I had to get into better position to see the fall. It was necessary to work down a slope covered in icy plants and rocks. It wasn't that dangerous but I was careful not to do anything stupid. Isn't that what I'm always trying not to do though?

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Goshiki. I made it to you.

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I turned back and gazed out into the distance.

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From the village it seemed so far away and it was. They told me the waterfall was only to be seen from afar but now I had the fall. It was the village that looked like it was only possible to view from a distance.

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I sat down and ate an apple as the winds blew harder. My hands felt very cold. Snow began to float down from the gray skies. The mountain was telling me it was time to go. So here we had to say farewell.

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Making way through my muddy tracks and trying to recall from where I came was just part of the game. Waterfalls and mountains don't allow you one way. All the way back to the bridge I went. Whether I was there or not the snow was just ambivalent.

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As I crossed back over the river from the morning I stopped and lifted my hands in triumph. I had made it all the way to that far away fall. I couldn't help but smile and the sun shot me a ray just to show his praise.


I bid my last good bye. There might not be a next time. This could have been the only time I know Goshiki so close. Is it too much to think I might even be the last...?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Goshiki Is Still Far Away

It's 4th period, 12:30PM and I should already be on my way out. 12:40PM finally brings things to an end. I escape quickly out the doors to courageously pay my gas bill. Why didn't I just pay that earlier than today? What miniscule waste of time I could have shaved off. After the mysterious sandwich and overproduced Filipino fruit I got in the car to begin my trek.

Time was of the essence. The days are longer but that doesn't mean I can leisurely stroll through the wilds. I had purpose. But it was impossible to know what lie behind several clefts of mountain other than a waterfall in the deep background. It was impossible to know what obstacles were waiting for me. The only thing I knew was that boulder hopping and steep ravines were the names of the game. As I descended to my starting point there was the terrible feeling of knowing I would have to come all the way back from wherever I ended up. Sometimes the reverse of the trip is more depressing than anything else. This is is especially true when you find yourself in the middle of sugi trees with a million places to go. You might not even end up anywhere. Then you have to trudge back through all the obstacles that you happily passed but were waiting patiently for your return.

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I climbed, crawled, and jumped over rocks from one to the next. I grabbed trees hoping they wouldn't commit suicide. I traversed steep valley walls when the boulders rose up on the shoulders of the stream. The sweat came through my mangled hair and under shirt. Every rock was another problem to solve. It would have been easy if the stream played nice. I was from one side to the other and off into the forests trying to find the best way. Would I remember the way back? The return trip would be a test of memory and landmarks. It's amazing how much you can remember even when you are unconsciously doing something.

A long way from my start and the first sign of others who had walked these parts showed up. A lonely bridge slowly going to rot. Who is to say the last time someone tread upon it. It called out to me, "Hey come to the other side of me, this path will easily take you back." I'm sure it was corroborating with the stream below to play a nasty trick. I know how nature plays. You enter its domain and it tries to cut you down.

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I declined and pushed on. The valley sharply rose. There was no way but to head into the forests again. How high would this go and were was that waterfall? A pass along some narrow ledges and holding woody trees saved me numerous times. What would mom say if she saw me now? I already know though.

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Higher and higher this strip of hill climbed. Where was it going and what would I find? I wanted to quit. I always want to quit because I want the easy way. I gave myself a lashing. It's not always the end goal that you explore for. Sometimes you end up with nothing for all your travail. It was worth a look to see where this crude path went. There was signs someone had walked here before. Wires wrapped on logs and faint paths of probably nothing more than animals. It was a harrowing climb all the way up there. Find the trees and you will be fine was my thought as sandy rocks broke away from my hand. Lean on the trees lest you want to fall down 200 feet.

The air slowly changed. It smelled of strong fresh water. The sounds grew louder. After that slightly dangerous climb anything was fine. Through ferns and shrubby trees I could see a water falling down steps of rock. A rusted can of coffee reminded me that someone else had been here but surely it had to have been only one. I worked closer for a better view. It was slippery on a downward slope and the I ping ponged off each tree. I was notching my feet at the root of trunks to keep myself from sliding. I was almost to the edge of a canyon wall.

Then my heart skipped.

One tree decided it was time to say good bye. The roots pulled away from the moist soil and left me grasping for a safety line. I caught another branch as quickly as I could. It's scary and not a lie to say when that happens I feel alive. Just don't let it happen again I reminded myself in the time.

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I can probably count on my hand the number of people who have seen you. For now just mine.

Over an hour passed to get back. Then I was depressed.

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But after this was rest.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


With a rainy weekend there wasn't much that happened. I'm keeping myself busy day dreaming though.

The following is an article from the end of October last year. The secretary told me she would make a color copy for me but it wasn't until like a week ago that she finally remembered somehow. Better late than never. I was quite pleased.


