A Travellerspoint blog

Climbing Mt. Fuji

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Just when I thought the Mt. Fuji experience couldn’t get anymore dramatic, well, I’m thinking surely this is the grand finale to this epic odyssey: I HAVE MY PICTURES BACK!!!!!!!

Okay, maybe I should start from the beginning.

Of course, when one sets out to climb the legendary, highest peak of Japan, one would certainly expect a certain amount of drama, wouldn’t one?? But, it really got quite ridiculous…

While planning for this trip, I was worried about getting a good night’s sleep the night before climbing Fuji. All the hotels near the station were very expensive and the cheaper ones were far away, which would not only take a lot of time getting there, but would also require time to actually find them in Kyoto! However, thanks to one incredibly thoughtful and clever man, Jack of course, I stayed at the Granvia Hotel, which is actually inside the Kyoto Station! Granvia’s are some of the most prestigious and nicest hotels in Japan and they are almost always located near every city’s center near the main station. I have included a couple of pictures of the view from my room below.

So, after an incredible nights sleep in my luxurious queen size bed with a down comforter, I woke up and went to my meeting place. It was four subway stops from my hotel. By the time I got there, my stomach was in knots!! I kept thinking, “oh no, am I SERIOUSLY getting ready to climb MT. FUJI!?!, can I really do this?!?!? It's not too late to turn back...”

So I didn't feel much better when I got on the bus I looked around and I was the only foreigner! I thought I was going with a bilingual tour group, so I expected maybe half foreigners and half Japanese. But, my tour guide hardly spoke any English! That was just scary because I kept worrying what if something bad is happening or there’s really bad weather and I need some crucial information and I don’t know enough Japanese to understand what’s happening or what I should do!!

After I sat down, surrounded by only Japanese, the bus driver came back to me and said I was in the wrong seat (or something similar to that in Japanese. I’m always doing that, so at this point, I can recognize “you are in the wrong seat..”). He took me to the front of the bus, and to my extreme relief, sitting right there was another foreigner!! It may sound strange for me to be so incredibly happy to see another foreigner because obviously, all day I’m surrounded by only Japanese, but, when you’re getting ready to climb Mt. Fuji and you’re expecting a few English speakers, this is quite a relief!!

I just know the good Lord was looking out for me when he sent this awesome gal my way. Her name’s Mehgan and she’s also a Nova teacher and she’s exactly my age!! She teaches in Osaka and she even came to Japan at the same time I did. It was so weird – talking about having things in common… That’s been one of the most awesome things about this Japan experience for me. I’m always meeting someone who has the same strange and uncommon interests as me. It makes me so much more confident and sure about what I want out of life, ya know?

Okay, sorry about that quick philosophical tangent there…. Anyway, obviously Mehgan and I really hit it off from the word go and talked pretty much the whole six or seven hour bus ride to Fuji.

When we knew we were getting closer, we just started getting sooooo anxious and exited and nervous. We kept looking to see it, but we felt so stupid because we just weren’t seeing it. Then suddenly, we turned a corner and there it was, right in our face. IT WAS SOOO SCARY!!! It was just so intimidating to look up at it. I took pictures of this view from the bus, but I couldn’t retrieve them from my whole erasing-of-photos debacle because I lost most of the first few pictures. But, I’m sure you’ve probably seen a photo or two of it sometime because it’s just such a popular view of Japan, so I guess you’ll just have to use your imagination as to how it feels to look up at this huge thing and know you have to get to the top of it!

Our bus stopped at the fifth station on Fuji. The view from just that spot was already spectacular. You can see from the photos of this point that the clouds and sky are just so incredible. But, it’s so strange because the clouds aren’t just sitting there in the sky, they are moving and swirling around so quickly.

We had a brief little meeting, of which I couldn’t understand anything of course, and then started off on our adventure! It was about 4 pm. Soon after we started, a Japanese girl named Noriko and her friend Atsuko came to us and said they speak a little English, so they can try to help us if we need it. How awesome is that!? I know I say this all the time, but the Japanese really ARE the most kind, considerate people. There’s always someone that will go out of their way to help you or try to make you comfortable.

So we climbed for about three hours before it got completely dark. I was so glad that I went with a guide because he really knew when to stop and we always went at a very smart pace I think. I would have tried to go a lot faster and then probably wouldn’t have made it an hour, but our guide just knew exactly what he was doing. I felt so safe with him and our other guide. Oh, sorry, I guess I should have explained that. We had one guide who was our main one – he picked us up on the bus in Kyoto and stayed with us the whole time. Our other guide was our actual climbing guide and he climbs Mt. Fuji once a week!! So at all times, one guide was always in the very front, and the other was always in the very back. When it started to get dark, they both had these huge glow-stick type things so you could find them if you need to. It was really an impressive setup.

