Japan’s Mount Fuji: Traveling the Pilgrims’ Route
The entrance to Fujiyoshida’s Sengen Shinto shrine is marked with a torii, a substantial vermillion gate, near the very base of Mount Fuji on its northern side. As the light of the fog-muted dawn slashes through the towering trees, the torii serves as a barrier between the old world up the mountain, where we wish to go, and the contemporary world, down the road from which we came. A perfect setting couldn’t be made by a writer or philosopher in the early morning.
The shrine beneath the canopy is filled with magic, enchantment, and tranquility. Although Shinto symbolizes reverence and purity for the spirits within, a broad rope known as a shimenawa is used to delicately sashay the vast trunk of a tree over 1,100 years old.
You would expect this location to be crowded, given that it is the beginning of a traditional pilgrimage path to Mount Fuji, a stunning beginning to a mountain trek. However, no one else here saves us, a few Shinto priests and their helpers.
Pascal, our guide, explains the void by saying, “People do not climb from the base of Mount Fuji anymore.” Instead, they ride the bus directly to Kawaguchiko Station 5 after ascending the mountain.
A Sacrosanct Mountain Hike for Mindfulness: Mount Fuji
In the past, ascending Mount Fuji meant a journey from this world to the next and back again. For over a millennium, Buddhist pilgrims have climbed the mountain hoping to purify themselves of the sins and pollutants they had accumulated.
We have the chance since this location is temporarily lent to us. We are about to set off on the pilgrim’s route. They began over here. Likewise, we would. We are reminded of how some visitors still see this trail by the sporadic shrines that pop out and the ema prayer boards other climbers have set.
We are moved by the thought of the first monks ascending Mount Fuji in the seventh century, building shrines and clearing routes as they went. The lush woodland makes up the majority of the first half of the Mount Fuji trek. Nothing outstanding exists unless, of course, you value exceptional beauty over simple beauty. No one in our group has any objections to this. One of our most joyful times as a group was climbing Mount Fuji.
Mount Fuji Climbing: What Apparel Do Pilgrims Wear?
Our party pauses for lunch after a couple of hours of strenuous walking and sits down in the grass next to a Japanese hiking group. Everyone nods and grins, conveying through nonverbal cues that “we are climbing this mountain together.”
There were both men and women in the gathering. This is not very significant until you take into account the fact that women weren’t permitted to climb Mount Fuji until the late 19th century. Ironically, Konochana Sakuya Hime, the god credited to Mount Fuji, is actually a goddess. Despite its dubious accouterments, modernity has resulted in some positive improvements.
Our thoughts wander while we consume smoked green tea Kit Kats and green tea snacks. Then, when they reach the snowline, we see those ancient pilgrims with their once-loose robes, tunics, and hand-made shoes, all of which have been tightly tied to keep them warm.
Compare this to how we are equipped, which includes comfortable hiking shoes and waterproof clothing. Yet, before considering why we would ever climb, we frequently examine if we have the right equipment. Thus, the why of our contemporary existence may easily become buried in the how.
The Japanese hikers get going right away. They ascend the slope in sync, forming a single line that resembles a human Nordic Track, with each step made in unison and spaced almost exactly apart.
Our six-person group could hardly keep it together, and we joked about it. We are also appreciative.
The slope becomes steeper after lunch, and we can feel the difference in the mountain’s curves. Robert, a skilled hiker in his late 60s, starts to feel the nagging effects of his arthritis. Although he moves more slowly, he continues, taking each step as it comes. He is in pain. The Japanese group also seemed to sense it since their coordinated motions became slower as the road pitches.
Don’t forget, the last bus from the top departs at 3:35, our morning bus driver reminded us as we rounded the last curve approach, and Station Five came into view.
We’ve grown to appreciate the Japanese propensity for punctuality, so we know that being even a minute late would be unacceptable. The pace quickens.
Just after 3:30, we depart from the final section of the tranquil mountain trail in favor of what appears to be a strip mall. The Kawaguchiko 5th Station is a well-known—or possibly infamous—location.
From Naked Geisha Towels to a Shrine with a View at Mount Fuji Station
Our guide quickly arranges another transport down the mountain, but it won’t depart for another hour.
There is time. We look at the toy palace in front of us. It’s chilly.
A massive shopping area feels like a punch in the face after the peaceful five hours of walking. We go in anyhow and enjoy (or rather, mock) the pricey trinkets like the Blueberry Cheesecake Kit Kat and the towels that say, “Blow dry it to make the geisha nude.”
We look for views since we need a refuge and discover the Komitake Shinto shrine hidden behind the commercial center. Many guests are bringing gifts and praying.
We turn around and take this all in. Yes, this is exactly why we came. A shrine with a view of Mount Fuji’s top and its lovely, clear sky.
We appreciate the assistance of two shrines, one providing us with a route from the base and the other providing us with a vista. The shorter route of taking the bus wouldn’t have been the same.