“It’s a sun pillar,” Yama-san says.
“A portal?” Tim Eddy replies.
“A pillar,” Shark Boy confirms.
Maybe you’ve seen a sun dog before, the atmospheric interaction between frozen water crystals and low-angle sun that produces ethereal columns of effervescent light. This isn’t one of them. This is something grander in scale. It dwarfs the lower slopes of Asahidake, the distant peaks of Daisetsuzan National Park. Behind us, Hokkaido’s tallest mountain crackles and roars and belches steam thousands of feet into the air, as it has all day under cold blue skies. The pillar beckons above a bank of low clouds. Yama will show us the way.
Kazushi Yamauchi, better known as “Orange Man” or “Yama-san,” is a snowsurfing legend on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. He’s been leading us around the mostly agrarian expanse of North Pacific volcanic soil, chilled to perfection by the January jet stream. Hailing from Asahikawa and the heart of the Daisetsuzan mountain range, Yama moves in yogic breath, whether hiking, riding, or simply observing. Arms spread wide he taps gravity with little wasted effort. In through the nose, out through the mouth, left then right down the path of least resistance. Always clad in orange from head to toe, he rides an orange-sprayed swallowtail in the 180-something-centimeter range and drives a small orange van decked out in car danchi fashion with prayer flags under the back hatch. It’s hard to miss in a parking lot…