by Mary McIntosh
The trip I’ll never forget was when my Army sergeant husband and I lived in Japan and we climbed Mt. Fuji. While that was an exhilarating experience in itself, a far-reaching offshoot was what made this trip so memorable.
We felt comfortable leaving our three young boys at home with our Japanese house girl. “Sayonara,” we said that July day in 1954, as we left to take a train from Tokyo to Yoshida, a town at the foot of Fuji.
We spent the night before the climb at the Sugibayashi Ryokan Hotel, which cost 700 yen (approximately $2.00). There was no bed in the room, only gaily-colored futons heaped in a corner.
“Let’s make love tonight Japanese style,” Mac said with a grin.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“We’re going to have to sleep on the floor on these futons.”
“Hope they are comfortable,” I muttered.
We started our ascent early the following afternoon on a gentle tree-shaded incline. It soon changed to nothing but sheer rock. We’d grab a large over-hanging rock above us, pull up; then we’d look for another one close by. Very welcome rest stations were located at various heights, where, at one, we each purchased a tall wooden pole. This gave us support while climbing.
At 7,000 feet, we passed through the cloud level, and arrived at the seventh station at 8:00 that night. The room was already overflowing with hikers. Several people were huddled around a hibachi; others were standing drinking tea; many were already asleep on the floor. We managed to find an empty corner, donned the heavy sweaters we’d brought, rented two comforters, spread one on the floor, wrapped the other around us, and slept. At 2 a.m. a Japanese guide, banging on a gong, walked around the hut in between the sleeping bodies. Half asleep, we started climbing again.
As it was still very dark, we all carried a flashlight. Guides led us, each of us held onto the person in front, and the one behind, all the while juggling our light. We must have looked like a huge caterpillar slowly inching its way up the mountain. At 4:00 a.m. we arrived at the summit. The sky was a mass of stars, for we were far above the clouds. At first just a faint glimmer of daylight appeared on the horizon; then it looked like a giant was pushing the darkness upward out of the way to make it easier for the sun to shine. He succeeded, for suddenly the sun burst forth from the horizon with such speed it seemed as if the dividing line between earth and sky had somehow been forever eradicated. All I could see was a huge brilliant, golden ball. Another day had dawned.
I turned to my husband and said, “It was worth it.” I hadn’t counted on the descent.
Mt. Fuji is a dormant volcano and consists of spent lava resembling burnt coal. As a result, you don’t just walk down the mountain, you slide. By watching others in front of us, we learned to plunge both feet into the cinders for seven to ten feet, then get up and start again. While the uphill climb was difficult, in many respects, I think, the downhill trip was harder. The cinders were rough on our feet and sand-like dust flew all around. The poles came in handy. After eleven hours we reached bottom, dirty and tired, but happy for our accomplishment. We boarded the train for home, not caring how grubby we looked.
This trip became a highlight of my life, a unique ‘never-to-be-forgotten,’ but ‘never-to-repeat’ experience.
I still have my pole. When I occasionally look at it, I’m reminded of that great adventure, and especially what occurred some months later – the postscript to this story.
I conceived my only daughter at the foot of Mt. Fuji. When a doctor confirmed this, I was surprised, but he explained that the vigorous climb helped me get pregnant. So I say, thank you, Majestic Mountain, for being there for me to conquer. My reward for the long, tedious, backbreaking climb was the best gift I could have received – a daughter, who now, as an adult, is also my best friend.