Lake Chūzenji, Tochigi → 🌋 Mount Nantai → ⛩ Nikkō, Tochigi

Map of Tochigi with author’s route from Lake Chūzenji to Nikkō highlighted. 🗺 Open map in GaiaGPS →

The head of the statue of a sleeping bull at a Japanese shrine.

A cluster of three birch trees stands above a rocky path.

View of a mountainous landscape and Lake Chūzenji from a forest.

A scree slope on the summit of Mount Nantai, with snow-covered peaks on the horizon.

A panorama of the Lake Chūzenji area from the summit of Mount Nantai.

A path leads through a mountain forest in the morning light.

📍 Mount Nantai, Tochigi

Even by Japanese standards, the forest covering the steep slopes of Mount Nantai is remarkably beautiful, and as I walked up the mountain in the early morning light, white clouds swirling above, in the ink-blue sky, I thought of the monk Shōdō, who pioneered this route in the spring of 782, after two failed attempts to reach the summit. Exhausted by the unending struggle, he was forced to bivouac for two nights,” Fukada wrote of his efforts. Near the summit, the forest thinned out, and turned into maroon volcanic scree, and I stood in a cool summer wind, white clouds swirling around me in the ink-blue sky. Snow peaks dotted the land as far as the eye could see.

A panorama of a verdant, cloudy landscape with steep rock walls covered in thick forest.

Closeup of one of the corners of the Irohazaka Road.

A motorcycle takes a corner on a road winding down a steep, forested mountainside. 📍 Irohazaka Road, Tochigi

I don’t ride a motorcycle, but if I did, I would want to ride it down the switchbacks which drop from the plateau of Lake Chūzenji, a descent of 700 meters over barely more than five kilometers, in a landscape which reminded me of a Venezuela I have never seen.

The red side door of an Anglican church built of black basalt rocks.

The sign of a Lawson convenience store, normally blue but here black, against a cloudy sky. 📍 Nikkō, Tochigi

Charcoal clouds thickened over the black basalt Anglican church, its lush garden growing with roses, a scene from a Victorian-themed anime. On a black bench by a black convenience store and a black post office, I sat with a turquoise can of wheat beer from far-away Okinawa, dizzy, exhausted to the bone. The mountains were gone, and I had arrived to the Darjeeling of Japan, where Tokugawa Ieyasu lay. Later, in the bathhouse, I awoke to the sight of a striking Nilotic man washing himself, the suds glowing on his indigo-black skin, then he put on his headphones, and he was gone.

These Walking Dreams is a visual field diary of a 4,300-kilometer walk from one end of Japan to the other, in the spring and summer of 2017.