Reaching for the Peak is a Climb, but Well Worth It

By SAYUMI TAKE

Mt. Fuji from the peak of Mt. Kintoki | Photo by author

Attending a university 15 minutes away from the congested city of Shibuya can be exciting and fun day and night -- but nightmarish in the morning. Wading through the endless, rushing tide of expressionless commuters at Shibuya station for a transit, one cannot help but feel tiny and at loss for the warmth of even a smile. On such occasions, I encourage you to take a refreshing trip to the mountains, Japanese-style. Roughly 60 to 70% of Japan is covered in mountains, and there are several mountains near Tokyo that you can enjoy on a Sunday. Let me introduce you to one of them, Mt. Kintoki.

Mt. Kintoki is a 1,200 meter-high mountain between Kanagawa and Shizuoka prefecture, and is said to be named after a famous Japanese folktale character, Kintaro. From Tokyo station to the base of the mountain is a 2-hour train ride and then a 30-minute bus ride. Once you get there, check your shoelaces, secure your cap, and off you go.

The path is steep and rocky, and there aren’t many handrails or ropes you can hold onto for support. You may be gasping for breath in a matter of minutes, starting to wonder if you will ever be able to reach the top. But put those thoughts aside, and simply breathe in the green that’s all around you. You can take all the time you want -- no train to jump onto, no class to run to.

The presence of other climbers is also a source of energy. Exchanging greetings with other climbers is a culture in Japanese mountains, and when people climbing opposite ways meet, they make small talk --- “Thank you for letting us through,” “The peak isn’t far away, so good luck!” “Be careful, the path is rather slippery down there.” Even though the climbers are strangers, at these crossroads there is a special emotion that ties them all, as people aiming for the same goal.

If you start climbing around 10AM, you will probably reach the top just around noon, and have the luxury of eating lunch with a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, and the area beyond. Mt. Fuji itself is a tourist attraction, and many foreigners challenge themselves to climb the 3776 meters - but I personally think admiring Mt. Fuji from elsewhere is even better. It allows you to really appreciate its beauty. It’s not a high mountain compared to other famous mountains around the world, but it’s located in the middle of a flat field, emphasizing its height and geometrically stunning shape. Eating your rice balls with the Mt. Fuji in sight, the breeze licking the exhaustion off your body, enveloped in pure happiness of succeeding at reaching the peak, is a rare treat. At the top of Mt. Kintoki, you feel free from your daily troubles. Realizing that the place you spend every day in and feel overwhelmed in is just a tiny section of the world, can sometimes make all the difference in the world.

The final and most exciting stage of the journey awaits you at the bottom of the mountain - treating your tired muscles to a long, soothing dip in the onsen, or hot spring. Mt. Kintoki is located near Hakone, a place popular for its many hot springs. Some onsen facilities allows you to take a bath for several hundred yen. Undoubtedly, you will be going back to Tokyo charged with energy and feeling ready to take on the busy city life again.

Comparing mountain climbing to life has become a cliché nowadays, but every time I climb a mountain, I always realize the truthfulness of the comparison. Whenever you feel down or face a problem you can’t seem to get over, climb a mountain and remind yourself that the joy is in the climb itself.

“Life’s a climb, but the view’s great.”