Sunday, July 22, 2018

Fuji Decides

-- Susan, every other Sunday

Most weeks, I have to consider what to post here at MIE. Between traveling in Japan and my love of all-things-ninja, there's always more to say than I can possibly include.

This week, however, the post required no extra thought -- because I've been thinking about the topic, one way or another, for more than forty years.

When I was six years old, and in kindergarten, I saw a photograph of a nearly-perfect, conical volcano rising from an empty plain, its snow-capped summit half-hidden by clouds so perfect they almost seemed unreal. Mount Fuji captured my heart at once, though it would be several decades before I finally made my way to Japan, in hopes of seeing the sacred peak in person.

In Japan, there is a saying: "Fuji decides," which usually applies to who is and is not allowed to stand on the mountain's peak--but in my case, it seemed to apply to every interaction with the famous peak--and in every case, the mountain decided "No."

After five visits to Japan, and more than two dozen trips to places where humans can allegedly see Mount Fuji (I say "allegedly" because, despite the overwhelming photographic evidence, I have never personally seen the mountain from these places), I was still waiting for an unobstructed view.

Mount Fuji is allegedly located behind these rows of mountains. Allegedly.

The closest I ever came was a seven-second, through-the-power-lines top-of-the-cone shot from a moving train in 2016.

Part of Fuji, as seen from the train. 

Every time I approached, Fuji veiled itself in clouds, as if playing a game of mountain-and-mouse.

Access Denied.

When I started my 100 Summits Project this past May, I continued to seek a clear view of Mt. Fuji, and the mountain continued to foil my plans. Part of me enjoyed the game, though it also hurt my heart that after more than forty years, I was still waiting to see this mountain I'd loved for so long.


Since I planned to climb Mt. Fuji during the rainy season in Japan (the climbing season runs from July 10 to September 1, the hottest and rainiest time of the year), and the forecast called for thunderstorms the entire week we planned to climb, I approached this week's attempt with the sad realization that unless I grabbed the brass ring of weather windows, I could end up not only failing to climb the mountain but not even seeing it as I approached.

On July 18, I traveled to Fujinomiya (a city near the base of the mountain) along with my Fuji climbing team: my mother and family friends Kaitlyn and Laurie Bolland.  We spent the night at a hotel there, with plans to begin our climb the following morning.

The afternoon we arrived, clouds and mist obscured the horizon to the point that we weren't even exactly sure which direction Mount Fuji lay -- despite being less than an hour's bus ride from the trailhead.

The forecast called for thunderstorms, and the official climbing website issued a thunderstorm warning for the base of the mountain. Not good omens, and I went to sleep with a prayer in my heart and carefully managed expectations.

I woke at 5:04 am with rosy sunlight peeping through my window. I got up, peered outside, and saw this:

Fuji Decides, at last.

Twenty-four hours later (almost seven hours of which I spent climbing), I watched the next sunrise from the top of Japan's highest peak:

On the summit of Fuji-san

And photographed the impressive shadow Mount Fuji casts over Shizuoka Prefecture at dawn.

Fuji knows how to throw shade.

Although I don't usually anthropomorphize mountains, a part of me can't shake the notion that Mount Fuji refused to reveal itself to me earlier because--despite my love of the mountain, and Japan--I had not earned the privilege. Everything in life means more if we have to work to earn it, and the view of Fuji was sweeter on my eyes and in my heart for all the years I had to wait to finally see it.

The view from the torii near the summit.

I put in my time. I invested time, blood, sweat, and tears. I trained. I prayed . . I approached as a pilgrim, with respect . . . and, in the end, Fuji Decided in my favor after all.


  1. YAYYYYYY!!!! My joy at your success is only surpassed by your own! (That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it...)

  2. My darling friend, I am overjoyed for you. My take is that Fuji knew it should save this reward for you until it meant this much. You are my heroine. And, as with EvKa, you bring me JOY! That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

  3. Thank you both so much!!

    I do believe Mount Fuji was waiting for me to prove myself before granting me both access and views - and I suspect my photos in the months to come will bear that out. Here's hoping, anyway.

  4. Mountains give nothing away all has to be earned so well done you. And beautiful pictures. I hope you got them blown up and have them hanging on a wall somewhere...

  5. What a story, Susan. I mean WHAT A STORY!!! I was reading this week's posts a bit late--life's been hectic here in non-mountainous Mykonos of late--and sensed that somehow each post was leading me somewhere. My chill up the spine moment came when after commenting on Annamaria's capture of that image of Kilimanjaro, I came to your Mt. Fuji quest. It just blew me away. BRAVO!!!