Photo/IllutrationHikers head for trails on Mount Hakkodasan in Aomori Prefecture on Aug. 11. (The Asahi Shimbun)

When climbing a tall mountain and gazing down on the "gekai" lower world below, I get this odd sensation that the daily routine I'd only just stepped out of feels already very remote. As if I have wandered into an entirely different universe, I feel inexplicably free.

Essayist Magoichi Kushida (1915-2005), who was fascinated by mountains, wrote: "In the mountains, humans become like ants." Just as crawling ants have no effect on large trees, the mountains remain impassive when humans scale them, maintaining "faces" that have remained seemingly unchanged since time immemorial.

"In the mountains, humans start to become tiny, ephemeral creatures," Kushida observed.

In "Wakaki Hi no Yama" (Mountains in my youth), he wrote that he heads to the mountains to feel the freedom and exhilaration of being in the bosom of Mother Nature.

One moment, one may be shrouded in deep fog. But the next moment, a breathtakingly beautiful scenery opens up. This unpredictability must be one of the things that people find irresistible.

Because fellow alpinists share their joys as well as hardships, a strong bond forms.

Aug. 11 was "Yama no Hi" (Mountain Day), a national holiday that kicked off the long weekend. I imagine many people went mountain climbing with their pals.

But this is also a season of accidents. Everyone needs to remind themselves of their smallness in the mountains, regardless of the elevation. Being armed with a smartphone, GPS or any other high-tech gadget is no guarantee of safety.

Kushida, who was also a poet, described the "magnanimity" of the mountains as follows: "For having seen the colors on the mountain surface/ And having walked in a desolate valley, drenched in fog/ These experiences will some day save you gently/ For having walked in utter sadness, feeling like an ant/ You will some day be rewarded with a renewed zest for life."

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 12

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.