Mountain of Pain

Ok so I swapped the “up my” title formula to something a little more dramatic because, well, titles are important aren’t they. They convey a sense of what is to come, and will either make someone interested in, or put off by the content before they’ve even read it (discounting the faithful followers that will read it no matter what, obviously – love you guys). Who can fail to be excited by “MOUNTAIN OF PAIN” though, I ask you? Say it in your head in the voice of the Hollywood trailer guy and the effect is even greater! Is it a metaphor? Does he mean it literally? Does it even have anything to do with the rest of the post or did he just use it to trick you all into reading on?! Read on to find out…

The week after Gotenba English Camp was my first full week at Kagakugijutsu High School (say that ten times fast). Lessons didn’t actually start until 2nd September so I had plenty of time to work on my self-introduction presentation, which mainly involved me going on Facebook and sifting through pictures of me playing the guitar, climbing, eating and making a fool of myself. I went out for a meal after work on Tuesday with a couple of other ALTs, and cooked Raj (another ALT who lives in my building) a meal on Wednesday but other than that the week was wholly uneventful. Part of the problem is that it’s too hot to do anything here. I spend half the day sweating, and the other half hiding away in an air-conditioned office dreading the moment when I have to go outside and begin sweating again. Air-conditioning units back in the UK are generally set to 19-22C and that is considered a comfortable temperature. Here they’re set to 26C. That is cool here; every day is 30C+. I haven’t even bought a quilt yet and I intentionally make having a shower and getting dressed in the morning the last thing I do before I leave; to open the cereal cupboard results in the loss of half your body’s water; to open the fridge results in the loss of the other half which, finally, results in you lying dehydrated on the kitchen floor waiting for the next door neighbour to come and feed you the milk you wanted through a drip. Careful planning is the only way to stay alive.

It is probably just as well the week was uneventful because at the weekend it was my birthday, and I was going to haul my poor 27 year-old body up the tallest mountain in Japan, Mt. Fuji. You’ve seen the pictures; it’s that huge volcano that dwarfs every – already quite large – mountain in the vicinity, often cloaked mysteriously in cloud and topped with a layer of snow. I’d locked the date in before I’d even left England. Watching the sun rise from the top of the tallest mountain in Japan on the dawn of my birthday, I thought; that’s pretty cool. The thing is, on paper “Climb Mt. Fuji” sounds like a great idea. In the bus it still sounds great. Even when you’re actually on the mountain and it’s only taken you 15 minutes to get from the 5th station to the 6th you just think “Ahh this is easy, I’ll be up there in 30 minutes”, it still seems like a great idea.

Before I climbed Mt. Fuji I have never, ever come close to falling asleep standing up. I thought it was a physical impossibility; a tired old saying; a cliché to describe a very, very tired person. Imagine my surprise then when, shortly before I reached the 8th station, I was actually in imminent danger of falling asleep while I was walking; in fact I think I actually did fall asleep. A number of times I thought I’d stepped on a particular rock only to find it was still there in front of me, waiting to be tackled. My mind was beginning to make its own way up the mountain and it was intent on leaving this pointless pile of flesh and blood behind.

Fortunately I reached the 8th station intact. I was freezing, I was sleep-walking, it was about 2am and I still had two stations to go before I reached the summit. I began talking to myself…

“What the hell am I doing here?” I wondered, “Am I trying to see what my limit is?”

“No, you don’t care; if you did, you would’ve run a marathon years ago.”

You’re right… Why then?”

“Err. I think you thought it was cool.”

“Oh I did, did I?”

“Yeah. You were banging on about how cool it would be to open a bottle of champagne at sunrise, on the top of the tallest mountain in Japan on your birthday.”

“Oh yeah that is quite cool actually”

“It’s not really though is it? You have to walk up a dusty track in the dark for 7 hours cursing every step you take, and once you reach the top you’re going to have to go all the way back down again.”


“You’re freezing as well by the w—”

“Piss off.”

But freezing I was, and it didn’t matter how well I did up my newly-acquired transparent poncho; the cold was here to stay.

Luckily, the 8th station turned out to be something of a god-send. It was heated throughout – which at least allowed me to warm up temporarily – and they sold hot cups of coffee. They were £5(!) each but caffeine was more necessity than luxury at this point so I paid the man a fiver and quietly sipped my coffee whilst I posed painfully for a couple of photos. A few minutes later, brain addled with caffeine, we resumed our journey up the endless hill and I mumbled something to myself something about Facebook and “are you sure” dialogue boxes.

An hour later we reached the 9th station. We were all in higher spirits now; the summit was within view and there was plenty of time to make it before sunrise.

Then we saw the queue.

Yes, the queue. Up a mountain. This must be the only place in the world where people queue to get to the top of a mountain. As a result, our probable maximum of 1 hour of steady climbing became 2½ hours of one step; 10 second wait; another step; half a minute wait; watch man fall asleep standing up; jab him; one more step. It was getting lighter and we were too far from the summit to make it in time for sunrise. It became clear that we would have to do something terrible; something no Englishman has done since the beginning of time. We would have to break the cardinal rule of being English, the one thing that brings tuts and whispers to every man, woman and child in our glorious land, the very fabric of what makes us who we are…

We would have to jump the queue.

Yes ladies and gentlemen I am appalled at myself, but we really had no choice! There was no way we could let a bunch of old fogies, who should never have taken Julie Andrews seriously, prevent us from seeing what we climbed for 7 hours to see. And so we did it; we jumped the queue, in the most shameless fashion we could manage. At one stage a man stuck his walking stick out to stop me and I just barged right on through. Right on through! Like I was a bloody European! I am appalled and ashamed, and I’m sorry.

The result of this blatant disregard for the unwritten rules of British society however, was the view of a sunrise before anyone else in Shizuoka, on top of a mountain, on my birthday, while holding a paper cup brimming with chilled champagne.

Pretty cool, I reckon.

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