After being fortunate enough to receive one of the Travel Awards given out by the University, I explored Japan for a month last summer. With only a couple of days remaining on my trip, I found myself aboard a coach leaving Tokyo, bound for Mount Fuji. As soon as I stepped foot in Fujikawaguchiko I stopped, stood, and stared at the mountain. Isolated and perfectly formed, it suddenly became obvious why ancient Buddhists considered the cone so divine. I broke my glazed look, trundled down to the town’s lake and stared some more. The temperature was 40°C. In A.M. hours. Burning, backpack burdened, I sat. Even in t-shirt and shorts alone I sweltered. Intending to leave as much weight behind in lockers as possible, and swayed by heat, I decided I needed a light kagoul ready for action and no more. Foregoing the bus, I walked to the mountain station straight from the lake: 26km in total, coiling gradually steeper onwards and upwards. Night had fallen when I arrived, though it was not yet cold. There I met others set to climb. “Shorts? That’s not brave,” I said. “It’s worse in England.”
Like all clueless characters, I overlooked my foreshadowing of doom and set off. In darkness I needed light, and rooted in my bag to find a Japanese coin had somehow perfectly lodged itself into my torch: useless. It was a good job I’d made friends. The journey began. A stroll soon evolved into a hands-and-knees climb. The higher we reached the colder the winds became, the mountain exposing chills and my own underestimation. I gritted my teeth and shivered my way on upwards. We blindly clung onto jutting mountain edges in fear of the gales throwing us off it. I like to think the monk who first climbed Mount Fuji 1,353 years earlier probably did so with the gift of sight. And longer trousers. Dammit, why hadn’t I worn actual trousers? We huddled at each station, shielding ourselves from relentless wind. We sapped morsels of warmth from doorways of rest houses. Windiest for some time, said one housekeeper. Humoured looks came my way. “I’m fine!” I lied. My shaking limbs didn’t agree.
The view though, we agreed, was unquestionably worth it. Far away, hives of city lights sprawled around themselves. We speculated which city was which. Not long after we entered the clouds, removing all sense of distance from what little sight we had, we rose above and peered over them. Excitement pressed us onward as the climb grew steeper still. Suddenly I placed foot onto carved stone: steps! We raced to the top and waited, early and frozen to the core for it. I sat, knees in shirt, anticipating the sunrise. The only problem was the barrage of thick cloud. Disappointment bred around our group, fearing the famously shy peak would hide the sight we had all come to see. Groans surfaced and despair grew as time drew closer. Then, like a miracle, the clouds blew away with moments to spare and the sun rose. For the first time on that mountain I thanked the wind. Unless you’ve been up there too you’ve never seen anything quite like a Mount Fuji sunrise, soaring from beneath the horizon. People stood completely awestruck.
I was one of them. I stood and gawked for hours, stole myself a small chunk of rock and trampled down the zigzag quicksand of the descent pathway. As light flooded the world the view became simply jaw-dropping: I almost fell down the whole path, unable to take my incredulous eyes away. There are sights from that day that will be etched into my memory for as long as I live. There’s one thing I’ll remember most of all, though. If you’re climbing a mountain: don’t wear shorts.
The University of Manchester offer three different Travel Awards for students wishing to travel as part of their degree or within vacation periods. Applications for 2016/17 are open now and close in March 2017.
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