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  Field Notes From
Mount Fuji



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On Assignment
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From Author

Tracy Dahlby



On Assignment

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From Photographer

Karen Kasmauski



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Norman Wibowo (top), Karen Kasmauski
 

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Mount Fuji

Field Notes From Author
Tracy Dahlby
Best Worst Quirkiest

I had climbed Mount Fuji only once before, and that had been 25 years ago, when I was working as a young reporter for a wire service in Tokyo. Yet even though my knees aren’t as good today as they were then, the fact that I could still make it to the top was physically and emotionally exhilarating.
My climbing partners and I started up the mountain in the dark as midnight approached. The steep, twisty trail was full of people who went up with great gusto at first and then, like me, slowed to a snail’s pace, or gave up entirely. I would move a few steps, sit down, catch my breath, and then keep going. I briefly forgot my weariness near the top, though, when we were able to witness Fuji’s spectacular sunrise - the reason many amateurs like myself tackle the mountain. The “climbing” experience was decidedly better when it was over, and my partners and I rewarded ourselves with a trip to a hot springs inn, where we nursed our sore limbs and aching feet.



I felt pretty good during the climbing until I got about halfway up and somebody handed me a grape-flavored energy drink. I was so thirsty and hungry that I sucked it down in two seconds and went into sugar shock. That left me feeling very queasy for the next couple of hours. While the mountain got me eventually, the drink got me first.



The Aum Shinrikyo, a fanatical religious cult, launched a poison gas attack on Tokyo’s subway in 1995. After authorities traced the terrorists back to their isolated compound near the lower flanks of Mount Fuji, they hauled off the suspected culprits, and bulldozers razed the buildings. The place is now a memorial park, but one that struck me as distinctly spooky. When I finally found it, along a back road amid pungent farm pastures, cows lowed in the distance, and a heavy fog swirled around Buddhist tablets, erected to placate the souls of those harmed by the cult’s misdeeds. I understood the impulse to commemorate the spot. But I also got the feeling that few people would willingly linger there to enjoy the park’s carefully manicured grounds or its expensive stonework.





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