After it got dark, I could look out and see entire cities’ lights. It looked like a really small clump of lightning bugs. The climb at this point hadn’t been too bad, and I was starting to think, “ah, this isn’t gonna be half as bad as I thought it was gonna be…” - until the storm came through that is. I had forgotten that there was a typhoon headed this way and then I kinda started to panic. Of course it’s not like the typhoon was going to come straight for us, but the outlying winds and rain from it were. So then, it started to rain very heavily and the wind was so cold and so strong. The rain was not the big drops that fall calmly. No. These were tiny little beads of rain that moved so quickly with the strong wind that stung my face and hands like little needles. I was trying to hold a flashlight in one hand and my hiking stick in the other. It was just so shocking to feel so incredibly cold because I had been stuck in extremely hot and humid weather for so long in Matsue. I told Mehgan that I wouldn’t complain about the weather in Matsue for the rest of the summer…

I remember looking at my watch about 8pm and wanting to just die! We had started climbing up some rocks that were really steep and you had to really use your whole body to move up them. They were so slick and cold and it was really quite dangerous because I kept falling and banging up my elbows and knees. It was terrible. The rain was beating down and I was freezing to death. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t raining, because there’s such a huge difference between cold, and cold and soaked. My hands and feet were freezing cold because my cotton gloves and socks were so wet. To make it worse, we kept passing these little stations where you could stop and sleep for the night. I looked it and saw people warm and dry, wrapped up in sleeping bags and eating! What a slap in the face. We climbed like this for about an hour, and FINALLY made it to our mountain hut.

We stuck out wet clothes in some plastic bags and were handed an “interesting” rice bowl with smelly green seaweed salad on it. But at the time, I was so absolutely starving that I didn’t care at all. I had packed plenty of my own food anyway. So Mehgan and I went into a very small “uncomfortable community bedroom” as I would describe it and were shocked to see that the beds were like two long bunk beds stretching from one end of the room to another. Then a Japanese man came to me and said, “three people go this space” and held out his arms about two or three feet. I couldn’t believe it. I knew at that moment I had to sleep uncomfortably close to a complete stranger. But it’s so funny, we were all so deliriously tired and sleepy that we just didn’t care about anything like that. So were crawled up into our sleeping bags about 9:45pm. We were so slap-happy and kept laughing hysterically at everything: people snoring and just anything and everything was just so hilarious. We were going crazy.

I remember laughing at how incredibly ironic and quite surreal this situation was. The night before, I was sleeping in a luxurious queen size bed with a down comforter overlooking all of Kyoto – my happy belly full of filet mignon – which was via room service might I add... Now, I’m sleeping in a cold, clammy sleeping bag next to a strange Japanese man and my view is of my wet dirty socks hanging from a hook at the end of the bunk bed – and I have an empty belly stirring at the thought of the cold “seaweed rice surprise.”

So we got to sleep about 10pm, although Mehgan and I just sort of half-slept because we were so anxious and exited that we were sleeping ON Mt. Fuji and we will be at the top soon. At 1am, our guide came in the room and woke us up and talked for about five minutes. I didn’t know what he was saying, but the look on his face and his tone was really freaking me out. It just didn’t seem good. Then, I found Noriko and asked her what he said. She said he told us that he strongly advises us not to climb to the top because the weather is so bad and it’s really dangerous. But, if enough people still want to try to do it, he will take us to the top now.

Wow. I was so emotional at that point. I was so crushed to think of all I’ve just been through, and now, I won’t get to make it to the top. I really didn’t want to go back out in that storm, especially knowing the next three hours to the top are the steepest and most dangerous. I talked with Mehgan and we decided that it just wasn’t worth the risk. But then, we decided it was. I asked Noriko what she was going to do, and she said, “No way, it would just be too terrible.” So, at the last minute, Mehgan and I decided that we would try it for about 10 or 15 minutes and if it’s really dangerous and miserable, we’d just turn around and come back.

