The Ascent: Tackling Mt. Fuji

I arrive in Tokyo on a Thursday. On that Friday, I call my cousin, who, at the time, was residing in a town called Atsugi. She asks my plans for my first weekend in the country. “To be honest,” I say, “I have no clue; I figure I’d take it easy, sleep off the monstrous jet lag and perhaps walk around to get to know the neighborhood.” She gasps and tells me my plans are unacceptable. “And what would you have me do?” I ask her. She giggles, and says, “Let’s climb Mt. Fuji!”

I laugh off her suggestion, thinking it a joke. But she reinforces the idea, and the wheels in my head begin to turn. Immediately I start compiling a list of reasons I can’t do it: 

  • I’ve never climbed a mountain, and know nothing of the act.
  • I haven’t unpacked my things.
  • I’m severely jet-lagged.
  • I don’t have mountain-climbing gear.
  • I’m probably not in physical shape to climb a mountain.
  • I’m scared out of my wits.

But the more I tack on to the list, the more I begin to think how absurd my reasoning is (perhaps I was still on a high from having hiked barefoot through a jungle in Panama only months before). Before I know it, I’m throwing caution to the wind and embracing spontaneity. I pack a backpack of what I deem to be appropriate mountain gear (which, after the fact, is laughable) and haul it to Atsugi (which is also my first time using the Japanese train system). 

4am comes. We get up, pack some essentials (trail mix, bottled water, energy bars, bananas, first-aid supplies, change of clothes) and drive to the mountain. And so the climb begins. As we ascend, there’s a multitude of people, faces covered in soot, ending their descent. I look nervously to my cousin (who, apparently, has climbed the mountain a few times before) and she laughs. Tells me to find a healthy pace and stick to it. What did I get myself into?

But as I keep climbing, and the air gets thinner, the temperature begins to drop, the weather begins to change, frozen precipitation begins to fall and the terrain gets rocky and steep, something begins to happen deep inside of me. A calm takes over, and I can’t help but think how blessed I am to be climbing this mountain. It is a test of spirit, this climb, and so I don’t think of its difficulty— only that I have to get to the top. I have to conquer this.

And as I reached the summit, I felt at peace, and joyous and accomplished. It was perhaps the single most challenging thing, both physically and mentally, I’d ever done. I was on top of the world, both figuratively and literally, and I had a strong feeling that my decision to climb Fujisan was going to set a positive tone for the rest of my time in Japan. -VJ