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Chapter Fourteen: Betrayal at Mount Fuji

February 4, 2011

I am struck by the enthusiasm you have for traveling — it seems every second time I receive an email from you, you suggest a new unheard-of location where you want to travel, an obscure town or mountain trail, an hour or two away from Tokyo by train.

It eats away at my balance, and I gulp and sweat as I look up the grey numbers on Hyperdia.com, the tell-all website for everything transport related in Japan. It’s expensive…but this is the price of romance, and I’m willing to pay, rather than to save money and be lonely at home.

In my effort to keep up with your wanderlust, I look for places to travel as well, but you seem to have this down to an art, and an extensive list built up over the last month. I drop my search and decide to go along with wherever you have decided, as it will give a chance to see somewhere I have never seen before.

On the train, I bury my face into your soft, warm cotton-covered chest as the train sways. I almost have to stifle a giggle because I know how scandalous we must look to the older seniors on the train. But you are much bolder with your expression of affection/lust in public — the first few times, I was surprised to feel your hand groping down my shirt and rubbing my breast while we sat on a bench or a train.

It seems scandalous to me at first — I whimper a little in my mind as I feel your fingers in my shirt: this is inappropriate, don’t do this in public. But it is amazing how years of solitude and daydreaming of affection will warp your sense of shame. My eyes can no longer see any eyes from the people around us. I can hear no voice, can sense no fingers pointed in our direction.

Waters became rough and stormy for me in late July, as we embarked on our first “big trip” in Japan — to climb the one and only Mount Fuji, Fujisan. As a Japanese Canadian, I am mostly immune to the mythos of Fujisan, but my love of mountains and their majesty makes Fuji a desirable challenge. I read that it can be a quite difficult climb, but having watched documentaries of wrinkled men conquering its summit, I am excited at the prospect of watching the sun rise from the peak.

We meet at Ueno Station to go to Gotemba, a non-descript city at the foot of Mount Fuji. It’s our very first long road trip together, and I am overjoyed at being able to travel with you, a huggable and kissable travel companion in a strange and foreign land. You put your huge arm around me and hold me up close — the very first time anyone has ever done so — and I close my eyes in bliss, feeling your warm pulse beneath your tee-shirt. This is heaven, I think, surely even the pillows of clouds in Paradise could not feel as comforting as your chest right now.

But very quickly, I am given the reminder that I am still very much down on earth — in my position of leaning over against your body, I  have cut off the circulation to my legs on my right side, with my side folding over my thighs. Sweating, I try to move my legs slightly to get the blood flowing past my right hip, but already my foot is starting to feel numb and tingly, starting to lose its feeling. Goddamnit, I think.

I don’t want to break this beautiful union, this feeling of your body. But I want to feel my leg! So this is what they meant about “to love is to suffer” — my right foot is really suffering now.

 

The minutes tick by, and I briefly ponder if it is immoral to make my toes the martyrs of my feelings toward a for a new guy who has been with me for a fraction of the time that my feet have lived under me. Feeling obliged, I shift my weight around a bit more drastically so that the vessels are unblocked, that precious blood flows freely toward my now-pale and trembling feet. But this movement has come with a price, and now you lift your lovely arm off my shoulders, and straighten yourself in your seat so that I am separated now. Nooo, I groan to myself, and wait for the next moment to lean on you again. We repeat this several times, until we arrive at our destination — through our window, we see the majestic contour of Mount Fuji, rising up like a monument against the sky. It is enormous, nothing like the tiny gray triangle that I can see on a sunny day in Tokyo.

Off the train, though, we set foot in a lifeless, gray, windy little town called Gotemba. There is a tourist office just across the street, but even the staff look humbled and bewildered about what there is to do here — there are golf parks and amusement parks, but this is all about an hour away from town by bus. We amble through the abandoned Pachinko stores, ponder the cheap dessert and pasta house with a cartoon girl in pigtails on the advertising sign. I insist on buying you lunch, so we try to find a nice restaurant, but incredibly, everything downtown is closed, and we end up eating at a bland, creaky Chinese restaurant where I feel almost guilty for inviting you.