I will never forget this feeling the rest of my life. After we got our wet clothes back on, we walked outside and the wind and rain was just going crazy. We were literally standing inside storm clouds. But, we just kept going and going and I tried to keep my mind as numb as my freezing body, just trying not to think about anything except getting to the top. There were so many people trying to get to the top though, so that made me feel so much better. We actually had to wait in line at times to even move. I had psyched myself out so much that when we stopped at the top, I didn’t even realize we were there! I looked at my watch and it was about 4:15. I asked our tour guide, “Are we at the top” and he looked at me so strangely and said, “eh, yeeah?!?!?!” like, “duh, you dingy foreigner!” After he said that Mehgan and I just started screaming “AHHHH, WE DID IT, WE DID IT, WE’RE AT THE TOP, WE’RE AT THE TOP!!!!”

We went inside the mountain hut at the top and had some coffee to wait for the sunrise at 4:30. I was getting worried because it was extremely cloudy and I didn’t think we’d get to see the sun at all. So we went out at 4:30 and there was only black clouds surrounding us. We couldn’t see a thing.

Then, suddenly, a small ray of light shined through for literally about a second. The clouds were moving and swirling around us so fast that we’d only get a glimpse of light for about a second. Then gradually the light got bigger and bigger, and then, it looked like the sky was catching on fire!! It was absolutely amazing! The clouds would roll through, and then suddenly the sun would burst through and the light would burn through the clouds. What made this even more incredible is that you are actually looking ahead at the sun, not above you. You feel like you are eye-level with the sun and it’s so surreal. I kept trying to capture this, but my pictures just don’t do it justice.

So we started climbing down and gradually the storm clouds started rolling away and the sun started shining through. As you can see in the photos, the storm clouds look like they are right above my head – wow, I guess that’s because they are! It was scary to look up at this cloud and know I was just standing inside it!!

So for the next 3 or 4 hours it took to climb down, I had the most spectacular view. You could see one of the five lakes and look down on some really high mountains.

Coming down Mt. Fuji is no picnic. It hurts your knees so badly and the ground is not solid. Your feet sink down into this red lava ash and it gets in your shoes, so you have to stop from time to time to pull these rocks and lava clay/ash stuff out of them so your feet don’t get bruised or cut.

But even at those moments then when I was in such pain and my body ached so badly, the view is totally worth all of this. Mehgan and I just kept saying, “wow, it’s worth it” all the way down.

Climbing Mt. Fuji was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. But isn’t that usually how it goes? The most difficult and scary experiences in your life are the ones that you grow the most from. It’s definitely those experiences that are the most character-building. In the end, you get a reward that far exceeds your pain, effort, and if you're lucky, your expectations as well!

So please enjoy the pictures and if you would like me to email you a bigger version of any of them, please let me know and I'll send it!

Posted by jbennett 00:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

A typical day in the Japanese grocery stores and restaurants

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It's so funny to look at these pictures now, as opposed to when I took them a while back because when I took them, all of this food seemed so strange and somewhat scary to me. But now, after a few months of seeing it almost everyday, it strikes me at how living in a foreign country totally changes your perception on what's weird and what's normal. I never would have imagined myself looking at this food and thinking, "oh, yeah, that's dried fish flakes, let's get some."

Japanese food is just nothing what I expected. Honestly, I was expecting a few Moto's or Makato's places with loads of shrimp sauce! But, I have never once seen a Japanese stir fry place, nor have I even caught one glympse of anything that resembles shrimp sauce. I didn't expect octopus, raw quail eggs and fermented soybeans to be what's on the daily lunch or dinner menu. I didn't expect salad, miso soup (fish/tofu soup) and rice to be an extremely popular breakfast, and I certainly didn't expect at all that it was difficult to find a pizza without squid, corn or seaweed on it.

However, the most shocking part is, I'm gradually starting to go for this stuff. Japanese rice and miso soup is quite good for breakfast and green tea is gradually starting to not taste like the lawn. But, anytime I travel to a big city like Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto or Okayama, I'm already hunting for the Domino's, Wendy's, Pizza Hut's or "real" Mexican restaurants.

But, I have been forced to become a halfway decent cook now. I can make some mean chinese stir fry and thai green curry. I also became so despirate for nachos that I made nacho cheese sauce from scratch the other day and it was almost as good as Amigo's. Seriously.

Well, here are a few photos of typical Japanese cuisine!

Posted by jbennett 00:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Conquering another mountain

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Andrew and I conquered another mountain on Friday. This one is called Mt. Sanbe, and it's the highest peak in the Shimane Prefecture. But of course, was tiny compared to Mt. Fuji.


Okay, I promised I wouldn't do that anymore...sorry.

But, although I did something incredibly stupid with my camera and erased all my pictures, I am actually extremely lucky. My friend Barbara climbed it the week after I did, and the weather was so bad for her that she didn't get to see anything. And Andrew climbed Fuji last year and he said he didn't get to see anything either because it was so cloudy. Plus, two of my students said the weather was really bad when they went too, and they didn't see anything - and one of them has climbed it twice!

