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Hiking / Mountain Biking Japan - 日本 Journal

Mount Fuji – Climbing from the bottom (Sengen Shrine)

 

My friends and I successfully climbed Mt. Fuji from the bottom (Sengen Shrine) on July 26th, 2017.  It was mentioned that we start from the bottom over a few bottles of wine and initially I was against it.  However, what won me over was when my friend Brandon told me that this was the historical route the pilgrims used to take before cars were invented and since I love history that was what I needed to hear.  99% of hikers start from the 5th station which is in the middle of the mountain and where the road ends.  There are a lot of shops, restaurants and tourist stuff at the 5th station but then you need to walk about half an hour to get to the actual trail.

I had climbed Mt. Fuji in my 20s from the 5th station but we made the mistake of not reserving a hut and had to spend a very cold night outside while waiting for the sunrise.  I made the mistake of changing my sweat soaked t-shirt at the summit without shelter; the wind blew right through me and I had violent shivers for a couple of hours which really took the energy right out of me.  Here are two posts I wrote about the experience:

  1.  Tokyo Metblogs – http://tokyo.metblogs.com/2005/07/26/climbing-mt-fuji/
  2. Letter to John – https://www.mcurtin.com/2004/06/e-mail-john-k-6-17-2004-mt-fuji-climb/

There are plenty of posts about climbing from the 5th station but not many from Sengen Shrine so hopefully those wanting to climb from the bottom will find this post helpful.

In short, it took us about 11 hours with one big one hour break and a few smaller breaks.  We began at 4:00 AM from Sengen and it also took us a little while to find the right path.  My backpack weight about 35 pounds with about 4 liters of water and many Cliff Bar trail bars.  A camelback is highly recommended since you can take little, but more frequent sips of water on the way up.  The two main problems with climbing are altitude sickness and weather.  Drinking plenty of water will help with any altitude sickness and hopefully the weather will be nice.  I didn’t experience any altitude sickness and luckily the weather was tolerable even though the forecast called for storms.  We were determined to do it anyway and luckily didn’t get caught in any rain.

Sengen Shrine
Sengen Shrine

Here are my maps from Strava and Google tracking.  My carrier is T-Mobile which should be your carrier of choice if you travel overseas as they do not give you any hassle or charge exorbitant amounts of money to use the phone overseas.  Data and messaging are free and calls cost $0.20 a minute.  However, when climbing you’ll frequently be in areas of no service and this really screwed up the Google tracking as you will see since it didn’t know where I was sometimes.  Strava tracking did a much better job.  I put my phone on battery saver and also had two additional battery packs which really came in handy.  Mt. Fuji does have wifi but these are available only at the station huts.  You don’t need to buy a card or anything like that as some websites say, you can easily register and connect to wifi for free at the huts.

Mt. Fuji – Strava tracker

As you can see on Strava it didn’t do a spectacular job either as it only has me moving for an hour and 53 minutes.  The map comes in handy though as it shows the true route unlike Google.  Strava link:  https://www.strava.com/activities/1100249182

Mt. Fuji – Google tracker

So starting from Sengen the first building you see is the first station called Nakano-Chaya

Nakano-Chaya

There is nobody there and we only saw one guy taking a very deep sleep on a bench.  In fact, we only saw about five people from Sengen to the fifth station.  In the beginning the path is through forest which is pretty relaxing.  There is a long slog on paved road which isn’t much fun because it is harder on the feet.

We rested here while waiting for another friend to join.
3rd station – Miharashi-Chaya

The paved portion goes pretty much until the old 5th station.  As you can see this building is no longer in use but one of my Japanese buddies remembers when it was in use and visited when he was a young boy.

Old 5th station

Next you come to the first of two ‘5th stations.’  It is the first because it is actually about 20 minutes below the 5th station all the tourists use.  I wonder how they stay open since they don’t see that much traffic?  In any case, they do offer a stamp and since we had been hiking for about 4-5 hours we stopped for a meal.

1st Fifth station

Next it was up the upper portion of the mountain along with a lot of starting from the new 5th station.  I recommend hiking in the daytime because there is much less traffic than at night when a lot of people begin their ascent to catch the sunrise.  You are also able to see scenery if the weather is clear, which unfortunately for us it was not.  I didn’t take many pictures from the 5th to 8th stations as I really just wanted to get to the top of the mountain as quickly as possible.  I only stopped at each station for my stamp and moved along.

8th station

Towards the top you’ll start hiking more slowly so don’t let the distance fool you.  It will be slow going due to the lack of oxygen and you’ll need to take many small pauses to catch your breath.  So even if you go quickly at the bottom the last parts will take much longer.

Above the 8th station

Finally we reached the summit and well before closing time at the huts.

