Sunday, January 13, 2008

Climbing Mount Fuji

My dear, dear high school barkada, Bonnie, after much cajoling and beseeching, allowed me to post his story about his climb to the top of Mt. Fuji in Japan.


There is an old Japanese saying- “He who climbs Mt. Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool.” I am not really into mountain climbing, in fact, I have never climbed a mountain. Not even Mt. Makiling, which was just right above the campus grounds of my Alma Mater. But when asked if I would want to climb Mt. Fuji, straight away, I said yes. It would be foolish to turn down a free trip to Japan.

I work for Dentsu Philippines. We are an advertising agency and not makers of industrial air conditioners. I was the fourth person Dentsu hired when they opened shop at The Enterprise along Ayala Avenue in 2001. Our mothership Dentsu Inc. is in Tokyo and was founded in1901. And as we always say as part of our credentials every time we make a new business pitch- Dentsu is older than the Philippine Republic.

Every month of July, since 1928, Dentsu would require new hires (freshmen, as they call them) to trek and climb the top of Mt. Fuji for the sunrise. A baptism of fire of some sort for Mt. Fuji is 12,388 feet above the ground. For several weeks and in numerous occasions before my trip, our Japanese Director, Abe-san would tell me, “Ah Bonnie-san very, very difficult neh climbing Mt. Fuji noh.” Nakano-san, a frequent visitor from the mothership thought I was crazy to even think about climbing Mt. Fuji. Another frequent visitor, Fugawa-san, said he had difficulty in breathing during the ascent and suffered a temporary hearing impairment after the climb. He swore never to climb Mt. Fuji again.

With all the apocalyptic warnings from the Japanese themselves, images of my glorious paid vacation to the Land of the Rising Sun began to change. I started worrying about atmospheric pressure, the freezing temperature, altitude sickness, breathing difficulties, my physical condition, and my lack of exercise. On top of my worry list was the big “what if.” What if I don’t make it to the top of Mt. Fuji?

The night before the climb, I had dinner with a good friend and fellow Creative Director, Fukada-san. Over sake, red wine, and beer, he marveled about the time he climbed Mt. Fuji as a freshman, some 20 years ago.

“It’s an incredible neh, spiritual, life-changing neh experience Bonnie-san! Fuji-san ahh made me a better man ahh,” he enthusiastically declared. This must be the wisdom behind the time-honored Dentsu tradition. I hope the climb will have the same effect on me, I mumbled to myself.

“Kampai! Bonnie-san. To your spiritual journey neh.” Fukada-san said while raising his sake glass.

“Kampai!” I uttered back, “Journey tomorrow, spiritual nourishment tonight.” And we continued to drink.

The following afternoon, after an elaborate ceremony in a Shinto Shrine, my journey to the mythical Mt.Fuji officially began. I was climber No. 299 of 386 freshmen from Dentsu. I was one of the three non-Japanese freshmen and one of the oldest too. The initial hike through the flowery meadows was a breeze. Until I got to the forest trail that zigzagged its way up to the volcanic landscape made of sharp and jagged red rocks in varying sizes, and the climb simply got steeper and steeper.

By nightfall, I was still climbing. “Itaas ang banderang Pilipinas!” was my rah-rah cheer to myself as I struggled my way up to fulfill my destiny. My legs were sore, my knees and ankles were aching. I could feel the bruises on my back from the strap of my backpack. My heart felt like it was beating itself out of my chest.

Four young ladies from Dentsu caught up with me and passed by me. One of them turned around, she looked at me and pointed to the sky and she said, “If you’re tired, look above, it’s so pretty!”

I nodded and smiled at her and I continued walking, really slow this time. When I saw that the girls were already far away from me, I stopped and looked up. Wow! The night sky appeared like shimmering black crystal intricately adorned with thousands and thousands of pure light from the distant stars. Absolutely amazing!

Minutes before sunrise, I finally got to the top. There were many people on the mountain by then and amidst the sea of climbers, I jostled and elbowed my way and found a spot to sit down. From my vantage point, I knew I was going to get a perfect view of the spectacle about to unfold.

In awe, I saw the first sliver of light cutting through the Cimmerian darkness of the horizon, dramatically splitting it into two, altering its color to orange as the rising sun bursts through the clouds, majestically heralding the start of a new day. For a moment there was a collective hush in the crowd, followed by a succession of clicks of many camera shutters. Many Japanese made calls on their mobile phones to tell of the event. Envious, I took out my cellphone, and yes, full bar! Immediately I made a call and roused my wife in Manila and told her of the un-realness of what I have just seen and that her husband was literally standing on ground above the clouds.

“Okay, good.” She said and asked if she could go back to sleep.

“Okay,” I replied and got off the phone. Then I realized that though it was freezing cold, I felt really wonderful. It was a great feeling. It has been years now since I climbed Mt. Fuji and I am still not into mountain climbing. Did I become a better person, wiser, after setting foot at the summit of the sacred Fuji-san? I don’t know but I can certainly say, I am a fool, for I will climb Mt. Fuji again…soon.

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