Most Japanese enjoy an Onsen ryokan as a relaxing routine of sleep, eat, bathe, nap, bathe, eat and repeat. I relished the invite to do nothing but it wasn't long till my feet got itchy again.
To continue the trend of locals warning us that outdoor excursions are impossible to attempt, we were told not to try hiking the mountain - 'too hard, very steep!' Yet the weather was good and the mountain was too tempting so we decided to start cautiously, keeping in mind we should turn back if we noticed any danger...
The zig zag paths gradually lead us up the side of the mountain, it was rocky at times but not too steep. The thick forest knocked and creaked in the wind, it was like the trees were taking turns to stretch their old limbs. It was a sound I've never heard before and, combined with the dappled light that poked and moved through the slim trunks, was so animating.
Admittedly, there was some rain damage near the path. Sections of the hillside had been dragged down by running water, leaving gouges of mud and damaged trees. But in general the path was welcoming, so we powered on up, excited by the glimpse of a white topping that we could see through the trees.
These glimpses were so teasing, the way up didn't offer any expanding vistas, just hints of what was at the top. The route was winding and captivating, switching from scooping walkways through groups of cedars and spruce, wide passages next to steep drops and narrow, bumpy trails lined with bamboo shrubbery. As we got higher, snow and ice sat in pockets on the ground, a stark contrast to the walls of bright green.
There was always a sense that you couldn't see it all, like I expected every corner to reveal a big event. The higher we got, the faster I got, excited and certain that I would find a panoramic reward.
Images: Creaking trees, Rocky Paths, Rain damage, Kit Rucksack Companion, Spruce, White in the distance, Bamboo and snow, Frosted Trees, Peaking through the forest.
Close to the summit we realised that the white dusting along the ridge of the mountain wasn't snow, the trees were sealed in ice crystals! Seized by the cold and delicately decorated in a sparkling white casing.
As we reached the summit, we were surprised that our irregular path turned into neat stone paving. Then we hit a wide, noisy, tarmac road.
I ran up the last bit of incline, interested by the sprawling city of Kobe that plugs the hole on the other side of Mount Rokko, but mainly keen to look down on the rich ice and green valley we had just ascended. Instead I ran up to a large, not very rich or green, public works building.
Never have I found Ernest Hemingway's quote more literally relative - 'It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.'
The journey back down was very different. I was entertained by the glimpses of valley and scenery through the trees, not teased by them. I took my time along the trail, not rushing. I didn't want the path to end, just stay in the whispering woods, absorbing the variety of texture and light.
It was my first experience of hiking in Japan. There were many differences compared to the western trails that I'm used to, especially the man made abnormalities. Yet the terrain, vegetation and feeling of the mountain along the way made me pay much more attention to it's natural character. The profundity was in the adventure, not the summit.