Written by Jayne Aw
Mount Fuji painting - drawn by Jayne Aw
In Search for Immortality
Legend has it that in the later part of his life, after unifying China in 221 BCE, Qin Shi Huang（秦始皇）feared death and desperately sought the elixir of life to allow him to live forever. So he made several attempts to find the fabled Penglai Island (篷莱仙岛) where Penglai Mountain is located, but to no avail. It was believed that the fabled island is Japan while Penglai Mountain is Mount Fuji (Fujisan). One of such attempts was led by Xu Fu（徐福）with ships carrying thousands of young men and women heading towards Japan.
Not being able to find the elixir of life, these people never returned to China for fear of being executed. Instead they set foot in Japan and settled down. The name of Japan was coined as it took them a day and a half to reach the island. Try saying this in Cantonese and note the similarity of the two words.
Today, Xu Fu’s tomb can still be found in Wakayama in Japan with the inscription of “Tomb of Xu Fu of the Qin Dynasty”. The legend of Penglai Mountain also passed on to Japan where it took shape as the legend of Horai, a name that is still being used in some parts of Fujisan.
While Qin Shi Huang’s obsession with immortality had led his men to Japan in search for elixir of life, the obsession with suffering had led the twelve of us to Fujisan in search for pains……
Option 1 vs. Option 2
After making up my mind to go for Option 2 (via bus to 5th station), it was a great relief for me as I needn't worry about the backpack load since food and water are aplenty for sales at the mountain huts from 5th station onwards. Option 2 seemed a much easier option to climbing Fujisan with lesser load and shorter distance (about 5 hours as vs. 10 hours from the base). After all, my goal was to reach Fujisan summit, no one cares where I start from. But somehow that little voice kept whispering to me that this was not what I truly desired to attempt.
Sharon finally broke her silence. She called me few days before departure and was pestering me to join her for Option 1. I was hesitating, but told her that I would consider based on 2 conditions. First if I could stuff all my things into a smaller 28 litre backpack instead of the 60 litre; second was with the blessing of Captain Fujisan; and the rest was what it was meant to happen………
Day 1 – KLIA to Narita Airport
We took the late evening flight by JAL at 10.50 pm and arrived at Narita Airport after 7 hours flight. Had a glimpse of sun rise amidst blanket of clouds at around 4.30 am before landing at Narita at the local time of 7 am.
Day 2 – Narita to Kawaguchiko
On stepping out of the plane, we were greeted by the welcome sign to Narita. Eager to test my few limited Japanese words, I approached the airport officer to take a group photo for us. “Sumimasen, shashin o totte moraemasen ka?” I asked, but got my first Ultraman hand sign from the officer – an affirmative NO! – as he was not supposed to do so while on duty.
Yee Choi, who was leading this team as our Captain Fujisan, had taken a later flight by MAS and joined us at the arrival hall. From Narita Airport, we took a train to Central Narita for a brief visit to its town and the Narita-san Temple. The main road is lined with rows of small shops which give the township a contemporary Japanese look. By 12.30 pm, we hopped onto a train at Narita Station to Takao en route to Kawaguchiko, stopping halfway at Otsuki Station at about 3 pm for a quick lunch by gobbling down my 1st bowl of Japanese ramen. Never thought there would be more ramen to come by for the rest of the trip.
As the train passed through Tokyo and advanced towards Kawaguchiko, the skyline gradually transformed from a metropolitan landscape to mountain ranges and greeneries. Captain Fujisan pointed to one of the mountains and told us that that was the place of the 1985 tragic plane crash which killed 520 people including the famous Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto who popularized the song “Sukiyaki” in the sixties.
After an almost 3.5 hour ride by train, we reached Kawaguchiko Station and checked into Kawaguchiko Station Inn for a night stay before embarking the climb to Fujisan the following day.
Day 3 – Climbing Fujisan via Yoshidaguchi Climbing Trail
We got up early for breakfast in the hotel at 6.30 am. It was a traditional Japanese bento with grilled saba fish completed with tamago, pickles, miso soup, rice and fruit. Japanese rice has a very nice texture and many of us helped ourselves with second serving. After breakfast, we were supposed to pack up and leave for Kawaguchiko Station to catch the shuttle bus to the starting point of the Yoshidaguchi climbing trail. However, as we dilly-dallied over the use of toilets, Pei Ling, Sharon and I each got a yellow card from Captain Fujisan for being late.
Back (L-R): Pei Ling, Jayne Aw, Weng, Chiew Hong, Yee Choi (Team Lead), Alexis, ChooTS, PK Chan.
Front: WongFK, Sharon Tan, KC, Gary Chin.
The official climbing season for Fujisan is from July to August as the mountain is free of snow and mountain huts are opened for business. Climbing outside the official season is rather dangerous without alpine climbing experience and equipment.
