Have I told you lately that I love…my school? Sorry I nearly burst into Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” there. Anyway, I feel like I could write a dozen blogs on today alone. I was lucky enough to take part in an all-day 修学旅行 – Shuugakuryokou, AKA a Field Trip! I accompanied the first year students on a visit to the beautiful mountains of Nikko and Lake Chuzen. The purpose of the trip was to help spawn a batch of mature “Himemasu” Kokanee Salmon. We left the fishery early with our fishery gear, boots, and sack lunches, ready to roll. The class crammed into the same oversized van of a bus I’ve come to associate with fun (and unpredictable) fish/water/mystery adventures. It's like my own fishery version of The Magic School Bus!
Today we drove the two-hour trip to my favorite site of Nikko and beyond. We ventured up the winding mountain roads to the infamous Lake Chuzen in all of its glory. I’m going to get poetic, so join me won’t you? Imagine you too are on the Magic School Bus (I think we all have at one time or another) and we are passing the town of Nikko on our right, preparing to enter the true mountains ahead. As we climb high and higher you can feel your ears popping. The weather is overcast and soon a dark and rolling mist surrounds us, billowing through the dense mountain forest on all sides. Giant pines, leafy foreign trees, and the ever present bamboo draw it in around them and you feel as if you've already lost yourself in the mystery of what lays hidden on these ancient Japanese slopes. It's easy to imagine the inspiration behind the poetry for which this nation is so well known. Not only the graceful, soul-searching haikus, but the infamous tails of dragons and mountain gods as well.
The bus literally sways under its load, making hairpin turns that leave you holding your breath at points. On the left now rises a solid sheet of mossy mountain rock, on the right an ocean of mist and the occasional ghost of a tree rising out of the fog. There is only one color overhead – a glowing white. One risky driver dares to pass the bus, but he’s one of the few you see on the mountain all morning. As if just to defy nature a construction crew is doing roadwork near the top, forcing the bus to skirt even closer to the railing. An observation deck goes unused as the most one would be able to see are the clouds of icy mist wandering the mountainside.
As you climb higher still the temperature drops, the bus windows need wiping ever few seconds, and some of the students begin to stretch their arms out only to bring them back covered in beads of dew. More and more of the trees have started to reflect the season now, 紅葉 – kouyou literally “Crimson Leaf.” A sign jumps out of the sign with only a few seconds warning. On its bright orange frame is a picture telling you to watch out for monkey crossings. Hopefully the monkeys aren’t feeling too adventurous seeing as they’d stand out even less than their well-intended sign. The bamboo thins out to be replaced by thick round mountain trees whose leaves look like random flames burning in the mist. Suddenly you’re there…
The road reaches the motionless lake of Chuzen. As the bus slowly makes its way around the rocky shores of the gigantic mountain lake, the wind picks up and within minutes the mist is rising off the lake in tall spires and the dark outlines of distant shores appear. The breeze clears the skies, rippling the water, and in true mountain fashion, the sun appears. An awe-inspiring blend of reds, golds, and greens climb the mountainside, far more vivid and scenic than can be captured in either words or images. As you can tell I was on cloud 9 today (pun intended) and I’m glad you were able to join me…
Continue below for more stories and photos about Spawning Salmon at the unforgettable
PS. We just had another earthquake as I was writing this, it shook the whole house, crazy!!