I've been many times so I don't go often except when I need to initiate new people to the glory of the fall. The 10 meter height is a rush to jump from. But the locals would surely scold you for swimming there.

The article shares the legend regarding this water hole from a 91 year old man who lives nearby. A giant snake got angry at the locals for fishing too much in the pool so people believe its taboo to swim in the waters. There is a fear that the giant snake will attack you. The secretary told me I shouldn't swim there and others won't even speak of the water hole when asked. Maybe someone died there long ago and I don't know how haunted it really is.

But as George once said, whatever lives in those deep waters must be a benevolent creature as there have yet to be any foreigner causalities.

Niko Water Hole

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Under the Mountains

It's not very far to the next prefecture north of me. I rarely go over there because I haven't found a good reason to. On Saturday I decided I needed to go somewhere and figured that was the next best spot for a little exploration. It was initially a nice day but became overcast very quickly. Once I got to the city I didn't feel like getting out or doing much of anything. I decided I would check some places that I had seen on the way over.

I stopped to check some signs by the road which pointed toward a mountain hiking trail. The road crossed over a massive gorge that had a beautiful view from above.

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On the other side of the bridge were some stairs that went down somewhere. I naturally followed without much thought. All the while snot was draining out of my nose from the persistent clouds of pollen wafting around the air. I came to a small gate that said do not enter.

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It was clear, however, that it had once been open for people to walk along based on the sign next to it. Plus, there was no lock so I slipped past and followed the aqueduct which lead to some sluice gates and a couple of water falls. That sign is just for the greater safety of humanity but doesn't really apply to me. That also might be my excuse for a number of other activities.

I went back to the car and headed toward a collapsed house I saw near the road. I saw a troupe of monkeys up to no good. They scampered off before they would let me take a picture of their red faces. Upon seeing the house, there were people parked nearby and so I passed on. It took me awhile to finally decide to go to the next location because I wasn't sure if I wanted to go alone.

There is an abandoned theme park down in a valley along a river that was probably closed a few years ago. The front gate is impassable by car but you could easily walk around it. There are about 3 signs that say 'DON'T ENTER'. I climbed down a wall as to not draw attention to myself along the main road.

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The owner supposedly fell in love with Germany and built this park. The main feature was this restaurant where they brewed their own beer and served sausages.

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I wish I could fire these ovens up and bake some pretzels. Then knock back a few dark beers and gallivant around the grassy knolls.


As many abandoned places feel, this was a sad place. I could almost feel the happy memories trying to claw themselves out of the weeded paths and unkempt surroundings. I found a video from 1999 of this place online and it looked like it saw such happy days. I'll return in spring time for another look around.

On the final stretch of the way home I found a fly fishing area. It looks like it costs too much to be reasonable. I couldn't help but wonder how much fish they have to stock in the river. Those fish surely didn't swim up there. At least the water is always beautiful. The gradients in color fascinate me.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kawashima Shrine

After the post yesterday I did some research to find out about the shrine. I love when I turn up some great information from some obscure webpage hardly anyone has looked at. I'm eternally grateful to whomever helped me.

As it turns out, Kawashima-jinja (河嶋神社) has a fairly long history. Around 1443 the local villagers enshrined the patron gods. I'm not sure when the first shrine was actually built but it was established at some location farther up the river. In 1832 the shrine was deconstructed and moved to its present location at the lower part of the river. The building that is there today is the remaining main shrine.

The older shrines and temples are always my favorite. When something has managed to survive hundreds of years it's truly impressive. I like the tangible relics of the past. It's sometimes a little disappointing to come across rebuilt Japanese structures such as castles, temples, and shrines. Even if they retain beautiful architecture they don't hold the exact same history as a building that stood all by its own. However, it's hard for many structures to last long due to wars and other natural phenomenon so sometimes there isn't much one can do.

It seems that the area I went to last Wednesday is rich in traditional Japanese culture. It was unexpected but a great find all on its own. I would love to learn more so I'll probably contact the owner of the webpage where I retrieved this information from. I'll go back to the shrine on a nice day to photograph the rest of the wood carving. There were some mermaids that I missed in the shadows of the room. I didn't know mermaids could be found at a shrine.

By the way could you feel my history teacher claws coming out? Sure you did.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Shroud of Clouds in Haruyama Part 3

After I found the red bridge I was heading back toward the main road. It was growing late and my nose was levying death on itself. I spotted an odd looking sign and pointed in at a fork in the road. I didn't think much of the sign because I couldn't read the name. The road curved down a slight slope and then across the river. It was dark and shadowy from the trees and overcast sky. What I saw when I drove across the bridge was a true find. Up broad wide steps that were built with large boulders sat an old shrine.

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Not ancient but not new either. I took off my shoes and walked up the dull colored steps. The floor creaked and bemoaned my heavy steps. Being alone there was mysterious. The carvings along the top woke up. Intricate dragons and cranes were gazing at me wondering where such a person had come from.

