Mount Fuji – Japan’s Number One Mountain! (Sing along! You know the words!)

Editor’s Note: I finally finished writing this on February 24, 2017 — it is in reference to our Day Tour on February 23, 2017.

In the morning as we were waiting to be checked in by the tour operator, I saw a number of runners coming back from the 2KM (or more) route around the hotel.  They looked cold but happy to have gotten some mileage in.

I have been entirely remiss in my running, opting for tourism and indulgences. It’s just too darn cold and I’ve got an encroaching germ warfare skirmish that I am on the losing end of.  Mom is pretty sick; despite the masks many Japanese wear in public, there seems to be a coughing, sneezing, wheezing pandemic that is overrunning this countryside.  I keep recoiling from people as if they were trying to hand me their child to hold for an instant (a buddy of mine who tried to hand me his kid said it was the only time he’d seen a grown man curl into the fetal position).

The point is, I’m feeling the post-marathon, non-recovery running blues.  But that will all get alleviated here shortly – tomorrow’s a friendship run in Tokyo and then Sunday is the marathon proper.  The weather does not look to be particularly warm.  My core hasn’t really gotten back to room temperature post Kyoto.  That’s the main excuse I give myself when I don’t wake up a bit earlier than I have been and throw my running gear on for a few k’s around the blocks.  But excuses are just that – excuses.  They are as real and tangible as promises to do better.


It’s in this mindset that I find myself trying to recap the day tour to Mt Fuji and beyond.  I had fun and I think for the most part Mom did too – there were a few logistical snafus but our tour guide Harumi did her best to keep people on time.  She even started the tour saying the classic virtues of the Japanese are that they are a hardworking, honest, and patient people… and she added they were punctual.  So she asked us all to embrace our inner Japanese and be on time.  A few instances people chose to embrace their inner, um, teenager?  Time seemed to hold no meaning for them other than that they were more important than the rest of us.  That kind of inconsideration to fellow people I find so disappointing and dispiriting.

Again, this is the negative nelly worldview I seem to be writing from at the moment.  I may just be a bit tired and worn out – as fun as it is to be traveling and doing things, I kinda need to get home and take care of some things.  Those “TO DO” list items are weighing heavily, as to malapropist Shakespeare: uneasy lies the head that wears the frowns.


But enough negativity!  Write, write against the dying of the light!  Post, post against the angsty of the angst!

Let’s begin then at the top, or rather the bottom, of Mt Fuji.  Due to inclement weather and freezing temperatures, the roads leading up the mountain are closed.  We therefore are only able to climb to station 1 at Mt Fuji.  It’s about 1,291 meters above sea level; the roads stop at station 5 and the peak is at the 10th station with an elevation of 3,776 meters.

Mt Fuji still considered an active volcano, albeit it’s last eruption was in 1707.  The conical shaped mountain is actually three mountains in one.  The first mountain was created 200,000 to 700,000 years ago, and rose to a height of 2305 meters.  A second eruption about 100,000 years ago raised the mountain to 3000 meters.  And approximately 10,000 years ago, a third eruption settled deposits raising the height to its present day value of 3,776 meters.  So while this analogy may be culturally insensitive, Mt Fuji is kind of like a Russian Nesting Doll – three layers deep.

A nice tour guide took this photo of us. There’s an unfortunate butt shot photo bomb but otherwise it’s pretty good. When we were talking about saying “thank you” and “you’re welcome” in Japanese she acted like she had never heard the “Don’t Touch My Mustache” English pronunciation guide.

In the summer, 300,000 people climb the thing; they take a bus to the 5th station and then scramble up the second half of the height.  It takes about 6 hours to go up and then 3.5 hours to come back down.  Twenty-five percent of the climbers are foreigners.  Originally the mountain was a sacred site and only men were allowed to climb.  But in the mid 1800s (I want to say 1838 but don’t quote me on that, Internet) a woman dressed as a man and climbed it (as Mom said, her name may have been Mulan — but as I type this it dawns on me that since that’s a Chinese story and NOT a Japanese tale, I’m going to say no on that).  Since then, more and more women are “mountain girls” now (what the Japanese apparently call the succesful female scalers… still feels a little sexist to me).  In 1860, the first foreigner climbed (he was British) and in 1880, the first female foreigner got to the top (she too was British).  But leave it to the Australians to top them all — in 1912, an Aussie was the first to ski down Mount Fuji.

As an aside, there’s apparently a local legend who has climbed Mt Fuji some 1600+ times… and he’s still doing it even though he’s in his late 70s!  The oldest guy to climb it was a Japanese fellow who made the ascent at the ripe young age of 102 years old!  He had help from his family, our guide mentioned, as if we shouldn’t be TOO impressed by this feat.  But I’m impressed.  I’m super impressed.

