Mount Tsukuba hiking December 2022

So we went on a hike up Mount Tsukuba on December 30, just before the year ended. We were slightly disappointed when we reached the summit, because it was fenced off, preventing hikers from enjoying a panoramic view of the landscape below.

But then we realized it was probably a precaution to prevent accidents when throngs of people would swarm the summit on New Year’s Day wishing to take a peek of the first sun of the new year.

The hike up Mount Tsukuba was nothing special, all brown and green of Japanese cedars and pines. So I decided to take my photos in monochrome for a change.

Walking the tree-covered hiking trails of Mount Tsukuba never fails to remind me of Kurosawa’s Rashomon (羅生門 rashōmon), a psychological crime thriller set in a woods not unlike these.

One of the most memorable scenes in Kurosawa’s black-and-white classic is the woodcutter’s march into the forest, shot from different angles, the sun’s rays just barely visible through the thick canopy of trees, until he discovers to his horror the body of the murdered man.

Rashomon has since become famous because of its premise that truth is subjective and that human beings are at best unreliable witnesses and at worst pathological liars.

The scene where the crime took place is aptly a forest like this, almost impenetrable by light (truth) and where evil and lies can thrive undisturbed.

Jumping from film to literature, in the short story “The Lagoon” by Joseph Conrad, we can read the following passage near the beginning:

The forests, sombre and dull, stood motionless and silent on each side of the broad stream. At the foot of big, towering trees, trunkless nipa palms rose from the mud of the bank, in bunches of leaves enormous and heavy, that hung unstirring over the brown swirl of eddies. In the stillness of the air every tree, every leaf, every bough, every tendril of creeper and every petal of minute blossoms seemed to have been bewitched into an immobility perfect and final.

Further on, Conrad continues his description of this bleak forest:

Immense trees soared up, invisible behind the festooned draperies of creepers. Here and there, near the glistening blackness of the water, a twisted root of some tall tree showed amongst the tracery of small ferns, black and dull, writhing and motionless, like an arrested snake. The short words of the paddlers reverberated loudly between the thick and sombre walls of vegetation. Darkness oozed out from between the trees, through the tangled maze of the creepers, from behind the great fantastic and unstirring leaves; the darkness, mysterious and invincible; the darkness scented and poisonous of impenetrable forests.

“The Lagoon”–like Rashomon–is a story of betrayal and death, and the foreboding tropical forest which the author describes in minute detail symbolizes human beings’ intricate and twisted relations and intentions.

A clearing with a view of the Mount Tsukuba Ropeway car.

Unlike many mountains of the Japanese archipelago, Mount Tsukuba is non-volcanic, and the hiking paths to its summit are marked with curiously shaped granite boulders and gabbro rocks, like the ones below.

A hiker near the summit of Mount Nyotai (女体山 877m), the taller of the two peaks of Mount Tsukuba. Not having climbed Mount Tsukuba for some time, I had mistakenly assumed that Mount Nantai (男体山) is the higher of the two peaks.

Mount Nantai is in fact, 6 meters shorter at 871 meters.

From the clearing near the Tsukuba Cable Car station, we could see the side of the Mount Nantai (Mount Tsukuba’s shorter peak) shrouded in shadow. Beyond that, in the distant horizon, lie the glistening snow-covered volcanoes of Tochigi.

The conical Mount Nantai (男体山–not to be confused with Mount Tsukuba’s shorter peak) is on the left and Mount Nyohō (女峰山) on the right, their summits hidden by clouds.