Why climbing Mt.Fuji is a waste of time (according to someone who’s never done it)
So, for those of you who live under a rock and don’t know what Mt.Fuji is, here you go:
Also, ‘Mt.’ is short for ‘mountain’ – the more you know…
Mt.Fuji is – after Everest and maybe that chocolate one in Switzerland – just about the most famous mountain on earth. (sorry Disney, Splash Mountain doesn’t count) Mt.Fuji has been a much vaunted symbol of Japan for about 1,500 years and appears on everything from tourist books to mountain-shaped cookies and everywhere in between. For those of us actually in Japan, there is no escaping it. On a clear day it is visible from my balcony down town. On every other day, the relentless forces of capitalism and the rampant consumerism on which it’s based ensure it is plastered – in one form or another- everywhere you look.
The Japanese are (rightly, one might argue) proud of venerable “Fuji-san” despite having had nothing to do with its creation some 100,000 years ago and being utterly at its mercy as an active stratovolcano should it decide to “act up” all volcano-like.
(It’s last hiccup was in 1707/08, but it’s overdue)
It is however a very picturesque mountain – a solitary dome of awesome proportions in the center of the largest habitable plain of mainland Japan.
School children are made to give presentations about it (“Mt.Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan. It is 3,776 meters high. Etc ad infinitum”) and generally everyone agrees it is just a top-notch mountain.
Even the people at UNESCO have deemed it worthy not just of heritage status, but as cultural heritage (as opposed to natural) – so significant is the mountain to the Japanese.
Naturally then many people choose to climb it. The reasoning is simple enough: Mt.Fuji is good, therefore climbing Mt.Fuji is good. Moreover, when people ask you “have you climbed Mt.Fuji?” you can obligingly answer in the affirmative. Swell. Top marks. Way to go.
There is however a slight issue. Mt.Fuji is not a particularly interesting climb. Being a textbook example of a stratovolcano means it is a relatively featureless mountain, sans pointy peak, and despite some snow near the top five months a year, it is festooned with a gift shop that sells duly over-priced merchandise, and – further down – even a small ski area.
Worse than all of that though is that the iconic beauty of the mountain – visible from as much as 200km away – is utterly lost once the mountain is beneath your feet. This is why pictures of Mt.Fuji are taken in profile, usually from the shores of of one of the lakes, and cropped so as to include something to offset the mountain, as is the case here:
(This image courtesy of the author)
Climb the mountain and these images disappear as you gaze down upon the mass of gray that represents the built-up area of Eastern Kanto, including the main highway and shinkansen lines. In fact, the most remarkable thing (if you can call it that) is the fact that from the mountain one can see the sea – something of a novelty not familiar to other famous mountains. Beyond that, the mountain itself is made up of igneous rock (obviously), devoid of vegetation, and since there is no peak but rather a caldera, you don’t even get a simultaneous 360-degree vista. Nor will you have the top to yourself as the climbing season is short, regulated, and – due to the accessible nature of the climb itself – quite crowded.
So, better to buy a postcard I say, or – if you are so inclined – a leisurely trip around the lake district, stopping off at a traditional Japanese inn (ryoukan) for a dip in the equally traditional hot springs (onsen), as pictured here:
Let the masses trundle up the zig-zag trail to the top, single-file, as they disappear into insignificance in your majestic view, alone, as you indulge in the comfort of the warm water of the springs, and a nearby glass of sake. Arigatou! Thanks a million.
-A discerning hiker