Nothing quite says Japan like Mt. Fuji. In fact, one of my earliest and most enduring images of the country was a photo in the World Book encyclopedia of the Shinkansen speeding past the iconic peak. Mt. Fuji, with its distinctive gentle, asymmetrical slopes and its cone-shaped top, has inspired poetry and prose, art, a religion, and at least one pop song (“Funk Fujiyama” as sung by the popular mid-1990s group Kome Kome Club). The renowned woodblock artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) created the series 36 Views of Mt. Fuji, which now show up on souvenir T-shirts and mugs. The mountain – or, more accurately, the volcano – appears on Japanese coins and bills, on the tiled walls of bathhouses nationwide, in movies and in manga.
My first real-life view of Fuji-san was from a Shinjuku hotel window on a clear day, just after I’d arrived in Japan. I’d seen it several times since then – from airplane windows, from a park in Yokoyama, and once, up close, during a visit with my parents. Perhaps my twelve-year-old children would see Mt. Fuji for the first time on a road trip en route to Tokyo Disneyland.
That morning we piled our car with blankets and food – tuna sandwiches, bento-boxed lunches, Soy Joy bars, tangerines, and homemade banana bread – and set off from our home in Tokushima Prefecture. The sun was just bursting through the clouds, painting the sky pink and orange. Since it was a Sunday, there were few cars on the road. We’d heard rumors of snow in Kyoto and its environs, but so far, the signs boded well. Although Mt. Fuji is often obscured by clouds, if the weather held, we just might be able to catch a glimpse.
My daughter, in the backseat, tracked our progress on a road map. Her finger fell on Naruto as we crossed the bridge connecting Shikoku to Awaji Island. Underneath, we could see the white froth of the whirlpools churning the waters. After we crossed the island with its many onion fields, and traversed another suspension bridge, we entered Kobe.
Beyond Hamamatsu, a city known for its large Brazilian immigrant population and its Honda plant, we began to spot the tea fields of Shizuoka, some of them studded with small wind turbines. Deep pink sazanka blossoms decorated the bushes along the meridian.
And then, finally – “Fuji-san!” my husband cried. “Shutter chance!”
Yes, there it was, looming unmistakably over the surrounding mountains, its peak dolloped with a fluffy white cloud. Surprisingly, there was no snow on the slopes.
“Waaaa!” my daughter exclaimed.
My son, in the front passenger seat, began snapping pictures like a modern-day digital Hokusai. My daughter drew a picture of the mountain in her notebook.
In Japan, it’s said that if you dream of Mt. Fuji on the first day of the New Year, you’ll have good luck. Perhaps seeing the mountain live, in person at the end of the year will have the same effect.