Fuji San – 富士山

Climbing the tallest mountain in Japan

A little history, fireworks, a waterfall and of course some climbing.

This will be the big one, the way best way in my eyes to finish my year aboard in the one and only Japan. For a very long time I have been talking about climbing Fuji (I even brought my hiking boots with the very intention to climb) and now the 8th of August will be the day that I take it on.

View of Fuji overlooking Kofu, Yamanashi

DSC_0885.jpg

I have only seen Fuji from afar, living in Yamanashi you are constantly reminded of 3776m breath-taking volcanos grandeur wherever you are in the prefecture. I had climbed some of Fuji’s neighbouring mountains and only been inspired more by the sheer size of the mountain.

My year in Japan has been one that I will never forget, and when in you come the land of the rising sun it is only fitting that you climb the most climbed mountain in the world, right?

DSC_0746

With a climbing season of only 2 months and around 300,000 climbers every year, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about! It was recently added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List as “Fujisan – Sacred Place and Source of Artistic Inspiration” – June 2013. The reasons for this active volcano being added are to do with its contribution to the culture of Japan and also the art of the world. For the Japanese it wasn’t only a source of artistic inspiration but a holy place of worship and accordingly at the foot of Fujisan there are many shrines and temples. For hundreds of years the Japanese have climbed Fujisan as a part of a religious pilgrimage, this resulted in no  women being allowed to climb Fuji until 1868.

The day before the climb

There were a few events and places surrounding Fujisan that I had never seen, so the day before I climbed myself and my good friend Yuka set out on an adventure to try and do a few!

Starting the day with the trip down to Shizuoka, Yamanashi’s neighbouring  prefecture that also shares the beautiful Mt Fuji. Famous for the ocean, Macha (green tea) and oranges is another place I would recommend a quick stop off especially to the falls we visited!

Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝, Shiraito no Taki) near the border of Yamanashi and Shizuoka, right beside Mt Fuji.

DSC_0065DSC_0034DSC_0062DSC_0052.jpg

The picture perfect scene, the iconic symbol when people think of Japan they often think samurai, geisha, sushi and Fujisan. So iconic in fact that they put the active volcano on the 1000¥ bill. We went to try and a get the view of Fujisan from Lake Motosu.

DSC_0075

I had no such luck, of course, there was a lot of clouds that day… (its behind that cloud I swear…)

As mentioned before Fujisan had a great influence on in Japan but also in the west not only in art but in the music of the 1900’s. The 5th Paris Expo or Exposition Universelle held in Paris France was the first to bring the world of Asian art to Europe. Consisting of art, music, dance, food and pottery, this was the chance for the middle-class Europeans to come and experience world culture on their doorstep. One artist who was practically influenced  by this was, of course, the young Frenchmen Claude Debussy, whose work would never be the same after that faithful day. It is clear that fuji and the music of Japan had a massive impact on his work after visiting the Expo he would go on to write ‘La Mer’ that was inspired by the famous depiction of the Great Wave off Kanagawa the woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai.

Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa2.jpg

An obvious indication of this is shown in his choice of art used on the cover of the score. Other artists such as Van Gogh and Claude Monet would also gain inspired by Japanese works of art.

Debussy_-_La_Mer_-_The_great_wave_of_Kanaga_from_Hokusai

As well as visiting Lake Motosu I stayed a litter later as there was a firework festival that night at Lake Kawaguchiko. On the way picking up some budō (or grapes) as Yamanashi is the wine country of Japan they are the best here!

DSC_0074.jpg

The firework display just so happened to be one of the biggest in Yamanashi Prefecture, with around 10,000 fireworks. For those of you who don’t know fireworks or Hanabi (花火, which translates as fire flower or flower fire) is an integral part of Japanese summer culture. All over Japan no matter was you go there will be abundances of Hanabi Taikai (firework festivals) going on! This was an opportunity to get on my yukata (summer kimono) and eat some kaki gouri (shaved ice with sauce) while watching the fireworks.

