I had heard about Pon-Pon Yama since I first enquired about hiking in this area. Pon Pon Yama is known because at the top you can hear a sound that is like “Pon Pon.” I was told to jump when I get to the top to hear this sound. How could I not be intrigued!!! Some fantastic friends had shown me the nearest bus station on the map. They suggested I go on Saturday or Sunday, starting early morning as its a long and hot hike and morning would be coolest. I didn’t exactly heed their advice but set out Saturday afternoon, June 6, 2015.
Shin lent me a hiking backpack, which I filled with a change of clothes and my tevas in case an onsen appeared along with a Nalgene bottle full of lemon water. A brief stop at the Info Centre at the Takatsuki train station to find out which bus stop to wait at and I was happily waiting for bus #33 at 12:06.
I waited about fifteen minutes. Many buses came including #32 but no #33. While rare, I have experienced some delayed buses and trains in the past three weeks so I figured it must be late. Finally, at 12:20, I asked somebody else who was lined up for the bus. Turns out #32 and #33 go to about the same place but #33 goes slightly closer to the trail and only comes every three or so hours. So I should have got on the #32 which by the way came at exactly 12:06! Haha. Back to the Info Centre I requested the other route. It was a bit further away but had many buses.
The bus headed north through the city, then into the countryside. Still populated, but more rural, for sure. Farm trucks, rice paddies, and large scale vegetable gardens dotted the landscape. I got off at the right spot and sought out the trail. Some men were falling bamboo, so I asked the closest man the way to the trail. He wasn’t sure but did tell me how far and how I had to really go up high! Haha. Bring it on!
I found a small sign and headed up through a tight, steep trail through forested neighbourhoods. Found the trail, but it was actually a road! Seemed a bit odd, but sometimes hiking in Japan is full of surprises! Passed a sports centre and some major construction for a new road or some kind of highway, a burial place called the Ending Spot, and several temples and shrines. Beautiful but concrete the whole way. My hikers began feeling heavy and my feet soon became sore. Hiking boots aren’t meant for hiking on roads. I was really regretting not just wearing runners. It started to get steep and windy with no houses around. The road would be extremely dangerous for cars due to the sheer drop to one side and the tiny narrow road. Signage was frequent and helpful. The narrowness of the road meant a small path for pedestrians or hikers was created just off from the road. A few times, I took that pedestrian path, but didn’t quite understand the first few times I saw the little paths.
At last, I came to a large property of a shrine and the road disappeared. I headed off into the forest on the path, although by this time it was four pm and I was starting to get a little concerned about daylight. Onward and upward! Literally. Gorgeous hike and a nice but fairly narrow path, so I felt like I was finally in the wood and on the mountain path I had sort of expected the whole way. Two hours later. Lol. Beautiful trail with tall trees skinny and similar to the lodge pole pines in Northern BC, Canada. A sign showed 2.7 more kilometres so I was excited by that, as approaching nightfall made me a little nervous plus I kept seeing freshly hung signs that I was 99% certain said beware of bears as a bear had been seen recently. Glimpses of the city kept me intrigued as I could see how high up I was and how far from civilization.
I came across a section where I was on a kind of land bridge with valleys on either side of me. I could hear an indescribable sound coming from down in the valley on my right. It was a little creepy. Okay, a lot creepy!!! My brain and ears wanted to make sense of it; it sounded like a cross between water in a tunnel, dogs, people talking, and babies crying. It reminded me of a scene in one of the Hunger Games movies where you could hear the dog mutts approaching. I feel a bit ashamed to admit it, but a shiver went up my spine. I hustled on, lying to myself that I hurried because sunset was coming. Once the sound stopped, I relaxed a little as I continued on, but was really noticing my feet were sore and feeling swollen.
I saw a young man approaching and was glad. I asked how how much further? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Twenty minutes? He just said a little further. Several times. Determined, I plodded on for about ten minutes, but after that ten minutes started to feel less and less confident and more frustrated with each painful step. I still had to go back the three hours to get to the bus. I saw a couple hiking and was delighted! How much further, I asked. Just a little was the reply. Argh!!! I think the frustration in my voice and body gave me away when I asked five minutes? Ten minutes? Twenty minutes? Five minutes they said. You can do it, they encouraged!!! Be careful, their call rang out as we both carried on our separate ways. Ok, I told myself, I can do this! About five minutes later, I was having serious doubts when just ahead I saw a huge deer. Watching me. It didn’t move as I approached. I decided I must be in the right place and ta da! The summit sign appeared after a few seconds. I made it! Thank you, deer, for showing me the way and encouraging me.
The view was great. I was very high and in the mountains, for sure! The sign told me I was at an elevation of 678.9 meters! I jumped to try to hear the Pon Pon but to no avail. I ate the grapefruit I had brought, snapped a few photos and headed back.
In the same valleys I heard the same unusual sound. I guess that’s the mystery Pon Pon sound?!?!
Time flew and I made it down to where the road starts at the shrine. I had gotten there from a slightly different path and actually entered the shrine grounds. There were public toilets so I happily made use of them then headed down what I thought was the road. Didn’t get more than a few feet away when a man in a summer robe (commonly used like dressing gowns) walking his dog met me. He appeared to work at this remote shrine. What a peaceful job! He asked where I was going. I got the piece of paper out with the two bus stops and read one. He told me I was going the wrong way. And that bus stop wasn’t smart as very few came. Ok I said, I resigned myself to the further bus stop. He wished me a safe journey and I headed on my way. I changed into my sandals and started my concrete descent. My feet were killing me even in the sandals, though I very much appreciated the lightness and coolness of the sandals. I was about a quarter of the way down when a small farm truck with a woman in it stopped. I was very surprised to see a car!!! There wasn’t much up the road. Just a few temples and shrines up the mountain. She offered me a ride and I was soooo grateful. Soon figured out she was the wife of the man who works at the shrine. We attempted to converse in Japanese but I think my tired body stopped my brain from working as I just couldn’t say much. We did our best. She offered to drive me home but I was so grateful I just accepted to the bus stop and headed home on my own. So glad I made it and next time I will be much more prepared with runners and more food. And time it right to take the closer bus! But I will be back and hopefully with a friend or two.
Pon Pon Yama…. Check off the list and grateful for the kindness of strangers!!!