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It was dark inside. Gloomy and dusty.

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Concrete, metal, and consumerism don't speak when they are silent.

This is where you hear and feel Japan.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Shroud of Clouds in Haruyama Part 2

So just how far away was that waterfall I wanted to go to? Just a short hike over there!


I knew I wasn't going anywhere near that on Wednesday. This filled my mind with a great delusions of adventure however. So rather than try to spend anytime hiking toward the fall, I thought it was in my best interest to see if I could find the stream coming down the fall that flowed into the main river along the valley I had driven up originally. The road was up really high from the valley floor so I was going to have to coerce my lazy self down the valley walls.

I didn't realize for a long time that these logs were shitake mushroom farms even though I had seen them in many other places. It was probably last summer when the principal at school was telling me how they were going to grow mushrooms on logs that I found out.

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Shortly before this mushroom cage was an old house that had collapsed. It wasn't worth exploring because the rotten timbers and roof were all in the way. I don't care for any rusty nail protrusions gouging me. Along the road the valley opened up and it was clear that in the recent past it had been clear cut. Many young sugi trees quietly stood in random arrays, slightly distanced from one another. It was going to be a long way down which meant a long way back up that I wasn't sure I was committed for. Then I channeled some of the great explorers and knew they would be ashamed of me so I headed toward the sound of crashing water.

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Luck and intuition go hand in hand. A little bit of both go a long way. I found this confluence at the bottom. I'm pretty sure the stream feeding in from the right is the one I should follow to hike up to the waterfall. I'd say a bit of good luck. To the top left was one of the best water sprays I've seen.

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I couldn't stop watching this natural trance. We did part ways eventually and I went a little farther down the river until I decided I wasn't going anywhere. I broke a sweat climbing back up to my car.

Sometimes my scouting missions are much more fruitful than I ever expect them to be. Little gems pop up here and there that I never expect. I saw something red out of the corner of my eye and couldn't refuse to go take a look. I knew what it was.

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Can't say no.

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Built in 1978, I wonder how long it will last and who ensures the structural safety of these seemingly random placements? Guess it will be assessed whenever the first accident occurs.

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What a great Wednesday that was. I paid for it dearly with the pollen I inhaled while out exploring in the hills. It destroyed me Wednesday night and through today. I feel better but now I'm scared what will happen if I return to the pollen infested jungles. I might just have to sacrifice my sinus cavities, mainly the left one for the sake of exploring uncharted territory. There is one more thing to add about Wednesday but here is my post script for now.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Shroud of Clouds in Haruyama

The warmer weather is stirring my soul like a bubbly cauldron of stew. I like that I can come home and not have to turn my heater on to feel comfortable. The only thing I could complain about right now is the hit of pollen. I don't remember feeling the effects in March last year. It made me cringe when I saw my car covered in pollen a week and a half ago. I knew the inevitable was on its way. So what does a allergen sufferer such as myself do to make myself feel better? I go to the best place imaginable, straight to the forests where all the pollen is coming from. I pay dearly with my dry eyes and sneezes later on.

It was like someone painted the sky gray today. Only twice did I see the sun burning through the thick haze. I'm trying not to let the cloudy weather get me down. I'm trying to exploit any day for what its worth regardless of the forecast. Usually cloudy weather makes me want to hide in the house and sleep. Doesn't it do it to all of us? Goshiki waterfall had been on my to do list for awhile. The only problem was that it only appeared to be the kind you look at from far away. That kind of fall gets a down grade in my book until I forge my own path. I half prepared myself for a longer hike if needed but as I got closer to the fall and the valley floor climbed farther away, I knew the likelihood of going anywhere near the fall was in jeopardy.

Nevertheless, I carried on up the road I assumed was the right one. It only seemed right from my memory of the maps I had looked at. You know I even wrote down some names from the map but the same thing happens every time. I DON'T see any of the names I wrote down. I just took my best guess. I came to a small village high up in the hills and saw the waterfall way off in the distance. I was right. I wasn't getting anywhere near there. There is no picture of this fall yet in case you get confused.

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The village ended up being pretty interesting. It was really run down and it looked like there were maybe 3 or 4 houses out of 10 or 15 that people were living in. I loved this place for its semi ancient Japanese feel and all the little paths that ran haphazardly about.

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I wondered who would be more surprised if I ran into someone. I heard someone down that path sliding doors around. At least I think it was someone and not some ghost from the nearby shrine playing tricks on me.

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Tell me what it is because I don't have a clue.

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A rice husker?

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I've seen and driven through a number of villages. Walking through this one felt so surreal. It was close enough to a ghost town. The Japanese aesthetic was beautiful in a somber way.

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Generations gone by.

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The paths sigh in relief to be walked on.

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Random path heaven.

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Surely there was more than just paths and old buildings. Yes there was.

So come back for part two.