After a hard days graft on Saturday 28th July most workers would maybe wind down for a couple of hours before painting the town red. Not for myself, school manager Shinobu, colleague Mark and his friend Joey who decided to ignore every other teachers negative stories and overcome the challenge of conquering the symbol of Japan. I don’t mean eating our way through the menu at a kaiten-zushi but climbing Mount Fuji.
It seems that most teachers have ticked the ‘climb Fuji’ box on their things to do in Japan but having been in this country for over three years I still hadn’t. I’ve been asked a couple of times in recent years but have always declined very impolitely as very few seem to have said anything positive about it. A few years on and still not so wiser I had a change of heart.
The bus took us from Shinjuku up to the fifth station some 2305 metres up the mountain already and straight into the mouth of a souvenir shop jam-packed with tat and a load of climbers. We set off on the climb at about 10:15 pm equipped with just about everything possible thanks to Mark’s research. Within a few minutes I had used up, and undoubtedly annoyed everyone with typical juvenile remarks like “race you to the top” and “are we there yet?”. To prevent altitude sickness we took it easy to start with and used our oxygen cans complete with the inevitable Darth Vader impressions.
As we ascended the mountain, layers of clothing had to be added but that wasn’t the only change as the food and drink prices at the huts increased the higher we got. Anyone for a 600 yen cup noodle?!!
I was actually close to enjoying myself as we climbed from station to station and I thought we still had a while to go till sunrise. My original thinking was just to reach the summit but as I continued on I really did want to see sunrise……but then we hit a sh*tload of people at the final station.
Absolutely hundreds, if not thousands, of people seemed to appear and we realised that we wouldn’t be at the peak for sunrise in the land of the rising sun. This last part of the climb (about 500 metres) was so frustrating as you just couldn’t move more than a few steps every half minute or so on the thin path. Sadly no Disneyland-style FastPass was available and it was near to complete silence among the crowds with even more depressed faces than at recent Leicester City games and that’s saying something I’ll tell you!
At about 7am, nearly nine hours after we had set out, we reached the top. A round of applause, cheering, champagne, fireworks, balloons, people partying and celebrations all-round – there was none of that!! Just a sense of relief, the inevitable crowds, a kind of village with the ubiquitous souvenirs and a massive line for the toilets. Nothing like relieving yourself in view of a line of people and I only had to pay 200 yen for the privilege!!
Although we didn’t catch much of a sunrise we did see the crater and a small shrine at the top. We didn’t have time/couldn’t really be ar*ed to walk round the crater to send our postcards from the post office where you can get a special postmark. Instead we passed them on to a couple of trustworthy looking old ladies and began the descend which is said by many to be the worst bit. Fearing a re-occurrence of recent knee problems picked up while jogging (over one year of that now) I put on my knee supports and descended down the loose volcanic rock trying to keep up with Shinobu the speed demon.
My trainers were getting filled with the gravel and the heavens opened up after a while on top of that. Not wanting to hang around too much we bolted it down in a lightning fast 2.5 hours. Sadly when we reached the bottom we realised we had taken the wrong course down and had ended up in Shizuoka Prefecture rather than on the other side of the mountain in Yamanashi. This was the last thing any of us wanted after such an arduous climb up and down the sacred mountain and so getting home was delayed for a few more hours.
As previously mentioned, my original aim had been to just climb Fuji-San but I was still a tad disappointed that I couldn’t observe sunrise from the top having made the effort. However, whenever I see the picture perfect views of Fuji-San I can be happy with the thought that I have climbed it and perhaps even further satisfied in the knowledge that I’ll never have to climb it again!!