Mt Fuji

Hokusai, from ‘Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji’, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

I climbed Fuji-san a couple of weeks ago, as the climbing season was coming to an end and I didn’t want to wait until next summer.  This meant that I missed my prefectural beach party and I spent about ¥30,000 on transport alone.  But it’s something that one should do if one is in Japan.  Mt Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776m and it is one of Japan’s Three Holy Mountains, the other two are Hakusan and Tateyama which are not too far from where I live.  Hakusan is partly located in Ishikawa and Tateyama is in neighbouring Toyama.  I would like to attempt to climb the other two as well, but maybe not at night.

Fuji was, as I tell people who ask, an experience.  I’m glad I did it, but I’m never doing it again.

I went with a group of JETs from Shizuoka who had organised the climb, and a bus took us from Fuji city to the fifth station on the mountain which is at about 2300m.  This is where most climbers begin as it is here that the slope gets steeper, though the lower slopes are supposed to be quite nice for hikes through the woods.  We started the ascent at 10 p.m. in order to reach the summit for sunrise and it wasn’t until midnight that it hit me that I would be losing a night’s sleep and using that time instead to climb a mountain.

The ascent wasn’t too bad as there were large rocks to step up on and we took regular breaks.  However, I had been freaked out about altitude sickness by the other JETs so that when I sometimes grew dizzy (from lack of sleep) I worried that I might get sick and then be stuck on the mountain.  Unfortunately I couldn’t take many pictures as on my way up I had my staff and my torch in my hands.  If I had been able to take photos I would have taken them of the groups of Japanese climbers that we passed huddled together, inhaling oxygen from canisters or simply lying asleep on rocks.  As dawn and the summit approached, the line of climbers moved slower and slower, and the few photos and videos I have were taken during the times we were at a standstill, although more often I used that time to snatch brief naps by resting on my staff.  We bought wooden staffs at the beginning that could be stamped at each station (though these were closed at night) but I did get my staff stamped at the shrine at the summit so it’s a nice memento.  You forget that this is actually a pilgrimage.

The climb was quite magical in fact, as it was a surprisingly clear night.  We could see several cities lit up below us, we could see the stars above us, and we could see the winding trail of headlamps snaking its way up the mountain.


I was waiting in line for the summit when dawn broke at around 4 o’clock, but it was still spectacular.  I wish I had more time at the summit as the views were quite stunning, and the crater itself was really impressive.  Another thing you forget is that Fuji is actually a volcano.  It was especially noticeable on the descent as I saw Fuji’s Mars-like landscape for the first time in daylight, as it’s made of red, crumbling volcanic rock.  The descent was the most difficult part.  By the time I reached the summit I was already cranky from lack of sleep and fed up with Fuji, so I was not looking forward to walking all the way back down, which turned out to be a lot more work than the ascent, as because the rock was so crumbly, my muscles were constantly tensed against slipping, and I held on for dear life to my staff and the rope that marked the path.

SurrenderTori at the TopThe Summit

“It feels like … that soon we’ll be at the same level as the stars.”

Review: Old man with a Cough, his Goats and a Tree

There’s a nice little cinema downtown, hidden on the fourth floor of a shopping centre, that shows foreign and less mainstream films.  It only has one screen and a basic ticket costs ¥1500, which is expensive by Irish standards, but reasonable in Japan where most cinemas charge ¥1800.  As a foreigner, going to a cinema like this is a safer bet as they are more likely to show films in their original language with subtitles, rather than being dubbed as they might in the big cineplexes.

I looked through the brochure for a film from a country whose language I understand (i.e. English or Italian) and decided to check out an Italian film called Le Quattro Volte.  I googled it just to briefly scan the reviews and picked up the phrases ‘extraordinary achievement’, ‘precise, subtle and masterful’ (The Guardian), ‘remarkable’ ( and ‘amazing’ (New York Times).  I suspected from the fact that it was about an elderly goatherd that it was going to be a film in which nothing happens (I was right).  But I went to see it anyway, figuring that at least I would be able to listen to some Italian (I was wrong).

If I had looked closer at the reviews I would have noticed phrases like ‘slow-moving’, ‘art film’ (The Guardian) and ‘idiosyncratic’ (New York Times).  This is a film where nothing happens and nobody speaks.  There were no subtitles in this film as there was no need for them.  It is silent except for background noise, which, not having anything in the foreground becomes the soundtrack to the film – coughing, bleating, cowbells, and wind.  My title pretty much sums up what happens in the film.  An old goatherd has a cough.  A goat gets lost.  A tree is cut down.  These events are not related.  The film is undeniably beautiful for the stunning Calabrese scenery and great cinematography, and it’s interesting as a documentary of a rural backwater town which seems unchanged since the fifties or earlier.  It has no story and there is always a sense of detachment in the viewer due to high camera angles and the like, so it can only be seen as an artwork or documentary.  It’s the moving-image equivalent of a Millet painting, if you’ll pardon the reference.

This kind of film should be shown in a gallery where people can pause, appreciate and then move on.  Despite being only an hour and a half long, I was getting restless by the end of the part about the old man, which was only about a third of the way in.  I have only myself to blame for not researching the film more fully before I went to it, so go see it if you would like to see a moving picture of rural Italy.  If, like me, you’re not really into films where nothing happens, don’t bother.  I’m not going to pretend to ‘get’ this film.