Chapter 8: Horses’ Bells and Dragons’ Eyes*

June 3-4, 2018

The images in this photo supplement follow the events in Chapter 8 of CLIMB: Leaving Safe and Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan; the longer captions are “extra features” – information that didn’t make it into the book.

Traffic Cones at Morioka Station

Morioka City is the capital of Iwate Prefecture, in the Tōhōku region of northern Honshu (Japan’s largest island). I arrived at Morioka Station via shinkansen (bullet train) on the morning of June 3, intending to spend my rest day exploring the city and learning a little about the people and culture of Tōhōku–although I had no definite plans. Little did I know . . .

Performers Representing the Akita Kanto Festival

The Kizuna Festival (originally the Tōhōku Rokkonsai Matsuri) was founded in the wake of the 2011 Great Tōhōku Earthquake, to celebrate the various matsuri (festivals) of the Tōhōku region. In addition to the large parade, performers representing the major festivals perform and answer questions from visitors at parks around the city during this popular annual event.

Dancers at the Tōhōku Kizuna Festival

The matsuri celebrated at the Kizuna Festival originated in various prefectures across the Tōhōku region. Some of these festivals are celebrated in multiple places, while others (like the Fukushima Waraji Matsuri) are unique to a specific location.

This three-minute video, shot during the main parade at the 2018 Tōhōku Kizuna Festival, features performers from several of the festivals celebrated at this popular annual event. I couldn’t believe that I just happened to arrive in Morioka for a rest day on the very day this unique event occurred

Chagu Chagu Umakko

The Chagu Chagu Umakko Matsuri, held each year on the second Saturday in June, originated as a way to honor and protect the horses that worked on farms in Iwate Prefecture. Every year, the horses’ owners would dress them in colorful ceremonial garb and lead them from Onikoshi Sozen Shrine in Takizawa to Morioka Hachimangu Shrine, where the horses were blessed by a Shintō priest and prayers were offered on their behalf.

Horse Dressed for Chagu Chagu Umakko

Chagu Chagu is an onomatopoeic word derived from the sound of the many bells that adorn the horses’ costumes. The horses did not seem to mind the elaborate garb at all–and definitely seemed to like the visitors’ attention.

Chagu Chagu Umakko foal

Horses begin learning to wear the ceremonial decorations for the festival at a young age: this foal was already comfortable in his tasseled hat.

Green Apple Shaved Ice

Kakigori (shaved ice) is a popular summer treat in Japan. Since Morioka is famous for its apples, it only made sense to opt for the apple-flavored one. Despite the day-glo color, the syrup was made with real apple juice, and tasted startlingly close to a real apple.

Mt. Iwate Towering over Morioka

My original plan for June 3 involved a climb of Mt. Iwate; as it happened, I ended up deferring this climb, and still owe this peak a dance.

Bonus Photo: Denenmushi Bus

The awning above the bus reads “dendenmushi noriba” – “the place to board the snail.” The local sightseeing buses in Morioka are called “dendenmushi basu”–snail bus–which seemed so strange that I assumed I had misread the signs until I saw the adorable artwork on the buses.

“patches of snow appeared beneath the trees”

I shot this photo out the window of the bus to the Hachimantai trailhead. Despite seeing snow on Hakkōda the day before, I still failed to appreciate the fact that winter holds its grip on the northern mountains of Japan until well past winter’s calendar expiration date. Fortunately, I like snow.

“pink-topped wands marked the route”

The trail to the summit of Hachimantai was buried under several feet of snow; wands with pink flashing were stuck in the snow to mark the route.

Bonus Photo: Snowy Trail on Hachimantai

My hiking boots had plenty of grip–but only because the trail was relatively flat (the trail “up” Hachimantai gains very little altitude between the trailhead and the summit). When winter rolled around again, I acquired special gear.

Kagami-Numa, the Dragon’s Eye Pond

Kagami-Numa (the “dragon eye pond”) acquired its name as a result of its unique appearance. Fortunately for all of us, this particular dragon does not seem to mind hikers traipsing around on his forehead.

Bonus Photo: View From the Trail on Hachimantai

With no real experience climbing mountains before I began the 100 Summits Project, I had no idea what to expect from any of the climbs. As a result, each day and each experience was a unique, meaningful surprise.

The Summit Viewing Platform on Hachimantai

A number of Japanese mountains have viewing platforms on the summit, enabling hikers to enjoy the expansive views from above the trees. The platforms often feature benches where hikers can sit for a picnic lunch, as well as signs and maps naming the peaks on the horizon.

Summit Photo: Hachimantai

This was one of the easiest hikes of the 100 Summits Project. It was also the only one where I saw a hiker wearing slacks and business shoes.

Bonus Photo: View from the Summit Platform, Hachimantai

The trees that cover the summit of Hachimantai block this amazing view. Wooden viewing platforms are an absolute game-changer for forested summits. Not all mountains have them, but I love the ones that do.

“feeling snazzy in my new hiking hat”

Most Japanese hikers (of all genders) wear large-brimmed floppy hats to block the sun. The best ones have vents, snaps, and toggles on the chin straps to allow for air flow, customization, and protection against the wind. The chinstrap on this one is long enough to thread through the chest strap on my backpack, so even the most ferocious wind can’t steal my hat.

“I received a text from my good friend Laurie…”

As I reveled in this view, I wondered what would become of my treasured relationships with the friends I left behind in the United States as I set out on the 100 Summits Journey. Only time, and climbs, would tell.


I hope you’re enjoying this “behind the scenes” photo-companion to CLIMB! Please click through and join me for Chapter 9: No Raisins on the Summit

* This page is part of the photo companion to CLIMB: Leaving Safe & Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan. You can find the story behind these pictures (in hardback and ebook formats, and either in person or online) at your favorite local bookstore or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble (both in the U.S. and internationally).