One thing that frustrates me about taking photographs is how hard it is to make them look good. We see so many spectacular or beautiful or breath-taking things, but the moment we point a camera at it, it suddenly becomes unphotogenic. A serene forest becomes just a bunch of trees. The moon shining on clouds becomes something both too bright and too dark at the same time. And a lovely valley seen from a train abruptly becomes the wall of a tunnel.
Anyway, Fujisan. James covered some of the things I was going to go over here, so I won’t go over it again. Just as Monday had our first shinkansen ride, Tuesday contained our first daylight shinkansen ride, so we could actually see out the windows. And see just how fast it was we were travelling. The trouble is, we’d always see a perfect photo opportunity just after we passed it. For lunch, I had my first bento box – mine was a hambaagu bento (“hamburg” – it’s what they call mince patties in Japan).
Heading up the mountain, I suffered greatly from motivation problems. It was weird, but I wasn’t feeling tired at all, just incapable of climbing. When I was standing still, I felt I could make it all the way to the top, but when I was moving, I struggled just to take another step. The Subashiri path we were on was only 6.8km long, with huts positioned about eight hundred metres apart – but considering the expected travel time for those eight hundred metres was half an hour, that gives an idea of how difficult it is considered. According to my guidebook, a Japanese proverb says that a wise person climbs Fujisan once – but only a fool climbs it twice. As my previous post covered, we only got halfway up, so I’m not quite sure what that means so far as wisdom.
At the sixth station, we were amused to notice steam coming off each other. At the Main Sixth station, we encountered a large group of little old ladies and men – personally I was impressed they could climb so high, but maybe I was just comparing them to myself. A little further on I was amused to discover a wooden stake hammered into the ground with “ganbare!” (something like “keep it up!”) written on the side. And all the way up we could see the descent path to the left, and boy did it look daunting.
In any case, I absolutely loved the hut we stayed in. The sleeping room consisted of two levels of futons laid out – one level on the floor, and one level on a platform about a metre up. I’ll upload some photos of this when I get the chance. We were on the floor down the far end, along with another person. The room was warmed as only a room full of a hundred sleeping people can be. As James said, we were seated to dinner with two girls from Hokkaido – with their small amount of English and our small amount of Japanese, we hit it off, somehow. Didn’t get so far as to learn their names, though. They’d climbed up to the seventh station in order to see the sunrise, and would be descending again the next morning.
The night outside was seriously spectacular. The seventh station is far above the lower cloud level, and the full moon shining on the clouds gave everything a silvery glow. At the same time, a huge thunderstorm was approaching from the North, filled with superb lightning flashes. And even late into the night, there was still the glow of the occasional torch wobbling its way up the path. The thing is, I couldn’t photograph any of this – it was just too dark. We could even see the lights of the eighth station, some distance above us.
In the morning, we got up early for the sunrise. Breakfast was served shortly before sunrise, but due to a miscommunication when we booked in, we hadn’t actually been put down for any. That turned out ok, though, because I didn’t really feel like breakfast, and James really didn’t feel like breakfast. In the early morning dark, though, the peak of the mountain was wreathed in a twinkly crown of hundreds of torch lights. So many people were up there to watch the sunrise. The sunrise was quite impressive, but James and I headed back to bed for an hour or so after the sun was done rising.
While I was still sitting outside, though, a woman who’d just climbed the path came up to me. “Samui?” she said. “You cold?” She gave me a pocket heater pack thing – I’ve only seen one of these in Australia, and it’s a gel-based one that Mum got from a medicine company for free, and it only lasted half an hour or so. This one was still going ten hours later… though we were already back in the ground-level heat after three, so I didn’t really need it. I thanked her nicely and we had a bit of a conversation about where we were heading.
One other thing which amused me was the price of things. All sorts of foody things were available to buy at all the stations we visited. However, the price increased the higher you went. Pocari Sweat, a common sports drink (or rather, “ion replacement drink”) here costs 150 yen at ground level, 200 yen at the fifth station, and 400 yen at the seventh station. A single banana, 100 yen at ground level, cost 200 at the fifth station and 500 at the seventh. I was pondering trying doing a plot of price against altitude, but I didn’t bother actually taking down any numbers, and I didn’t make it to the top anyway. Toilets cost 200 yen all the way up, though.
Descending Fujisan is a matter of falling slowly. The path sloped at maybe forty or fifty degrees, but standing on the path, it felt as though the cloudy horizon was coming up to whack us in the face. I discovered a pretty handy sliding gait sort of like ice skating that got me down reasonably fast, while James enjoyed running in a zig-zag across the path, and so giving me no way to run behind him without being caught in his dust cloud. Every step we took sent dirt and pebbles rolling down the mountain, and clouds of dust into the air. It makes me wonder how long it’ll take to wear the mountain down to nothing, if every climber pushes dirt downhill as they descend. Some of the paths below the treeline were eroded down to below the level of the tree roots, leaving the worn-smooth roots sticking into the air. Unfortunately, after a while the slope reduced to a more modest thirty degrees, which was steep enough to be really annoying to walk down, but not steep enough to actually assist in the descent.
Unfortunately, I dropped my face towel somewhere on the descent. I can only hope it has earned a permanent position in the large collection of dropped items that decorate both the ascent and descent paths on Fuji. On the plus side, it gives me a reason to buy a new face towel – the Japanese know about face towels; my previous one was just a re-purposed hand towel.
We got back to the bottom of the trail in time for the 9:20 bus back to Gotemba, and managed to catch our remaining trains in pretty rapid succession. We even managed another shinkansen first: first time on a Hikari train – both of our previous trips were on the slower Kodama trains. While on the trains, I was amazed to discover that our water bottles, which had last been opened at the seventh station where we spent the night, were now squashed nearly flat, purely from the difference in air pressure. That is how far we climbled. Unfortunately, when I got off the bus, my thighs were starting to ache, and when I got off the shinkansen, my calves decided to join in the fun. By the time we reached Machida station, I could barely walk.
I managed to get back to the 100-yen store to buy a new face towel. James was looking at the displays outside – I scoffed, however, thinking Murphy’s law would guarantee that they would be some distance far inside the shop. Then I tripped over a whole display rack of towels sitting right next to the door. I also headed over to the bank to change the US money my grandparents had given me into yen, and James went to buy a bubble tea he’d been wanting for ages. We also discovered a little mini-shrine in the shadow of the Odakyu private railway station.
We rested the afternoon, and in the evening (after figuring out the hotel’s coin-operated washing machines) we headed out to dinner. One place invited us in while we were out looking the other night when we got ramen, so we decided to head back there, having no idea what sort of restaurant it was. It turned out to be a kushikatsu restaurant, where a whole range of food is served on skewers. Unable to read much of the menu, we ordered what appeared to be a set meal type thing. It was quite delicious, and I could even identify most of what the waiter said about the dishes. I’d have to say I was unenthused by the shiitake mushrooms, James was severely nonplussed by the chicken cartilage, and both of us were a bit concerned about the chillies.
Anyway, off to bed. Tomorrow, we’re saying farewell to Tokyo for now, and heading off to Osaka via Matsumoto Castle. Matsumoto is a few hours out of the direct route between Tokyo and Osaka, but on the other hand, we also have a few hours to kill between when we have to check out of here and when we can check in over there, and apparently Matsumoto Castle is worth seeing. Considering Matsumoto is in the mountains, I’m hoping the journey itself will be worth the trip, but I can’t really say for sure. Guess we’ll find out tomorrow. I’m also hoping my legs will be less sore. =)
Fujisan two-day photo count: three hundred exactly.