Japan from the inside out

Ain’t no mountain low enough

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers.
– Qingyuan Weixin

FIRST there is a mountain / Then there is no mountain / Then there is, were the primary lyrics to Donovan’s ’67 pop hit that reached #11 on the American charts and #8 in Britain. In those days, no one knew whether he was singing about Qingyuan’s Zen awakening, a lysergic acid-fueled mind jaunt, or both, but for most listeners either one would have been equally groovy.

Mr. & Mrs. 100,000

Visitors to Mt. Benten in Katanokami-cho, Tokushima City, however, wouldn’t have to indulge in esoterica or psychedelia to find themselves wondering if the mountain was playing hide-and-go seek with them. A local society likes to boast that at 6.1 meters high—a skoche more than 20 feet–Mt. Benten is Japan’s smallest mountain. Lest you think no one would go out of their way to visit a glorified hill, be advised that 100,000 souls have braved the Benten trek since 2002 without Sherpas and lived to tell about it. In fact, a group of local Tokushimanians has been issuing certifications to anyone who reaches the top.

The 100,000th person to have visited Mt. Benten was one-half of a married couple (take your pick which one) from Komatsushima in Tokushima earlier this year. The local group held a special ceremony, at which the accompanying photo was taken.

Many visitors think that at first glance, Japan’s smallest mountain looks like a forest next to a wet rice paddy. The folks in Katanokami-cho started promoting it as a mountain as a cosmic joke in 1997, but then the rest of Japan decided yes, there is a mountain there after all, and started coming to see for themselves. Some intrepid travelers have made a point of climbing both the 3776-meter Mt. Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain, and Mt. Benten to receive certification for having been to the highest and lowest, a concept that contains some trippy esoteric elements of its own. Five couples have chosen to hold their wedding ceremony at the summit. Their reason? They think it will be auspicious for their relationship because “we can’t get any lower than this.”

Said the director of the local association:

“We started the promotion in the spirit of a game, and we never thought people would take it this seriously. We hope people continue to develop great affection for the mountain.”

Thanks to the magic of modern technology, armchair trippers don’t have to date the girl named Sandoz to go mountain viewing from wherever they are—there’s an official website in Japanese with a live mini-cam broadcasting Mt. Benten to the world in real time 24/7.

If you have any energy left after you come down, you might want to slip on over to see the mighty Butsubutsu—Japan’s shortest river.

Zen Brazilian style

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