On a morning when we didn't have any guests, my host mom cheerfully announced that we'd be going on an excursion with her daughter. We drove a little way out from the inn, to another mountain resting on the peninsula. I asked what it was called. Neither knew.
At the trailhead, mother and daughter performed a little ritual that they have to make decisions - mom pinched her thumb and forefinger together and daughter tried to pull them apart. They did this twice (once for each direction), and somehow divined that we were to head right, which we did. Eventually the path began to slope upward, crude steps cutting into the mountainside that made us lose our breath.
Rounding a corner to see a large red torii gate looming ahead, I realized that the other woman had stopped. I looked back, and noticed their uneasiness. They gestured for me to return to them, and proceeded to take an alternate path up towards the top of the mountain. Once we were far enough away from the shrine, the daughter explained to me, between breaths, that red gates were bad, and that shrines who had them paid homage to foxes, known in Japanese culture for their deception and, in her words, "bad energy." I immediately thought of Fushimi Inari Taisha, one of my favorite places in Kyoto, which has tons of red torii (and so close together they form tunnels) and fox statues.
At the end of the trail is a wooden deck that enables a panoramic view of the surroundings without interference from the tree tops. Panting slightly, I willed myself up the wooden steps, and what should I find at the top but a group of middle-aged bird-watchers dressed in varying degrees of camo. The man I immediately singled out as my favorite was wearing camo pants and jacket (but different shades), a camo face mask and had his phone in a camo pouch attached to his belt. Not to mention the bands of camo covering his DSLR lens. What were they doing up there? Apparently this is prime hawk season.
We stayed about twenty minutes past the point that I found the group to be entertaining, and truth be told I was feeling cold and slightly hangry (when you get so hungry that it makes you inexplicably irascible). Finally, mom and daughter bade goodbye (my Japanese is still well below the conversational level), and we continued the hike through Flower Road - named for its blooming trees on either side and back down to the car.
Mom made a detour at the supermarket for bento boxes, which we greedily ate en route to the next destination, a secluded temple called Sempuku-ji. Halfway up a different mountain, this is one of the area's oldest temple, which I had guessed from the faded orange paint, cobwebs and deteriorating wood. After admiring the curious statues inside the main building, we piled back into the car to head home. I had spotted what looked like a trail leading upwards but made a point of keeping quiet about it - I was already beat.
More from this excursion in the Irago album.