A long winding road to the top of one of the mountains surrounding this sleepy village in the west of Japan. Too long and too winding perhaps for my present condition, but I needed to test my legs and lungs for the long trail ahead next week.
Cycling in lowest gear, breathing heavily, sweating, I slowly pass trees and the occasional human figure who all look like Playmobil figures. I am a Playmobil figure on a bike and they are Playmobil figures weeding their gardens or sitting on benches.
One particular young Playmobil figure wears a helmet and sits on a chair at the side of the road. At first I take him for a soldier, but the rifle resting on his knees is a stick to regulate the sporadic traffic from and to a stone-pit. He jumps up when I come closer and with his stick he chases imaginary trucks away from me.
Trees on the roadside keep trading places, depending on how I look.
Three deers run a while along with me through the forest, making shrieking sounds. Maybe it’s the fever rushing through my veins, but cycling this long winding road in slow motion and passing Playmobil figures, moving trees, and shrieking deers is like cycling in a dream.
Near the top of the mountain a rock with Japanese signs I can’t read. There are empty coke tins, blown out candles and a bowl containing a coin. I tosh another coin into the bowl and make a half-hearted bow, maybe to the spirit of the mountain.
At the start of the trail into the woods, two black umbrellas are hanging on a fence, waiting for hikers surprised by showers. The sky is blue, there is no sound, and no one in sight. Red and orange butterflies dance in the air.
Immediately after entering the woods, there is the strange feeling of not being alone here. I stumble across an iron cage a man could easily fit into. On the bottom some remains of vegetables and potatoes. One side of the cage is open, if something enters the cage, the door falls shut.
But it’s not the presence of a bear that I sense.
It’s the bear that may or may not be there, it’s the flowing stream, the waving plumes, the cedar trees, and the strange things that linger around here, like a red fire extinguisher and a rusted car with no wheels.