Lookin Up to find an amazing sunset in Japan
(I took this from the balcony of my sister’s apartment when I was there in ’96)
I took these while I was in Japan 10 years ago (man, it sure doesn’t seem like it has been that long.) Looking back now the shots are kind of crooked, and I just wish I had had a better camera, one with at least a zoom lense on it. The carving on the wood door was just amazing to behold, and I fear it wasn’t captured to well. But hey, a poor starving college student can’t be picky. and at least I was in Japan, right? 🙂
While visiting my sister in Japan I went on numerous hikes and enjoyed exploring on my own. My brother-in-law showed me how to use the trains and turned me loose. I went on two very memorable hikes by myself. One was to Mt. Mitake.
Though rain promised to fall I left early in the morning and took a train (with probably a few changes) to Mitake station. Rain began to pound upon me as I walked up to the cable car station. The way up the mountain is so steep there is a cable car running to shuttle people back and forth. I was grateful for the short respite from the rain. I hopped off the cable car at the top and hiked on up to the visitor center. At the top of the mountain is the small village of Mitake and the famous Mitake Shrine. I enjoyed touring the museum of swords, armor, mirrors and many other things. With umbrella in hand I wandered through the small village enjoying the ancient architecture and the beautiful scenery through the fog and rain. I thought about cutting my hike short, but decided against it and set off out of town towards Mt. Hinode.
Only the sound of pounding rain kept me company as I hiked following the instructions in my guide book carefully. After a time I began singing songs to keep myself company. The trail was deserted, due to the rain I am sure, and the only living things I saw to keep me company were giant toads along the path. I have never seen toads so big! I would need both hands in order to hold one. My plan was to hike to the Yasawa Stalactite caves, a plan which would never be realized.
Hiking alone in a strange country can be a bit intimidating and I would often get worried that I had ended up on a wrong trail if it took to long for certain landmarks to appear. It didn’t help that everything was shrouded in a gloomy fog. The landscape would gradually fade to nothingness as ghosts of trees loomed up beside me. It was strangely beautiful and eerie at the same time. I did end up on a wrong trail for some time but it looped me back into the main trail and I uttered a prayer of thanks that I was not hopelessly lost. I kept trying to tell myself that it was silly for me to continue hiking in the pouring rain and to head back, but some unknown reason spurred me on.
I made it to Mt. Hinode, enjoying what I could see of an amazing view; mountains filled with trees and bamboo as far as the eye could see, which wasn’t too far considering the fog, but it was impressive none the less. I nearly turned around at Mt. Hinode but again felt a spurring to continue and so I set off down the trail that would take me to the caves. I had been hiking for about and hour and forty minutes when I reached a junction in the trail. I had to choose between four different paths than the one I was on. I froze. My book talked about a junction but not such a big one. I stood dripping with rain as I pondered about which path would take me where I wanted to go. Finally I decided on the far right path and after a silent prayer, that I felt confirmed my decision, I set off down the trail.
I didn’t get more than a hundred feet or so before I saw two lone figures sitting on the side of the trail. Forlorn, drenched, and hopelessly lost sat a young mother and her daughter of only 5 years or so. They leapt to their feet upon seeing me round the bend. Neither of us spoke any Japanese. She was from Quebec and spoke French, with some English. I spoke English with only two years of high school French under my belt. We managed to communicate that they were staying in Mitake and had some how become lost on the trails outside of the village. I immediately abandoned my plan to go to the caves and offered to take them back to the town. I handed the little girl my umbrella and we began the long hike back to Mitake Village. They followed me willingly and we enjoyed attempting to communicate with each other through our unique language barrier. After a time we took turns giving the little girl piggy back rides.
As the end of the trail approached and the first building came into view the young mother became excited and cried out while pointing, “That is where we stay!” The path ended at their doorstep. They tried to invite me in to get dry and have a bite to eat but I explained my sister would be worried if I didn’t arrive before dark, which was not a too long off. I watched them hurry into the home as I quietly disappeared into the fog.
I have no doubt that God inspired me to follow the path even when I thought to turn back. I don’t remember what they look like but I remember their smiles and the intense gratitude on their faces. I am glad I followed my feelings to continue and that I was granted such an amazing experience. The memories may fade, but their smiles will never pale in my mind.
We started the hike at about 9:30 at night. It was a constant uphill struggle, at times the trail felt as though it were going straight up. The wind whipped around us and knocked out our knees with intense buffeting. There were moments when I feared it would rip me off of the mountain. On a particularly rough assault I would jam my walking stick into the ground and hang on for dear life. In the dark the mountain loomed above me stretching far into the sky. In my wildest dreams I never thought I would be climbing Mt. Fuji. From the moment I stepped out of the airport in Japan and my eyes fell upon that mountain for the first time, it had beckoned to me.
There were stations to stop at while we hiked and usually during the summer season they are open and you can get your walking staff stamped, but we were in the off season and passed by the solemn empty shacks, shuttered tight against the wind. As the night wore on and we slowly ascended the mountain we passed no other hikers; we were the sole trespassers on this majestic beauty. The goal was to reach the top by sunrise and watch the sun awake while sitting on top of the world.
The higher we hiked the harder the wind blew and soon my staff was not keeping me as fast on the trail. My companions would hang onto my coat to keep me from blowing away. (I do not believe I would have such a predicament now, I was such a lightweight then! hee hee). It was 2:30 in the morning when we hit the last station before the top of the mountain. By now I was exhausted, tired, and cold, having ascended from below sea level. We sat down for a rest and delved into our “lunch”. Upon opening my pop can my hand was shaking so bad that the liquid kept spilling out of the can. Waves of nausea threatened to overtake me completely. As David, my brother-in-law, looked at me with concern it was decided that I was suffering from altitude sickness (something I had never suffered before, but we decided with the extenuating circumstances it was not completely unusual) and should not continue up the mountain. I was devastated. I could see the top not even a full half mile ahead of us, but I had to agree that I was in no condition to continue. One of our companions not feeling to great either decided to stay behind with me while David and the other fellow hiked to the top.
So I huddled down against the wind and waited for the sunrise. My own personal planetarium show displayed above me. It seemed the entire galaxy was alight and I could see the swirls and the myriads of stars winking at me. The air was cold and clear and clouds in dark shadow clothed the valley below us.
Slowly the horizon began to lighten, barely a soft glow. It was like a dimmer switch and God was slowly turning on the light. As the sun rose the display was spectacular the hills and clouds below us thrown into brilliance and shadow, and a small orange ball appearing on the horizon. Wrapped in silence and splendor as the world awoke, beholding God’s art, the images locked in my heart forever. There are moments and visions beyond description and words but must only be felt and seen with the heart.
(this picture is off a postcard because my camera couldn’t do it justice, it is exactly what I saw however)
On my down the mountain in full daylight I gathered some of the lava stone. I still have my Fuji rock.
David later told me I never would have made it all the way to the top. The wind was so strong he was afraid they would be blown off the mountain and he was experiencing some altitude sickness by the time he got to the top. I still say I have climbed Mt. Fuji even though that last half a mile eluded me.
(also a postcard. The mountain spends much of it’s time shrouded in cloud and while I got many good looks at the mountain, again my camera couldn’t capture the majesty, so I rely on this postcard instead)