Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Three Mountains

(August 5-31, 1998)

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Thursday August 20th, 1998
I got up around seven this morning so I could walk around a bit before it was time to check out of the hotel; I don't know when I'll be visiting Mishima again, so this was the time to explore it.
The streets in the portion of Mishima I'm in are laid out in a diamond pattern for some reason, which made it a little hard to keep track of where I was in relation to the hotel. I walked to a temple I saw last night to get a better look at it. It was closed, and the main building itself was having some repair work done, but it had a small graveyard and pond area, and was nice and quiet.
I followed some backstreets in the general direction of the rail station, and found a street that had one long coy pond running beside it for about two-hundred feet. I walked along it, viewing the big fishes swimming lazily by me (expecting to get fed, I'll bet). The road itself is constructed of decorative brick, instead of asphalt; and the houses on either side of the street have decorative gates and plants along it, so the entire walk was pretty enjoyable.
At the end of the street, I turned right to head back to the street my hotel was on... and this turn took me past a large park, full of bamboo, small creeks and ponds with beautiful small bridges, and large rocks that had been smoothed down to serve as benches. A bamboo fence created a separation between the park and the road next to it, giving the park a nice private feel as if it was miles away from any town.
But it was getting up to the ten o'clock check-out time at my hotel, so I picked up a breakfast at a local bakery, then got my stuff together, checked out, and headed back to the station to start what would have to be an interesting day... for today, I intended to climb Mount Fuji -- ready or not.
I got as close to Fuji as the trains would take me, traveling from Mishima to a city called Numazu, and from there to the town of Gotemba. From Gotemba, there was only two ways to reach Fuji; on foot, or by bus. I opted for bus... maybe on the next trip I'll walk, when I have a better idea of where to walk to from the rail station. It took some time to figure out the bus schedules, but once I caught on it was clear that I had at least an hour before the right bus would arrive.
During that hour I considered how to handle one small problem... what to do with all the stuff I was carrying. I didn't know how much time it would take me to climb Fuji, and, frankly, I didn't want to carry all my stuff up with me. Even if I reached the top today and got back down, I'd be exhausted... besides, from what I was hearing from some of the other tourists it was sounding like I might be spending the night on the mountain. One option was to get a hotel room for the night, and leave my stuff there; but getting a hotel room for just my bags seemed silly. Luckily, I'm getting better at reading kanji.
You see, there are coin lockers at the Gotemba bus station... unusual ones. It took a while for me to fully understand what the instructions were saying, but it looked like they were good for up to three days, where most coin lockers in Japan are emptied every night. I asked at least three people, but I couldn't explain myself or understand them well enough to be 100% sure I had translated the information right; there were no hotels in the immediate area, however, and I sure as hell wasn't going to tote all my junk up a mountain, so I took a chance and put the majority of my stuff in the coin locker.
Having done that, I explored the area a little and got a snack, then waited for the bus. It came, I got on, and around 2:30 in the afternoon -- after a fourty-five minute ride -- I was dropped off at a small shopping/restaurant area a little up the side of Mount Fuji (I later found out this area was refered to as "station #5", mainly because, had I started from the base of the mountain, it would have been about the fifth decent place to stop on the climb). I purchased a walking stick (as did most of the climbers), grabbed an extra large container of water, and started off on the trail leading up into the forest area above the station.
Walking sticks, between 4-5 feet tall, are traditional for all religious pilgrimages. These sometimes have a bell attached, so guardian spirits will be able to keep track of the pilgrims. Modern pilgrims don't seem to carry these for long journeys much -- they can be a hassle on the trains -- but for short journeys, like climbing a single mountain, the sticks are still popular.

For those of you who don't know, "Mount" Fuji isn't a mountain... it's an underactive volcano. No, I wasn't dodging lava or anything like that, but the forest I was climbing through soon vanished; the great majority of the climb up Fuji is on rock, gravel, and sand, cooking in direct sunlight (you're above most of the clouds by this point) and freezing because of the wind. It was somewhere in this part of the climb, when I turned to take a picture of what I assumed was Gotemba far below, that I discovered my batteries were dead... and with them, my camera. What a place to have it crap out, huh?
So I had very little to distract me from the climb. The path up is very well marked, though definitely rough in some areas, and there are several small buildings along the way. Most of these buildings have food and water for sale, but they also have stamps... miniature branding irons that are used to burn a mark onto your climbing staff to show where you stopped. It costs three-hundred yen to have this done, and that's at each stop... but the more marks on your staff the more sacred it's considered since, at the end of the climb, the walking stick is the main proof that you have that you climbed at all.
I reached about the two-thirds mark of the climb around seven o'clock, where I reached a rest house full of climbers sitting down to eat; some were pulling out sleeping bags. As I waited to have my staff stamped, the proprietor of this rest house asked me where I was from and offered me a free drink while we waited (the burner was swamped with sticks to mark at that moment). After I answered his questions some, he asked if I wanted to stay there for the night; it would only cost me 1000 yen (about $10), but the place was overflowing already and five more climbers who came up after me were going to stay. So I opted to continue a little farther, as the next station was in plain site just another hundred yards or so up the mountain.
Night fell just after I walked away from the station, and a thick fog rolled in. I couldn't see more than twenty feet ahead of myself; but I could still see the lights from the next station, so I pushed on, watching the path carefully. It was now officially COLD... but I was damned if I was going to back up [of course, this sort of attitude often makes my life harder than it has to be...]. So I slowly made my way to the ghostly shape of the next station.
It was closed and empty. The lights I had followed were wired to an outside power supply, and had activated themselves.
I looked down... I really didn't want to back-track. I looked up... the next set of lights was a ways away. But my eyes were becoming accustomed to the dark, and the fog was thinning out a little, so I pressed on. It was a long, cold walk, but I reached the next station a half-hour later. But, Hey! ...at least I'm that much closer to the top!
There were two buildings here. One, a large single room affair, was full... mostly with a large group of caucasian tourists, though I don't know from where. The other was much smaller, and had room... in fact, only four other guests were staying there, so that's where I settled (I'm writing this the day after the climb). The price: 6000 yen! Guess I should have taken the first offer, huh?
In any case, it was time to eat and sleep; it had been a hard climb, and I was guarenteed to have an equally strenuous day tomorrow. I had dinner -- it was included in the stay cost -- then retired to the back where a wood shelf with a blanket served as a bed. It was uncomfortable, but I was too tired to notice; what I did notice was that I was the first guest to go to bed. I wondered why... but it wasn't a big question. Soon, I drifted into a light slumber...
...and got woke up at 2:30 AM!

On to August 21st, 1998

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