The summit
Kushushi Shrine at the summit

We reserved a hut for the night which is a must or otherwise you’ll spend a long, cold night outside which isn’t much fun at all.  We celebrated by drinking Yamazaki whiskey, a beer and a nice meal of curry rice.  However, none in our group slept very well due to the extreme exhaustion or altitude or both.

Hut at the top of Mount Fuji

In the morning we got good seats for the sunrise but unfortunately due to cloud cover there was no sunrise.  🙁  The dawn was absolutely spectacular however and it was surreal being above the clouds.

Dawn on Mt. Fuji

The next morning we hiked around the crater but unfortunately it was very foggy until we had completed it.  Hiking around the crater is also recommended because there is a post office from which you can send a post card and another shrine for another stamp on the summit.

Highest point on Mt. Fuji

As I mentioned the fog gave way after our hike for which we were grateful.  Here is the crater of Mt. Fuji.

Then it was back down the mountain.  Since the fog had cleared we were able to get two great pictures at the summit right before we started the 5 hour descent.

At the Summit of Mount Fuji

Heading back down the mountain isn’t much fun because it takes seemingly forever and just keeps going on and on for about five hours.  Unfortunately I had also run out of water and so had to pay 500 yen for a small bottle.  There also aren’t any places to refill the water or even buy it on the way back down so be prepared.

As you can see the path back down is also pretty desolate.  I didn’t take many pictures here either as I just wanted to get down as quickly as possible and my batteries were pretty much exhausted.

All in all it was a wonderful experience – although very hard! – but I was able to find an inner stamina that I didn’t know I had.  Perhaps I had some help from my ancestor in-laws who I told I was climbing the mountain and asked for their help.  No altitude sickness, a quick climb and plenty of supplies made for a great hike and one we’ll talk about over many more bottles of wine as the years go by.

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Japan - 日本 Journal

Journal Entry – 8.16.2017

It is 12:58 PM on August 16th, 2017.  We’ve been back from Japan for over a week now and the terrible jet-lag has finally subsided.  I am not yet back into full routine yet however as I’ve had a lot of work to catch up on and the jet-lag made me very tired when I wasn’t working.

I’m currently in my clubhouse/fortress/office/greenhouse listening to music from the Shire (hobbit) and finally have a few moments to get a journal entry in.  I’m very behind on my blogs and need to get many posts written in this blog as well as the family blog and my namesake blog.  As for this blog one post I’m looking forward to writing is climbing Mt. Fuji (written click here) from Sengen shrine (the very bottom).  This is the path of old, the one that pilgrims used to take.  It took us 11 hours to reach the top and we all did very well.  It was a successful adventure indeed and one that I’m sure we’ll often talk about while drinking wine on cool Pacifica nights while watching the sun set.  I’ll save the details for the official post.  Another reason however that I’m looking forward to writing is is there really isn’t many posts on the subject of climbing the mountain from the very bottom.  99% of hikers go from the 5th station and there are plenty of posts about that, but not many from Sengen shrine.

As for the routine, I’m growing wheatgrass again and it should be ready for drinking in one more week.  We also haven’t started up with karate again mainly because of the jet-lag.  I find myself sleeping until 7:00 AM which I really do not like, I need to get to bed earlier and thus wake up earlier.  By waking up early I can then work out in the gym without distraction, drink my wheatgrass and vegetable juice and thus be ready to start the day extremely energized.

I’m also blaming my lethargy on the jet-lag.  I really haven’t been motivated to do much of anything except play Warcraft which I started again when I had a bunch of free time as a bachelor.  I am determined to craft all purple gear and that is taking some time as well as gold.  I need to clean the fish tanks and once I get my bonus have the house trim painted and a few shingles repaired.

As for Japan it was wonderful catching up with everyone but being so busy made the trip go extremely fast.  It didn’t start off so well the first day of travel.  I had bought two separate plane tickets in order to save money which you’re really not supposed to do.  The problem in doing so is that they could not check me all the way through and I had to collect my baggage at LAX and then re-check in.  Also if the first flight is delayed and you miss the second one I’m not entirely sure they would help me out even though it was on the same carrier.  However, the plane was not late, it was the second flight I had problems with.  We left LAX on time but an hour and a half into the flight and just as we were to cross the Pacific Ocean the plane turned around.  The captain said the backup systems would not start and that is one of the parameters needed in order to cross the large ocean.  So we went back to LAX and had to wait over 6 hours for a new plane and crew to be ready.  We also waited about an hour on the flight waiting for the secondary pilot to arrive who was stuck in traffic in LA.

This made me arrive in Tokyo much later than expected and I arrived at the capsule hotel around midnight.  I had planned on meeting my friend Brandon out for a night in Tokyo which didn’t happen.  I was determined to drink a beer however and headed over to The Hub and had two beers in Tokyo.  Those first two beers are always the best of the trip when one first arrives in a place as wonderful as Tokyo.

