Hirayama Bus Stop 平山バス停 to Tsuki-ga-sei-guchi 月が瀬口

Awoke Valentine's Day to the warmth of April. More specifically, the muggy tropical warmth of the April of Hong Kong. We biked down the hill, jackets unzipped, hair finally freed from woolen caps, waving behind us all the way to the train station. We were forced by JR to ride a series of trains and buses which took a ridiculous amount of time, due to their usual poor scheduling. It amazes me how inconvenient this route is, despite being the main line between the tourist sites of Kyoto and Nara (with another, Uji, in the center), and penetrating into the heart of the suburban commuter Kansai Bermuda Triangle (if you include Osaka). JR further showed its obliviousness to context by turning on the air conditioner, despite this being an early February morning. A bus took us to a village whose name, Wazuka, loosely translates as "A bit." We stood there looking up at the high mountain in front of us, ribbed with tea bushes stretching all the way up to the crest. This tea represents about half of Uji's famous brand, and we'd need at least a cup in order to get to the top.

The trail led up a narrow track rutted by the tires of small farm trucks. On the crest, we had a quick lunch while sitting on a single iron rail used to transport tools up and to send freshly plucked tea leaves back down. The descent down the other side was steep, leading eventually to a small village seated in a high valley. This village was simply two rows of homes bisected by a single road, and to walk through it was to walk through any old Western film. Next to a pond were a group of geese, two female, and a male who protectively challenged my approach, craning its neck and hissing. I smiled and backed off, somewhat ashamed at ruining his date on this day reserved for lovers. At the far end of the village, a light truck wheeled up, its elderly driver smiling at me and making conversation. He seemed amazed to see me here, the huge smile never leaving his face. Though we'd spend most of the day on roads, we'd see very few vehicles, and nearly all of them bore the teardrop mark of an aged driver. We walked through rice paddies, some flecked by huge stones looking like the backs of breaching whales. Before long another group of farm houses appeared, stretching out along this high plateau. A sign told us that nearby were a Korean Confucian temple and the tantalizingly named "Fudo Falls," but they were far off our route today. We did find the Pond of Benten, that muse of poets, whose festival day is traditionally in April, and today's warm weather gave us a taste.

We descended now, dropping down for the next 2 hours, for the next 8 kilometers. This middle portion was somewhat uninspiring, but for the occasional glimpses of mountains and mountains unfolding south toward Nara, Yoshino, and Kumano beyond. With little to occupy us visually, we'd distract ourselves with rambling conversation. A few words, a bit of passion, and boom! off we'd go. We spent at least an hour debating Kipling's "East is east" quip. At the bottom we found a busy road, then a trail which climbed up to some high marshy land. The reeds rustled to a bossa nova rhythm, and amidst this beat we found a simple house standing where it was least likely to be found. The owner no doubt prefers it this way, and the warm rusticity hints at a simple, satisfying life. Where the reeds ended, more tea plantations began. In the wooded areas between them we found a few bamboo cutter hard at work, one of them complaining to us that with the unseasonal warmth, the bamboo shoots would come early, and unless he pruned back their taller ancestors, the youngsters would never get enough space and light to survive. A literal generation gap played out in the forest. And we walked on into spring, with the plum blossoms being serenaded into bloom by the uguisu, tuning its rusty pipes for an early, and sudden return to the stage.

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