Last weekend, I decided it was high time I got up close and personal with Fuji-san, instead of just peering at it from afar through my window. A few other English teachers shared my sentiments, so we drove to the Sengen Jinja Shrine at the base of the mountain. We cleansed ourselves with holy water and prayed Shinto-style with plenty of clapping and bowing. Then we started to climb.
Climbing Mount Fuji is not for the faint of heart. It’s a brutal twelve hours from the base to the peak, and when I say you climb the mountain, I mean climb. This was no leisurely hike up a slightly sloping path. There were boulders to be scrambled over, deep pits to skirt around, and days of sore muscles afterwards.
What’s more, since Japan is the Land of the Rising Sun, it’s tradition to climb Fuji-san overnight so you can watch sunrise from the summit. We left the Sengen Jinga Shrine about two hours before nightfall, which gave us about an hour in the woods before it was too dark to see. Most of our hike was done by moonlight and headlamps. Luckily it was a full moon, so around midnight when we cleared the tree line (eight hours into our hike, two hours after bedtime), we had just enough light to climb by. Hiking at that altitude is kind of like having a sunburn- you’re hot and cold at the same time, and there’s nothing you can do about it except suffer through.
We reached the summit at about 4am (twelve hours into our hike, six hours after bedtime, two hours until my alarm would go off). For the next hour we waited- shivering, painfully exhausted and drained of all enthusiasm- for the 5:16 sunrise.
Sunrise on top of Fuji-san is awe-inspiring. Ours was doubly so because we had the rising sun on one side of the mountain, and the still-full moon on the other. It was so marvelous that at around 6am (fourteen hours into the hike, 24 hours without sleep), I was thinking to myself that maybe all the misery of the climb up was worth it. Then I started my eight hour hike back down the mountain, and by hike, I mean slip-and-slide on rocks. Once I finally regained the base- a full 22 hours after my initial departure- the Japanese proverb about only climbing Fuji once became my own personal life philosophy. In one very intense day, I accomplished what was probably the most amazing feat of my life, and I never, ever want to do it again.