Home of the Gods
Updated: May 11, 2019
Monday (月曜日) 2nd April
There is a mantra that you will often come across in tourist brochures about Japan. It goes something like this: “…the views are wonderful, you may even see Mount Fuji ON A CLEAR DAY. Well, on my trip to Japan last year I did NOT see Mount Fuji, or Fuji-san, to give Japan’s iconic mountain its proper name. This was not on. I determined to see this mythical mountain, whatever it took. So I had booked a hotel right under its shadow in a town called Mt. Fuji Station. Fujiyoshida. Two nights. So if I didn’t see the famous mountain now I don’t know when I would.
Now this involved getting an express bus from Shinjuku station in Tokyo.
The journey was said to be about 1 ½ hours. I had bought a ticket online, so I wouldn’t have any issues with queues etc. This proved to be a damned good decision, for when I got to the bus station at Shinjuku there was fervent activity, with coaches arriving all over the place bound for incomprehensible locations. Luckily you can depend on the Japanese to deliver the right bus at the right time. And this indeed happened.
I was allocated a seat number (having ejected another tourist who claimed ignorance as to the seating plan) and was soon being conveyed through Tokyo in pure comfort.
A businessman sat next to me, who ruefully admitted he was bound for the same destination but on business, not pleasure. I was able to convey my sympathy. I had never been on a Japanese motorway, and I was interested to note that we were driving on the left-hand side, like in my home country. As the terrain became more mountainous, I would keep getting glimpses of the mighty presence through the windscreen of the coach. Eventually I was deposited near my hotel, rather nervous as to how this would all pan out. I headed for a modest looking tourist office. The young woman at the reception hid her own nervousness (?) with a broad smile, and visibly relaxed when she realised that this 外国人, foreigner, could actually speak some Japanese. When she asked “do you live in Japan?” I realised that perhaps all my efforts at evening classes in Frankfurt had not been in vain. Thank you, Misa-san, if you are reading this. Fujiyoshida turned out to be a pretty modest place. But the hotel was sparkling, clean and modern. The only fly in the ointment was that my credit card didn’t work here. I later discovered that my bank had never got my message stating that I would be travelling in Asia. Luckily I had some Yen handy. Always carry cash in Japan – it’s a safe country. It was helpful to know some Japanese even at the hotel. The Japanese love to hear how difficult their language is. They themselves find English a real challenge. Fact.
Now these towns around the base of Fuji-san are a bit, well – not wanting to offend anyone, but, just a bit tacky. The scenic lake which borders and on the eponymous town of Kawaguchiko gets its fair share of tourists. The railway station can’t really cope with the hordes of loud-mouthed tourists who descend on it. You will have noticed my disdainful expression. It is a purely subjective personal experience. I had spent the last week mostly in Japanese company and had attuned myself to the light, quiet melody of the language, coupled with its innate politeness and respect. To hear European and American accents was a rude shock to the system. They all seemed so loud and brash. I wanted to see the famous lake of Kawaguchiko, and it seemed the only way to do it was to join an interminable queue for the bus tickets. No. This will not do. I slipped through the hordes and headed for a bicycle shop down the road. Shortly afterwards, and having paid 800 yen for two hours, I was on a hire bicycle.
6 € to have freedom – not bad. I had grabbed an onigiri (a rice cake) and a bottle of green tea from a convenience store, and off I peddled.
I was glad I had brought a warm jacket. It was cold. But the sort of cold which produces clear skies. A pleasure steamer was chugging its way over the water....
Evening was approaching. I had noticed a sign on a department store as I alighted from my bus – something along the lines of “Viewing Platform”. A made a bee line for this, rising up in the escalator through the menswear department, the kitchen department,
the games department (really weird), only to be deposited in a sort of office environment on the top floor. Undeterred by this, I pushed open a terrace door, and lo and behold…….there was Fuji-san in all its terrible glory.
It is huge. I mean this. It is staggering in its sheer scale. It dominates the landscape. Its slopes are harshly uninviting – bare expanses of snow devoid of protection. At the crown, the crater drifts in and out of view depending on the cloud cover. Thank goodness Richard Wagner never went to Japan. This would have been his Valhalla, and instead of Rhein maidens we would have been lumbered with Kawaguchiko mermaids (more on that lake anon). It is however not difficult to see why the ancients here believed this volcano was the home of the Gods. It is severe, uncompromising, and truly glorious. Some climb it to see the sunrise from the top. But it is a barren place. It is a volcano – not a mountain, appearing seemingly at will through the clouds to favour those who gaze on it. Oh great and mighty wonder.