The peak of Mt Tanigawa with a pole that shows 1,693 m the height of the mountain

Kismet. Destiny. Fate. Powerful words that I’ve been fighting against for most of my life. In Year 12 I submitted an essay in my application to an undergraduate degree for medicine. I wrote about not believing in fate but instead in hard work and taking control of my own future. I didn’t get into the program, not even close. But it hasn’t stopped me from trying to steer life towards where I wanted to go, even if the current was taking me in the opposite direction.

In honour of the 21,081 lives lost to suicide in Japan, 12 hiking enthusiasts and guides made their way up Mt Tanigawa. The funds we raised and the steps we would accumulate would be to support Tell, an NPO that serves the mental health of Japan’s international community and their Step Up Challenge, a month long cause to bring awareness to World Suicide Prevention Day and World Mental Health Day. Mt Tanigawa is the world’s ‘mountain of death’, a name it has earned for having claimed the most number of lives. Juxtaposed against this is the crown it wears as one of Japan’s Top 100 Most Famous Mountains, a list curated based on grace, history and individuality. The duality of Tanigawa made it a somewhat apt choice for the cause we were hoping to shed a light on.

Our hike was led by Cory McGowan, a coach and the founder of Adventure Partner and two guides from One Drop, a Minakami-based adventure tourism company. I’d previously interviewed Cory for a story on Tokyo Weekender where we talked about his work that synthesised executive coaching with the power of the outdoors, specifically the Minakami region. The time we spent on that Google Meets call was informative, but it did not prepare me for the magic that we were about to experience that day. 

The power of suggestion is something I’ve never really taken notice of until I came face to face with Cory’s practice. Many of us were meeting for the first time on this hike, though brought in through a commonality; a friend, a working relationship or a reader of the Tokyo Weekender magazine. Cory’s presence and his exercises gave us a framework for the day, helping us consider what we’d like to achieve and what we could notice on this journey. Nothing was mandatory, everything was an invitation. Yet somehow through the practice of merely bringing these little details to our attention, it had our minds working in the background. It also nudged us every so slightly towards each other, something an introvert like myself took comfort in. And as a result, our little band of strangers grew to become friends.

Introspection aside, we had so many supporters with us from the community. Aforementioned One Drop were incredible guides that not only kept our spirits up  with positivity and good humour but physically also, carrying an extra pack when one of us became exhausted and fixing up a pair hiking shoes that had given way. Tomo san and Babo san were so kind, so dependable and clearly passionate about the outdoors. They were one with it, men made from the rock and rubble that formed the mountain beneath our feet.

Some careful made sustenance was supplied to us by another local business, Futamimi, an onigiri shop. The owner himself had met us before the hike, bringing a basket with flavours such as salmon cream cheese, takikomi shiitake and the simple but umami-laced kombu. Rounding our food off were some New Zealand-made Health Discovery superfood bars, which not only packed power but seemed to be giving a subtle nod to my former life in Oceania.

The time we spent up in Mt Tanigawa was intimate and cathartic. It feels like a sin to repeat them in writing, because nothing penned would capture the spirit of adventure that we had in those moments. Though the mood of the day was light, we remembered the people we carried with us and the significance of our hike. It would not be an exaggeration to say there were moments of tears, and we held space for those too. Many were ‘you had to be there’, moments and the remaining, parts of ourselves that we left in the mountain as thanks.

Two of our hiking companions, Lisa and Ida, had met before but didn’t know that the other would be on this trip. There was Misha, a start-up cofounder and a published author and myself, in the middle of becoming a writer. Kohji who spoke fluent Spanish from his life in Uruguay and Emilio who did also as a half Japanese and half-Madridian. One of my main reasons for coming along was to meet my Tokyo Weekender friends after close to a year’s worth of e-mails. And I was lucky I did as this was to be Nick’s last hike before moving to Singapore. Discovering these details was to revel in delightful happenstance. It matched the euphoria we felt as we reached the summit. Surrounded by cloud and fog, we were left to imagine a god-inspiring landscape. But there was something special instead about being surrounded by the seemingly nothing, like we’d walk together into this limbo world, the in-between.

I’ve grown a lot since Year 12. I’ve slain dragons to build the life I wanted in Japan. Much of it was very challenging, but now more than 10 years from when I wrote the essay that took me nowhere, I wonder if hard work was simply in the blueprint of my destiny. There may or may not be a roadmap to life and where we need to go. But I’ve learnt to struggle less, to arm myself with just self-endurance and to rest assured in the hand I will be dealt with as everything can be overcome.

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