Sunday, June 11, 2023

Another Classic From Susan Spann: From Tohoku With Love...and Horses.

[Five years ago yesterday, Susan announced her self-imposed challenge to scale 100 Japanese peaks over the next 12 months. Another challenge she met and overcame.]


June is here, and with it the official start of my hyakumeizan odyssey--over the next twelve months, I'll be attempting to climb all 100 of the nihon hyakumeizan (100 Famous Mountains of Japan). It's a hefty task, considering that the Japanese climbing season starts in June and ends when mid-to-late November snow shuts off the peaks.

For the mathematically inclined, that basically means I need to climb a mountain every other day from now until the snow flies.

The summit of Mount Iwaki - hyakumeizan #2
Did I mention the rainy season starts in June?

With little time to spare, I kicked off the climbs with a trip to Tohoku, a region located in the northernmost part of Japan's largest island (Honshu).
Looks a little like Mordor, if you didn't know better...

To test my fitness, I planned for a pair of back-to-back climbs with a single rest day in between.

Half way to the summit - and pointing where I need to go.
Fortunately, the weather and my knees held out, and I summited all four peaks.

The summit of Mount Hakkoda (this is where the previous photo pointed).

I planned to spend my rest day in Morioka--a city I knew little about, aside from the fact that it's known for the Chagu Chagu Umakko Matsuri (Festival) that takes place the second weekend in June (this weekend, in case you're counting).

A horse decked out for Chagu Chagu Umakko

The festival originated centuries ago, when farmers in the Morioka area festooned their horses with elaborate costumes and bells ("chagu chagu" is the sound the bells on a trotting horse make in Japanese) and paraded the horses to the local Shintō shrines for special blessings. Horses were exceptionally valuable, and their labor was critical to the farmers' survival, so the farmers hoped the festival would ensure the horses' health and continuing welfare.

Today, the festival still involves parading the jingling horses to the shrine in Morioka. Children in traditional costumes ride on the horses' backs--hence the last word, "Umakko," which means "horse children."

I couldn't afford to delay my first Tohoku climbs by a week to see the festival, but it bummed me out that I'd miss the horses. (I've loved them all my life, and rode competitively in high school.)

Imagine my surprise when I reached Morioka for my rest day . . . and discovered it coincided with a matsuri (festival) celebrating all of the festivals of the Morioka region--including Chagu Chagu Umakko!

Hooray! A festival!

I watched a parade with dancers from several of the regional matsuri:

The name of this one basically translates "flower hat festival"
Ate festival food near the site of the Morioka Castle ruins, and spent a delightful almost-hour at the "Chagu Chagu Umakko Horse Encounter" park, getting up close and personal with some of the hundred horses that would participate in this weekend's matsuri.

The regalia looks heavy, but these draft horses can bear the weight.
Including one very sleepy little foal:

At one point he was actually snoring.

The lesson here--and it's not a new one--is that travel often provides us with amazing opportunities if we don't over-schedule and leave ourselves open to the adventure that presents itself. Whether you want to attribute it to God, the Universe, Karma, or just turtles all the way down, it's impossible to deny that there's a larger force than us at work out there, and that it's pretty darn amazing at planning really cool surprises, if we leave ourselves open to them.

A lovely surprise indeed.

I came to Japan in search of adventure and, as always, it does not disappoint. I'm looking forward to seeing what the rest of this adventure has in store.


1 comment:

  1. I admire you for taking on such a challenge, Susan.

    And those are amazingly elaborate costumes on the horses. Not surprised one of them was snoring.

    What branch of competitive horse riding did you do in school?