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Published: October 2nd 2018
Hello my fellow travellers!
When I left you in my last post I had just reached the 9th station on the Fujinomiya Trail of Mount Fuji. I was doing a bullet climb throughout the night after having previously climbed Mount Hōei together with Takae before she had to go back home to Shizuoka.
After a while of staying hunkered down at the 9th station I dragged myself up as I was getting to cold to stay stationary for to long, my plan was to make it to the top and then add as much clothing as I possibly could to myself and find myself a decent spot to wait out the last few hours until sunrise would come and hopefully warm me up a bit.
The climb up to the 9.5th station was a slow and arduous one as I felt constantly out of breath and the cold mist was really starting to creep in. Climbing this section took me almost twice the estimated time. By the time I reached the station, the last one before the summit, I couldn't see more than a couple of feet in front of me even with my headlight at maximum strength.
Fortunately for me there was another Japanese man, definitely an experienced climber, who passed me but while he stayed in front of me he often waited up and kept a watchful eye over me as well as another Japanese couple that was also struggling on this last stretch.
Along the way I kept seeing small, humble, signs of life even in such a remote part of the world. Small beetles were scurrying around around my feet and hands, keeping me company as I was dragging myself the last few metres needed to reach my goal. The relief I felt when I saw a torii
(shrine gate) appear above me was beyond words, I had finally reached the summit. Despite the dark, despite the think fog, despite the heavy pack, despite the lack of sleep for the past three days, despite my general lack of physical prowess, I had finally scaled Mount Fuji.
When I reached the summit there were several staff members out to wave us in with glow sticks which was a very welcome sight in the heavy mist. I asked if there was any kind of shelter to seek but they told me there was none
as not even a toilet would be open for another few hours. While searching for a spot to rest I came upon the Japanese man who had kept an eye on me during the final part of the climb and I asked if it was okay to sit down next to him as he was certainly better prepared than me.
He invited me in and boiled some hot water with milk (since I don't drink coffee) for me and it tasted heavenly in the cold and wet weather. By now a light rain was also sweeping in above us so I put on as much clothes as I could scrounge from my backpack. Unfortunately I was unable to find my rain poncho so I laid down knowing I would get quite wet over the next few hours. I covered the ground beneath me as best as I could with the rain guard from my backpack and then I rested as well as possible in a semi-laying position. However, I wasn't able to fall asleep due to the rain and the cold so my hours without decent sleep kept tacking on.
I stayed like that together with the man,
occasionally chatting for a bit while we waited for the toilet to open up around 4 a.m. Once it's doors opened up we quickly took shelter in there. The nice man who was the proprietor of the toilet gave us some tea and sweets and showed us his pet beetles. It felt great to get out of the rain and warm up after a long and cold night.
While we were in there a group of young women, supervised by an elderly gentleman as their guide, came into the toilet and took turns doing their thing. At the same time a guy from France also came in and we started talking. His name was Romain (pronounced Roman) and we got along well. This was his 12th time in Japan and since seven years he was living together with his Japanese girlfriend (raised in France) in their home in France.
We hit it off quite well and he asked if we should go and take a walk around the Mount Fuji crater together. I agreed but said that we should first try to see the sunrise. He argued, validly, that we wouldn't be able to see anything but he
gave in when I pointed out that if
the clouds dispersed we would regret not being in a good spot to see the sunrise. So we began by going off to try and see the sunrise, but it was unfortunately completely covered in clouds. But we decided to be patient and wait for it and so, for a brief few seconds, the clouds eased up and the sun revealed itself before us. I had finally, after my toiling up the mountain, experienced at least a small goraiko
(lit. "coming of light") and my effort finally paid of.
Having experienced our goraiko we decided it was time to do the walk around the crater and since we both came up through the Fujinomiya Trail we decided to descend together as well. The very first thing we did though was to go to the okumiya
(inner sanctum) that belongs to the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Shrine which I visited yesterday. There we received the final marks for our kongō-tsue
(walking sticks) which proves that we made it to the summit.
While I was receiving the mark at the okumiya I also took the opportunity to receive the goshuin
(temple seal) of
it as well. I was a bit surprised to find that they charged JPY 1,000 for it but it's not like I'll be coming back for another chance so I decided it would be worth it.
After that me and Romain began our walk around the crater and we also made our way to the very highest point of Mount Fuji, called Kengamine Peak, for an obligatory photo. I must admit that by now the wear and tear of the climb, the lack of sleep for the past three days and the cold rain just kind of hit me like a brick wall and my legs and feet really began to protest. I must admit that I felt like a real weight around Romain's feet but he was cool about it and slowed his pace to let me keep up and he kept my spirits up with his witty banter, a real lifesaver at this point.
We managed to complete the entire walk around the crater and as we were walking along the trail the weather cleared up and the sun came out in all it's glory and shone it's light upon the two of us, a reward
for our patience during the cold night and rainy morning.
In this time, when the mist was clearing and the sun was breaking through the thickness, me and Romain was presented with a fantastic vision. Appearing out of nowhere was a miniature rainbow sitting on the mountainside in such a manner that our shadows was standing inside it, as if a halo was surrounding us. It was one of the most spectacular views I've ever seen. I take it as a sign from Konohanasakuya-hime that she approved of us two foreigners walking on her holy mountain.
