It is all about the silhouettes. Taking photos with the sunrise directly on the camera is hard enough, but the silhouette of overjoyed couples and Unkai pilgrims from near and afar against the heavenly clouds left me speechless. This was before breathlessness took over as I hiked the steep ascent to the summit hike, far above the oohs and aahs of the throngs below. I felt it was comparable to my experience making the ascent to Machu Picchu, though the legends of monkeys riding clouds to the end of time are less visible. It is nature’s glory that takes pride of place here.
Like the cherry blossoms and other objects of beauty in Japan, the Unkai can be elusive. Only a day earlier, the weather conditions had banished its appearance. It reminded me of the Japanese concepts of mono no aware and ichigo ichie. Visitors may only have a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this, and so we should appreciate every moment. In the days of old, people had to hike through the night or stay in the mountains to see unkai. Now we are only a gondola ride away from the summit. Nevertheless, the convenience does not take away from the majesty of the spectacle.
After I descended from the summit at the end of this experience, my feet immediately took me back to the gondola entry, instead of going to the bus stop back home. Be warned, getting up at 4am and being blown away as you are lifted above the clouds can render your brain useless.
There is a complementary shuttle bus from Tomamu station to the resort, which is 90 minutes from Chitose Airport. The gondola operates from mid May to mid October to see the Unkai