Some smart dude once remarked that mountains have several faces. This fact is most definitely true for Mt. Fuji.
That is, of course, if by "having different faces" you mean "Jekyl-and-Hyde-esque Multiple Personality Psychosis", that is.
Let's call them "Fuji-San", "Fooge" and "Let's The Mt. Fuji Experience Having (tm)"
Or, for clarity: "Natural Beauty", "My Friends An I Disturbed The Wa Alot" and "Really? You Sell Gatorade and Hot Soup a kilometre up the mountain? Whaa..!?! For HOW MUCH?!"
Fuji-san / 富士山
The first face of Mt. Fuji is the one that everyone knows. Hailed by the Japanese as "Fuji-san", you can read about this Mt. Fuji in guidebooks, see glorious snow-capped pictures on postcards, and generally appreciate Fuji-san for what it is: a beautiful intersection of beauty and the awesome forces at work behind it. It's also really bloody high.
Fuji-san rises to 3776 metres above sea level, and can be seen from miles around - including from my classroom window on a good day. Much like sushi, shinkansen (bullet trains) and tentacle-schoolgirl-demon porn, Fuji-san is a symbol of Japan to people all over the world.
This is a picture that I did not take, taken at a time at which I did not climb, from a place I did not visit. But it has the same mountain in the picture.
The fact that you can climb Mt. Fuji without any special hiking gear beyond a desire for punishment is less well known outside of Japan, but it is a quintessentially Japanese thing to do. Of course the Japanese love to do things "by the book", so there is a specific designated "climbing season" during July and August. Suggest climbing on a weekend outside this, and well... people worry that you might die in a flash snowstorm on the first weekend of September.
According to legend (ie. one of my students), Mt. Fuji is one of the many gods of Japan. Climbing is supposed to be a purifying experience, whereby the climber is ... um... made clean by virtue of the effort expended. Personally, I was actually made dirtier and sweatier, but I can say that I felt much better about being sweaty and dirty than I usually do when in that state.
In any case, the apex of the climbing experience is seeing the sunrise from the top of the mountain.
And my oh my...what a sight it is.
Maybe it's the extra UV rays that do the purification.
Quite possibly the most beautiful and glorious sunrise I have ever seen in my life. It's all about perspective, I suppose. There's nothing out there quite like hiking yourself above the clouds just to enjoy the view.
The face of Fuji that I saw through my eyes was considerably different than the reality that most people experience, expect or fear. For myself and four earstwhile adventurers, "Fooge" (it rhymes with "Huge" or "Splooge") begins both much lower in elevation. In fact, the Fooge experience begins right down near sea level, where you have a wonderful chance to collect the supplies that are needed to climb a mountain. Shopping is always a bit wacky in Tokyo, and actually shopping for specific and essential goods adds a whole new layer of crazy to the usual plan of "go some place and wander until you find something that amuses you as much as the thing you had originally planned to buy".
For example, the way you say "bottled oxygen" in Japanese is to hold your hand in front of your face with your fingers apart and pant heavily into your palm until the sales clerk clues in. The sales clerks at the Tokyu Hands department store can have a hard time with Foreigner Charades (aka "Survival Japanese") because...along with Hiking/Sports Oxygen packs, Tokyo Hands sells just about everything else on earth. Unfortunately, a significant percentage of the people on earth (eg, all the people in Japan) know this.
When you climb Fooge, (after properly equipping yourself with 12kg of shit to haul up there), you can head for the mountain. After a lovely bus ride takes you to base of the mountain, the next step is to do absolutely nothing, as the bus barely slows down at the base, and keeps going up...up...halfway up the mountain. Much like installing cable cars and pirate ships to help people enjoy the lovely scenery in Hakone, the Japanese have no problem combining authentic natural experiences with authentically paved roads. The view along the way was rather nice, but the last chance at sleep was too tempting for most to pass up.
After about two hours, the bus arrived at a series of gift shops and restaurants that serve as the base camp. These were also thoughtfully closed. WTF?
Anyway, if you are ever climbing Fooge and the base camp restaurants are closed, do NOT purchase either of the following room temperature foods in the gift shop:
1) Strange Bitter Shit that looks like Stew. It's not stew. It's strange, bitter and tastes like shit.
2) Apricots that taste really good, but will drastically shorten the time between bathroom breaks for two of your team members.
We set off from base camp around 9 pm, thinking that we'd make our way leisurely to the top for sunrise at around 4:30. You see, if you want to make it to the top of the mountain by sunrise, you have to climb at night. Thus, armed with headlamps, peanut butter sandwiches, walking sticks and a lot of potty humour, we set off confidently into the wild black yonder...
...and promptly got lost.
In a turn of events that in no way indicates our collective intellect, we managed to get confused and lose our way at the first fork in the road. It wasn't until we'd accosted some very sweaty and very tired people heading the opposite direction that we could continue in the knowledge that we were, indeed, headed for the top of the mountain.
The way up looked something like this...
Beautiful, isn't it?
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(TO BE CONTINUED)