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Mount Fuji: Part 1 of 3


Read about my Fuji experience in greater detail: Part One, Part Two and Part Three.

I was in Shibuya: the busy entertainment district of Shibuya-ku, one of the centrally located wards of Tokyo. I had been telling a friend that climbing Mount Fuji had long been a goal of mine when he mentioned the climbing season for Fuji-san was coming to a close. (Stations, ten of which are littered along the Fuji ascending trail, and rangers are only active from July to late August). Back in the States, I (probably laughingly) consider myself a bit of an outdoor enthusiast, but was without any form of hiking or camping gear. Yet, I knew, there walking alongside a train station in Asia’s busiest city, that that moment was so very likely my only opportunity in my entire life to try to climb Mount Fuji.

My decision was made. The new friend with whom I was walking immediately tried to convince me otherwise, certainly unsure of my ability to even reach Fuji, let alone scale the 13,000 foot dormant stratovolcano alone. It was absolutely true; I knew nothing of navigating to Fuji, hours from Tokyo, Japan’s largest city. To be honest, I had a moment of doubt, as he told me of the wind and cold and distance. Just a moment though. He gave me directions and sent me on my way.

I immediately knew it was the right decision. I saw the eyes of someone I had met questioning where I was going. In as overdramatic a voice as I could muster, I told her, “I must leave as I am climbing Mt Fuji.” She laughed. I left.

I reentered Shibuya Station, only the second time I had been in any train station outside of the continental United States. I had to find a subway to Shinjuku, boasting some two million passengers daily (New York City’s Grand Central Terminal claims just some 125,000 a day and Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, despite being one of the largest train stations in the United States, lags behind even more). Anyone who has made that trip from Shibuya to Shinjuku knows it isn’t terribly difficult, larger destinations, like Shinjuku, are even written in the Latin alphabet, rather than Japanese characters (Kanji symbols or the alphabets of Hiragana and Katakana).

So I got to Shinjuku. Yeah, pretty big. Then I only had to get out.

Let me give you a bit of a novice’s description of the Tokyo mass transit system. Absurdly massive. Think nearly 20 metro lines finding 212 stations littered throughout Tokyo and beyond (Philadelphia has less than 50 stops served by two subway lines). This, of course, excludes rail lines and buses. Shinjuku must have a hundred exits alone.

If you’re purchasing an individual ride (rather than long term passes), you put money in a machine according to the trip you’re intending to take and receive a ticket. At your final destination, you slide your ticket into the turnstile as you exit, only opening the gate if you’ve paid the correct fare.

Now, I learned later that there are signs with the Arabic numerals I can read, showing the correct fare totals and there are fare adjustment machines if you made a transfer or even a mistake. But I had only been on a train in Tokyo once before. I was on my own, and perhaps a bit overwhelmed.

Anyway, I must have paid the wrong fare and when I entered my ticket into the turnstile, a horn went off, the turnstile locked and I panicked. I hopped the turnstile and walked away as quickly yet casually as I could. This was wrong. I regret doing this, especially when I think of the potential consequences for what was probably a small 10 yen mistake. The chaos of Shinjuku saved me. I moved quickly and used the first exit I saw.

It was raining, and I began to think I had made a mistake. I was still in Tokyo, yet by many people’s standards I was lost. Those thoughts were quickly silenced. I had said I was going to climb Mount Fuji and that was what I would do.

I found a broken, pink-handled umbrella near a trash receptacle. I opened it as best as a broken, pink-handled umbrella found near a trash receptacle can be opened and started flagging people down trying to find a bus station. What Japanese I knew was not fashioned for this type of conversation, and, to my pleasant surprise (as someone who fears cultural globalization going too far might appreciate), I struggled to find someone who spoke enough English to know what I needed to find.

Finally an elderly man with a cigarette in his mouth pointed with a small, sturdy arm and I followed his outstretched hands to what was the station for which I was seeking.

With “Fuji-san” and “noboru” (to hike or climb) the only useful Japanese words I knew for this encounter, I entered the busy bus ticket center, broken pink-handled umbrella found near trash receptacle in hand. The story continues in the next installment.

Jaa ne,

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