As we were nearing the end of the walk around the crater we came to the Kusushi Shrine which is located close to the where the Yoshida Trail comes into the summit. The Yoshida Trail is the most popular of the hiking trails as it comes up from the direction of Tokyo and offers a view of the sunrise even if you don't make it to the summit in time. Both me and Romain was struck by how easy that trail looked by comparison to what we had gone through the night before. It was longer, but it had a nice and
gentle path rather than the rocky staircase that we had walked. If I'm ever to climb Mount Fuji a second time that 's the path I'll take.
After we had completed the walk around the crater and our ascent to the Kengamine Peak the time had come to descend. I must admit that the steep and hard steps that had functioned as a staircase going upwards last night now functioned as an anvil going down. Every step was hard and, honestly, very painful. Romain did his best to keep me motivated and we stopped every so often, either to get the brands of the stations for my kongō-tsue that I hadn't been able to get yesterday or to indulge in an overpriced cup of tea and some warm noodles. By the time we were reaching the old 7th station my legs and feet was pretty much completely worn out though. While we rested and chatted Romain decided to go ahead, and he did so with my blessing, so that he would be able to catch the next bus down to Fujinomiya while I on my part was content with catching the one going after that as I would still
make it to Osaka in time.
We said our goodbyes and he sprinted off down the mountain while I slumped myself back down on a bench outside of the station and granted myself some much needed rest. This has certainly been an experience far outside of my normal day-to-day life. I was close to the end of both the first part of my journey, but also to the limit of my energy. However, after a good rest of some 30-40 minutes my legs felt, perhaps not renewed, but at least serviceable again. The pain was still there but I was able to not only walk but sprint down the rest of the mountain trail and I just managed to catch the bus that left an hour after the one that Romain got on.
On the bus ride back down the mountain I was still very happy, despite my mangled feet, that I had completed the first and most important part of my pilgrimage by climbing the holiest mountain in all of Japan. I decided though that my original plan to walk up Mount Kōya tomorrow will not be feasible due to the current state of my feet. Luckily
there is a cable car that go up there so I will use that instead, unless of course my feet feel better by tomorrow although I doubt that they will heal quite that fast.
With that decision I leaned back and relaxed until I came down to Fujinomiya where I switched to a local train which took me to Shizuoka where I switched to the shinkansen
(bullet train) bound for Osaka where I switched to the Osaka Loop Line to get to the station where I was to meet Kenichi. When I came to the station it turned out that there was no wifi there so I asked the station staff where I might be able to find some to contact Kenichi and she told me that there was a convenience store located by one of the exits so I made my way there and got in touch with Kenichi who came down to meet me.
It was so great to see him again after two years and he kept asking if I was okay while we made it over to his apartment. It's no wonder that he kept asking if I was fine since I was walking
as if I had a baseball bat stuck up my tailpipe but he was impressed that I had made it up Mount Fuji with the backpack that I was carrying. When we came to his apartment I was blown away by how beautiful it was, it is absolutely amazing because his wife Yumiji have planned it herself and she's a really talented designer. It was decorated in traditional Japanese style with beautiful shoji
(sliding paper doors) and tatami mats. I apologised as I messed it up while spreading my stuff around while trying to get a bearing of where all of my things were after the climb.
Once my things was taken care of Kenichi took me out to a lovely izakaya
(informal pub) named Sekai (lit. The World) which was a fitting name since it's menu had influences from all around the world. Kenichi ordered us a couple of different versions of okonomiyaki
(lit. "what you like grilled") which is a form of Japanese pancake containing pretty much anything imaginable. I ordered a meat dish called Niku Jagger
which was a fun ploy of words with the name Mick Jagger (niku
means "meat") and according to the owner
the famous artist like meat such as this.
While we were eating we learned that there was a customer celebrating his birthday so me and Kenichi soon bonded with the other patrons over a few beers and we began chatting in a blend of English and Japanese, mostly Japanese. Much to my surprise I'm more able to hold a conversation this year than I was last year despite that I often feel like pulling my hair while studying at home.
After dinner and a few beers, all of which Kenichi very generously treated me to, we began to walk back to Kenichi's apartment. On our way there he asked if I had ever visited the Osaka Tenman-gū Shrine which I hadn't so he led me over to it's gates and told me that it's very old and with an illustrious history. Due to the late hour it was closed of course but I decided to visit it tomorrow before my trip to Mount Kōya.
With that we returned to the apartment where Kenichi's wife Yumiji were waiting up for us and we spent the rest of the evening chatting about everything imaginable before we all went to
bed and I finally got some much needed rest. While I'm certainly not ancient by any stretch of the word I'm not in my 20s either anymore and scaling two peaks in succession after not sleeping properly for three days does take it out of me.
Tomorrow I'm off to Mount Kōya, the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism (lit. "True Word Buddhism") in Japan and the place where Kūkai sits in eternal mediation and I will also spend the night at the Shojoshin-in Temple. It will be my first shukubō
(temple lodging) and I'm looking forward to it a lot even though I unfortunately expect that Mount Kōya will be a bit of touristy.
Until tomorrow I wish you all peace and happy travels!
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