Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Climbing Fuji San

I have no mountains near where I am from in the mid-West, but that is not the case in Japan. Mountains are a dime a dozen here in Japan, and I sure was going to take advantage of my new found hobby of mountain climbing.

Just recently I completed what is known as "Japan's Three Holy Mountains".

Mt. Haku  September 2016  2,702 meters

Mt. Tate  July 2017  3,015 meters

Mt. Fuji  July 2017  3,776 meters

Yay-I climbed all three.
But this is all about Fuji-San.

For one my my last physical challenges in Japan, my friend Megumi and I climbed Mt. Fuji. For me it was my first and likely last, for Megumi it was her 5th. Most Japanese like to climb Mt. Fuji once in a lifetime, but there is a Japanese saying that only a fool would climb it twice. So Megumi is really, really, really, really, foolish!!

Japan is more than 70% mountains and Fuji stacking up at 3,776 meters (12,385 feet), is its tallest. It has appeared in literature, art, and culture for much of recorded history. When once thinks of Japan and that iconic snow capped, funnel shaped mountain, they are thinking of Fuji-San. Fuji straddles two prefectures, Shizuoka and the more tourist traveled Yamanashi.

Megumi and I began our Fuji adventure on the Shizuoka side of the mountain. Being a weekday we experienced less people than we might have on a weekend, on a less popular trail. Fuji's climbing season is just a short 10 weeks in mid-late summer during which hundreds of thousands of people, Japanese and foreign, take to its trails.

Megumi and I split up for most of the hike. Since we both were in different places physically, we agreed to stick to our own pace and check-in with each other periodically. That was made easy by the numerous rest stations positioned on Fuji. With endurance needed as the most valuable skill on this mountain, these rest stations provided much needed reprieve from the continuous trekking. It was great for mental stamina, hiking from station to station knowing that there would be places to stop every so often.

This meant that I had a lot of time alone to think. This climb was about reflection for me, so I thought about the past year of my life and the good fortune at that was bestowed upon me. I felt truly privileged to be on this mountain, in this country, getting to experience all this wonder. From dense forest, to lush green walkways, to vast expanses of dark grey volcanic rock, Fuji has it all. 

Once we reached the summit we had rested and took in the sights before we could check into the mountain hut in which we were staying. There are numerous ways to hike Fuji, but what we did was hike to the summit, spent the night, got up very early to view the sunrise, and began our decent at 6 a.m. the following morning. In all likelihood, we could have gone up and down in one day, had we been up for at least 9 hours of hiking. But instead, we elected to sleep on a mountain top, be sheltered by its majesty and we were so glad we did. 

Much to our massive, massive surprise after our simple dinner with a few other guests in the mountain hut, we were shocked to learn there was going to be a one-time-only, surprise performance at the top of Mt. Fuji, in this very mountain hut by Japan's most famous magician, Mr. Maric! As Megumi and the two girls were were getting to know were jumping around like teenagers as they told me, I just shouted "I love magic!" I didn't know who this Mr. Maric was, but I knew I was in for an amazing treat. 

We were treated to not only one magician but two! The opening act was a magician named Hide, who owns a magic themed bar in Tokyo with an $80 cover charge. Never in my life had I seen such up close magic. Hide's mix of humor, charm and confidence made for continuous jaw dropping moments. 

Mr. Maric

Here I was, in my night clothes, huddled up against other Japanese people, in an intimate, once-in-a-lifetime performance. It was definitely one of those "this is Japan" moments. 

I left with a Hide souvenir, my very own magic origami that Hide folded and signed for me. As well as this adorable picture. 

Fuji really spoke to me and I felt honor being on it. It felt safe, serene, and comforting. I'm so happy we did this and these three mountains are within me forever.