By: Wynne Benti
Night on Mt. Fuji - Private Trip
In July of 1986, I had the opportunity of visiting Japan on a business trip. For three weeks, I commuted from my hotel room in Tokyo to the printing presses of Dal Nippon, the largest printer in the world. Each day would begin with a western style breakfast in the dining room of the old Fairmont Hotel, facing the hotels peaceful Japanese garden and stream. Around nine in the morning, our print rep, Kosawa, would pick me up in one of Dal Nippon's black Nissan 'Sovereigns', a cross between a 1971 280 Mercedes and a '57 Rambler. We would sit on the white lace-covered back seats, while our white gloved chauffeur would navigate the twisting, literally nameless streets of the city, streets that confuse even resident Tokyo tax drivers. Once at the factory, I would spend the entire day with Kosawa and his young assistant Nakimoto, leafing through sixteen page signatures of color proofs, circling black specs and matching printing ink colors to actual fabric colors. Kosawa would send out for sushi (like we do for pizza) and a kimonoed delivery boy would bring our lunch in lacquered bowls. Around four in the afternoon, Kosawa would take me back to my hotel where I would have dinner and sleep a few hours before returning to the presses around ten at night. With this hectic schedule, the possibility of having one day to climb Mt. Fuji seemed very remote.
The moment I had arrived in Tokyo, my greatest yen (no pun intended!) was to walk the trail to the top of Mt. Fuji (class one, 12,850'), a ritual performed by thousands of people every year. My first night in Tokyo, Kosawa and his production manager, Nakamichi took me to a tempura bar, where I told them of my aspiration to join the ranks of the international climbing set. Nakamichi was horrified that I would want to climb Mt. Fuji at all, especially alone and at the height of the rainy season. He pleaded with me over many bottles of Sapporo, "The volcanic soil is very wet this time of year and it slides. Three people were just killed last week in a rainstorm when the soil became loose and brought a huge log rolling down on them while they were climbing. I have climbed many mountains in Japan, but I have never climbed Mt. Fuji."
So there I was, seated at the tempura bar drinking Sapporo, while typhoon rains enveloped the neon glowing Tokyo streets outside. My Japanese hosts spent much of the evening attempting to convince me to forget climbing that gnarly class one peak. Three days left on the press before boarding my flight back to Los Angeles. The morning of the second to last day, Kosawa called me at my hotel to tell me that they were running into problems with the last catalog cover and would not be able to get on press until the following morning. He said to me in a quiet voice, "Now, you can climb Mt. Fuji. Be careful to stay on the trail. The forests are thick and you can easily get lost. I don't want to call a helicopter rescue."
The last bus, during the summer, leaves Tokyo Station at 7pm and arrives at the 5th Station (6,000') on Mt. Fuji at 10pm. The cost for the bus at the time was $15, one way, advance reservations advised. There are numerous gift shops and restaurants at the 5th station, and some were open at 10pm. From the 5th station, the trail winds up loose volcanic rock and sand and is brightly lighted, most of the way, by flood lamps at each of the four rest stations. At any one of the stations, one can pay $20. for one night's accommodations and a "Japanese bed" (a futon with a thick polyester comforter) which also includes dinner and breakfast. For many Japanese, this is the most comfortable and preferred way of making the ascent.
There were quite a few groups climbing the mountain when I was there. By the time I had reached the eighth station, about a mile below the summit, a typhoon had rolled in, with high winds and torrential rains. Everyone seemed to have taken refuge in one of the stations. After the eighth station it was completely black. Just me, my pocket flashlight, my gortex rain parka end my Calvin Kleins, winding up the slippery steep trail in total darkness. As I began seriously wondering if I hod made the best decision to go on, I saw the faint flicker of a light ahead. I caught up with the last people on the mountain, a father and his son, determined to watch the sunrise from the peak. They didn't speak English. I spoke no Japanese (except "Konichiwa," "Rappongi" and "poket kychudento"-pocket flashlight), but together, the three of us reached the summit at two in the morning in the height of the storm.
On top of Fuji, are several "sleeping stations." The doors of only one station were open. We walked into the dark entry and were greeted by a very old man. He spoke with the father and they both looked at me. The old men asked, "Solo? "Yes," I replied. They both looked at each other and shook their heads. "Japanese bed, twenty dollars," the old man said. While the wind howled wildly outside, he led us up to a sleeping loft and our beds, futons with thick dacron covers. I removed my wet clothes, putting them next to the wood burning stove in the kitchen to dry.
At 4:30 everyone was up to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, storm clouds, rain and fog made visibility beyond five feet, impossible. Two guys from Minnesota stopped by the hut for some noodles and I joined them on the walk back down to the 5th station. When we returned to the fifth station, we learned that an American man had been blown off the mountain by a gust of wind similar to wind shear, apparently a common weather phenomenon on Fuji.
Every day during the climbing season, there are several busses that leave the 5th station on Fuji end return to Tokyo Station. There is also the option of train, but one must take a bus down to the train station. The direct bus service was more convenient and reasonably priced. An important thing to remember is that the bus service runs only during the climbing season, from the first week of July to about the last week of August. Once I arrived back at Tokyo Station, I simply took the subway back to my hotel. It was a great experience using public transportation to do peak climbing! I highly recommend a climb of Mt. Fuji via this mode of transportation on your next trip to Japan!
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