All of this was part and parcel of a discussion about how cold it was and how weather conditions aren’t always favorable this time of year to see the famous mountainous icon.  Apparently at the top today the temperature was minus 18 degrees Celsius; the lowest it gets up there is minuts 40.  In the summer it’s apparently closer to six degrees Celsius.  The point was, if we wanted to climb, we should come back in a few months.  That’s sorta been the story of my travels — here, it’s been that the cherry blossoms will bloom in another month or so, or that I should come in the summertime to appreciate a few other things.  I never seem to hit things at the right time.  Maybe that’s because marathons occur on off-seasons to boost tourist revenues.  I once got in trouble with a girl I was dating because we’d plan trips around my silly marathon schedules and she once said she’d like to go some place when it wasn’t dreary and colder — that may be conducive to running but it’s less fun for sightseeing and being some place.  I totally understood that but, um, well… I’m still running and we’re, uh, not together anymore.  So I suppose I made my choice, eh?

Most of the shots above come from a brief stop over at the shoreline of one of the five Fuji lakes.  This is at Lake Kawaguchiko and frankly it was almost a perfect view of the mountain.  I suppose there is a truism in that — in order to really see and appreciate something, you need some distance and perspective.  Up close at Station # 1, we had trouble getting angles and seeing through the trees obstructing the view.  But farther back, it was easier to truly take in the majesty and wonder of the place.  Distance makes the heart grown fonder… at least some times.

Driving to the spot, Hirume played us a traditional children’s folk song.  It’s a song about Mt Fuji and includes the lyric “Fujiwa Nippon-ichino yama” or in a literal translation “Mt Fuji is the Number One Mountain in Japan!”  When she first told us about it, I thought it would be an uptempo fun kid song; instead it had more of a somber, ballad vibe.  Maybe to some it’s more majestic that way but I suppose in my head I heard Puffy AmiYumi or some other Japanese pop sensation rocking out to it.  I tried googling cover versions to see if anybody had done it this way but so far no luck.  Meantime, here’s a link to the song in its more somber state:

We had a traditional Japanese lunch.  I’m not sure I ate it correctly, unclear on what to combine and what to eat solo.  But I enjoyed it more than Mom.  She’s not a sushi fan (she likes her fish cooked as opposed to raw and I can understand that).  But she was a trooper and gave it a go.  She’s even getting pretty proficient with her chopsticks… it’s like getting to Carnegie Hall, it just takes practice, practice, practice.  By the end of this trip, she’ll be a fifth level master!

We then boarded a large catamaran boat for a 15-minute cruise across Lake Ashi.  Here legend tells of a nine-headed dragon that terrorized the local villagers until one day a Buddhist monk calmed the beast and it became a dragon god.  I remember being slightly puzzled that it was assuredly a Buddhist monk but there was a Shinto Torri in the water commemorating the event.  It seemed… religiously incongruous .

Pirate ship off the starboard side! Or should I saw windward…
Torri off the port side… or based on my hair, the windLESS side.

Lake Ashi is in the Hakone area of Kanagawa Prefecture, the prefecture adjacent to Tokyo.  This area is well known for its hot springs and is a great weekend getaway in the summer.  Again, we were there at the wrong time.  It’s beautiful in the summer.  But at least thanks to the hot springs, the lake never freezes in the winter, even when like today it’s snowing.

Speaking of snowing, two of our tour group were from Jakarta and had never seen snow.  Their wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm for this stuff that was the bane of my childhood (and a good deal of my adulthood) was a nice moment — an incredible memory for them and a fun memory for Mom and me.

These folks had never seen snow and it was awesome when they did!

Hakone also has a “ropeway” to the top of the second highest mountain in the area – it’s 1272 meters and it takes 7 minutes to ride up in this cablecar.  When we were there, the temperature was minus 1 degree Celsius and there were flurries.  Standing there, it felt like a movie set for a Himalayan hideout.  The wind, the snow, the overcast sky and impenetrable fog.  It was eerie but beautiful.


And then to get back to Tokyo we boarded a shinkansen— a bullet train.  Mom and I were expecting to feel like we were traveling through hyperspace but the actual ride is smooth and just feels like you’re on a train going pretty fast.  That said, standing on the platform as bullet trains whoosh by is something else.


While Mom and I were bitterly cold and tired from the long day, both struggling with colds at various stages of never endingness, I think we had some fun and made some good memories — can’t beat that.

And this is a passive-aggressive ending that I don’t mean it to be (or do I?).  I was AWFULLY tempted to buy a stuffed Mr. Mount Fuji (Mt Fuji-San).  Mom reminded me that I have plenty of brick a brack crap in my life and talked me out of it.  He was 1000 yen.  She felt guilty and said we’d get him at the next souvenir shop — where he was 1080 yen.  I told her she was right… and at the third right outside Hakone?  He was 1170 yen.  Oh, the money we could have saved… and yet, we saved 1000 yen and prevented having something else to gather dust on my shelf.

Besides, we’ll always have Hakone, Fuji-san…

Note: Seriously, Mom — it was the right call.  I’m just giving you a hard time.