Friday, August 2, 2013

Tokyo/Fuji: Days 5 & 6 (Thursday/Friday)

It's all kind of been building to this, hasn't it? The Mt. Fuji journey. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Yes, I actually did stuff prior to walking up the tallest mountain in Japan. First, and least interesting of all, I slept in pretty late after the long day at DisneySea the day before. Yeah, I know. Riveting stuff. And then I had to finish putting together the DisneySea post.


But after that, I actually made my way to Hamamatsucho Station (a solid 30 minutes from Shinjuku) so I could finally visit the PokeMon Center. Because really, the thing that started me towards my want to visit Japan was my obsession with PokeMon as a kid. Of course that eventually expanded into other things, but PokeMon is where it really all began. And, if you don't know, there are huge shops called PokeMon Centers (so named after their video game counterparts) that sell anything and everything PokeMon related you can think of.

Turns out it was super easy to find, as it was in a building that was almost right next to the train station (and there was even a sign in the station that pointed you in the right direction--that's how popular it is). Though if that weren't enough, there were hoards of children with Pikachu hats heading into the station from the direction of the store. I also even found a video online that walked you right to the front doors. I was pretty set on finding this easily, and I did. And I think I probably spent a good hour inside just wandering around and looking at everything. And, yes, I bought a few things. Nothing major, as a lot of the stuff there was geared toward newer generations rather than the original 150. Though the store did have a huge lean towards Pikachu and Eevee (and all the Eeveelutions). I'd say after that was probably MewTwo and then Charizard and Blastoise. But I'm getting… well, not off topic, but I doubt many of you care this much about PokeMon.

And then I headed back to the hotel. I ate a quick lunch at the Italian restaurant (a very garlic-y, though still good, pasta). 

And then I wrapped up a few more things on the DisneySea post before I had to hurry off downstairs to do an early checkout, have them hold my luggage, and by some water and snacks for the big trek.

Now, I set a reservation for a there-and-back bus ticket from the Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal. It would take me right to the 5th Station halfway up the mountain and then back again in the morning. And the bus station (different from the other one I went to) appeared pretty easy to find from all the maps. Of course, unlike the PokeMon Center, it wasn't.

I had even left a good 45 minutes to an hour early just to give myself time. I found a bus station, but there were no ticket counters or anything. Just the buses. I asked one of the bus drivers for help, though he couldn't speak English. He just kind of awkwardly pointed me in a diagonal direction. I headed that way when I magically stumbled upon two young Japanese guys with hiking gear and water, and I knew I could just follow them right to the bus station. So I followed them.

And I'm sure you know where this is going.

They had no idea where to go, either. In fact, they were more lost than I was. They had me going in circles and would take off running at random points, making it really difficult on me to keep up. And I did eventually lose them. But it was too late anyway. My reservation time had passed by at least 10 minutes. I stood around a street corner, entirely lost for what to do. Even the Japanese dudes, with their Japanese language skills, couldn't get proper directions from people, so how would I?

But then I saw a couple white dudes, also with hiking gear and water, say something to the effect of "There it is!" and enter this tiny little corner shop that's not particularly labeled properly. I entered and, sure enough, there it was. But we know how complicated my life likes to make things like this on me. Turns out all the direct buses to the 5th Station were completely booked. So the lady ended up booking me the next bus for some place called Kawaguchiko and said something about a transfer. So I put my life in her hands, trusting she knew what she was doing, and bought the ticket.

Long story short (too late), Kawaguchiko Station is right near Mt. Fuji and has direct buses to the main 5th Station halfway up. So after a 2-hour bus ride to that station, I bought another ticket (which thankfully also acted as a 2-way return ticket the next day) and took another 50-minute bus ride up the mountain. I also had the pleasure of sitting around a bunch of annoying Dude-Bros (male and female) who were just one "brah" short of filling out the stereotypical Californian thrill-seeker.


(Note: I feel like I'm not going to do any of what follows in this section justice, so if it sounds bad, it was probably 10 times worse, and if it sounds good, it was probably even better.)

I finally reached the 5th Station and bought my walking stick (and another, smaller water to compliment my large bottle… just in case). It was already starting to sprinkle, though it wasn't too terribly cold at this point. It was roughly 9 PM at this point. I put on my head-light and began my trek into darkness (no Spock, sadly). And yeah, it was dark. Very dark. And eventually the clouds hit and it became that much more difficult to see. But what worried me at the very beginning was that I was going downhill. Why was climbing a mountain making me go downhill? And I knew I was on the right path. There weren't really many people around at this point, but there were a few who had started ahead of me.
Front of the 5th Station shop
And then the uphill began. And by uphill, I mean Up. Hill. It wasn't long before I began questioning myself. To kind of tease how this turned out, I'll say this: I've done a lot of stupid things in my life, but this was--by far--the stupidest. Like, sincerely… I cannot stress this enough… it was the stupidest, most terrifying, life-threatening, exhausting thing I've ever done. And I'm not hyperbolizing the life-threatening part. I was, at many points, afraid for my health and well-being. But let's back up just slightly. And just to give you an idea of what the trail and stops are like, here's an identical map to what I had (click to make it larger). It's the Yellow Yoshida line up the middle:

