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Letter F for Fuji

April 7, 2008

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April 2008 NaBloPoMo

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Today is the seventh day of the NaBloPoMo challenge. This post is about Mt. Fuji, the tallest and most-revered volcanic mountain in Japan. I have hiked to the summit once, and I have seen Mt. Fuji from the window of the shinkansen many times.

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January snow cap on Mt. Fuji

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Just a few weeks after I arrived in Japan to begin teaching, I went on an overnight hike with other participants in the JET programme. I don’t remember all of the details. It was in mid-August, at the end of the 2001 summer season when Mt. Fuji is actually open to the public and the trails aren’t covered in snow.

I had just moved to Hamamatsu, in Shizuoka Prefecture. All of the JET programme participants who lived in Shizuoka Prefecture were invited to the hike. We met at a train station on the Tokaido line and took a bus together. Our hike must have started around 10:00 pm because the goal was to be at the summit for the sunrise. Japan is called the land of the rising sun. The sun rises very early there (if you want to claim to have been at the summit for the sunrise, you have to get there by 4:30 am).

It was recommended to choose some companions and enjoy the hike in the company of friends. That was hard for me since I have some kind of complex about fitting in, and I thought I had better hike by myself. I barely knew anyone in the group. I passed people that I recognized, but it seemed the cliques had already been formed without me. Along the trail there are resting places where you can use the outhouses, take a nap, or eat. I didn’t stop because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get my momentum back.

My pace was a little too fast and I had to wait at the top for more than an hour for the sun to begin to come up. It was very cold and rain swirled in all directions. The rain wasn’t falling; it was coming up from below. Weird.

Mt. Fuji is often in the clouds. Train passengers are disappointed when they can’t even see Mt. Fuji because of the haze and clouds. Hiking to the top means you will be above the clouds and look down on them as if you were in an airplane. It is amazing, humbling, breathtaking. There is a Tori gate to pass through at the end of the trail. There’s also a post office on the rim where you can send yourself a card postmarked on the day you reached the top! Walking sticks are for sale at the beginning of the trail, and they can be marked with a wood-burning tool at the summit.

The trail is covered in red pebbles and black sand which I didn’t notice in the dark, but I definitely noticed during the slippery descent. I was surprised that Mt. Fuji is so calming and inspirational to look at from a distance, but so barren and ugly up close. I felt like I was on the moon. I was a little bit bored and disappointed during the descent. Once the sun dried my clothes and I went from chilled-to-the-bone to sweating, I got to the bus by surfing the waves of pebbles down the trail. There are very descriptive accounts of the hike with photos here and here. I would climb it again if I had the chance even though coming down is tedious.

We were in Japan visiting my husband’s family last January and took this photo from the shinkansen:

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Mt. Fuji as seen from Shinkansen window

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  1. April 7, 2008 3:02 pm

    Wow, very cool post and photos. I’ve never been to Japan.

  2. April 7, 2008 7:38 pm

    I’ve been to Japan and flew over/by Mt. Fuji. It was definitely rocky. But very beautiful. How very fascinating that you actually climbed it! That is so way cool! What a treasured memory you have of self-accomplishment! How inspiring you are!

  3. April 9, 2008 8:02 am

    what an incredible experience !
    *shaking head* although you are the first person I have ever heard say they climbed a mountain TOO FAST. lol. quite an insight into your personality!

    what was the sunrise like? and how long did the ascent take you?

  4. April 9, 2008 1:17 pm

    The sunrise was gorgeous, as promised. But I was cold and damp and friendless, so that’s why I would like the chance for a do-over so that I could enjoy it a little more. The ascent took me maybe 5 hours. I don’t remember exactly. I just remember that I got to the top at 3 am and had to wait.

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