Misty Mountain Hop
We had a week blocked off for Tokyo, we’d visited there before, but just for a day, and knew there was much more to see. We stayed in a tiny, no-frills hostel near Shinjuku, splitting our time between visiting every attraction we could, and eating at all the sushi and ramen shops we passed along the way.
We hit all the big stuff on our list - we went to the Tsukiji Fish Market, gawking at all the different types of seafood I didn’t even know existed, and walked through Takeshita Street in Harajuku, a colorful road so packed with people we had to fight our way through. We went to the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, for a free, sprawling view of the most populous city in the world, then to the Shinjuku Gyo-en Gardens, where we were surrounded by green and cicadas so loud they drowned out the traffic. We experienced Shibuya crossing’s organized chaos, watching (and joining) the thousands of pedestrians scrambling in all directions, spilling forward into the street like marbles from a box. We walked through shrines and temples, took a day trip to Yokohama, and impulse bought twenty minutes at a cat cafe.
It’s funny though, Danny told me something in Iwanai that I didn’t really believe until now. He’s a well-traveled guy, but said that the big cities start to get real old, real fast - that each one has great food, a cool skyline, and an interesting history, but that they’d blend together quickly - because what you'll value most from traveling is the connections you make with people around the world, and the stories you hear that are unique to them. While I loved exploring Tokyo, it felt very surface-level - flitting about from spot to spot, checking attractions off our list, we felt very much like tourists just stopping by. It was so different from Iwanai, where there were no tourist attractions, so all we had was to interact with the locals, be immersed in the culture, and feel that greater sense of community like we were really living in the place. They’re two very different types of travel, but I’m starting to see what he meant.
We decided to check out of Tokyo a few days early so we could climb Mt. Fuji again, because nature and hiking to me is something that will never ever get old. We’d done it once before, the first international trip Peter and I took together was to Japan, seeing the sunrise from the summit of Mt. Fuji had been at the top of my bucket list for a while, and it was a fun and challenging hike to do together. The first time we went, we mapped out the bus schedule a week in advance, packed our bags meticulously, and stayed overnight in a mountain hut so we could get some sleep before the sunrise at 4am. This time, a few years later and a bit more traveled, we winged it - decided day-of to do the hike, threw some snacks in a day bag, showed up to the last bus a few minutes before it left. Due to lack of planning, overconfidence, and sheer penny-pinching, we decided not to reserve a spot at a mountain hut, meaning we’d hike the entire eight hours overnight - no rest - and be at the summit for the sunrise at four in the morning.
We strapped on our headlamps and started hiking at about 8pm, it’s hard enough to pull an all-nighter even when you’re not literally climbing a mountain, but combining the two was pretty brutal. The hike itself isn’t too difficult, there are a few places where it helps to use your hands, but it’s mostly walkable. It was cold though, colder than last time and colder than what we were prepared for. We were tempted many times to get something hot to eat at one of the stations along the way, just to warm us up, but at eight hundred yen for an instant ramen, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.
There was a light mist coming in as we neared the top, leaving us in a state of perpetual dampness. We finally cleared the summit around four in the morning, feeling almost drunk with the altitude and exhaustion, stumbling to a viewpoint facing east. There was a rainbow of windbreakers next to me, people all peering over the edge of the mountain, shivering as we waited for the first glimpses of light on the horizon. As soon as the sun began to rise everyone perked up, as exhausted and cold as I was, I soon forgot all about it - the clouds on the mountain looked like water on rocks, and it seemed to span for miles. It's one of those sights I will absolutely never forget.
We hung around the summit for a little while, but we were exhausted and ready for bed. The descent is quicker, but much more tedious - going down steep declines of loose gravel, we had to empty our shoes of rock constantly, and the mist and fog was getting thicker. We stopped to rest our knees for a moment and I literally fell asleep cross-legged on the ground, poor Peter was too sweet to wake me so he sat in the rain reading his Kindle while I slept.
By the time we finally reached the bottom, we were soaking wet and desperate for a place to sleep, a traditional Japanese guesthouse ended up being our cheapest option. It was one of those ones with sliding doors, paper walls, tatami floors, Peter hit his head on the low thresholds about four times. Our bed was a simple, traditional futon, essentially just a mat on the floor, but I don’t think I’ve ever slept better.