Hiking Japan: Living Journal Outdoors Photos Shizuoka Trip Reports: Hiking

Lady of the Gaseous Screens

Senjo mist woods
Larch woods on the start of the Mt. Senjo walk.
Senjo Knees
The first look at the treeline


As I had hoped it has become a summer of mountain walking, probably one of the activities I love best. I’m finding that when I return to town the cloying heat, the unfriendly crowds, the mindless rushing around, and the general inattentiveness to the surrounding world has gotten me spending every spare moment seeking a way out, towards a way of life more conducive to my temperament. Even time at the computer is falling away; I’m finding that I cannot stay seated in front of the computer for more than a half hour or so before restlessness hits me and I have to get up and pace the apartment or go for a walk.

The photographs here I brought back from my walk over Mt. Senjo, west of Tokyo in the South Japan Alps. It was my third attempt. Twice before torrential rains washed the trail out and I had to turn back. This time the rains hovered overhead for two days and constantly threatened to come pouring down, but somehow I managed to slip by unnoticed by the Lady of the Gaseous Screens, as Mt. Senjo seemed to me.

Senjo shoulder walking
Clouds followed the entire walk.
Kamikoma from Senjo 3
Mt. Kaikoma never really revealed itself.
Senjo string of flowers
String of flowers in a nook away from the wind.

The walk was easier this time than the walk up Mt. Shirane a month ago. The exercise has been paying off, and then Mt. Senjo lent itself to a comfortable pace, with the succession of views and exertion just stretched out enough that the walk could be taken in comfortable increments. The main concern was time, because the new bus system didn’t allow for much leeway in terms of the first and last buses down the mountain. So, though I thoroughly enjoyed the walk, I had to rush a little, too.

Senjo summit approach
Ridgeline walking is what makes mountain walking so heavenly!
Senjo shoulder
First view of the shoulder of Mt. Senjo’s summit.
Senjo looking down
Eating a rice ball while staring into the abyss

Mt. Senjo acted like a coquettish lady, peeking out from behind the screen then dancing away to another before I could get a glimpse of her face. The whole day was a series of just missing a grand view; I would be huffing and puffing up an incline, look up, and just catch a new screen of clouds sliding over a sunny panorama. The clouds rolled and slid over the peaks like great white-gloved hands, the fingers whistling in the wind.

Senjo shoulder crags
A moment of clarity along the ridgeline
Senjo ptarmigans
Because of all the other photographers I couldn’t get into a good position to take a good photograph of these two ptarmigans. The sat unafraid, watching us as if we ad landed on the wrong planet.
Senjo Hut
Senjo Mountain Hut, a lonely building sitting in a hanging valley overlooked by the peaks of Mt. Senjo.

The most difficult part of the walk took me through a razorback ridge where some rock scrambling left me hanging over thin air at times. My heart pounded as I twisted myself over ledges and heard the wind boom from behind me, nudging me toward the edges. None of it was terribly difficult, though, and with just enough scary footing to add spice to the grayness of the sky, the walk lifted me up over the whole world. I stood atop the narrow peak, stared out into the wall of cloud, and then sat down to warm myself with some curry and rice.

Senjo Cirque
The round of peaks which I had climbed earlier
Senjo ridge walkers
Walkers descending from the peak to the hut.
Senjo hut view
View of the hut and the trail over the summit

Rounding the walk off I followed a roundabout path that led around the peak opposite Senjo’s summit ridge, taking me down through an alpine garden of pink flowering rhododendrons, black lilies, white birch, and rowan. The trail lowered itself gently here, drawing away from the rocky ridges and coloring everything with rain-washed emerald green vegetation. waterfalls spilled down along the steep slopes and seemed to dance like children over the dark rocks. I was filled with oxygen and joy, and sang as I walked. Following the contour of the mountain, it took me back to the trail upon which I had first stepped onto the shoulder of Mt. Senjo and then took me down into the larch forests below again. The clouds still followed me, but held back their rain.

I packed up my tent and just made it to the last bus of the day.

Senjo log hut
Log mountain hut on the slope opposite Senjo ridge. I wnated to stop and have coffee here, but I had to make it down the mountain to catch the last bus.
Senjo rock waterfall
Waterfalls spilled down in every ravine in the last part of the walk.
Senjo mist rising
The clouds never let up all day, but they carried their own mysterious and moody beauty.

15 replies on “Lady of the Gaseous Screens”

The pictures are, indeed, amazing. I sometimes wish I still had the time to do such things, but it seems that no sooner do I complete some project than another emerges to take its place.

The last major mountain trip I made was to the Blue Mountains near Sydney, and it was on one of those student tours where we were herded like sheep from one sight to another according to a strict schedule.


Wonderful! I’m speechless just soaking in those views; I can amost feel the expansiveness of it all . I’m glad you’re able to get out there and be part of it.


Wonderful. Your walk descriptions and photos widen my horizons so much.

A request – at some point, would it be possible to post a small map of Japan with the places where you are shown on it? Or would that be impractical? You do indeed indicate where the area is in the text, but I just love maps!