DSC_0127_01DSC_0178DSC_0189DSC_0193DSC_0173Summer time 5th Aug_5821.jpg

So, the Japanese know how to do a fireworks display, this was without a doubt the most impressive firework show that I had ever seen. Some of the larger fireworks were wider that the bridge that crosses Lake Kawaguchiko which is over 500 meters long. These things were HUDGE!

Prearing for the climb

 

Meanwhile doing all of this I made the time to prepare for the climb, and it turns out there is a lot to consider when climbing up 3700 meters. This was the biggest climb that I have ever done and I heard a lot of different stories from different people. Some people told me it was easy, others told me it was hell, I wasn’t really sure what to believe. Of course like any kid of the 21st century (if I can even call myself that) I went straight to the internet and watch some videos of the climb.  After being inspired by youtube, and having a lot of laughs I went to prepare.

IMG_6590

What I brought to Fuji

 

Hiking boots – you may take this as a given, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people that wear sandals, runners and other types of shoes that just wouldn’t cut it.

Clothing – I bought the day before the climb a pair of hiking trousers from Uniqlo (best purchase ever) they were comfy, warm and cheap too! A T-Shirt, woolly hat, fleece, shorts and an extra pair of socks.

Waterproofing – Bring a coat and if your trousers aren’t waterproof bring some waterproof ones. You won’t regret this if it rains a little and the wind picks up.

Drinks – I brought 2 litres of H2O, 1 litre of Green Tea and 6 or 7 various energy/sugary drinks. 

Food – I brought some onigiri (rice balls), hard sweets, loads of chocolate and some other snacks.

Backpack – You need to put all your stuff somewhere, right? Just make sure it’s comfy as it’s going to be your best friend for the next 7 to, however, many hours you spend on the mountain.

Cash – This is essential as you have to pay for the climb, food or water and if you need the toilet there are several (usually at the stops) but you have to pay, 200 while climbing and 300 at the summit.

Plastic bag – There are no bins on the mountain so bring a bag for your trash and also to stop valuables getting wet.

Sunglasses – If you don’t get rained on its going to be bright. These are also great for your decent (especially if it is windy) as the dust from the track goes everywhere and can get in your eyes.

Towel or bandana – This is super important for your decent unless you like eating lava rock. Covering your face with this really makes the decent a much more pleasant experience.

Suncream – The UV rays are ‘hella strong’ on Fuji and if you don’t wanna burn, bring suncream.

Medical supplies – We all like to think that nothing bad will happen but it is really important to be prepared in case something does. I brought some plasters (band-aids), painkillers and Imodium to ensure an easier climb. 

Things I would recommend bring that I didn’t

Gloves  for general warm and also for some of the rougher bits of the hike where you have to climb.

Bag cover – if it does rain or you get stuck in a cloud, you’re gonna get wet along with your bag and all the stuff it contains.

Headlamp – if you’re gonna climb at night for the sunrise.

Shoes – A change of shoes for the bottom when you get down it is a great feeling to take off the old shoes and change into new ones. A light pair or flip-flops would be perfect.

Things that I would recommend not bringing

If you are only going to climb from the 5th station in one day (like most people do). One and a half litres of water is fine and 3 or 4 energy drinks would be enough just bring a little extra cash you can get more if need be. These will be the heaviest things that you will bring and if like me you bring an extra 2 litres you don’t need you will really feel it the next day or four.

Now that we are packed and ready to go, let’s climb! 

The Climb 

8th August 2016

Wake up! – 3:00 am

It was lovely and quite an early start to the day, that involved getting dressed and packing my bag with the 10s of litres of liquids that I had foolishly decided to bring along with me. Then off to the bus to pick up the rest of the group!

5th Station,  2305M – 5:15am

Arriving on the bus to the fifth station, we spent some time to acclimatise and ready ourselves for the walk ahead!  Starting our climb at 2305 meters we had another 1410 meters to the top! When we set off at 6 the walk was rather pleasant and we made sure to stop off ever 20 to 30 minutes for a quick breather.

