Coming of Age Contemporary East Asian

If he had been able to cry without the wind creating these tears, it would be a pure moment of joy. The patch of gravel he stood on was quite wide and slippery, but he felt no fear. It was the other bodies around him that impressed him now, as did that view, and he could not move. It had taken him a long while to walk and beat the sun that touched the edge of the sky and blew away the darkness and strong shroud of clouds. There was the valley that he could see clearly now, and soon as he would make his way down the mountain. There was the path that was still visible in the dim light and dying mist that headed down the slope. With his fatigue, he thought that the chances of him making it up on time would not be a success, but here he was, tearing up at the joy in his eyes. The others were also trying to shed tears not whipped up by the wind and failing at the effort. But their emotions were raw and pure as they saw what the sun could do, what the clouds were hiding, and what their efforts at climbing and tracing their path led to; here, the highest point in the country.

“It can really make you cry.”

That was the other male of his group. He had hiked up to the third or fourth stop before meeting the group of college students who were taking their first trip up the mountain. His name was Toru and he was studying mathematics. A very tall kid, he thought, who somehow ended up on his hike with two very attractive students who were in sociology and geography (Mieko and Ryoko). He was staring at the sun now high above them, silhouetting the entire ring of students, hikers, photographers and the like with them.

“It is going to make me cry for a long time.”

An odd thing to say, but his emotions were swimming in his head and he could not really think straight with all of this in front of him.

“Tears are okay. No shame in that.”

Mieko was filming the scene on a video camera and he felt a little embarrassed knowing that this moment could be replayed and saved for her memories.

“I know. But this is just too much after such a long walk.”

“True.” Ryoko held his left arm as she stepped down from a ridge that circled that mountain’s peak. He had not noticed at first that she stepped away from the group to get a better view above the heads of the crowd. People were now filming everything in the new daylight and spreading out on the slopes and trails. She also had a camera but was more interested in still shots and how their new companion was taking things. “It really does knock you out.”

“’Knock you out?’ I was going to say…”

“But you think that this is going to be a memory you take forever…”


Ryoko took a quick shot of him on the path with a disposable camera. The other two were looking in the viewfinder of Mieko’s camera and left the path to walk up on the same ridge.

“You look good in the light.”

“And you are a wonderful liar.”

She smiled, putting the camera into her satchel. “Never lie if you have to. If you can help it. Too much to remember.”

The wind picked up a bit, blowing some of the loose gravel their way.

“Glad I have my shades.” He found the Ray Bans he bought that week in his coat.

“It is a problem. Every time people travel here, they have the same complaint.”

“And you don’t need them?”

Still smiling, Ryoko looked at the scene around them. “As long as I am surrounded by people, it’s not so bad.”

He was not so sure what she was saying. They were a barrier to some of the wind, but he still felt like his eyes were under attack.

“Do you know much about the mountain?”

Mieko and Toru were back, the video camera still in her hands and moving in a panorama shot as he spoke.

“Only a few things. Someone told me it was a dormant volcano.”

Ryoko was excited by this. She kept the camera on them.

“Oh, yes! The thing is, this land is so unstable that sometimes you see smoke coming out of the mountain and wonder if this is going to be the day. Whenever there’s an earthquake, people wonder if the mountain will blow up. I wonder if you know about the legends about this place.”

He did not know all the stories, and his pause before she spoke said as much.

“A spirit is said to haunt this place.”

Toru looked like he was going to be sick.

“Ryo, you just…”

“Just let me tell it. There was a group of travelers, peasants, who went up the mountain to pay their respects to the gods of their ancestors or whatever, and the volcano…mountain, I mean, erupted. Not that there was a lot of lava or anything, but there was an earthquake and they fell into that thing.” She was pointing at the edge of the rim that Mieko had been standing on. He wanted to peer over the edge, too, but waited for the story to end. “They never came down from the mountain and no one ever saw them again.”

“And the magic rabbit cast a terrible spell on the giant panda, and they all came back. The end.”

Toru had obviously heard the story too many times to take it seriously. Mieko was the only one who laughed. Ryoko looked offended.

“Don’t say that!”

“You always go on about these legends like they’re real.”

“How do you know they aren’t?”

“Because they’re legends?”

Mieko put her arms up and looked at the trio in front of her.

“Okay, peace. Peace! We came up here to show our respects, too, right?”

She looked directly at him as Toru and Ryoko glared at him. Was that why he climbed the thing? He took off his shades and thought about that. A part of him knew that he would regret not doing so if he lived here all these years and ignored what his colleagues kept telling him: it is a tradition to do it once; it is sheer stupidity to do it more than once.

They all nodded, and he wondered if they were reading his thoughts.

“Don’t listen to him. They are real.” Mieko put her arm around him and stared at the scene in front of them. “There are spirits up here.”

“I believe you.”

“They are real…”

The crowd, after taking their photos and staring at the horizon now turning a soft and expected blue, began to move off. Toru came up to them while Ryoko looked through her backpack.

Mieko smiled and said what was on his mind. “What about over there?”

He had seen it but not said a word about it. What could he say? He knew what these gates were after living in the city for many years and visiting temples and shrines when he could. It was red, with a narrow space between the two pillars, and topped with a curved double set of carvings at the top. He could not help but think about the mathematical pi and that sequence of endless numbers (3.14…something, something). There were things attached to the pillars that he had seen in different locations, but he never understood their meaning.


“What?” Toru asked.

“Pi. Like in mathematics. It looks like…”

Toru stared up at it. “Well, a little… Why did I never think of that?”

“Like you think…” Ryoko punched his arm and laughed.

“Okay, okay…”

“We have the space now. We should also leave a wish.” At least Ryoko was smiling now.

“Space for what?”

Toru grinned at him and told the story. “It’s a tradition. You climb up, you pose for a photo at this torii, maybe leave a wish, and then head on off. Living proof that you made it, along with your walking stick.”

He almost forgot about that. The walking stick he bought at the first station was branded as he traveled up and up, indicating how far they had climbed. And he realized that this was probably the highest “torii” in the entire country. He learned that they were supposed to be points of transition; from the sacred to the profane. Maybe even toward something special.

“A special day…”

“Right.” Mieko was pulling him over to the gate and Ryoko followed. It was not until that moment that he noticed how well-dressed they all were compared to him (the change in temperature did not surprise him, but he only had a lined denim jacket that needed the extra turtleneck he brought with him). The others had professional climbing shoes and jackets while he stumbled with cheap desert boots. They were ready for this trip.

“So, you want a photo?”

Mieko was on his left, posing her question; Ryoko came up on his right.

“Of course, he does. This is a special day.”

Toru had his own much more professional camera ready.

And did he think this was also a tradition? Two young women embracing a strange man while their hand reached around him, adding warmth in that still sharp cold… He would think about all of them as he looked carefully at that photo, wondering which of the girls had been bolder with her hands. Toru had only pointed the camera and pressed a button while this was happening and did not say a word on the walk down. But it was a beautiful day, and these things did not seem to matter now.

November 12, 2022 01:53

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Mike Panasitti
20:30 Nov 18, 2022

A sacred mountain. A young man, two young women. The unstated desires contained in snapshots. Very evocative tale set in the far East.


Kendall Defoe
19:07 Jan 18, 2023

It is...and it is partly true.


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