Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Reaching for the Heavens: Mt. Fuji

Get ready to make a difference. How, you ask? By spending your time reading my blog... And yet today I will not be talking about running, but climbing.

Mt. Fuji plans are in the works. Fuji is the largest mountain in Japan, and it's more often seen as a touristy mountain than a climber's challenge - clear cut path, and no real "climbing" per se. Fuji is more popular as "I'm in Japan, I should climb Mt. Fuji once just to say I did it." Ironically, this is the mindset of the typical Japanese citizen as well. That's not to say many people don't climb Fuji more than once - they do - but usually it's a once-in-a-lifetime event, for both Japanese and foreigner alike.

Map of Mt. Fuji

And more often than not, Fuji is an excellent hang-out. People come from all over the world to cllimb, and the trails are a source of international conversation the world has never seen before. Now, I know there are infinite sources of information online for climbing Fuji, but there isn't too much about climbing in the off-season.

The official climbing season for Fuji is from July to August, although many people climb in June and September as well. The problem with September and the winter months is two-fold: one, after August, you risk the peak being covered with ice or snow, as the temperature decreases rapidly; two, the "stations" along the trails are usually closed, and the buses leading from the major train stations are either shut down or on severely reduced service.

I'm planning to climb September 23rd-25th, a holiday weekend in Japan (and the only feasible option unless I want to do it on a two day weekend... less stressful this way). Eikaiwa teachers take note of that date - you should all have holidays. When is the best time to climb? Probably in July before the major crowds settle in. It is incredibly hot at the bottom, but you lose forty degrees when you reach the summit, so no worries about temperature. During Obon holiday in mid-August the trails are insanely crowded, with a non-stop line to the peak of Fuji. DO NOT TRAVEL TO FUJI DURING OBON UNLESS YOU WANT IT TO TAKE ALL DAY.

Off-season information

Plan your travel - maybe take the Shinkansen into Tokyo for the night (depending on how far you're traveling, it may be cheaper to take a roundtrip to Tokyo instead of directly to Fuji station - special prices for distances over 600 km). You need the Shinkansen to get into the general vicinity of Fuji. A bus to take to the 5th station area of Fuji - the stations are arranged from 5-10 on Mt. Fuji, the 5th being the base station and the 10th being the summit. A ryokan or some place to sleep once you're finished - you will be tired, I don't care how experienced a climber you are.

Well, I'm giving too much travel advice here. I was very interested to see that Hiroshima was offering screenings of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada in one of its theaters recently. This movie was a low-budget independent film that was in limited release in the United States. And yet somehow it made it's way to Hiroshima within a few months. Impressive. Maybe more indie films will crop up around here. Superman is also in theaters.

One useful theater to visit if you don't want to go all the way into Hiroshima is inside Diamond City, a shopping center just east of Hiroshima - take the Sanyo line, first stop after Hiroshima. Features a full movie theater and shopping.

One thing that has occurred to me about food in Japan is the lack of variety in smaller towns. I was used to a very broad palate, but now I'm limited to fish or meat with rice, and the occasional pizza. It just doesn't satisfy. I need Mexican, Italian, French, steak, complete sandwiches (although 7-11 is nicer, a 7-11 sandwich is still a 7-11 sandwich)... I'm sure people would not have a problem with this in larger cities like Hiroshima, Osaka, especially Tokyo, but there are so many small towns in Japan, and I don't think they offer much variety.

Over the course of the next several months I'll be looking at other job options for those foreigners who want to stay in Japan. First of all, I recommend you do sign up with one of the major eikaiwa (AEON, GEOS, ECC, NOVA) if you don't have any connections in Japan. They arrange everything for you, and it makes your transition time so much easier. But after a year if you've decided the eikaiwa route is not for you, I'll be telling you about other options:

- Voice acting
- Modeling
- TV or film extra work
- Translator
- Travel agent
- Ski instructor
- Sales (again, back to the business route)

How shall I end it tonight? In that book that is my memory, on the first page of the chapter that is the day when I first met you, appear the words: here begins a new life... Stand tall.

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