Location: Mt. Jinba is right on the border of Kanagawa. It stands 857 metres tall, two mountains to the west of Takaosan. It is one of the ‘100 Mt Fuji Viewing Spots in Kanto.’
Trip duration: 1 day
Hosts: This was not a farm stay, so we had no hosts, exactly. Instead, we were invited by friends from the local capoeira club, Capoeira Angola Yokohama, to join their day trip.
Nao-chan, upon seeing Mt. Fuji: Look, it’s Fuji-Kun!
Impressions of the journey:
We woke up very early in order to meet our friend Nao-chan at the Higashi Kanagawa train station at 07:00. From there, we rode the train for about an hour out to the Takao train station, an old-fashioned looking building decorated with a few small, frost-covered planters full of greenery. Large crowds of people bedecked in colorful, technical mountaineering and hiking gear were lined up outside the station waiting for the bus. This is where most of our group assembled, and without much trouble we all got on the bus for the half-hour ride to the base of our trail. There was frost on the ground and we could see our breath – quite a lot colder than Yokohama. We formed a circle and, in very Japanese fashion, did a sequence of warm-up exercises together before proceeding on the last leg of our journey to the foot of the mountain – a 20 minute walk up a winding, paved country road deep in the autumn-colored trees.
Impressions of the work:
The only “work” on this trip, or so we thought, was getting up the mountain – oh, and of course, preparing and carrying the giant feast we planned to eat at the top! Roshni made a packet of delicious cucumber sandwiches. I brought fresh bread, cheese, apples, and a large thermos of home-made hot chocolate. Our friends were carrying many wonders including yakitori, mochi, mulled wine, and chocolate fondue with fruit for dipping. At the top of the mountain, an old and well-loved sobaya (as well as a very strange statue of a white horse, check it out at Wikipedia) awaited our arrival.
After an approximately 90 minute hike through deep woods of tall pines and golden, leaf-strewn snow patches, we indeed reached the summit, bought piping-hot bowls of soba, and sat down. The table we chose had a view of the valley over which imposing Mt. Fuji, capped in snow, presided. After setting the table and taking in the view for several minutes, we became aware of an unusual noise in the background.
The noise turned out to be the thumping of a kine (a large wooden pestle the size and shape of a very heavy splitting maul) in an usu (a large wooden mortar, like a stump with a bowl cut into the top of it). The family of the soba shop`s owners had gathered on the mountain top, and they were pounding fresh mochi, a traditional japanese rice cake eaten around Oshougatsu, or New Year`s. Several generations of family members were taking turns rhythmically pounding the mochi with the kine as another person carefully reached into the usu to flip the mochi over between whacks. The process looked a lot like a dangerous version of kneading bread. We were entranced.
When we say rice cake, non-Japanese/Japanophile readers may think of the crunchy variety found in the health food aisle with a quaker’s face on the wrapper: nope. Japanese mochi is a soft, stretchy, chewy food item eaten fresh, roasted, in soup, and wrapped around sweets like sweet red bean paste, etc. In Japan, families eat mochi to celebrate the New Year, but eating mochi can be dangerous – especially for the elderly. This year close to twenty patients were taken to hospital to be treated for mochi-related choking on New Year’s. Often, Japanese New Year’s cards and decorations feature images of a bunny pounding mochi, as this family was, only the bunny usually does it under a full moon. This popular image stems from the fact that Japanese people, when they look at the blotches on the moon, see a bunny pounding mochi there. Other Asian cultures also see a bunny in the moon. But I digress.
Back on the mountain top, one of our friends noticed that we were interested in the mochi-making process and brought us over to watch. Before long, we were invited to join in. Not only did the family kindly let us try pounding mochi with them, they also let us sample the finished product: delicious, soft, stretchy mochi dipped in two different sauces. One was a yuzu (japanese citrus) and tamanegi (green onion) sauce. The other was soy sauce and daikon (Japanese radish). Delicious! A true Japanese New Year’s tradition. We managed to make it all the way back down the other side of the mountain, where before continuing on the train ride home we stopped in at an ofuro (japanese bath house) for a welcome soak in a cedar tub overlooking a steep valley filled with ponds of colorful koi. We made it back to Yokohama late that night, bone-tired and very satisfied with our day’s journey.
Kanji: 餅 (mochi) We chose “mochi” as the kanji for this adventure because we learned so much about it. Mochi is an important part of Japan’s most important family holiday – Oshougatsu – and it ties in deeply to Japan’s rice culture and traditional stories, like the bunny in the moon.