Japan and Mount Fuji
12-25 July 2007
by Bill Finch

While making summer hiking plans in May, my thoughts turned to Japan where daughter, Jane lives. Wouldn't it be fun to climb Mount Fuji with Jane? We had climbed Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 in 1999. I figured that she was in good shape having just earned a black belt in Kendo. I planned to test my fitness by climbing Mount Kaweah in June. I made a quick call on Skype to Jane who confirmed I would be welcome to visit in July and that she would be interested in a climb of Fuji San. Once I had the green light, I quickly went on line and made flight reservations.

Since a lot of my hiking clothes are pretty ratty, I decided I had better equip myself with some duds that would not humiliate Jane. I went online and ordered convertible pants, long sleeved shirts, and a new fleece jacket. I got a couple of polyester undershirts locally and figured I was all set.

12 July 2007

Soon the day of the flight arrived and Karen drove me to Fresno Air Terminal, just a few miles from our home. The flight to LA was quick and smooth and the transfer to the American Airlines 777 was painless. As I watched our progress on the screen in front of me and was surprised at how far north we flew over California. Finally we were over the Pacific. I dozed off and on, waking up once while one of the Aleutian Islands was in view.

13 July 2007

The plane landed at Narita International north of Tokyo after nine or so hours in the air. It was soggy over Japan since a rare summer typhoon was on its way. Customs and immigration was a breeze and soon I was greeted by Jane who had purchased bus tickets for our trip to Tokorozawa, a suburb of Tokyo. We had about five minutes to get to the bus from the baggage area and we made it with a few minutes to spare.

The trip from the airport began through farm country which became ever more developed as we approached Tokyo. Soon we were close enough to the city for our bus to slow to a crawl. The 40 mile trip took about two and a half hours which gave us a chance to see from a distance some of the major districts of the city that we would be visiting later. At Tokorozawa, we transferred to a local train and arrived at the Higashi Murayama station a few minutes later. Higashi Murayama is the suburb of Tokyo where Jane lives with her husband, Toshio. We navigated the short walk to Jane's seventh floor apartment where we were loudly greeted by her cats, Oto and Leo.

As soon as I was shown my bed, I took a shower and went to sleep. Toshio arrived home from a business trip to Korea and Taiwan at about two the next morning. Tosh gave us a brief description of his trip, distributed souvenirs, and I went back to bed.

14 July 2007

I woke up the next morning to dark skies and rain. Jane and I took out umbrellas and went shopping in Higashi Murayama. I got some yen at the post office and we found groceries for lunch. I love grocery stores in Japan. The variety of fresh foods is mind boggling and everything in the store sparkles. Jane has learned some Japanese recipes and we enjoyed ginger shredded pork, eggplant, daikon salad, and the ever present rice. We heard a commotion on the street below the apartment and saw a parade coming toward us. It was led by two dozen people pulling a giant taiko drum which was followed by two shrine floats. Much to our delight, one of the drummers invited Jane and me to beat the huge drum. After the parade passed we watched sumo on TV. It turns out that Jane is quite a sumo fan and knows the faces, names, ranks, and records of most of the major wrestlers. Considering how little I know about the sport, it was fun to watch, even though the matches seemed very short most of the time.

One of Jane and Toshio's traditions is to go out to dinner the first day he returns from a trip. They chose a sushi restaurant and since it was still raining, we took a taxi there. The sushi was excellent and in addition to kinds of sashimi I have tried in the past, I had sea urchin. Its bright orange color was a little unsettling but had a very mild flavor. Coincidentally, an English student of Jane's was at the restaurant with her husband and two teenage children so we greeted them on our way out.

15 July 2007

On Sunday, Tosh was still recovering from his trip and decided not to join us for lunch with his aunt and cousins. They chose a fancy restaurant run by the original Iron Chef Japan in Akasaka, the governmental center in central Tokyo. We enjoyed a delicious ten course meal in perfect surroundings. After dinner we drove by several government buildings, down several of the major streets of the Ginza shopping district, and stopped at a temple and pagoda in Asakusa. A narrow street flanked by souvenir shops led up to the temple gate. The huge red lantern hanging from the gate was partially collapsed in case winds from the coming typhoon picked up. We wafted incense smoke over our bodies for long life and good health and proceeded to the temple. We spent 100 on our fortunes which were good except for Jane's. She tied her bad fortune to one of the strings provided for them and I bought her another which turned out much more favorable. After praying at the temple we bid farewell to our hosts at Ueno train station and returned home.

