Today, December 30, 2012, marks my 91st day of travel. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been gone for this long and yet in that time, it’s been fast, slow, scary, new, old, exhausting, loving, nurturing, silent, full of love, full of doubt, strong, powerful, enlightening, thoughtful, and challenging. I don’t know that any other 90 day period in my life has been like this, nor will ever again.
On October 1, 2012, I left on an Aeroflot plane to Istanbul. I landed for a short layover in Moscow (a city I’ve always wanted to visit) and then continued on to Istanbul, Turkey a city I’ve always felt in my heart I needed to see with my own eyes. I’ve shared quite a bit about my journey on this blog, but not as much as I originally planned. It’s hard to convey everything I’ve experienced. I honestly don’t think I have the words, but I hope to share more once the trip ends and I’m back in America figuring out the next steps of my personal journey. I think more will come after the traveling has ended because I will have digested large chunks that I’m still chewing. I also think writing will come more easily when attempting to write, all the while thinking about what all I’m missing in my time final days in Tokyo. Having said that, I do want to share my recent trip to the Mt. Fuji area outside of Tokyo…
I had originally planned to visit this great Mountain on Christmas Day. Having spent Thanksgiving, and my birthday alone, but in nature, I decided that Christmas should be no different. Christmas Eve, I spent with an amazing couple I met recently, who invited me over for dinner in the afternoon before midnight Mass at the local Catholic Church here in Tokyo.
Christmas Day morning came and went. I overslept. The day after Christmas Day came and went as well. I overslept, but I also only wanted to sit inside and watch Christmas movies and be quiet. So I did.
And then came Thursday. On the eve of Thursday, I went out and grabbed some sushi for dinner and a beverage from Starbucks. I decided walking was probably good for my body after a day of just padding around the apartment mixed with some minor dancing and mostly sitting on the couch. Before I went to bed though, I got the coffee pot ready. I picked out my outfit for Thursday and I set my alarm for 4:15am. If I didn’t oversleep, then all signs pointed to visiting Mt. Fuji.
Even though I had set up my morning, I knew that my trip to Mt. Fuji would be a result of waking up feeling the urge to get up at an unGodly hour and get dressed, fed, and out the door to catch the first of three trains at 5:55am. Thursday morning was that day. I could have easily slept until eight or nine am, but instead I jolted up out of bed and was out of the apartment by 5:19 and that included eating, packing coffee and water, dressing in 20 layers, and then walking to the Shinjuku train station in the dark and figuring out the train system. (Every day that I get on the JR or the subway is an adventure in learning something new.)
I felt tired as I journeyed on, but I was filled with excitement. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen mountains, and quite honestly been so close to mountains. I’d say that my visit to Koya-san and Nara were my last full on mountain visits at the beginning of the month. After spending 45 days in the mountains surrounding Echizen, I needed this trip. I needed mountain air, brooks of water, and the sounds and sights that come with nature that close. A prime example is the 10-15 minutes I spent watching three birds fly around and do what I call their wild dance at Lake Kawaguchi.
My day was over all exhausting. I was gone for 14+ hours I think. I slept so much on Friday that I never got out of my pajamas! It was glorious and yet, I still feel exhausted. See, being in nature, I’ve learned has the ability to both enliven me and exhaust me. I tend to think so well out there, but also end up tired from all the thinking and walking that I inevitably do. My time around Mt. Fuji was no different. As soon as I caught sight of Mt. Fuji, it was love. I was determined to capture as much of her as I could and spend as much time exploring around her as possible.
Mt. Fuji has two months of climbing season. The rest of the time the mountain is too volatile to climb. I learned on Thursday that her idea of cold is in fact COLD and I would not have survived an attempted climb. When I got off the train, my feet were freezing and that was with two pairs of socks on, one pair an extremely thick pair of LL Bean hiking socks. I don’t recommend you even think you can hike this beast outside of July and August.
Since I couldn’t hike the mountain, I instead walked around Lake Kawaguchi which is gorgeous in it’s own way. I took the cable car up a smaller mountain across from the lake and had my first level view of the great Mt. Fuji, which only increased the love.
I hiked a bit around the mountain I was on, prayed to the spirits at the shrines at various points there and then went down to continue my day exploring Fuji-Yoshida, which is the same as Fuji-san, or the town that has the longest history with the Mountain.