The next morning I headed out to Saitama to meet up with my family.  The following morning we went to Hotel Mt. Fuji in Yamanakako to meet up with our friends and to hike the mountain the following day. It would be a while before our friends arrived to we went to Oshino Ninja which taught us all about ninjas and even had ninja costumes for the kids to wear.  Then we went to the hostel, took a nice hot spring then a nice dinner.  After Mt. Fuji we spent a nice relaxing time at the hotel and then headed back to Saitama.

Well, I was interrupted while writing this post so I’ll stop here.  I’ll write two separate posts later, one for Japan and one for just Mt. Fuji.

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Japan - 日本 Journal

Graves of the 47 Ronin

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I visited Sengakuji after a late night and too many bottles of Shochu in Nishiogikubo.  I went drinking with a Japanese friend and it was a great experience although I do not remember much of it.  He was dressed in traditional Japanese clothing and the street he took me to was lined with small, seemingly Edo-era restaurants.  Each one only seated between 8 – 15 people and we started drinking early.  He always added a drink called “Hoppy” to his Shochu and I was confused at first when he told me it didn’t contain any alcohol.  He let me know that after World War II the capacity to produce beer was much reduced yet people still wanted that beer taste.  Hoppy could be easily produced and when added to Shochu it gave a beer flavor.

I awoke a bit dazed the following morning and had the option of going directly back to the in-laws which is what I had intended to do.  On the Chuo line on my way to Shinjuku the thought occurred that if I wanted to visit the 47 Ronin I better do it now since another opportunity might not arise for a couple of years.

I also made a great discovery at this time.  Understanding the Tokyo metro is very difficult since lines are run by different companies and most apps only give you the main metro or Japan Railway but do not interconnect.  I downloaded many apps which never resolved this problem and found myself wishing for my old Palm Pilot software which was actually useful.  I then tried simple Google Maps then hit the “train” button with minimal expectations.  To my amazement it gave me the most beautiful, clear and concise route with alternates!  No other app is needed to navigate the metro except for Google Maps.  Well done Google.

I arrive at Sengakuji and immediately seek out the graves.  I tried to put myself into a deeply reflective state and to feel the history surrounding me; unfortunately the aftermath of massive quantities of Shochu greatly impeded the mental state I was seeking.  While I was there an elderly Japanese gentleman was laying incense at each of the graves and a western couple were being guided by a young Japanese man.

To be among those 47 was profound.  Forty-seven men each plunged a dagger in their stomach and proceeded to make a horizontal cut until their bowels spilled out.  Forty-seven!  The mindset of a Samurai must be one of the most disciplined since the human race began to form coherent thoughts.

Sengakuji - 泉岳寺
Sengakuji – 泉岳寺

Sengakuji - 47 Ronin

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Japan - 日本 Journal

Koma Shrine 高麗神社

Koma Shrine

http://goo.gl/maps/qw0V1

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I learned that this was a Korean shrine but nobody could explain the history behind it.

Yes, ok, it is a Korean shrine but what is a Korean shrine doing in Japan?  Is there a large Korean community nearby?

To find the answer I had to do a simple Google search and found the answer – not in Wikipedia since there doesn’t seem to be an entry – on the Japan visitor website which had this nice summary.

Countries with such ancient histories continually fascinate me.  I’m also astounded that most local people don’t know, or even bother to look up, the history.  I have an insatiable desire to want to know the origins, the reason for, and the history behind the places I visit.  By visiting this place I learned there was a large, ancient kingdom in Korea called Goguryeo that was completely destroyed.  Refugees from this calamity settled in Saitama and built the temple I was visiting.  Learning this made me want to know more about Goguryeo.

To imagine entire an entire kingdom overrun and destroyed is something I don’t think most American people could fathom today.  We sit comfortably in a very strong empire and our concerns lie in what T.V. show to watch, or which coffee to order – not in the fear of being conquered and slaughtered by the neighboring country.  We consider our jets flying over other countries to be normal and status-quo.  An American could not comprehend a Chinese fighter jet flying over our airspace – friendly or not.

I find learning about history and the reasons behind the way things are now to be absolutely fascinating.  I only wish a conversation about history would be more frequent in our society than which sports team got the ball over the line the most.

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Japan - 日本 Sunrise / Sunset / Moon

Sunrise in Saitama

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おはようございます!

The beautiful, ancient rice field is now in harvest season.  I felt grateful to be able to catch this sunrise as the only sliver of clear sky is just on the horizon and the space between the hill and tree only amounts to about a month of visibility.  To think that my wife’s family has lived in this same area for over 300 years makes me reflect on the brevity of our short lives and the shadows of history beneath our feet.  I would like to stand in this spot, and indeed every spot in the whole world since the beginning of time, to watch empires rise and fall, as well as the rice grow from seed to harvest throughout the generations.