Fuji’s Fool

July 19, 2008

You may have heard of the quote: “He who never climbed Mt. Fuji is a fool, but he who climbed it twice is a fool, too” (“富士山に一度も登らない馬鹿、二度登る馬鹿”). OK, so, I’m a fool now. Officially. And due to previous posts’ recurrent topics (namely, food and hiking) you can also guess which kind. Well, to make a long story short, I made it to the top of Japan’s highest mountain, for the second time in my life.<

We started our hiking from the 五合目 station, as most people do. Equipped with a wooden hiking stick, 2 liters of water, half of the clothes from my closet (to put them on, one on top of the other, as it got colder) and an extensive selection of “Calorie Mate” bars and other energy supplement food, the fun began. Despite being about 32°C when we started, it soon got chilly enough to put on some more clothes. The ascending route is, in large parts, an interesting hiking trail (speaking about the difficulty level, not the scenery), though no real mountain climbing. It gets troublesome due to the height, the thin air (many people take oxygen bottles along) and the length of the track: We started at about 8 p.m., and reached the top nearly in time for the sunrise, after more than 9 hours of hiking, with some few & short stops in between [1]. All of this in darkness – thus carrying flashlights – and in growing coldness: At the upper third or so it got very windy, hence extremely cold. 2 T-shirts, 2 sweaters and 1 jacket were not enough to stop me from shivering. We even saw large fields of snow, despite being right in the middle of summer.

As I said, we made it nearly in time for the sunrise. The “nearly” part didn’t matter much, since I experienced a sunrise from the summit during my first hike, and because I still got lots of very nice photos from just some meters lower. The weather was perfect, very clear, with just a hint of clouds that are necessary to render a magnificent play of colors of the raising sun. Still, there were enough of them to generate really cool views of the world below. Looking down onto masses of smaller mountains, clothed in mist, is an amazing feeling. The scenery looked so unreal, so dreamlike.

During my first time of climbing Fujisan (when also this picture was taken), we followed the same route, but stayed at a hut about halfway up, getting some hours of sleep before continuing the last part of the hike in the night. While some hours of sleep doesn’t sound like much (and the price for it is relatively high), it surely helps. Implementing our “hiking all night long” plan, however, we finally returned to Tsukuba Sunday evening after 40 hours without sleep, after hiking to a 3776 m high summit in freezing coldness, then back down being exposed to the burning sun without natural protection (i.e., being way higher than any cloud; actually we passed right though a thick layer of clouds pretty early during the hike). As you can imagine, sleep came easily that night.

However, after the descent, returning from the mountain, we first rewarded ourselves with a trip to an onsen (hot spring), relaxing & soaking for quite some time; the only sound to be heard was a sporadic moan of pleasure. I nearly felt asleep in the hot water, and simply moving the limp arms or legs became terribly difficult; standing up a nearly impossible task. Luckily only us three people from the lab (me and two students, cf. the last picture) went to the onsen, the rest (click here for a group photo) returned straight to Tsukuba – well, exposing the others to Japanese bathing culture would have been fun, too, but the bath was pretty small, and sitting together with that many people, naked, might have been awkward.

Note: There is the persistent misapplication of the name “Fujiyama”. Well, taking a closer look at the Japanese term, 富士山, it consists of the kanji for the name Fuji (富士) and of 山 for mountain. Now, the normal way of reading 山 is “yama”, but there exist a different one, namely “san”, which has nothing to do with adding “san” to a name (like “Kai-san” = “Mr. Kai”, as I’m called by everyone here) [2]. Basically every kanji has different readings, so this is nothing special. Remember me writing about “Tsukuba-san” when talking about hiking Mt. Tsukuba. Japanese people will look strangely at you if you ask them about “Fujiyama” – or, if they’re from Tokyo, they might think about the big roller coaster with that name. Don’t use this term when denoting the holy mountain!

[1] Normally, we should have made it in less time, but it was pretty crowded (especially at the several stations on the way), resulting in an actual “traffic jam” on the mountain from time to time. Which was a bit strange, and sometimes annoying, but also lead to funny incidents like the following: I was talking to someone from our group about the high amount of foreigners on the trail, when a girl in front of me turned around and contributed to our talk, obviously wanting to practice her Japanese; we chatted a little, but all the time she thought that I was Japanese (not really being able to see my face), until I told her otherwise. Though this surely doesn’t say much about the quality of my Japanese, it was still cool.

[2] … thus a sentence like “I spent 4 hours on XXX-san” can have a totally non-perverted meaning. 😉



  1. That’s some magnificient photos you took there! I would like to try to climb that mountain, but when you mentioned passing through the clouds I wasn’t so sure anymore – catching an enormous sunburn must be pretty easy up there…

    About that photo of yourself: One has to wonder why the girl talked to you at all as I’d say you look pretty scary with that mask 😛

  2. Thanks. I was quite impressed with the fantastic view, too – despite being my second time. And I have to say, I learned the hard way to protect myself against the sun … but it worked. No sunburn at all, this time.

    As for this girl: Well, the conversation happened at night(!) … and during the ascent, when I didn’t wear this mask. Otherwise, you’d be perfectly right, it does look a bit scary, hehe.

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