By Antonio Malara
Mount Fuji is the second post dedicated to Japan and it was actually a tour done during my stay in Tokyo in April 2018. This tour was the only one organized from Italy, for the rest, this trip to Japan done along with my sister, it was managed entirely by us. In other words, the day of the visit to the iconic Japanese volcano, it was the only time we were part of a group led by a guide. Even though I didn't know the details of the tour, I had high expectations about Mount Fuji, in the posts about Italian volcanoes such as Etna, Vesuvius and Stromboli I have always underlined the passion I have for this type of mountains.
I think it was the third day of our stay in Tokyo and that morning my sister and I went to the Shinjuku train station, about a ten minute walk from our hotel. The appointment was in the hall of a large building and once there, a girl took the names of the participants and accompanied us a few blocks away where the bus was waiting for us. On the way we met our guide who told us that we would go around a series of hotels to pick up other people. This sort of mini tour was interesting because it allowed me to see beautiful design buildings and generally walk through Tokyo streets that I would never have seen otherwise. In a very short time, the large skyscrapers and buildings with colored signs have given way to the sight of more peripheral scenarios. During the journey, the guide began to talk to us about Japan in general, the population, their culture and at the same time gave us the opportunity to interact with him by asking him questions. The topic has also moved on to gossip, with our guide who told us about the events of the royal family of which, even if I don't remember the details, they always had a basis that underlined a certain dissatisfaction with royal culture. Another interesting topic that the guide spoke about was how the Japanese coexisted with the two religions present there: Buddhism and Shintoism. Of different souls, one religion foresaw happiness in the afterlife while the other revered the spirit in the material life. The guide told us that there was a funny saying in Japan that because of these differences, the Japanese were all born Buddhists and then died Shintoists.
The majesty of Mt. Fuji manifested itself soon after leaving the urban area. From the bus it was possible to see beautiful views with the mountain starting from the bottom with green vegetation and reaching the top where the snow colored it white. While we were crossing those areas I still didn't know that those would have been the best perspectives on Mount Fuji, otherwise I would have observed and photographed them with a different enthusiasm.
Our first destination was the "Fujisan World Heritage Center", a beautiful two-level building, with the lower part in brick and the first floor all in glass. The place was an information point for all those who wanted to visit not only Mount Fuji but also the surrounding area. Inside there were also some exhibition spaces which, however, we did not visit. This is because in reality our stop there was due to something else and when I found out I didn't react abruptly just because I had a high respect for the Japanese people and their pacifism. The guide told us that this was the best place to see Mt. Fuji because as we went up we would no longer have that kind of view. The problem was that from Fujisan there was only a partial view which we say showed only the top of Fuji, the part formed by dry lava and the snowy tip. Thinking that was the best view, I hoped that at least the top was more interesting. Unfortunately going up I made a bad discovery; I don't know if all the tours were set up like that or just ours, but basically it was a hoax. The bus stopped us at Fuji-Subaru, the fifth station, the refreshment post from where the actual tours to climb the mountain depart. The guide told us that at that time there weren't any other tours to climb higher and that this was the maximum we could get. The place was bustling with activity, with lots of shops, restaurants, and even a shrine. However in the hour we had available, together with my sister we started walking around the area trying to find different perspectives, not just to take pictures. The weather was clear that day, and from the 5th station, we could see the snow-capped peak of Mt. Fuji towering over the tall trees. On the opposite side, however, there was the view that looked further downstream even if we could see other mountains on the horizon. Even though we had realized that we would not have gone up to see the real volcano, my sister and I resigned ourselves to that view and were already thinking about how to take advantage of the time in the afternoon since the visit was decidedly short. We generally relaxed in the 5th station, exploring, taking pictures and being around people. However once we got on the bus we realized that the surprises weren't over! The tour included two more stops, one for lunch and the other for another double visit. I honestly wanted to go back to Tokyo after lunch but it was a hypothesis that we had to discard with my sister, we decided to stay with the group thinking that the tour would not last very long anyway.
Actually the place where we stopped for lunch was very nice and characteristic, it was the first floor of what looked like a residential building. A large room surrounded by a window of typical Japanese design, even the food was good, with real typical accessories to heat some drinks or dishes. After lunch we left for the next destination which was Togendai Station, a funicular station on the shore of Lake Ashi. We took the funicular that took us to Ōwakudani, a center made up of souvenir shops and restaurants with a view of a sulfur hill. In fact there was nothing to do there except observe the hill of steaming sulfur which nevertheless had beautiful yellow-green colors which broke with the brown of the hill. The place was also popular because the black eggs which were a local specialty were sold there. We took that superfluous visit more to relax than anything else, hoping to return to Tokyo as soon as possible, however when we returned to the bottom we had another surprise. There was the last tour which involved navigating part of Lake Ashi. Even if the tour on the lake took place through modern reproductions of ancient sailing ships, sailing is something I don't like to do because I have done it in the past for work. To this day it is still the main reason I don't want to take a cruise! However the boats were characteristic and the clear weather allowed us to enjoy the beauties. The most interesting thing was definitely a Torii that was built right on the lake, it was red in color and that type of structure definitely fascinated me in an incredible way. The alleged view seen on Mount Fuji instead was partial and distant, there was only one moment during navigation where we could see the tip of the mountain, nothing striking. Arriving at the pier, I had more excitement about getting on the bus to go back to Tokyo than the experience of that day.
As I said earlier, I don't know if all Mt. Fuji tours are organized that way, however online I have seen that many people have made the same stops as I have. If the goal is to have a particular view of the mountain, this type of tour should also be avoided because it requires a whole day. A photographer I follow has some great photos taken at Fuji from so many different perspectives. He said that to get those shots he simply pays local people to take him to places where there can be the best and most original view of Fuji. The tour I did was at least boring for me and a waste of time. As for the view of the mountain, I've had better ones while traveling on the Shinkansen, the super-fast train. From my point of view I would not recommend this tour, but I still appreciated the friendliness and enthusiasm that always had the Japanese I met during the visit. For them more than for the places visited I have a memory and a particular affection regarding the tour on Mount Fuji.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800