DSC_0206

6th Station, 2390M –  6:47am

The climb was going well everyone was having a lot of fun and the weather was brilliant!

DSC_0210DSC_0205

7th Station, 2700M  – 8:30am

The climb to the seventh was one of the longer climbs and had a rough patch of rock that lasted for 20 or 30 minutes. This was probably the most intense of all the climbs! The weather was getting worse as well, we started to walk into a cloud and everything was getting wet.

DSC_0216DSC_0215

8th Station,  3360M – 9:32am

When I arrive at the 8th station I realised that my leg was starting to hurt, I think that I had pulled a muscle in my left leg. It was making things a little difficult at this point! As well as that a few of the people in the group had fallen really far behind and wouldn’t be able to make it to the summit in time so they were turned around. My leg was sore and the group had been cut in half!

DSC_0218

Station 8.5, 3450M   – 10:17am

Everyone was now very wet and one of the girls was showing signs of altitude sickness, meanwhile, my leg wasn’t getting any better. But the show must go on so we quickly made our way to the 9th station.

DSC_0223

9th Station, 3600M – 10:50am

So close to the top at this point everyone was getting excited, the cold and wet wasn’t going to stop us, we were going to get there!

DSC_0221

Summit gate, 3700M – 11:28am

Finally after 5 and a half hours of climbing we could see the gate to the summit of mt Fuji!!!

Summit,  3715M – 11:40 am

We got to the top (those of us left) and let out a group cheer! Then it was time to try and warm up, relax and get some food into our bodies! There are several shops at the summit all selling hot food and drinks, of course at very high prices but what can you do at 3700M. There is, of course, vending machines as it wouldn’t be Japan without them! Another very Japanese thing when climbing a mountain is to collect a little Omiyage (or souvenir) in the form of a small bell! I, of course, got mine and the shop owners will engrave the date of the climb! 

Video of the Climb

Descent   – 1:00pm

With all the fun over at the top, it was time to face the horrible fact that we had to get back down again… Taxi anyone?   If only…

We started are descent and the wind had picked up, this meant that all of the loose gravel on the downward path was going everywhere. This is where the towel that I mentioned earlier came in handy. I wore it as a face mask and put on my sunglasses to protect my eyes, these two things were a real life saver and meant the descent was a lot easier and safer. I foolishly decided that it would be easier to jog down as the pathway is quite steep and awkward to walk on. Believe it or not, it was actually easier on my sore leg to jog. To cut a long story short after a lot of sweating and heavy breathing we made it to the bottom just after 3pm.  With two hours to wait for the bus home, we just lay there and relaxed waiting for the rest of the group to arrive!

 

We headed home at 5pm and I was fast asleep as soon as we got home! Needless to say I could hardly move my left leg the next day but of course, the onsen fixed that right up! Over all what an amazing trip and great experience!

DSC_0228DSC_0226_01

Best way to end the climbing experiance, get naked with lots of other men in a big bath! ut seriously, get to the onsen after your climb it will help if you are staying in Yamanashi this one is amazing! Kunitachi, Arashi no Yu, Spa in the Storm, Isawaonen, Yamanashi is famous for its pebble baths and will work wonders on any aches and pains you may have after the climb!   It is also renoned for curing people of sickness and ailments, great spot well worth a visit!  Unfortuntly they only have a japanese website, but if you visit the hotel you can go into the baths for the day at a resonable price!

http://www.isawa-kunitachi.com/hotspa/

Thanks for looking/reading

Stephen

Advertisements

Okinawa – 沖縄県

22/03/16 – 25/03/16

Another weekend trip, this time on one of the famous tropical Japanese Islands!

 

 

Located roughly 600 miles from Honshu (the main island of Japan) this collection of over 150 islands are the tropics of Japan. Famous for their sandy beaches, coral reefs and unique culture, (cue terrible joke) it is quite literally one of the hot spots to visit in Japan!!

