“With clouds and mist
In a brief moment a hundred scenes
Brought to fulfillment”
(Matsuo Bashō, translated by D. L. Barnhill)
I have always been the one to claim that Mt. Fuji has to be enjoyed from a distance and that it is crazy to climb overnight for the sunrise. During the past three years in Japan, I have never had even a slightest doubt, and then…
I was talking with one colleague who was about to leave Japan and move back to his country after four years here and he said that the only thing he regretted at the time was not to have climbed Mt. Fuji. Given that this year could me my last in Japan as well, it made me think. Then someone else said something along the same lines, and before I realized it, I was on the list for Mt. Fuji climbing trip.
For those, who are mountain enthusiasts, it may not seem a big deal, yet I am not one of them. After all, Mt. Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan, with its peak at 3,776 meters above sea level. It is also considered a sacred mountain and each year, during the short climbing season, thousands of people attempt to climb the volcano (yes, it is also an active volcano, even though currently dormant!), hoping for the good weather and an unforgettable sunrise.
Mt. Fuji has been inspiring travelers, pilgrims and artists for ages. Even if you do not know it, you have surely seen pictures from the Thirty-six views of Mt. Fuji series by Hokusai. The motives of Hokusai’s prints are used in many postcards, publications, souvenirs and other items.
Each time I happened to be flying over, I was looking at Mt. Fuji’s peak from the plane and wondering if it really can be so (relatively) easy, as it sounds from numerous stories of those who did it.
It seems, not only Japanese artists have been inspired. Curiously enough, I learned that there is a French version – “Thirty-six Views of the Eiffel Tower” by Henri Rivière, published in 1902. While it was inspired by the Hokusai’s work (remember, japonism was very trendy at the end of 19th century), and captured the moments from the Eiffel tower’s construction and also the complete tower in various Parisian landscapes, his work remains almost unknown. Simply, it took about ten years to prepare the book and by the time of its publication in 1902, Japonism trend was already “replaced” by Art Nouveau style.
Coming back to Mt. Fuji and the climb, most climbs start from the 5th station at 2,300 meters altitude.
Even so, it is approx. 1,500 meters in altitude to go, which is more than 4 Eiffel (or Tokyo) Towers, or alternatively, almost 2.5 Tokyo SkyTrees one on top of the other.
It is possible to climb in parts and get some sleep in a mountain hut in between, though I went for the no-sleep option. It meant leaving the 5th station around 7:00 to 7:30 pm (after witnessing a gorgeous sunset from the 5th station) and climbing overnight, with short stops at various stations for acclimatization to altitude.
There is no rush to reach the top too early, as the “prize” would be a long wait in a freezing cold.
On the other hand, the path gets so crowded the higher you go, that you cannot climb fast even if you wanted and a lot of time goes by just queuing and waiting for your next step upwards. I was there right for the sunrise, which was at 4:45 on that day.
I must say that the experience is unforgettable, and you start to appreciate it even more as the time goes by. At the time when you reach the top, you are tired after a sleepless night climbing up, but I must say that the sunrise was like a boost of energy that kept me going for the next five hours or so while on the top and all the way down.
In total, it took me about 15 hours to go up and down, back to the bus at the 5th station.
My legs hurt for a few days afterwards, but the whole experience seemed more and more magic in a way.
The views, valleys behind mountain chains, sky full of stars (even though you cannot enjoy them that much as you have to look under our feet as you climb), amazing sunrise, the views all around in the daylight and the fact that virtually all the time, you are walking way above the clouds – it would be more than enough for yet another thirty-six views series.
I find Mt. Fuji amazing when seen from a distance and when it is not hiding behind the clouds (being a shy mountain as it is), even more so now, as each time I see its peak, I think to myself – “I have been there!”.
With September, the Mt. Fuji climbing season is officially over for this year, and I am really happy that I will not have to say “this is the only thing I regret of not having done while in Japan”.
p.s. following Japanese custom (you can read about it here), I could not go back to the office without sweets…