Absolutely gorgeous photos. The last two are so reminiscent of Higashiyama Kai’s paintings. Have you ever had the good fortune to see the paintings ondoors in the rooms of Toshdaiji temple? I have only seen them on slides but they look spectacular. I particularly like the room which has 360 degrees of paintings of a misted lake and willow trees. It’s as if you are standing in a room completely surrounded by windows, and yet there are none. And there is a screen in the new Kagawa Prefectural Higashiyama Kaii Museum that is so close to your wonderful last picture. I couldn’t find good pictures on the net but here is one:

and I have posted a few pictures on my blog:

I wonder if it would be okay to add a link to your blog from mine?


Hello everyone. Sorry I’ve not answered the comments right away; I’m not on the computer as much these days and take a it of time to get to the blog. It’s nice to see all the new faces, though. I look forward to sharing more discussion with all of you.

Marja-Leena, thanks. I’m going through a quandary over whether to spend my time with photography or with drawing. I recently looked at a whole series of Japanese woodblock prints and they have gotten me all fired up to do lots of drawing. For one, I love the simplicity and the mindful engagement that drawing wakes in me.

Nolan.winthrop, I’m curious why you would not have time to go for hikes like mine. It was only a two-day trip, and the walk itself only one day (had to arrive one day earlier so as to have enough time to do the walk the next day). Would it not be possible to take a weekend day off and just drive somewhere where you might do a walk? As long as you wake at dawn such trips are possible for anyone, I would guess. I’m pretty busy with work (I teach English at night and work as a writer/ graphic designer by day) most of the time myself.

Pica, I knew you’d be thrilled by the ptarmigans. They have fascinated me ever since I first saw one back in 1984. Any creature which chooses to live in such a harsh environment must either be crazy or else know something we don’t. Certainly they have the right sense of perspective and aesthetics.

Andy, I can imagine that the views would stir up alpine lust. Every time I see photos of someone’s mountain walking I get peak-envy. It is never ever enough, even if I just finished a wonderful walk and spent half the time suffering along knee-crunching descents.

Susurra, sorry about the long delays, but you more than a lot of readers here I think understand my need to be outside and away from the computer. People have said that the computer is just a tool, but I disagree. I believe the computer is infiltrating our organic, social lives in a way that is disengaging us from the physical world we were meant and evolved into to inhabit. And I believe it is helping to create a lot of lonely people. Addiction always does that.

Mary, if there is one thing I’d like the blog to do is to help people see things from one new perspective. I’d also like to depict a picture of Japan that is different from the stereotypes that so many people show. Your map suggestion is a good one; I hadn’t thought of that before. I’m in the process of designing a whole new homepage that includes this blog, and in it I’ll see what I can do about an interactive map that everyone can click on and get a virtual tour of different places in Japan.

OnceWritten, I’ve often seen Higashiyama’s paintings, but hadn’t known his name or where to see them. I’d like to visit Toshidai Temple some time. I still feel, though, that my photographs have a long way to go before the subtleties and balance of composition can match that of Kai’s. I need to take more time with the photos and slow down while walking. As it is I spend too much time trying to finish the walks rather than just standing still and really, truly, looking. If I waited I’m sure I could get much more alluring and exciting photos. About linking, please link to your heart’s content. It’s always nice to be part of the chain. (by the way, my friend Steve from OnMyMind, the guy who also lives in Shikoku, is in Tokyo right now with his family. I’ll be seeing him tomorrow for lunch… would you like me to mention you?)


Sure, thanks. I don’t know where he and his family live but I’m in Kagawa. I do cook good Indian curries if they feel like a meal sometime. 🙂


I’m afraid that law school tends to eat away every spare moment, and when I’m not doing law school work, I’m volunteering at a law journal run by the law students at my university, attending law forums, researching topics for a paper on the growing gap between legal policy training and emergent technologies (nanotechnology, biotechnology, internet/network technologies), trying to figure out what political party holds the most promise for my particular viewpoints on a variety of issues, and attending concerts and theatre performances to network… The list seems endless.

The last time I did a major “nature walk” was in 2002, when I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail around Georgia during my spring break: 5 days on the trail in which I learnt a great deal about travelling light from my companions, and discovered a reservoir of fortitude that continues to surprise me.


When my uncle was over, I was telling him that the three things to see/photograph in the mountains in Japan are the bear, the wild boar, and the ptarmigan. Then when we were coming down off Kitadake, we thought we saw a boar (safely across the river). I took out the camera and got a couple of good photos and came down happy with one part of the elusive holy grail successfully (and safely) photographed.

Sitting waiting for the bus, a Japanese guy came over and started making conversation. He turned out to be the third diplomat we met on that climb. He’d just done Kaikoma from the old route as was very pleased with himself (as were we). I winked at my uncle and got out the photo of the boar to show him. And he said, “Ah, you’ve seen the Japanese serow, very common on Kitadake.” He then took out his camera, and showed us an incredible close-up photo of a couple of ptarmigans he’d seen on his walk.

My uncle enjoyed it very much.


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