So the trail starts off pretty basic. And I was even tired just by what turned out to be the most mild part of the entire hike. Because what begins as an inclined dirt path soon becomes even steeper with a mix of dirt, stones, and makeshift stairs. And at first I was like "Awesome… stairs! I can take it slow, one platform at a time." Wrong. Avoid the stairs. Avoid the stairs at all costs. That's what I learned. It was much easier to brave the side of the incline where it was just hill, which is what I found out most people actually did. And not only does it go up, but it zigzags all the way up. So it goes up, up, up and then suddenly turns and goes up, up, up in the other direction. It came to a point where I was so exhausted and out of breath and my heart was beating so fast that I was having to stop for a break every 15 steps… then every 10 steps… and eventually every 5 steps. And I hadn't even reached the 6th Station yet. And there's something like 9-10 stations. It also didn't help when we got signs saying the summit was still another 4-5 hours away (not including breaks).

But I eventually made it to the 6th Station, which was more like an information hut, and sat down for a while. My clothes were already soaked, and it was getting colder. But I had to carry on, despite that little voice in my head telling me to just turn back now. And I wasn't the only one exhausted. Even those who appeared physically fit were losing it, so just imagine how I felt. I honestly have no idea how children and elderly make this hike, yet they do.

The steep hills/stairs continued on for quite a while, and then I finally saw it--the stretch of hut lights. I had never been so happy to see lights. But I didn't realize just how far away they actually were. I still had a long way to go to actually reach them, and the terrain shifts weren't over yet.

No, it got even harder. Besides the incline somehow increasing even more, it wasn't long before the huts where it turned from dirt to almost pure rock. That you climbed. Not like a vertical climb, but pretty freakin' close. There was no way to get up these stretches without using both your feet and hands. I was basically rock climbing. And did I mention that, of the 3 or so paths available to make this hike, this was the easy and popular one?

As the huts rapidly approached, the terrain was a mix of rock climbing, then stairs, then more rock climbing, etc. I was having trouble breathing from all the extensive cardio (not to mention the altitude)--like I said, even 5 normal steps and my heart was pounding. Even after a long break. But I finally reached Station 7.1 (there are apparently two Station 7's). I took a long break outside this one and realized just how wet my clothes were (except my jeans, strangely enough), even with the rain gear. I knew at this point I wasn't going to make it to the top. Honestly, I knew an hour before that I wasn't going to make it to the top. I was exhausted, both from the hike thus far and the lack of sleep. My hands were shaking. My legs and knees were very weak. I was freezing and wet. And this stretch from Station 5 to Station 7.1 had taken me almost 2 and a half hours. It was about 11:30 PM at this point, if I recall.

But I couldn't stop just yet. Even if I were to give up, I didn't have the energy or mental fortitude to make the climb all the way back down. I knew some of the huts offered beds to rest, so at the very least, I'd find one of those. I moved on to the next hut, which did offer rest for like 50+ bucks. I figured I'd try to make it one more. The next hut was actually Station 7.2, the last big Station for a while. So I made it, barely, and knew I couldn't go on. There was no way my body could handle it. I went inside the hut and was immediately asked by the guy if I wanted my walking stick stamped--two brands for 300 yen (about 3 bucks). Sure, why not? Might as well get something out of this. It had now been over 3 hours since I left the 5th Station, and it was after midnight.

The two brand-stamps on my walking stick.
I didn't want to leave the warmth and safety of the Station. And I noticed a family was sitting in there with me playing cards. And soon they went into a back room, and I realized this place must have beds. I asked the guy about it. He said, yes, for 5,500 Yen for the night (that's about 55 bucks). I didn't care at this point. It was 55 bucks or death from exhaustion and/or exposure, so I paid it up, and he took me back to my bunk bed (oh joy, more climbing). They were basically like a barracks--large, hard wood bunk beds attached to the walls with curtains over the front. I changed into a dry shirt and settled into my plank.

Now here's where new issues arose. I realized this as I paid the man, because I had to weigh the potential consequences of this option. Prior to paying for the room, I only had roughly 7,000 Yen left to my name. The room for the night was 5,500. That left me with roughly 1,500 Yen. The bus back to Shinjuku from Kawaguchiko was going to cost me 1,700 Yen. But hey, it was a major station. I figured they'd take credit cards. Either way, it's not like I had much of a choice. I'll get back to this later.