 

Not during the rainy season, though we wouldn’t want you to get blown away or washed down the drain!  This starts Late April and ends late June, and of course, we booked our flights for the end of April! Right from the get-go I was very dubious about the trip as the weather forecast was rather daunting…

 

13054387_796223543842303_971736028_o (1)

 

Looks promising right???…

Alas, our flights were booked and off we went to Narita airport to catch are Peach flight to Naha, Okinawa!

Top tip – if you want to save on flights when flying to, from or inside Japan ‘Peach’ and ‘Vanilla Air’ are always having 3/4 day flash sales. You can find out the details by signing up for their email service or make sure to check out their website. 

We arrived in Naha grabbed some water and headed for our apartment via monorail!

 

DSC_0386

 

This was in fact, my first experience on a monorail, I’d be lying if I wasn’t a bit afraid, yes I don’t like heights….

About twenty minutes down the track and we arrived at ‘Omoromachi station’ our stop for our extremely nice and reasonably priced home for the weekend!

Top tip – we booked our apartment on Airbnb this is a great website to find fun, unique, and exciting places to stay in over 34000 cities around the word! This is a great website/app to find places to stay, also it’s often considerably cheaper for what you get, in better locations and more convenient. This is also great to get the real experience of the local area and to see how people from said location life!

If you want to set up an account and receive a £14 discount that you can use on your fist booking use this link! http://www.airbnb.com/c/stephenk98

 

DSC_0399DSC_0401DSC_0395

 

With a great view to boot!

 

DSC_0393

 

We arrived quite late and just grabbed some food in a local restaurant then went for a walk around the area! Outside the monorail station near our house, there is a water/steam/light feature thing. It’s easier if you just see it.

 

 

DSC_0418.jpg

 

Then of course it was off to bed after some local beer and grub!

 

23/03/16

Tokashiki Island

We decided to go on a day trip to one of the many islands that make up Okinawa! Tokashiki island was our port of call for the day. Making our way to the main port in Naha and boarded the ferry to Tokashiki!

 

DSC_0452DSC_0433DSC_0438DSC_0462

 

After docking at Tokashiki Island we went into the port office for some information about the island. Everyone was being ushered onto a bus that was headed for the famous beach on the other side of the island. We decided to walk as the weather was really nice  (but mostly because I had no money). On the way, we saw some forest or you could say nearly jungle on the way across this tropical island, we also got the opportunity to try planting rice. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time and passed up the opportunity (kind of regret it now).

 

DSC_0474DSC_0468DSC_0473DSC_0471DSC_0476DSC_0485DSC_0484

 

We made our way over and back down the other side of the mountain coming across another small village (population of about 50 I’d say). We hit the shore and came to the beach, just wow.  This was one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen!!

 

DSC_0493DSC_0494DSC_0501DSC_0508(1)

 

After walking around for a while and of course doing the very British thing of dipping your feet in and not actually swimming in the water we headed along the beach to a viewing point. The place was just breathtaking and the pictures speak for themselves!

 

DSC_0504IMG_5892

 

 

We headed back to the little village just beside the beach as I quite rapidly turning into a lobster. We were able to grab some food and people spoke really good English, nice and easy for us getting vegetarian food!

 

DSC_0509

 

As I had developed a rather glorious sunburn we decided that (or rather I decided) we should get the bus back to the port instead of walking. We were a little early so decided to have a little cocktail beside the beach before the bus!  It was a long day trip as the boat took 2/3 hours to get there and another 2/3 to get back. The evening was once again spent finding a local restaurant to get some grub and drink some more Orion, (a Japanese beer) by the why I think this is by far the best mainstream (if you can use that term for beer) beer in Japan!

204930051_a585d7b947_z

 

24/03/16

Markets, Shurijo Castle and more Fun Stuff

We started the day bright and early to try and pack in as much as we could! We bought ourselves a day ticket for the monorail as we wanted to pack in as much as possible. (this was great as we went for some food before leaving meaning we bought the ticket after 10am) In case you are wondering the tickets last for 24 hours and they work by the clock not the day so this was perfect for us as we could use it for our ride to the airport in the next morning!

We set off to Shuriojo Castle, making the obligatory stops at vending machines of course.

