Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I lived in Japan from the age of 23 to about 26. Some of my favorite memories are of hiking there. I used to pack a light lunch (usually a seaweed-wrapped salmon rice ball) and a bottle of water and head out my back door up into the mountains.

I loved hiking the paths up through the curved planted field into the woods filled with all sorts of plants and trees fairly unfamiliar to me. I never planned my hikes, yet almost always found something of interest.

One day in particular, I came across an extremely steep path. I was huffing and puffing a bit by the time I reached the end of the second switchback and was feeling really proud of myself for being able to climb at such a steep angle. I was just rounding the third switchback, each leg growing heavier with every step, when tootling around the corner from behind me, cool, composed and moving easily came an Obaa-chan. Dressed in traditional tabi and clothing, and not a day younger than 70, she passed me, bowing with a polite “Konichi-wa” and sped on up the path.

After she was out of sight, I had to stop. Laughing at myself and hiking with vigor didn't work well together.

About half an hour after I resumed hiking, I came across a shrine. My understanding of Kanji wasn't sufficient for me to know what it was for, but there was a simple spiral bound notebook, and a pencil, so that we could record that we'd visited. It was meant as adding our respect, so I signed it. Likely that's where Obaa-chan had been headed, as there were fresh flowers laid nearby.

An hour's hiking beyond that, the trail growing even steeper, I passed through tall stands of silvery-gold pampas grass to come upon a small field, full of metal swords. Each sword had a name written on it, and was planted point upward on a metal or stone plinth. A samurai graveyard. Amazing.

I treasure the memories of those days.

Image of me on one of my Japanese hikes. The shirt says "Ichiban"

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