Dear Mt. Fuji,
I first saw you during the first sunset of 2011—fierce, beautiful. On New Year’s Day, my friend and I walked into the Yokohama Sheraton Hotel and took the elevator to the top floor to see the city stretched below. Beyond the city lights you stood, a symmetrical cone framed by an apricot and pomegranate sky. With my nose pressed into the floor-length glass window, I decided I would stand at your summit before I moved back to the United States.
One and a half years later, and two days before I flew home to the U.S., I swigged water and adjusted my backpack straps in the dark at Kawaguchiko Fifth Station. A lot had happened in the eighteen months between gazing at you and getting to you. The earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, the region I was teaching in. A toxic relationship. Things in my control, others out of my control—everything weighted my body. I double-knotted my hiking boots.
At 9pm, my friends Jeff and Akiko and I switched on our headlamps; our goal was to reach your summit for sunrise. Surrounded by night, we started climbing the trail that snaked up your eastern side. As we climbed, I gazed at all of the headlamps winding up the mountainside like fireflies. Above, a full moon glowed. The world was silence and soft stars, and the crunch of boots on pebbles and dirt. I relaxed. I was in nature; I was free.
Buddhists say you are a gateway to a different world. I believe them. At 4:30am, ribbons of color stretched across the base of the dark sky. The three of us sat near the red torii gate at your summit, and watched the sky transform into light. As the sun broke the horizon, all of us climbers resting on your peak hushed in collective awe. Below us, a sea of clouds rolled across the landscape. Far away, billowing towers of clouds stood in place—castles in the sky are real. The full warmth of the sun stretched from the horizon, and my face gladly accepted it. Here, I existed in the present. The past didn’t matter; the future wasn’t a concept. Here, I could let go. In the light of the sunrise, I sat in vibrant stillness and peace.
The hike back down lasted forever. My friends and I were exhausted and covered in black dust. Looking back, I’m glad the descent took a long time. You didn’t let me grab my experience at the summit and go, or grab and forget. Since that hike, I’ve thought countless times about breathing in the sunrise from your summit, about how I live my life a little more openly because of it.
I think about this: almost every day I travel from some Point A to some Point B, and back to Point A. When I climbed you, I started at Kawaguchiko Fifth Station, reached your summit, and hiked back down to the Fifth Station. The Station looked exactly the same when I got back. On the outside, save the black dust creased in my face, I looked the same, too. But my insides had changed. Thank you for breaking me open, and for giving me perspective at the summit that I could take down the mountain.
I don’t remember to greet each day like I did that morning, but the desire to welcome each day like I did at your summit is there. The desire sustains me.
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