Hiking Fuji-san

Although it is still a blur of mood swings and temperature changes, last weekend, I climbed Mount Fuji. On Saturday morning at 10 a.m., a group of friends and I said goodbye to Hiroshima and hit the road.

With blissfully ignorant smiles and hearts of pure determination, we arrived to Mount Fuji at 10 p.m. Unfortunately, our arrival coincided with rain clouds and a thunderstorm. After watching an ambulance drive into the trail and witnessing a small lightning show, we eventually started hiking.

Then, we hiked some more. And, we hiked higher and higher. We hiked for approximately seven hours. I thought we would never stop. But, at 5:30 a.m., we did stop. In order to catch our bus, 5:30 a.m. was our upward ascent deadline. At this time, we were a football field’s length away from the summit—possibly within range for a field goal. However, the rest of Japan’s extreme insane hikers were in a similar situation. Further, there was no glorious, golden trophy sunrise luring us to the top—only a blur of gray, icy clouds. Therefore, as a result of the standstill line to the summit, the sleet in our faces and our impending bus departure, we started the four-hour descent.

Although I did not reach the summit and I often felt like jumping off one of Fuji’s cliffs, I think, with time, I will look back on my Fuji experience and smile. Through all the climbing, sweating and shivering, there were certainly some moments of delirious happiness. For a good two hours, I think I was actually drunk on the altitude. My friends and I were constantly giggling with one another and freely chatting with the multitudes of rugged Japanese mountain men, collectively deciding that if we were to start dating a Japanese man, we would want to meet him on Mount Fuji.

Then, there was the hilarity of falling climbing down the mountain—which is arguably more difficult than climbing up it. If only I had videoed the numerous wipe-outs, I am sure they would be much more entertaining than this blog post. To top it all off, on the way to the bottom, the sun began to shine and the rain clouds disappeared.  As a result, we could finally see the beauty that surrounds Mount Fuji.

Even though it was exhausting, I am happy I attempted Fuji. Prior to moving to Japan, I read Cathy Davidson’s, “36 Views of Mount Fuji: On finding myself in Japan.” In her book, Davidson continuously emphasizes the unchanging presence of Fuji-san. Ironically, when climbing this symbol of Japanese stability and permeance, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much my life has changed. I am still me, but I am now living in Japan and climbing Mount Fuji. I may have been unbearably cold and slightly miserable, but that simple thought reminded me of how truly fortunate and blessed I am.

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Book review: 36 Views of Mount Fuji

First things first–I absolutely LOVE this book:

In “36 Views of Mount Fuji: On finding myself in Japan,” author Cathy Davidson reflects on her experiences living, teaching and traveling throughout Japan. Davidson absorbs the mysteries of a foreign culture and strives to understand its complexities. Her ability to immerse herself in Japanese language and customs while reconciling those traditions with personal emotion and perspective is reassuring for anyone preparing to live abroad.

Here are some of excerpts and images from Davidson’s memoir. The images come from a series of woodblock prints created by Katsushika Hokusai in the 17th century. Each image depicts a unique scene and perspective of Japan while also illustrating the unchanging presence of Mt. Fuji, a symbol of Japanese permanence.

“Being a foreigner, especially in a country where you are not fluent in the language, has an odd filtering effect. Ordinary, everyday language all around you becomes a kind of white noise, murmur without meaning, almost soothing in its inconsequentiality. When communication does occur, it seems to have more meaning (even when you can’t figure out exactly what’s going on).”

“One thing I’ve learned to love about Japan is its freedom from the classic Western notion that a person is a stable, unchanging, continuous entity, some essential self. In Japan, behavior and even personality depend partly on context, on the rules of a given situation.”

Lastly, did I mention that Cathy Davidson now lives in North Carolina? I think it’s a sign of good times ahead.

Book review: Under the Osakan Sun

The countdown to the Japan move began shortly after I graduated in May. Since, I have repeated my plans of teaching in Hiroshima countless times–to friends, family and even complete strangers. With each rendition of “the master plan,” I become a little bit more nervous and a lotta bit more excited.

In order to ease my anxieties, I decided to use this three-month period to learn as much about Japanese culture as possible (along with some beach trips and hanging out with friends). Naturally, I began this endeavor with a visit to my beloved campus library–Davis. After learning that I would soon be an unimportant alumna who must pay $40 for a library card, I proceeded to check-out The Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture.

Unsurprisingly, this “companion” proved to be anything but. After painfully completing the first ten-or-so pages, I decided that if I was going to learn anything about Japan, it would have to be via travel memoirs. First up–Under the Osakan Sun by Hamish Beaton.

In Under the Osakan Sun, Hamish recounts his three years of living and teaching in the southeastern part of Osaka prefecture. As a JET Program participant, he not only describes his relationships with his supervisors, students and neighbors, but also his many adventures and experiences as a gaijin, or foreigner.

Whether eating live octopus tentacles (that stick to the roof of his mouth) or participating in town festivals, Hamish certainly succeeds in absorbing Japanese culture. Unlike Hamish, I have not formally studied Japanese language. However, I hope to embody his sense of adventure and capability to adapt to a new culture.

Although Hamish did not significantly reflect on the emotional aspects of living in Japan, his vivid descriptions of the weather, grocery stores, beer gardens, bath houses and even dentist offices have given me a better idea of what to expect upon arrival. In fewer than 30 days–I’ll see if Osaka is anything like Hiroshima!