I participated in a study abroad program in Tokyo, Japan from July 21st to August 18th. There were a lot of great things I did there, from trying strange foods (liver of eel, horse, etc) to making great friends to seeing amazing places. However, one of my best overall experiences has to be, without a doubt, climbing Mount Fuji.

My friend Sung and I went to the bus station a few days before our planned climb to figure out how we would get there. The direct route was sold out, so after finagling with the disgruntled bus employee, we got our tickets. Our friend Sabrina ended up buying her ticket a day or so later and also joined us on our adventure.

The day of the climb, we rushed to a hiking store after class to pick up some gear. We bought gloves, warm socks, oxygen tanks, and a headlamp, which Sung was nominated to wear. After packing up our bags with those items, food, and plenty of water, we got on our bus at the Shinjuku station. This bus took us to Kawaguchiko station, which is about an hour away from Mount Fuji. We got a quick bike to eat and then took our second bus to the 5th station of Fuji. (Note: Mount Fuji is broken in to 10 stations, with 1 being the bottom and 10 being the summit. The 5th station is the highest station you can reach by a motor vehicle).

After arriving at the mountain, we bought some coffee, used the bathroom, did some stretching, and began our ascent at 8pm. The first hour or so was an inclined hill. However, after that, it was basically rock climbing…which I loved! Sabrina, not so much… I was the fastest, then Sung, then Sabrina. I would usually reach the rest area first and they would arrive shortly after.

The 8th Station, which is at 3,100 meters, was where it got cold. I was really glad I brought all of my warm clothes or I would have been miserable. Fortunately I never ended up needing my oxygen tank, unlike Sung (aka Mr. Smokey Smokey). While resting there, a Japanese man asked me where I was from. I said, “Boston” and he replies, “Wow! So, do you like Bruce Springsteen?” He then began singing the chorus to several Springsteen songs. I do not listen to much Bruce Springsteen, but I smiled and let him carry on his tune.

What I enjoyed was that even though there was a language barrier, you could still communicate with people to some degree. Since the 5th station I had been at the same pace as another Japanese family and we would run into each other at the rest stations. They recognized me because of my umbrella which I was using as somewhat of a walking stick. They thought it was funny, but if it started raining I would have been happy to have it. With my few Japanese adjectives and a sigh, it was enough to express what I was thinking. It was quite special.

At the 8.5th station I bought coffee and ramen, both very expensive. However, the bathroom visits were the most expensive, costing roughly 200 Yen per visit. It is best to hold it if you can… From the 8.5th station on, I went ahead because I wanted to reach the summit for the sunrise. It took 3 hours to travel a distance that should only have taken an hour and a half. It was very crowded because everybody wants to get the best spot to witness the sunrise. In retrospect, it was probably a good thing that I did not go too fast and paced myself so as to not get altitude sickness.

The sun started to creep at 4am. Go! Go! Go! I made it to the top at 4:45am. I spent the next 10 minutes scurrying to find a good spot. At 4:55am, I witnessed the best sunrise ever. The transformation from night to day with the view from the summit and being surrounded by thousands of people was truly awe inspiring. The Japanese call the sunrise “Goraikou” and it is supposed to bring you good fortune. Everyone cheered when the sun rose. It was probably one of my favorite moments of my trip to Japan, if not life itself.

This moment soon faded away as soon as I began my descent. Sung felt ill and stayed at the top and Sabrina wanted to go at a slower pace, so once again I was on my own. Climbing down Fuji-san is not something one looks forward to. It involves trekking down 45 degree declined slopes of gravel and dirt, which zigzag until you reach the bottom. It is supposed to take 3 to 4 hours to reach the bottom. I made it down in 2.5 by pretty much running the entire way. It was not fun.

At the bottom, I peed like a race horse, got some ice-cream, and hopped on the bus back to Kawaguchiko station. From there, after about half an hour of poor English and my poor Japanese, I made it to the Fujiyama Onsen. This was my first experience at a roman style public bath. The whole experience was very funny (after the fact of course). They give you many safes to lock up your things, one for your wallet and one for your shoes. Then you dress up in your robes and walk to the men’s locker room, where you strip down and put your clothes into your third safe. I walked into the bathing area, not knowing what to do. Some kind Japanese guy saw I was unaware of the bathing rituals and was able to articulate what was necessary. “Hot water…wash three time. Shower and soap. Onsen” That was good enough for me. After scruba-dub-dub’ing, I got into the bath and it was so relaxing. It was just guys being guys. The whole experience was very liberating.

I ended up going home alone on the bus because Sung slept too long and Sabrina got lost. I’m just glad I made it down alright. There were several paths down from the mountain and I just kept showing my ticket (written entirely in kanji) to different Japanese people along the way and asked which way I should go. However, everyone made it back home eventually. The next day I woke up and I was SO sore. But it didn’t matter. I had climbed Fuji-san! And some day, I will do it again…maybe.


This entry was posted on Saturday, October 2nd, 2010 at 12:43 pm and is filed under Study Abroad. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


One Response to “Fuji-san”

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