Legend has it that Mt. Fuji and the Goddess of Fire, Konohana Sakuya Hime, protect the town from Mt. Fuji’s eruptions. Here is a bit of the mythology behind Konohana Sakuya Hime and Mt. Fuji:
The fire ceremony [marking the end of the mountain climbing season on August 26] has its origins in the earliest known myth about Konohana Sakuya Hime, the principal goddess of Mount Fuji. According to the ‘Kojiki’, the great 8th-century AD compilation of Japanese mythology, she married a god who grew suspicious of her when she became pregnant shortly after their wedding. To prove her fidelity to her husband, she entered a benign bower [in the volcano] and miraculously gave birth to a son, unscathed by the surrounding flames. The [fire] ceremony at Fuji-Yoshida recalls this story as a means of protecting the town from fire and promoting easy childbirth among women.
As a fire sign in western astrology, I could not help but being drawn to this particular Kami (God) and her symbol of the mountain. Mountains are powerful in structure and strength. Their volcanic bases are terrifying and yet provide a sense of renewal. Their ability to tower, strong and assured are proof that nature understands more than we mere humans ever will. (I know, again with the spirituality!) I’m not sure what I was hoping to gain from this visit, but I knew that not visiting Mt. Fuji would have been a regret. This entire trip has been about a spiritual awakening, one so strong, it has brought me back to the core of who I am and learning about the mountain helped me understand it more.
This year alone, I’ve managed to carve out time to visit a few mountains. I went to Bear Mountain Park just north of New York City during the spring for some time away. In July while visiting Portland, I drove out to Mt. Hood to see some of the beauty of North West America. I should mention that I loved Mt. Hood. She’s a beauty as well. For 45 days, I was surrounded by the mountains of Echizen that taught me about extreme cold, rain, and patience. In Osaka, I visited the mountain that houses Koya-san, an important Buddhist Monastery town (and World Heritage Site) on my birthday. All of these experiences taught me new found respect for nature and the beauty around us, but it wasn’t until I laid eyes on Mt. Fuji that I truly understood the power of a mountain.
Mt. Fuji called to me on Thursday and so I went to her. Toward the end of my trip, I followed signs leading toward the base of the beginning of the trail path, Yoshida Climbing Route, and the Fuji Sengen Jinja, where pilgrims who trekked up the mountain for spiritual connection to the Gods would pray beforehand. While I could not climb the mountain, I was able to pray to the Goddess of Fire and thank her for this amazing opportunity to see her glory. It was also at that point that I decided that my youngest brother and possibly my nephew, and I have to climb this mountain together. My youngest brother wants to study in Japan at some point and when he gets to Japan, I intend to meet him and climb Mt. Fuji with him and not from any of the various stations that you can start from, but from the beginning, from Yoshida Climbing Route.
Mt. Fuji has become a huge tourist destination. Even I ventured to her as a tourist. However, I learned thanks to following the signs detailing the past of the town of Fuji-Yoshida that over 200 years ago religious pilgrims were the only ones who trekked up the mountain. At the time there were houses known as Oshi, where pilgrims could stay, eat, and pray on their way to the mountain. I was able to take a tour in Japanese and English (how I understood most of this I don’t know because it was more Japanese than English) and see the oldest Oshi that has become a museum and tells the story of these religious pilgrims. As I walked further along the road, I saw a few more of these Oshi thanks to the signs noting them along the way and then found myself at the gate and entrance to Fuji Sengen Jinja. After praying and making my promise to return and climb her, I breathed in the calm and peace of Mt. Fuji and begun the three hour trip back into Tokyo.
I know that I have been given a special experience here. I know that to many my trip may seem like an extended vacation, a way of running away from my responsibilities, or even like something a rich girl would be able to do, but none of these are the case. Japan has been calling to me for quite a few years now. The connection to my passion for paper was the deciding force behind this trip, but after seeing Mt. Fuji, I can honestly say that Mt. Fuji was also calling me toward Japan. Every mountain I’ve taken in has led me to her and I have no doubt that in doing so, I’ve learned more of my own strength.
I can’t wait for my next experience with Mt. Fuji. I hope I’m even stronger when the times comes, but more importantly, I know from this visit I’m strong enough to venture in 2013. AMEN!