The sun and its fiery red-orange glow elevated slowly among the pitch black frozen horizon as a mass of around 200 Japanese pilgrims and adventurous tourists admire the Mother Nature’s stunning show in front of them. Nowhere else in the world does the sunrise have as much significance to a people than in Japan, and in no venue as iconic as the great Mount Fuji.
This is one of the few bucket list activities that I was drawn to from the moment I first caught wind of the idea while watching an EPIC TV episode of An Idiot Abroad. In this show, an uncultured and ignorant friend of a famous comedian is sent on missions around the world for the sole purpose of “changing his outlook on the world”. This particular EPIC adventure that felt like a calling to me involved this guy traveling to Japan and his ascent of the 12,388 ft (3,776 m) iconic Mount Fuji.
Now given, Karl Pilkington (the star of the show) is by no means in tip top shape nor is he the most optimistic when it comes to anything that involves effort of any kind, but he was successfully able to climb the mountain and live to tell the story.
I was intrigued and inspired. Hell, if he can do it, I can too.
Minutes after the end of the episode, I whipped my laptop out of my bag and threw it on the couch, logged on to Kayak and booked flight out to Tokyo leaving the following week.
Landing in Tokyo and getting to my hotel, I was ecstatic. My concierge tells me that she found me a spot in a group that’s taking on Mount Fuji. I said “alright cool” then went on my merry way to Tokyo Station to meet with others in the group. Everyone was nice, they were aged from kids to elders so I knew it would be a slower paced group which I didn’t mind. The tour guide walks up to me and bows which is when I realize that I was a clear outsider in the group…
Everyone only speaks Japanese…
It was an experience to say the least and I can say that even though we couldn’t communicate with each other, I was already treated as part of the family. We left Tokyo via bus early in the morning and reached the Fifth Station that is about half way up Mount Fuji close to noon. There was a series of gift shops and restaurants around here which I highly recommend you get a good snack in before hiking up. Also, it is smart to purchase a hiking stick, it’s a huge help when your legs start getting tired.
Mount Fuji, being the highest mountain in Japan at 12,338 ft (3,776 m), is divine and sacred to the Shinto and Japanese Buddhist faith, being a place thought of where the deities and ancestors are thought to reside. You will find mini-shrines throughout the mountain which signify offerings by pilgrims to their ancestors to keep them away from evil spirits.
As we escalated, we soon found ourselves marching along in a queue with a line of other groups. After about 5-6 hours of trudging up the steep mountain with some unreal views, we reach a small guesthouse where we have a small group meal before catching a few hours of sleep (in sleeping bags). At this point, it is a blistering cold 30°F (1°C) compared to the humid summer ground level of Tokyo.
The next morning around 2 am, we receive a wakeup call that it’s time to wakeup and finish the rest of the climb to catch the sunrise around 5am. We turned on our headlights, bundled up, then followed one another to the summit where we found the mass of pilgrims already waiting for their moment of zen in witnessing the sunrise.
It was absolutely magical to watch as the Japanese sun greets us with its warmth and beauty while looking down at the floating white field of clouds. The feeling of complete serenity, inner peace and strong spiritual mindfulness is something I will never forget.