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Yonsei Study Abroad

Up and Down Mt. Fuji

The Japanese here have a saying, “A wise man climbs Fuji-san once, a fool climbs it twice.” After getting myself and some friends up and down the volcano a few weeks ago, I can definitely understand the saying.

Climbing Mt. Fuji was by far one of the most rewarding things that I have done in Japan, yet it was also one of the most difficult things I have accomplished since coming here.

Our Journey to Mt Fuji started by meeting at the Kyoto central station at eleven on a Saturday morning.  We had discussed taking the two hour Shinkansen ride to Fuji, but being slightly poor college students, we opted for the significantly cheaper route of taking a series of local commuter trains to the mountain.

Riding the trains to Fuji was an adventure in itself. We had five transfers, and I’m still slightly amazed that we didn’t miss a single connection along the way. Japan’s train system is incredibly well run, but still can be a bit confusing to us foreigners. Around six in the evening we got off our final stop and headed into the city of Fuji to grab a quick bite to eat before heading to the trail.
We really had no idea how far apart the base of Mt Fuji and the city of Fuji were. One would think that the two would be right next to each other but after talking with a cab driver, we realized that it would be a long drive to where the trails started. So after eating we got a cab, we told the driver we wanted to go to the Fuji climbing trail and we set out.

As we drove up the ever steeper hills leading to the mountain our excitement and anxiousness grew. That is until the cab made a sharp turn and started heading east away from the mountain. We began to get a little nervous but figured that the cab driver knew where he was going so none of us said anything.

In hindsight we should have because ten minutes later we were stopped in Gotemba, a town that shares the name of the eastern most climbing trail. After talking with the cab driver, it became clear that he thought we intended to climb the mountain the next day instead of that night and that we wanted to go to Gotemba to find a place to spend the night. He then drove off, leaving us slightly panicked and in desperate need of some assistance.
We fumbled around the city for a bit looking for a map until we decided to just flag down another taxi and ask to be taking to the nearest Fuji climbing trail. This time, we were sure to be much more specific to say we starting that night. We got to the beginning of the trail around nine thirty, only thirty minutes behind when we had hoped to start.
The climb itself was a challenge but really fun at the same time. There are about six or seven rest stops on the way up and each one sells food and provides a good breaking spot. We spent about ten minutes at each one and it was really neat to look back down the mountain and see our progress as we got to each break point.

There were also a lot of others climbing through the night with us as well, and there definitely is a sense of community surrounding everyone climbing the mountain. It’s hard to describe in English, but the Japanese phrase “ganbarou”  or “keep at it” was definitely the overall mood on the mountain.

I ran into a couple of Japanese women who had graduated from the same university I’m studying at here and it was fun to talk with them about Ritsumeikan University, as well as life in Japan. I was completely shocked however, when I happened upon a group of students who were from an exchange program in Tokyo, but were originally from the same university as me back in the States. We all had had the same professor back at American University but because we were in different levels of Japanese, had never met before. I’m still amazed that I came half way around the world and still met people who I had probably seen around my university but never known before.

After five and half hours of climbing through the night, we reached the summit of Mt. Fuji and we then waited for the sunrise to come. We were all exhausted by that point but also really pleased with ourselves for making it to the top. When the sun broke over the horizon it was one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen. Words can’t begin to describe the view, and even pictures leave out much of the beauty.  Sitting on the top of that mountain will be something I remember for the rest of my life and really hit home to me why I enjoy being in this country so much.

© 2011 Nathan Kenji Kasai

Japan mt. fuji nikkei in japan student

About this series

Nathan Kenji Kasai is a fourth generation Japanese American foreign exchange student at Ristumeikan University in Kyoto.  He is studying Japanese and international relations and will be traveling throughout Kyoto and other parts of Japan. He will be staying in Japan for one semester from March until August 2011 and will be writing biweekly articles on his experience.