You never know who you are going to meet and where you are going to meet them.
This month I thought I would tell you a story of an unusual run-in I had up here on the big island of Hokkaido. It’s about a good friend of mine and how we first met. I was camping on the shore of Lake Shikotsu which sits at the foot of Tarumae-zan (1,041 m) and Fuppushi-dake (1,102.2 m), on the southeast coast of Hokkaido.
(Illustration by Eureka!)
I had a great day, hiking up to the peak and around the volcanic crater of Tarumae-zan and then over to the peak of Fuppushi-dake. The mountains, seated next to each other, are connected by a trail. (You can hike these mountains separately or together.)
The evening was starting to set in, the skies were clear and, best of all, there was a full moon poking out its head and taking a look around.
After having a feed, I was thinking what I should do, and—bang! I got a brainstorm (which doesn’t happen to me often). I decided to take a night stroll again up to the peak of Tarumae-zan, from where I could take in the night view of Tomakomai City and just sit up there alone and enjoy the warm summer night filled with the beautiful full moon and stars.
It takes about 15 minutes by car from the campground to the car park at the start of the trailhead, then from there about a 50-minute hike to the peak. By the time I started my stroll to the top, the sun was gone and the moon was out, but as I got near to the top, I heard something a little strange and couldn’t work it out at first.
As I got nearer, I was sure I it sounded like singing and some kind of wind instrument. When I finally reached the peak I was surprised to discover I wasn’t the only one with the same idea. I found a Japanese guy in his early 50s singing and playing the shakuhachi (a traditional Japanese recorder) and sitting next to a very large bottle of sake. He had a bit of a shine on his face.
You think I was surprised? You should have seen his face when he realized I was a foreigner.
After getting over the initial shock of us coming across each other, he offered me some sake which I was very happy to accept. (Here is a bit of advice that I think is a good idea: I always carry a tin cup on the outside of my day pack and my larger packs on all my hikes and treks.
The reason is, this wasn’t the first time I’ve been offered something to drink on the trails, and I’ve found it a good idea to have something quick and handy to drink out of. I sat there with him for about four or hours or so at the top of the mountain, listening to him play and sing traditional Japanese mountain songs, enjoying the wonderful view and the night sky—and of course the sake.
The trek down was interesting after drinking all that sake and, to be honest with you, I don’t really remember it. Me and that guy have remained good friends ever since and have enjoyed other nights such as that on other mountain tops here in Hokkaido.