Since I arrived in Tokyo, set free to travel and do everything my heart desires, I have been living by the best piece of advice our advisor Shannon has given us. She basically told us that if there is something on our bucket list or “things to do in Japan” list that some people might not be interested in, still does it! Wee may regret it if we don't.
This quickly started my list of things I want to do before I leave Japan. At the top of this list was the ambitious goal of climbing Mount Fuji.
(For those who may not know, Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in all of Japan at a whopping 3,776.24 m tall.)
We had been told that a few of the spring students climbed so I knew I could do it, just needed to figure out with whom, when, and how. Here is the dramatic story of how I conquered the mountain.
As time passed and people lost interest in climbing with me, I finally decided to go during my last weekend in Tokyo. I would have to start making my way to the mountain after class on Saturday to see the Sunday morning sunrise and make it back down in time to rest for class on Monday (or so I thought) Of COURSE this was not only during climbing season of the summer, but the peak day of Obon week which is a holiday time dedicated to ancestors which pushes many Japanese people to venture home and to climb Mt. Fuji! Yet still, I will climb.
I asked a few of the students that have climbed before to get the details on what I would need for a night climb and it came down to this which I barely had to spend money for
- Hiking Boots! (An expensive necessity even though I saw some natives hiking in Nike’s and Vans O.O)
- Thick socks (or multiple layers) for the cold
- Food (Onigiri is best since it is a great source of energy)
- WATER! (Went through so many bottles on the mountain)
- Flashlight/head lamp
- Rain jacket/poncho
- Regular Jacket, sweaters, layers of clothing
- CASH MONEY! Bring as much as you can! No cards are accepted.
Most of these items I borrowed from friends and my host parents so I was good to go. Now I just needed someone to go with. Day of the trip, I found out that none of the people I planned on climbing with wanted to go but luckily one student volunteered to go with me.
Were Off!.. I think
We get to the Shinjuku bus station and to my surprise; the ticket booth does not accept cards! I mean, its in Shinjuku, was I wrong for thinking they were somewhat advanced? Well there went most of my spending cash for the mountain. Since they only sell tickets One-way, the person I was climbing with agreed to pay for my return ticket since I wouldn't have enough cash and I would repay him once we found an ATM.
So, we get to the 5th station of the mountain by bus and what now? Its starts raining! We asked everyone what this meant and no one could give us an answer. It would be dangerous to climb but at the same time, it was evening (8 pm) and all bus ticket booths were closed. Since there was no guarantee of a safe trip up the mountain, or of seeing sunrise, the guy I came with decided it was best that we just figure out a way home by train. It was the logical choice but I guess I am not the most logical person. Still, I climbed.
The Climb Up
I quickly found an Australian couple that was more than happy to climb with me which meant I could still fulfill my dream of conquering this mountain. Luckily, they also had extra water and rain gear that I could borrow since I forgot to pack it.
From the mountain as we started, we could see the final fireworks of the summer going off in the distance. It was a great way to kick things off but quickly, our excitement wore off as the first few steps afterwards seemed like the toughest steps I’ve taken, on such a steep incline. Here we weren’t even at the start of the Yoshida trail yet. We could foresee that Mt. Fuji would be something we would have to earn with unbelievable amounts of energy, motivation, and bravery.
At night, the trail is beautiful since all you can see is what your flashlight shows, and the trail of headlights and stations all of the way up the mountain. These lights were our motivation. Lights ahead were our goal, and lights behind were our past accomplishments. All of which played a part in the mental struggle it took to make it to the top. We were demanding that our bodys endure thin-air, and hard excersice of every muscle which was a shock but we did it. Still, we climbed.
Luckily, there were many people, from all over the world there to support us. After many hours, breaks, naps on rocks, rain showers, and more breaks, we finally made it to the 8th station (final station before the summit). Here is where we were able to watch a great sunrise, which came and went quickly as clouds apparently wanted to see the sunrise too and blocked our view.
Now, we had to muster up the strength to go back down.
The Climb Down
By about 12pm, we finally made it back to the 5th station which you think would mark the end of this story but nope, not for this lucky girl!
I had completely forgotten about the aforementioned deal with my friend that he would pay for my ticket back down. So there I was, with 600 yen to my name and a 2,600-yen bus ready to leave without me.
After playing charades with the ticket booth women, I finally spoke with an English-speaking teen who told me that I could take a bus to Kawaguchigo station, which would be about 2 hours, and use an ATM there to pay for the bus I would have to take to get there and also for trains to get home. Easy enough?
Well of course, we finally get there and they show me a Japanese bank, which obviously won’t accept American cards! So, this determined bus worker walked me 4 blocks away to a 7-11. Mind you, I JUST climbed Mt. Fuji, so every extra step is like another mountain. Here, I found that the minimum amount of money you can take out at a time is 20,000 yen, which are roughly $200 and more than what I have in my bank account. Still, this woman is looking for me to find a way to pay for the bus.
We walk back to the station to the tourist center where I can speak with an English-speaking woman about my case and she can offer no help except to tell me that they can’t let me go until I pay for the bus (not like I had money or directions to go very far anyway).
Luckily, the couple I had climbed the mountain with appeared at the station like a gift from heaven. I was then able to use their phone to call the CIEE advisors for help. Wakana Okamoto, our assistant advisor picked up quickly and started brainstorming ways to help. We couldn’t transfer money because it would take 2 days, and couldn’t use my sluice because we were in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t have enough on it. So, Wakana being the most amazing person she is, along with her husband, DROVE 3 hours to the Kawaguchigo Station to pick me up and drop me off home. It was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. I was rescued!
I finally made it home around 8pm extremely exhausted. Dinner was waiting for me at the table and the rest of the night is now a blur. All I do know is that I made it safely, and I conquered Mt. Fuji.
Moral of this story, DON'T give up on your goals, DO bring tons of cash wherever you go and ALWAYS know that when you need it most, there are great advisors that can and will help you in any emergency, not out of duty, but because they care.