DSC_0534

 

The castle was set up on top of a hill and was an enjoyable walk up to it from the station and the view was just spectacular over the city!

 

DSC_0523DSC_0520DSC_0514

 

When in the castle they had a stay with people performing 3 or 4 times a day a  dance in the traditional style of Kabuki.

 

DSC_0526DSC_0530

 

After the castle, we thought we would head to a market, but it turned out to be a night one and not very open during the day…

 

DSC_0538

 

So we headed off further down the line to Fukushūen the traditional gardens in Naha. On the way, we walked through the city a little bit and found ourselves  emits a Japanese film/tv festival. Of course, we didn’t have a clue who any of these people were but everyone else was going CRAZY!After fighting through the crowd of people we made our way to the nearest station to get to Fukushūen. Of course we found ourself going through another market this time it was open and there was a traditional Okinawan performance going on!

 

DSC_0541DSC_0548DSC_0551IMG_5901

 

This is when the real magic of a trip happens we were going one way and decided to go another and found the market but more importantly the performance. This style of dance is known as Eisa and is a traditional Okinawan dance performed with live musicans

 

 

3 hours later, we made it to Fukushuen.

 

DSC_0553DSC_0554DSC_0557DSC_0562DSC_0564IMG_5924

 

Even making some buddies along the way. 😉

 

IMG_5941

 

This for me this was one of the real treasures of the trip, it was free, not busy and really very beautiful! With its winding paths, beautiful architecture, wildlife and the waterfall that you could walk through.

 

 

IMG_5921

 

After the park we decided that we would head back, it was time for a nap, some food and I needed to get the frozen towel on my sunburn again. I haven’t actually told you about that yet… (but yes I did have two small onsen towels that I was now freezing and then rotating them to cool down my back and neck, along with the gallons of after the sun… of course Philip and Josie give me nothing but moral support {yeah right}.)

 

IMG_6171

(Photo doesn’t really do it justice!)

So this was gonna be our big night out in Naha and after walking through the town we had seen a few spots that looked promising and cheap (mainly cheap). Josie found a local supermarket and we headed up to get a little something for breakfast before the airport, today’s dinners along with some beers.  So off we go on the 5-minute walk to the supermarket, head in and get our stuff then 5-minutes later we head out again (now, baring in mind that when we left if was clear as day). We got about 2 minutes into our journey and just one block from our apartment me the rain started. Oh, and by started I mean the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen in my life, (baring in mind once again that I’m from Northern Ireland and yes it rains over 200 days of the year there..) this was some hardcore rain. So, of course, we ran back and in the space of 2 minutes we looked like drowned rats. So that kind of concluded our night, ridiculous rain… Let’s just drink the beer play cards and watch a movie!

 

IMG_6170IMG_5939

Oh yeah we also heard that Okinawa was famous for its fruit and vegetables of course Josie and I being the vegetarians were interested in this (and Philip who would literally eat shit on a stick was of course, interested too…) ‘Goya’ or bitter melon (in English) is a cumber like fruit that is really popular and is said to give the eater a longer life. We wanna stay on the planet for a long as we can so we thought ‘ahh, why not give it a go’. That was a terrible idea.

Just Don’t.

In case you are wondering what the devil of all fruits looks like it is this.

Taiwan_2009_Tainan_City_Organic_Farm_Bitter_Gourd_FRD_7956

I mean, of course, try it if someone who knows how to cook it is present. You know when you’re watching the TV and the guys say’s “Don’t try this at home” well, this is a don’t try this one at home kind of thing…

 

25/03/16

Flights

Not really too much to say for today. We got up and headed back for Kofu, Yamanashi!

I really had a lot of fun and was so happy that the not so amazing water forecast was not accurate at all!  I hope you enjoyed our little adventure in Okinawa too and it inspires you to get out and see the world!

 

Thanks for reading/looking

Happy traveling,

Stephen

 

I’ll leave you with this image, it was taken at one of the monorail stations. Make of it what you will.

DSC_0536