A short dive into a much-needed weekend getaway to Kamakura, a seaside Japanese city just south of Tokyo. Kamakura served as the political center of medieval Japan but today Kamakura is a prominent resort town with dozens of Buddhist Zen temples and Shinto shrines. As seen in the film, Kamakura is most famous for Kotoku-in Temple’s Great Buddha, a ~50ft-high bronze statue (the tallest in Japan) which is still standing after a 15th-century tsunami.
Fuji-san, an iconic symbol of Japan. For many Japanese, climbing Mt. Fuji is considered the capstone of one’s adventures in Japan or a cultural pilgrimage, but for us, it was the foundation for our international experience.
Following the landing of our flight in Tokyo at 1:00 A.M , our journey commenced almost immediately after a three hour nap on the airport floor to recharge our already depleted batteries. At around 7 A.M, we hopped on a bus to Kawaguchiko Station - the closest town to Mt. Fuji - and then caught another bus to the base of the mountain.The word “base” is used in relative terms, as we were shrouded in clouds from the very beginning of this test of endurance. A renewing and warming meal of soup and noodles prepared us for the climb as our bodies adjusted to the altitude.
At noon, the hike began. The initial leg was deceptively easy as we meandered through a forest with fog swirling around our legs. As we gained altitude above the tree line, the intensity increased incrementally. Soil turned to rock and rock turned into ash. Our ascent was slow but relaxed as we anticipated a night of rest at the mountain hut we had reserved prior to our hike. Upon arriving at the seventh station, which was nearest our mountain hut, we were warmly welcomed by the hut’s staff.
In addition to complimentary postcards and tea, a simple yet hearty meal of curry and rice was offered. Following this feast, we attempted to sleep, although our sleeping bags were crammed together like sardines. At midnight, we awoke to begin hiking again in order to reach the summit by sunrise.
What followed was five hours of steep and rocky trail. While physically challenging on our already weary bodies, the most difficult element of the climb was having to navigate the delay of hundreds of other hikers crowding the narrow trail.
With only a week remaining before colder temperatures turned Fuji’s trail into a treacherous slope, a huge influx of hikers congregated at the same time. The painstakingly slow pace which resulted left us at the mercy of the biting winds, which often cut right through our coats and chilled our noses. However, we never considered turning back. The summit was to be reached. The winking lights from hundreds of headlamps mirrored the stars on the crisp and clear night. Every step blurred together in the darkness, except when we stopped at each station to adjust to the altitude and brand a plain wooden pole with unique stamps which catalogued our progress up the mountain.
Although every hut seemed the same, we plodded on. Slowly, we closed the distance between us and the top, until at last - 3776 meters. Summit. For more than an hour we huddled together, celebrating our accomplishment with a grin frozen on our faces. Ever so gradually, the sun peeked above the clouds, dousing neighboring mountaintops in the warmth of an orange glow. We marveled at the most expansive view I’d ever witnessed. Every tough step, every chilling gust of wind, every moment where I had wished for nothing more than the sweet embrace of sleep - each of these was forgotten, evaporated by the sun’s rays. We did it. We climbed Fuji-san.
When traveling across the world, what is the best way to calm your nerves? Is it downloading Dulingo and attempting to commit helpful phrases to memory? Is it ordering an etiquette book from Amazon and practicing proper chopstick use? We would argue that these are several of the preliminary ingredients to the most unusual but rewarding recipe for successful international adventures.
Adding some zest to our arrival in Beijing was a 5’10”, rather tubby but enthusiastic Chinese man - Charlie. Charlie is unlike any taxi/Uber/Lyft driver you’ve ever experienced. Not only did he seamlessly fit our 10 pieces of luggage into his car, but he also navigated through the overwhelming labyrinth of Beijing traffic to the household of our hosts, the Harker family. The next morning, during our drive to the Great Wall, Charlie surprised us once more by performing his own rendition of “Pi Wu La Zi,” a song from the traditional Chinese opera Haui Ju. His melodious, albeit rather sharp voice provides the background music for this microfilm, which encompasses our whirlwind journey up the Great Wall and throughout the streets of Beijing, with stops in the Temple of Heaven and Tiananmen Square.
In addition to our excursions with Charlie, the Harker family (Brad, Megumi, and Bethany) graciously helped four jet-lagged students transition into the fast-paced – and at many points bewildering - international lifestyle. Not only did they provide valuable and amusing anecdotes of their own experiences living in Japan; they were also the behind-the-scenes directors of our trip – coordinating with Charlie to take us to the Great Wall, introducing us to the unforgettable tradition of Peking duck, and cooking lovely homemade meals before we set out for our semester abroad in Japan.