I emerged from Mitake Station, on the Ome Line, just after 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning amid a throng of day-tripping hikers easily identifiable by their heavy boots, seam-busting backpacks and seemingly standard issue trekking poles.

Peppered here and there within this tribe was a less common, but just as identifiable group. Climbers, sporting easily removable footwear, foreswore the hikers' paraphernalia for light-but-unwieldy crash pads that they carried like oversized suitcases or else strap to their backs.

I found the taciturn Masatoshi Nakamura in his characteristic baseball cap and hoodie standing near the station gate, with a couple of other gym goers from Gravity, his indoor climbing business, already waiting with him, a few folded crash pads leaning against the handrail. After rounding up a few stragglers, Nakamura led the short walk to the Tama River, its wide banks strewn with boulders of various shapes and sizes.