After our un-Chinese meal, we still have several hours to kill until the hike begins, at 10:30pm tonight. Although it was planned to be left for after the hike, you and I decide to go to the onsen with the Mount Fuji view, just to see what we are up against. We take the bus down to the onsen — there are only several buses a day on this shady green mountainous road — and we walk in to what is my first ever onsen experience, one of many for us. It’s a strange facility, glass and surrounded by trees, and I move uncertainly into the Onnayu (Women’s) section as you take your towel and stride into Otokoyu, after promising to meet me back here in an hour. I strip my clothes off, self-consciously, and cover my nipples with my bare wrists as I slide open the door to find a wide bath filled with women of all ages, filled with drooping rectangular breasts, little children running around, steam filling into the room. I had never even changed in front of strangers before — here, being completely nude was beyond my usual comfort zone but my attention to peoples’ eyes was soon diluted because I realized everyone was looking at something else.

There it was, outside the window— Fujisan’s elegant contours, glowing in the sunset.

I looked at the mountain wistfully, feeling it almost surreal that we were about to climb such a majestic slope. I watched it  as sun went down, forgetting my own nakedness amidst strangers.

An hour later, I met up with you — hair still wet, smiling — as we went outside to catch our last bus. We waited on the roadside, watching as the cars zoomed by, going down the steep slope back to Gotamba city. I looked at my watch — 5:20, the bus should really be here by now. Perhaps my watch is just fast, I shrug, and we wait. Still no bus. Finally, I begin to feel a bit anxious and wonder what we will do if we cannot catch the 7pm bus going to Fujisan, but you remain calm and keep waiting, until at last at 5:29, we see the outline of the bus and sigh in relief.

When night falls, we are waiting at the Gotemba bus station just outside the train station, along with other climbers of Fujisan. I marvel at the loud group of International students — some Korean, Chinese, others Indian — who excitedly chat as they look for the bus. Some of them are only wearing flip-flops and simple windbreakers, and I wonder how they expect to endure the long overnight climb. The bus comes to pick everyone up, and I rest my head on your shoulder as we go up a rocky, dark terrain, for what seems like days before the bus finally pulls over in a large parking lot, with some cabins nearby.

It’s about 9pm, and we look about with curious eyes as hikers pass by us, decked out in raingear, massive headlights and wooden sticks with Fujisan’s name burned into the surface. Small flying bugs plant themselves on the surface of the large light bulbs in the cabin — you wander in, looking for beer, but looking at the ridiculous pricing, content yourself for a stick of ice cream. We wait, you saying it’s probably too early now, as we will be an hour before sunrise if we leave at this moment. We quietly watch the other hikers stroll by in the dark, with their heavy coats and boots. We put on our headlights and sit in the crowded cabin, waiting.

Finally, the clock turns past 9:45 and we decide to go steadily, commencing our all-night walk. I walk with you to the foot of the mountain-forest path, and just before we plunge into the mountain, I see you turn around and look at my face,, and am confused for a moment as you cover my headlight with your huge palm, your half-closed blue glowing eyes the last thing I see before you cover my lips with your kiss. It’s a sexy, unexpected kiss that will remain forever etched in my memory.

We walked and walked uphill, along with a great deal of other Japanese climbers. The first several kilometers were claustrophobic, impossible to walk in a straight line without bumping into somebody, so we swerved and weaved and dodged our way past crowds, until after about an hour, the hill suddenly became very steep. Whereas I saw step-like paths and dark forests for the last while, now I only saw a steep slope, barren and only spotted by a few short trees along the way. Climbers like us were making their way up the hill like ants on a sand-hill, slowly, struggling, slipping every now and then. You and I are fairly strong hikers, so we took advantage of this spot to forge ahead of others who had collapsed for a rest along the slope, their presence marked by clusters of loud chatting and heavy breathing in the dark.