Fujisan is divided into 10 stations with 1st station at the foot and 10th at the summit. There are four 5th stations on different sides of the mountains, from where climbers usually start their ascent to the summit. Bus services are available from all sides to the 5th stations via Kawaguchiko, Subashiri, Gotemba or Fujinomiya.
Captain Fujisan, however, took us through a rarely used route by today’s trekkers via the Yoshidaguchi climbing trail, which is a traditional pilgrimage route with the starting point at the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine, a sacred place for the Fujisan faith.
There are more than one thousand Fuji Sengen Shrines across Japan, dedicated to Princess Konohanasakuya, the Shinto deity Fujisan. In the past, pilgrims approaching the mountain from the north side would commence their ascent from this shrine, but most of today's hikers opt for a bus or car ride to the 5th station which is halfway up the mountain, and start to climb from there.
A group photo in front of Sengen Shrine just before the actual start of ascent to the peak of Mount Fuji
From the shrine, it took us 3 hours to reach 1st station, passing through an undulating and shaded forest that is lined with predominantly old pine trees. In between we had to cross some public roads that cut through part of the forest. About 30 minutes before reaching 1st station, we came across a place that is called Umagaeshi（马返）(literary it means Horse Return), where historically horses were used to transport people and things up to Fujisan but could go no further than this point. But for us, we had no horse and no porters. So we had to carry our week-long clothing and stuff from the shrine to here, and thereafter up and down Fujisan. Unlike in Nepal where porters are cheap and plenty, it’s kind of hard to get a Japanese porter, if ever there’s any.
Along the journey, we met 3 Japanese trekkers, one of whom could speak English and was explaining to us the history of Fujisan climbing. Conversing with him in English, he was impressed that Malaysian could speak fluent English. It was a great honor for one who had climbed Fujisan 33 times in one’s lifetime as commemorated by the stone monuments erected along the trail, for one had to be healthy, physically fit and rich to complete such ritual in the ancient time.
A learned Japanese trekker explaining the history of climbing up Fujisan. In the photo... KC and Pei Ling.
Trekking from 1st station to 5th station took us another 2.5 hours. Thereafter it was a steep climb going through slabs of stones and rocks all the way up to 8th station on a barren volcanic surface. The elite group that was led by Captain Fujisan was dashing all the way towards 8th station to book a sleeping place at the hut, while the slower group that I was in, was stopping at most of the station huts for a rest and to buy some hot drinks. All in all it took the elite group about 10 hours to reach 8th station (which could be faster had they not waited for us), while the slower group in a commendable 11 hours.
Securing a place to sleep in the hut seemed a great deal as 8th station was packed with trekkers. Basically one was given a space big enough to lay a sleeping bag with shoulder touching each other’s. The twelve of us were put in a small compartment with Sharon and KC forming the dividing line between the guys and the ladies, as I was teasing them the Butterfly Lovers (梁山伯与祝英台)……..
Simple dinner and putting up a night in a warmth accommodation in one of the huts at Station 8 of Fujisan
Day 4 – Attempt to Fujisan Summit
Day 4 – Attempt to Fujisan Summit
After a brief rest, we got up at 1 am to get ready for the summit to Fujisan at 1.30 am. Strong wind was howling outside the hut. As I walked towards the external toilet, the wind was splashing sands into my eyes that caused discomfort. It was almost impossible to walk under such condition unless one had glasses or goggles to protect the eyes. In view of the perilous condition, the hut proprietor raised his Ultraman hand sign and asked us to wait till later time. So we went back to the hut and snuggled into the sleeping bags to continue with our slumber.
KC got up at 4.30 am to check the sunrise. Still no improvement in the weather as it was raining cats and dogs. Finally Captain Fujisan declared that we had to surrender to Nature and make our way down to 5th station after breakfast at 7.20 am.
Never underestimate the summer rain of Japan for it could be as heavy and “cheong hei” as those monsoon rains back in Malaysia. I was soaking wet while descending from 8th to 5th station. The cheapo poncho didn’t help at all. In fact it was flapping like a butterfly under the strong wind. For once I thanked my 9kg backpack for anchoring my movement under the howling wind, but regretted for swapping my heavy rain coat with the lighter poncho.
Despite the rain, descending to 5th station was a breeze and took us about 2 hours. The trail was a different route from where we had ascended the previous day. Rain continued to pour at 5th station. After a bowl of ramen for my late breakfast, we took a bus back to Kawaguchiko Station and changed to another bus to Gotemba (御殿場市,), where we put up a night. This was the place where we were supposed to descend had we been able to reach Fujisan summit that morning.
After checking into Gotemba Station Hotel in the afternoon, we took a free shuttle bus to Gotemba Premium Outlets which is the largest mall in Japan with some 210 outlets of internationally known brands of fashion, sports, food, household goods and electronics that range from everyday items to luxury goods. The prices are reasonable on average than what you would find at regular retail shops in Japan.
To be continued ...
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Photos in this posting are extracted from Weng's and Jayne Aw's photo albums.
Written by Jayne Aw
Posted by KC