Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Hiuchi-dake Expedition

Hiuchi-dake, the fourth highest peak in Shimokita, looms over Kazamaura. Surely there must be bears in those mountains!

The expedition winds its way through the bush along the ridge of Hiuchi-dake.

With winter closing in, Gaijin for Life has been frantically seeking closure to the Find a Bear Campaign. Last week, in a desperate bid to seize the initiative in Operation Bear Watch, I organized an expedition into Kazamaura’s highest mountains. Included on my team were Kazamaura’s highest ranking public servant (answerable only to the elected mayor), my supervisor and his assistant, several rangers from the national forestry department, a ranger from the prefectural forestry department, miscellaneous employees of the municipal government, an elementary school principle, four elementary school teachers, and a platoon of children drawn from all three of Kazamaura’s elementary schools.

One of my child adventurers shows signs of weakness and is pampered by his teacher. Can this team really pull off the dangerous task I have assigned to it?

My general (Kazamaura’s highest ranking public servant) stops to pick mushrooms for his wife. This is no way to find a bear!

At last, bear sign! I command one of the rangers to analyze the samples with a twig to determine content and temperature. The trail is cold.

Another ranger checks out what is called in the vernacular a “monkey seat” (猿の腰掛). The forestry department arms its rangers with double holsters each housing a handsaw and a Japanese hatchet. To the best of my knowledge, no weapons were drawn from their holsters on this peaceful expedition.

A teacher and his students mount a platform at the top of Hiuchi-dake to watch for bears.

Alas, no bears. All they see is Cape Oma. (Kazamaura begins where the right side of the triangle curves in).

My General HQ (Headquarters) staff man the observation post—but no bears. (My supervisor is on the right). Upon discovering that the prefectural forest ranger had a bear-repelling bell hanging from his rucksack, I had him summarily executed (without the benefit of court-martial).

My government-issued lunch.

The children play a game of “find the artificial objects” after lunch.

Okay, so the expedition was not exactly as I described it. In fact, I didn’t organize it at all. I wasn’t in command. Nobody else wanted to see a bear. Nobody was executed. I was just invited along as an observer because I didn’t have any classes scheduled for the day.