Photography by El-Branden Brazil
The majestic peak of Mount Fuji represents the Japanese like no other natural feature. This almost perfect volcanic cone stands watch over Tokyo, revealing itself often during the dry winter months.
Whilst not a giant mountain on the scale of the Himalayan peaks, it does measure 3776 meters, so whilst accessible for trekkers, it is high enough that it requires respect.
Between the months of June to September, the mountain opens to people driven to climb to its peak. Other times of year are off limits to anyone other than expert mountaineers; brave enough to face its icy slopes and fierce weather conditions.
Most summer climbers attempt the challenge during the night, so that the dawn can be witnessed from the summit. Whilst the path leading up is fairly straightforward, it is recommended that all climbers wear sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support, as well as a daypack to carry warmer clothes for the peak, where the temperatures drop enormously from the summer humidity at the base.
Anyone assuming to scale this mountain with Romantic inclinations of doing so alone, will be sorely disappointed by the caterpillar of well-rigged Japanese hikers, crawling slowly and methodically up. Many of them stay at several of the over-priced, basic lodges that mark each of the nine stages to the top.
As the climber zigzags up to the seventh stage, the path suddenly alters into a more stimulating challenge, that requires clambering up on rocks, using chains to grab on to. The air also becomes thinner and thinner, especially after passing the 3000 meter mark. Some people carry small canisters of oxygen to avert altitude sickness. However, many of these people have finished their canisters well before they were needed.
The climb, whilst popular, is not as easy as many people assume it to be. It is a real mountain that requires stamina and perseverance. There are many who find the challenge too much, and backtrack down disappointed.
The legs become stiffer and the air cooler, as the night continues on. If the weather conditions are fine, a starlit sky of such clarity accompanies, with the dull blue clouds below, illuminated by the moon. The heart pounds ferociously and the lungs and throat become parched, but those moments of silence among the stars, when rest is called upon, are unforgettable.
Once at the peak, it is a surprise to find a large lodge, offering drinks, noodles and Japanese boiled foods, called Oden. It makes for a comfortable place to linger, whilst waiting for the twinkle of dawn to manifest.
Slowly, the darkness begins to fade, as the Sun begins its ascent upon the horizon. People assemble their cameras, many shaking with the chilling, biting wind. There, breaking above the clouds, a bright shaft of light pushes out. As this happens, everyone shouts out “Banzai! Banzai!”
Very soon, the sky is dominated by the brilliant sun, which illuminates Fuji, revealing the deep crater that leads to the heart of the mountain. In the daytime, the dormant volcano transforms into an entirely different environment, appearing very similar to Mars, with its red rock.
The descent down is the hardest part of the trek. Climbers without walking sticks, find themselves slipping repeatedly on the round, sharp volcanic stones that litter the winding pathway. The Sun also bakes those foolish enough not to bring a hat or sun block.
After a somewhat monotonous climb down, the exhausted climber finally reaches the bus stop, where the coaches come to ferry city dwellers back to the concrete jungle of modern Tokyo.