I hadn’t written my slice yet when I read the early entries today. A phrase caught my eye and stirred memories from a long time ago. Juliann in her post “Gather” at Chasing Stories wrote “The mountain was out, looking much like a postcard.”
In the mid 1970s we were stationed at Yokota Air Force Base near Tokyo, Japan. You could live there for months and never suspect that you were close to the magnificent Mt. Fujiyama. Then a clear day would come, and the mountain would be out. And once you saw the snow-capped beauty, you always looked forward to seeing your friend Fuji-san again. And you dreamed of going to meet the mountain in person and of climbing to the top to see the sunrise.
That dream came true for us. On a July day, we drove with friends to the fifth station, a popular starting place for a climb, halfway up the mountain. Like the tourists that we were, we bought decorated walking sticks and started our trek. The path was well marked- as many as 300,000 climb the mountain in a year. It is steep in spots, but even novices can make the climb. I remember delicate wildflowers along the way. We made it to the top by early evening and gazed down into the crater with amazement. We warmed up with miso soup in the hut at the tenth station. We met and chatted with people from around the world. As darkness began to fall, we looked back down the path to see a zig-zagging line of fellow travelers with lanterns making their way to the huts at stations below.
Soon futons were being spread on the floor of the hut, and the weary pilgrims laid down to sleep. Alas, despite the exhaustion, it was difficult to sleep because we were packed in like sardines, so you had to stay in one place with no room to turn over. Once you finally managed to drift off, it seemed like only a few minutes until the innkeepers were grabbing the covers off of you and out from under you, so they could get ready for their day’s business. It was about 3:30 a.m. and the hut was being transformed back into a restaurant for the day. The line of lanterns was moving up the path as everyone wants to be at the summit for the sunrise. Miso soup and green tea helped wake us up. Sunrise was glorious beyond words.
The path back down is quite different than the path going up. It is covered with red lava rocks. Each time you take a step, you slide two or three steps more. Coming down takes half as long as going up, but it seems twice as tiring. The memories that come back down with you make every step worthwhile!
Oh, Fuji-san, I’d like to see you out on a clear day again. I’d like to climb your slope again and see the sun rising…