16 July 2007

Tosh didn't have to go to work since Monday was a holiday and he decided to rest from his recent trip. Since it had quit raining, Jane decided it was a good day to do laundry. As I was hanging out clothes on the balcony of her apartment, the building began to shake, up and down at first and then side to side. Jane yelled, "Earthquake!" and I headed for a door jam for protection. The epicenter was in nearby Niigata prefecture. The quake had a magnitude of about seven, caused several deaths, destroyed more than 1000 buildings, and damaged Japan's largest nuclear power plant. I was glad the epicenter hadn't been closer. After the excitement, Jane and I took the train to Kawagoe also known as "Little Edo" because it resembles Tokyo (formerly known as Edo) of the past. We visited one of the fireproof warehouses left over from the days when Kawagoe carried on major commerce with nearby Edo.

We returned to Higashi Murayama where we bought tako (octopus) at the grocery store. For dinner, Jane prepared tako yaki, balls of batter with tako inside. She let me try my hand at it and I managed to produce some that looked pretty good. All of them tasted delicious.

17 July 2007

It continued drizzling on Tuesday. We attended Jane's Japanese language class at the Higashi Murayama town center where several tutors attempted to teach me some Japanese. We joined two of the tutors, Sadao Kase and Takako Morita for lunch. We accepted an invitation from Mrs. Morita to a traditional tea ceremony the next Sunday. In the afternoon, we visited Akihabara, the electronics quarter of Tokyo. On one of the eight floors of the largest electronics store, we found one aisle completely devoted to computer mice. Another floor featured appliances where I found a perfect dishwasher for the Japanese kitchen. Even though we spent the entire afternoon in the store, we couldn't completely explore it.

18 July 2007

Jane had to teach an English class in the afternoon, so we jumped on the train and went to Tokorozawa, a town with better shopping than Higashi Murayama. I spent several hours buying gifts and souvenirs at a couple of 100 stores (think Dollar Tree). Game arcades were mixed in with shops and since school was out, they were filled with students. As I was returning to the station, I did a double take as I walked by a "corander" stand. The Japanese pronunciation of this word is as close as you can get to colander. I had some time until the next train arrived so I took a photo from the bridge over the tracks showing an incoming train. When I returned to Higashi Murayama, I took a closer look at a sign next to construction site by the station. The city was gaining a new skyscraper which will really change the look and feel of that part of town.

19 July 2007

Finally, the day we had been talking about arrived. It was time to make our way to the base of Mount Fuji or Fuji San. We took several trains through the city and finally we were on one that clearly was traveling through the countryside. At Oyama, we boarded a specially decorated train which took us to the end of the rails at Kawaguchiko. From there, we boarded Fuji Subaru Bus line which took us to the Fifth Stage on the north flank of the mountain. We prayed for a safe trip at the Komitake Shrine, looked a map of our trip, and started up the trail. At first we hiked through forest until we hit tree line. As the trees thinned out, we could see part way down the mountain to the persistent cloud layer below. We passed several huts until we reached mid Seventh Stage where we asked if they had room for two more guests. Dinner and a futon in one of the dorms cost us 7500 each. The guys who ran the hut were very nice. At his request, Jane gave the guy who "spoke" English several phrases to help him deal with English speakers. He dutifully wrote the phrases into a book so he could remember them for future guests. We went to sleep in the dorm as soon as the sun set.

20 July 2007

We slept through the alarm we set on our watches. Eventually, at about half past two, we were awakened by all the pilgrims around us quietly dressing and packing for the ascent to the summit. Tradition calls for watching the sun rise at the summit of Fuji, so we hustled up the trail in the dark. We had just one flashlight and the section immediately above our hut turned out to be the most difficult stretch of the route even involving a little class two climbing. As morning approached, the climb became gentler and the early light of dawn made the hike easier. We enjoyed sunrise just a few feet below the summit.

A few moments after we passed through the gate, we were taking photos on the summit. I posed by an important shrine and Jane pointed to our location on a map of the summit. We moved toward the impressive crater and examined some of the impressive volcanic ejecta on the rim. We decided to walk around the crater and soon we arrived at the post office where we sent letters home. We walked to the Meteorological Observatory which is the high point of the mountain. Jane was a little hesitant to descend the snow field from the observatory but managed to make it just fine. We passed a bronze model of the mountain and took a brunch break after completing our circumnavigation of the rim.

It was time to make our descent and as we headed to the "down" trail, we passed one of the many resupply tractors, this one bringing a new Coke machine to the summit. We passed several more of these vehicles on the way down. We arrived at the trailhead in midafternoon, had some lunch and waited for the bus. We returned to the train station on the Fuji Subaru Bus and had a pleasant return home via the ever efficient Japanese rail system.

21 July 2007

We slept in on this Saturday and decided to go out for lunch. Tosh and Jane chose a soba noodle restaurant where we enjoyed a few dozen different flavors. I love Japanese cuisine.