So I decide I'll get a few hours of sleep--it's about 1 AM by this point, and sunrise is at about 4:40-ish. I have no idea how well I'd be able to see it from where I was, but I might as well try and get a look-see, right? So, trying to ignore the insanely annoying boy who couldn't sleep and made sure everyone was aware of it, I tried to sleep on and off for the next few hours. Come 4:30, I heard lots of rustling about in the shared dorm area, but I was still pretty tired. i did eventually pull myself out of bed by 4:45 and hurried outside where everybody was looking at this:

And if those weren't enough for you (I actually took more, but just picked a few to put here), here is a short video I took, as well.

Oh yeah. Gorgeous. And I'm not sure how different the view was from the summit itself, though I can't imagine it being too different from this. Just… higher. So I stood around in the freezing weather watching the sunrise for a while before realizing I actually had to walk back down. And not the descending path that you'd take from the summit, either. No, I had to make the Walk of Shame down the ascending path, back the way I'd come. Fortunately I wasn't the only one. Mostly middle-aged and elderly headed back down this way, as well. I passed tons of people who were just starting their climb, I guess to do a day climb. They were almost all very friendly, saying good morning and even a few asking about the climb itself. And some people were cheating with horses (and I'm not sure how those horses were gonna get up the rock climbing portions, but I guess it's a thing they do).

I was surprised at how difficult going downhill was. My knees were still weak from the climb up, so going downhill made me pretty wobbly (and not to mention the reverse rock climbing was not a fun experience). Granted, I'd still take downhill over uphill any day (and it so wasn't cool when I got to that part at the start that, remember, was downhill? Yeah… no longer downhill. Not fun). And I did manage to take a few more pictures of the daylight scenery going down, as well.

The trek up might have taken 3 hours to where I stopped, but it only took an hour and a half to get back down. Then all I had to do was wait for my bus to Kawaguchiko to show up at 8 AM. I had to buy some more water because I had run out and I was dying of thirst, so there went another little bit of change that I couldn't afford to lose. Finally, my bus arrived, I got on, and then began the return journey.


OK, back to that not enough money thing. As I'm sure you guessed by this point, because that's how tragic irony works, the station did not take credit cards of any kind. So I was legitimately freaking out. I just straight-up did not have enough money to get back to Shinjuku. I only had 1,200 Yen, and I needed 1,700. But then I remembered somebody on the bus back to this station used a mixture of cash and their Suica subway card to pay for their ticket. I asked the lady if I could use my Suica Card and… thank God… yes. But I knew I didn't have enough money on it. I had 870 on the card and a 1,000 Yen bill (plus the other loose change). But after a little confusion, the lady was able to charge the 1,000 onto my Suica and then use the card to pay for my ticket. At this point, I had 170 on my Suica and 200 Yen in my pocket. So like… 3 bucks altogether.

But I didn't care. Well, as long as my hotel would take credit card for my airport bus (I'll save you the suspense--they did. Thankfully). So I took the 2 hour bus ride back to Shinjuku. Then I went to my hotel, got my luggage, and bought my ticket for the airport bus. All week, I had actually been worried about not being able to get to the airport on time from Fuji. Turns out, my real concern should have been actually getting back from Fuji in general. I spent the last of my pocket change to buy yet another bottle of water for the airport trip and then made my way there.

At the airport, the self-check-in line was actually longer than the regular check-in, so I just went to that. The guy said security might not allow me to take my Fuji walking stick onto the plane, though I'd heard you could. I checked my regular bag then went and checked with security. Sure enough, it was considered a security risk, so I had to go all the way back to the check-in line, wait again, and then have them wrap it up in a special bag and had me take it to the oversized luggage department, where it was checked in pretty fast.

And I'd like to say that was about it... but it wasn't. I sat down at the gate and wrote this out. Then got on the flight, and journeyed back to Seoul. But by the time I got through Immigration and all that, the trains into Seoul were closed for the evening, so I had to figure out the bus system. Once I got my ticket (wasn't too hard), I hopped on a bus to Sanbon. But if it were only so easy. The bus drops you off not in Sanbon itself, but at some random bus stop in the middle of nowhere, a few roads over. At first I had no idea where I was or how to go about getting anywhere. And I couldn't take a taxi because I didn't have any Won on me. So I had to walk for a bit before I recognized some Sanbon buildings, then recognized one of the back streets of Sanbon, and walked all around the little area until I found my way to the bus station I was familiar with. Then I had to wait for ages for my bus to actually show up, sweating like crazy because of this Korean humidity, but finally made it back home at right around midnight... probably more stressed than I was when I left for vacation. But I guess that's how these things tend to go, huh?

(Note: Stay tuned for tomorrow when I'll do one last post on Tokyo wrapping up all my random thoughts on the experience, as well as all my Scavenger Hunt photo in one place.)


  1. Oh no! It sounds like the altitude got to you, and your body never quite adjusted (or you just kept pushing yourself before you could adjust). The altitude gets to everyone -- EVERYONE! -- so don't feel bad about that. I just feel bad for sending you on your near-death march.

    1. Don't worry about it. At least I got some nice pictures out of it!