After charging uphill for awhile, I gasp at the scenery before us. We are now completely exposed, no trees to protect us, beneath a star-sprinkled blue sky — it is nothing like the fresh, clear, powdery blue of daytime , but a deep, rich, incomparable sapphire shade of deep ocean at midnight — the mountain slopes stretch out bare, majestic, lonely and bare before our eyes. Everything now is at a steep angle, and we must take caution when we walk, especially now that the cold mountain winds have begun howling, and the clouds are moving quickly across the sky, covering up parts of starry sky.

We walk and walk, and finally take a bit of a rest when you find a space behind a large, slanted slab of rock, which blocks off the slicing razor blades of wind. We lie down on the grass, hearing the wind howling with uncertainty. Somehow, even though my insides are nervous about a coming storm, I feel very calm and warm here, laying behind this wall-like rock, comforted by your huge, warm body amidst the cold mountain weather. You pull out a bag of beef jerky from your bag, and we chew, contemplating the scenery, in silent communion with each other. I peer out from the rock, looking above, and see that the full silver moon floating in the sky, like a goddess. The moonbeams are so bright that we do not need a flashlight — I can see the stretch of mountain before us, I can see your face.

After several minutes, we crawl out of the rock like wild animals, and begin to trudge uphill again.

It goes on like this for a very long time, and we pass through, from checkpoint to checkpoint very smoothly. At one checkpoint, there is an irritating amount of people, but we stop and have hot chocolate — 400 yen for a small cup — because my hands are freezing and I feel we need a rest. It is 4a.m., and you are quickening your pace, wanting to reach the summit before the sun rises. I feel my energy draining from the cold — my cold blood slowing me down — but do not say anything, hoping that we will have a smooth finish.

Yet the further we go uphill, it seems, the more crowded it gets, the more clogged the path becomes, and the weather is collapsing. The starry, clear skies that we saw on the slope is a distant memory now, it is starting to rain.

The terrain gets rockier and rockier, and the wind is so strong now that it nearly knocks me down when a strong gale whips through the high altitudes. A fog has settled in, and we cannot see straight ahead.

Around this point, something about our journey crumbles. From my perspective, that is. I realize this is the first strong manifestation of my worst weakness —- poor communication, I have the language and a voice but am so unconfident that others will understand what I say. I am tired and in a bad state from the weather, but cannot bring myself to tell you that I am tired and need you to slow down for me, that I am about to fall behind if you don’t slow down. I know that you want to reach the summit before sunrise, and I don’t wish to slow you down — I am also deathly afraid of being seen as a poor climber, and a part of me really just wants to push myself, see if I can push myself and show no weakness or slowness in the final stretch ahead. But it doesn’t work, I slip and fall several times, and I somehow believe that you will notice my heavy breathing and stumbling and slow down for me. The terrible weakness of Japanese culture, ingrained since childhood — this misguided belief that things do not have to be said out loud, that people will pick up on the clues and do for us what we are too shy to request aloud.

It doesn’t work. My footsteps fail, and as we reach the foggy, cold final stretch of the mountain, we are caught in a traffic jam of climbers, winding snake-like up a narrow rock path leading to the summit. The winds are strong now, and people are grabbing a rope for balance, not to lose their way. I see you frustrated, muttering something, and break away from the crowd to race up the hill with your strong legs, scaling the hill.

“Wait!! ” I scream. Or believe I scream. Probably, my pride prevented me from screaming while you were still within hearing range. When I see that you are climbing ahead without me, I scream, aloud this time, “Wait!! Josef! Wait for me!!”

Perhaps I have only screamed because I know you will not have heard me, but before I know it, tears are flowing down my face as I watch your back become smaller and smaller, and fade into the long line of people grabbing on the rope.

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