After lunch, we strolled through the neighborhood where Jane and Toshio had their first apartment. Our first stop was a Shinto shrine. I made an offering and said a prayer at the shrine. Jane and Tosh were hungry for dessert so each of them got a fish shaped waffle filled with bean paste. Yummy. We continued up the street, past a bento box shop and many others until we arrived at a large shopping center in the heart of the shopping district. We picked up a few things on the grocery level where the selection of beers was mind boggling. Jane had to show me the first 100 store she visited after arriving in Japan. It was on the fourth floor of the building. I loaded up on more souvenirs. While in the checkout line I discovered for the first time I was not the center of attention. Instead, everyone in the store was looking at a willowy, Japanese male, more than six feet tall in his high-heels, wearing boy shorts (like a black Speedo with silver-dollar-sized gold polka dots) a fuzzy bolero sweater over a fetching pink turtleneck that allowed a bare midriff, mid-length, red gelled hair, and a streaky fake tan. Young Japanese like to wear costumes at times, but this getup was unique, and that's saying something for a city of 30 million.

As we walked to the train station, we passed by a yaki stand where the girls posed for us. Tosh was getting hungry, so we stopped at a McDonalds where he fueled up. At the other end of the train ride, we found ourselves in the midst of a festival. There was dancing around the Higashi Murayama town square and as we worked our way toward booths on the other side of the square, Jane recognized members of her Kendo Dojo who gave her roasted ears of corn from their stand. Jane and I stopped by a bakery and picked up sandwiches for dinner.

22 July 2007

Since it was Sunday, we slept through breakfast time. Jane decided it would be a good day to get bento boxes for lunch. We biked to her favorite bento box shop and Jane put together three delightful lunches.

A couple of hours later, we took the train to Seibuland, an amusement park near the home of the Moritas. Mrs. Morita invited us to a tea ceremony at her home. After we left the train station we had a short uphill walk and we soon realized that Summer had finally arrived. It was very hot and humid but soon Mrs. Morita waved at us from across the street led us to her air conditioned home where we were able to cool off. Joining the Moritas and us were Mr. and Mrs. Komura. The Komuras had lived in the US for several years and spoke good English. The tea ceremony was held in a room that the Moritas set aside just for that purpose. One of Mrs. Morita's hobbies was teaching the tea ceremony. Her movements were especially graceful and she taught us the procedure for drinking the tea. Each guest at the ceremony was served individually. After a few of us were served, she asked Jane to make tea. Jane got to serve several of us. We didn't expect it, but dinner followed the tea ceremony. It was a typical Japanese meal with many different dishes and many delicious flavors.

After dinner, Mrs. Morita showed us around her home, pointing out several special features including a stove in the floor of her kitchen and a toilet seat that does everything but whistle Dixie. Come to think of it, the toilet seat could probably be programmed to do that, too. She also had a special room set aside for meditation.

23 July 2007

In the morning, Jane and I worked on filling out applications. Toshio has a dream of working for a major league baseball team in the US, so we got together the information to sponsor him for a green card. In the afternoon, one of Janes's Japanese teachers who is also Jane's English student, drove us to the Tamarokuto Science Center. Fukutome-san negotiated the narrow streets with ease, even though we were on the wrong side of the road the whole time. After an enjoyable afternoon at the hands-on exhibits, we found the Surprise Donkey Restaurant where Jane and Fukutome-san enjoyed traditional fare. I, however, decided to go out on a limb and order a "young green leaf barley yodel drink." I'm sure it was good for me, but Jane took one sniff of it and refused to even try a taste.

24 July 2007

The change in the weather brought clear skies. That morning, we were able to see Mt Fuji from Jane's balcony. It was my last full day in Japan and we decided to visit the Tokyo National Museum. We focused on the anthropology exhibits and had an enjoyable day of it. I discovered another marvel of Japanese innovation in one of the restrooms. It was an automatic hand basin which contained soap dispenser, water faucet, and hand dryer all in one.

As we slowly walked toward the train station, I noticed a tee-shirt that I wanted to photograph so I asked Jane to sit near the guy wearing it so I would have an excuse to take the picture. The English on the shirt was typical of many shirts produced in Japan. "Pizza of Death" is not exactly what I would put on a shirt. I took photos of a couple of more shirts to illustrate other writing that is not easy to understand. Perhaps someone could figure out why "east is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet" if they interviewed the people who printed these shirts.

25 July 2007

It was my last day in Japan and I spent most of it traveling. Jane and I took the train from Higashi Murayama to Tokorozawa where she bought me a bus ticket to Narita Airport. Even though the airport is only 40 miles away, it took two hours to get there. I got to see a lot of Tokyo on the way. Crossing the International Date Line allowed me to arrive in Los Angeles home three hours before I started my flight at Narita.

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21 January 2008