Or at least visit every mountain. Climbing to the summit of Mt. Fuji is on my Japanese bucket list – maybe next summer? – but at least I’ve now paid the venerable volcano a friendly, introductory visit. Wil, Liam and I signed up for one of the handy bus tours offered by the base’s travel agency and took a day trip on Oct. 18 to see Mt. Fuji and the nearby Shiraito Falls. We’re not talking a high adrenaline kind-of-adventure. The bus drove up the Subaru Line — a toll road — on the mountain and dropped us off right at Mt. Fuji’s 5th Station, which is 2,305 meters above sea level. For context, there are 10 stations which lead up to the summit at 3,776 meters. Why 10? According to our tour guide, pilgrims used to hold a candle to light their path up the mountain. When one candle burnt out and another one had to be lit, that was a station. These days, you can buy candles, magnets, bowls, fleeces, water bottles, candy and ice cream at the Fifth Station, where there are several shops and restaurants to appease the modern pilgrims’ yen to spend yen.
We were given just a little over an hour to play on the mountain. We whipped out our winter coats from our back packs and dove into picture-taking. It was our last stop of the day and although Fuji had smiled at us for most of the ride, she played coy once we landed on her lap, hiding behind mist and clouds. Perhaps because of her absence, the other tourists decided to turn their cameras on us. A Japanese man holding a small dog approached me and asked if he could have a picture. I’ve never been approached for pictures – my brown hair isn’t exactly exotic — so I assumed he meant he wanted me to take a picture of him and his wife (and the dog.) Nope. He wanted Wil (blond, what’s left of it), Liam (very blond) and me (not at all blond) to stand in front of a Mt. Fuji sign with him and his dog. We obliged. Why not? After that, a kind Japanese man offered to take a picture of all of us, without the stranger and his dog, and we may now have this year’s Christmas card picture ready. Later, we exchanged greetings with Chinese tourists who decided we should be the highlight of their Fifth Station video. Even without full sunlight, the mountain side was lovely. I had fun taking pictures in the mist along a wide path that we ventured a short way along.
The mountain air played tricks with the sun and I was able to snap a couple of pictures of it looking particularly spooky and beautiful.
We walked back toward the shops so we could visit Komitake Shrine, which is just behind the stores.
Lucky us, while we were looking around the shrine, the clouds parted and Mt. Fuji burst back into view in triumphant glory. We feel very fortunate that we got to have a proper look at her up close.
Earlier in the day, our bus stopped at Shiraito Falls, near the base of Mt. Fuji. They were beautiful: 150 feet wide and 20 feet high of sparkling volcano spring water, enhanced by a bonus rainbow.
Travelling by bus with a group isn’t exactly my favorite way to be a tourist, but I doubt we’d have made it to Mt. Fuji yet, otherwise. The volcano is visible from parts of the base on clear mornings — lately she’s been snow-capped — but there’s nothing quite like getting to put your feet down onto solid, volcanic soil. I’ll never look at her quite the same again. Indulge me for one final picture: My little bear cub. (Mama Bear, at least, thinks he’s pretty darn cute.)
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