So, I will dwell on the fact that even though I don't have my pictures, I have an image of the most beautiful sunrise you could even possibly imagine burned into my memory forever. I honestly think I got a glympse of what Heaven must really be like. I will remember that most people don't get to see the sunrise when they climb it, so incidently, I am very very fortunate!

Posted by jbennett 00:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

My vacation!!!!

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So, I just got back from my first loooong vacation from Nova. I climbed Mt. Fuji, stayed in Kyoto for four days and went to Osaka and Nara for a day.

Kyoto is THE cultural center of Japan. It was the old capital before Tokyo, so all of the traditional things of Japan are here. There are over 1800 shrines and temples!! Of course I knew there was absolutely no way to see that many, so I found the major ones on the map and rented a mountain bike for two days. It was incredible! There is just so much to see and do, that it's true what all the travel books say: you need at least two months to see everything worth seeing in Kyoto. So, I'll just let these few pictures speak for themselves.

I wasn't planning on going to Osaka on my trip, but I met another Nova teacher, Mehgan from Boston, on my Mt. Fuji adventure. She lives in Osaka, so she invited me there and took me to a Mexican restaurant! Before meeting Mehgan, I went to the Umeda Sky Building, which overlooks all of Osaka. I got there before sunset and stayed up there until a while after just looking at the sea of lights. It was really breathtaking. Osaka was very intimidating for a Carter County gal, but I made it half a day on my own, so, I think I did okay!

Nara was the first capital of Japan and everyone said I had to go see the huge Buddha there. I wasn't really interested, but so many people suggested it and it's only about fourty minutes by train. I am soooo glad I went. This Buddha statue was built in the year 710 and it is massive! It really is amazing to look up at it. I included the picture with people in it so you can see in proportion just how big and bizarre this thing is.

Unfortunately, I had a very harsh disagreement with my camera after climbing Mt. Fuji, so I don't have any pictures of that. So now, the only physical thing I have from that, which is one of the most incredible experiences of my life by the way, is a small bell they give you when you reach the top. Oh well. I've cried my eyes out dry about my pictures, so no need to dwell on it anymore. ALTHOUGH IT IS COMPLETELY DEPRESSING!!!!!!!!!

Anyhoo, I am so grateful that I had another memory card for my camera and I could get plenty of shots of Kyoto, Osaka and Nara. So here they are...

Posted by jbennett 00:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Yukatas, Kimonos and cute Divas

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Okay, so FINALLY an update! I have been extremely busy in August. I am now teaching four students private Japanese lessons, and I have two Japanese teachers myself, plus taking kung fu, etc. etc. Whew! But, I just got back from climbimg Mt. Fuji and visiting Kyoto, Osaka and Nara!

So, about here is where I left off...

Suigo Sai is a huge summer festival that we have in Matsue the first weekend of August. It goes for two nights and on the last, there are spectacular fireworks for one hour! It's sort of like a July 4th type celebration, although, I have no idea what they are actually celebrating, other than an excuse to have really great fireworks. It's a traditional festival and I heard from my students that many people wear yukatas and kimonos, so, I decided to be a brave foreigner and wear one myself! So here are a few shots of that night and some co-workers and friends.

The first time I wore my yukata was to a "Gaijin Yukata Party" where foreigners in Matsue can wear them without feeling too awkward (although I still felt a little weird in it). The party was thrown by a fabulous guy named Steven, who owns his own English school in Matsue and has lived here for many many years.

I bought my yukata (oh, and by the way, a yukata is just a simmered down kimono) on my lunch break the day of the party, so I brought it in to one of my classes and had two of my favorite women students show me how to wear it. It's quite complicated with a few parts, but they told me that it was very easy compared to wearing a kimono. However, later that night, I rushed home and Rebecca helped me put it on again and we went straight to the party. When I saw a couple of my good Japanese friends they first looked at me in a little shock, then giggled a little. I asked my friend Yoko what was wrong, and she said, "Ohhh Jeshka. Yowa yukata mean death!" I said, "WHAT??!!" I had folded my yukata right over left, instead of left over right, and that's how they dress the dead! But, one of the most charming things about the Japanese is that they totally realize that foreigners just can't know certain things about their culture, and they just think it's cute when we do something silly like this. Their culture is just so complex, but, they never expect foreigners to understand and they are so patient with us.

Needless to say, I wore the yukata of the living for the Suigo Sai festival!

Posted by jbennett 00:00 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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