I saw Fuji Tuesday. It was absolutely amazing. Fuji san is like nothing I have ever seen before. The funny thing was, at first I didn't notice it. Even though Fuji-san is at the back door of Yamanashi, my particular town is too close to one of the foothills to see it. However, a short drive south and you will see the immense beauty of Fuji-san. You can drive through a highway tunnel or on an old winding road across the tops the mountains that separate Misaka and Kawaguchiko. My Japanese teacher decided it would be more interesting to drive over the mountains and I am sure glad she did because it was absolutely amazing. As most of you know, we don't have mountains in Louisiana, so the smallest hill is fascinating to me. I was having a blast just admiring the red pines and very sharp drop offs and all of the sudden we topped the mountain and there was a
quaint little restaurant and lodge. We got out and started walking around and I was merely admiring the rustic architecture, then I turned around and there it was Fuji-san. It was flanked my two other mountains and spotted with villages in the valleys. Fuji-san is not actually a very tall mountain (3776m), and its uniqueness is from its conical shape with exquisitely beautiful sloping sides. As with most excursions I take with Japanese friends, I have never completely clear on where we are going or when we will get there, so seeing Fuji-san was an actual surprise. I had no idea it was so near to Misaka and because of weather conditions in Tokyo the several times I have been there, until Tuesday I had not actually seen Fuji-san.
The fact that a mountain, the most famous mountain in all of Japan, crept up on me got me thinking. I think of Fuji-san as an elderly Japanese man. Often I have been walking around my town and stop to admire a garden or an old house and then I realize a man looking back at me. These men, I will call them grandfathers, sit in unassuming places and blend into the surroundings, then when you see them, you have this feeling that they have been studying you just as much as you were studying the tree or sign or whatever
first caught your attention.
For example, one man down the street from me plays a flute in his garden in the early hours of the morning, which is very nice to wake up to by the way. One morning on my way to school I stopped to look at a garden, then all of the sudden I saw him. He looked at me, when greeted each other and I continued my walk to school and he continued playing. This kind of thing happens all the time. If I take a walk around the grape vineyards and peach orchards at dusk, I am bound to run into one of these Grandfathers.
I only wish I spoke enough Japanese to ask them about their lives and the things they have seen in the past 60 years of Japans history.
For me at least, Fuji-san is like one of these grandfathers, who sit and watch what goes on around them. He listens and sees everything happening in Japan, he has seen more changes than the rest of us and is very wise, but he does not usually interrupt the goings on, for he knows that he can remind us of his presence anytime he wants. Even through all of the changes that happen to a culture over the centuries, particularly the amazing dichotomy of ancient and modern in Japan, Fuji-san reminds me of a Japan that has endured.
When my students are unruly and loud during class and I hear them struggle to speak English in the many role-plays we do, it is very difficult to remember the Japanese culture I studied in history classes. However, when it is time to finish and I hear the class leader say "Kiotsuke" and the entire class stops and stands at attention, then the command for bow "Rei" and we both bow to each other ending class, I remember the courtly formality of my East Asia Civilization textbooks. When the kids do that, or I meet one of the grandfathers, it as though Fuji-san is surprising me with his presence again.
I've often heard that before coming to Japan the most important thing to do is forget all of your assumptions about Japan. I partially agree with that statement. It is quite difficult to think of Zen Buddhism when you are walking through Akibahara (the electronics section of Tokyo) but, no matter how modern Japan becomes, Fuji-san and the little pockets of
historical traditions will remind me of what I love about Japan and why I came here in the first place.