The name conjures so many superlatives. It tickles the soul, enflames the senses. On clear days, you can see its perfectly conical shape from Tokyo; you can see it speeding along the Shinkansen route from Tokyo to Kyoto. You sense it looming everywhere; its presence is ubiquitous.
It dominates the Japanese imagination. Artists have painted its gentle slopes, photographed its snowy summit and written about its sublimity in an array of styles. Japanese Buddhists and Shintos worship the mountain. “Fuji” means immortal one. Gazing at its grandeur, it is difficult not to feel sense of awe, a sensation of sheer impotence in the face of such raw elemental magnificence. It is naturally divine.
For a mountain that has so many devotees, it is remarkably shy. For as much as images of this beautifully symmetrical mountain are everywhere, you are more likely to see nothing. Indeed, many visitors can only guess at its grandeur as it stays stubbornly silent behind a grand gate of greyish cloud. Worst still are the winds that nudge those fluffy boulders exposing small cracks of space where you can see snippets of what you are missing.
I arrive in winter and am on a tight schedule. I only have a few weeks in Japan and want to see as much as I can. Tis a sure-fire recipe for disappointment but I never learn. I’ve checked the weather dutifully over the past weeks, monitored historic snow accumulations and tried to gauge the best time to visit Fuji. I remain of course at nature’s mercy. I beg her for a clear day.
I stay in a hostel on the shores of Lake Kawaguchi, one of the Five Fuji Lakes resting just north of the mountain. I arrive in mid-afternoon and cloud has fallen. I check-in and the woman greets me with a sympathetic smile. She says there is a better chance tomorrow. I appreciate her hope but I am not a very optimistic person.
I situate my things and head-out into the chilly January afternoon to walk Kawaguchi’s shoreline.
The clouds disorient. I can’t decipher where Fuji should be. It starts to snow. Waves of snow flow in from the half-frozen lake. And although Fuji’s obstinacy frustrates me, I cannot but feel overwhelmed by the decaying beauty of the place. I feel as if the apocalypse has come, the sun dips for the final time.
Kawaguchi is mainly a summer town and in winter it stays still, forlorn and abandoned. Large hotels are mostly empty, the sidewalks quiet. On the snow-covered beach, colourful boats sleep overturned. Their bright colours contrast wonderfully with the dead snow. Swan-shaped paddleboats rest in ankle-deep snow beside the ice-chunked shore. Behind their long necks, I see the sun – a hazy ball of light orange - fall behind the lazy cloud just above Kawaguchi’s empty stores. The scene is magic. And the end does feel near. I follow the sun retreat behind the horizon and hope it will feel more confident tomorrow.
And tomorrow it does. A clear, blue sky meets me as I skip down my hostel’s step.
Where is she? I demand.
A moment’s confusion and I realize that she stands behind me. I stretch my neck and can see shades of her slopes but the buildings block my view. Ironically, I am too close to see her.
I race towards the bridge leading to the far shores of Kawaguchi. It is only with further distance that I will begin to appreciate her majesty. I turn and begin to walk backwards across the bridge. With each step, she grows taller, rounder, fuller. Snow falls to her mid-section. She fills the horizon. Her slopes appear infinite. Tiny snowballs of cloud float by her; tall pines try to touch her. She is beautiful.
The morning is calm. Serene. Tranquil. I feel as if I have the entire mountain to myself. I am grateful to be here. I am thankful to see this. I have traveled a lot and I have laid my eyes on few scenes that can match this.
On the other side of the lake, I step from the path down to the beach. The water is open here, few pieces of ice float near. A rowboat is overturned. A wood dock stretches out into the water. I see Mt Fuji’s reflection shimmering in the calm blue waters. Its snowy cone almost touches my feet. I take a picture. But neither photographs nor flowery words can capture the elegance of this moment.
I put my camera away and simply smile. Mt. Fuji has smiled upon me today and I am forever grateful.
Looking for something different to what most visited of Japan we decided to visit Mount Zoa. It is a volcanic crater located near the city of Sendai. After looking at all the signs and helpful photo of the place, we understood the man who sold the tickets for the trip (no English). The next day we started on a tour to the volcano. We njoyed explanations in Japanese of our tour escort. It has to be a fascinating site because he talked and talked nonstop for all the long time it took for the trip. The price includes a picnic you can enjoy on the beautiful crater side. Stunning emerald water cover the crater. A highly recommended rest from the flurry of Tokyo.