When we arrived back home two days later, every muscle in our body ached, our feet had blisters, and our toes were bruised, but it was all worth the adventure of climbing Japan’s most sacred mountain. We had pushed ourselves until we finally made it to the summit.
Why did we do it? It wasn’t just “because it was there,” as the famous saying goes. It was much more than that; to us it presented an exciting chance to experience Japan in a more personal, active way.
‘Fuji-san’ is so revered in Japan, and is well known to those overseas studying Japanese and/or about Japan. It’s a kind of pilgrimage for those interested in Japan, Japanese culture or even Japanese history. Yet most people only go so far as to buy a postcard, or see it with their own eyes from a distance. We wanted to touch it and feel it, and climb it.
It’s been there for thousands of years and is currently a dormant volcano, last erupting in 1707, when it covered the streets of Tokyo in volcanic ash. My wife and I first read about Fuji-san when we were just friends studying Japanese together at Griffith University on the Gold Coast, in Australia.
We never thought then that we’d ever actually set foot on its sacred slopes, but we talked about seeing it with our own eyes during a trip to Japan. Four years later, we lived and worked in the small town of Ohito, in Shizuoka Prefecture. Fuji-san was relatively close to our town, and every morning we would get up and sit on our front doorstep with a cup of coffee in hand, and stare out at its majestic snow-covered slopes, always entranced by how it dominated the surrounding landscape.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Fuji-san, it is 3,776 meters high (12,389 feet), with a circular base and a typical volcanic cone shape; the gradient of the mountain slope is about forty-five degrees. It is an enormous, regal-looking mountain that can be seen over one hundred kilometers away in Tokyo on a fine, clear day.
We returned to Australia in 1994, but after living in that small town and gazing at Mt Fuji on a daily basis for six months, the idea of returning to Japan and climbing its iconic mountain began to grow deep inside of us. We just couldn’t let it go. There were other goals that we still wanted to achieve in Japan as well, such as seeing a Sumo tournament (live), going to a baseball game, participating in a traditional tea ceremony, and so on.
Hence, four years later, we flew back to Japan, with a list of goals to accomplish, the first and foremost being to climb to the top of Fuji-san. However, it turned out to be the final and most challenging goal of them all, and also the most rewarding.