The day had finally come; I was going to climb Mt Fuji. I was climbing with a friend and we had both had a fitful sleep in a large katami matted room designed to hold about 40 hikers. Thank god there were only a handful sharing the room with us, and thankfully no Chinese, or we would have had even less sleep. We arose at 4AM to catch the first breaking of the dawn and set off on the trail at 4:30 in the morning.
“What’s that noise?”
As the sky began to brighten we headed into the forest and became instantly aware of the loud ominous buzzing. “What’s that noise?” I muttered. At first it sounded like a squadron of propeller driven airplanes in the distance. I strained to get a glimpse of the noise makers through the dense foliage, and then one landed on my ear. Millions of rather large mountain flies had awoken with the first rays of the sun and the air was packed with the hovering beasts. Thankfully they did not bite, but after two hours hiking with these millions of noisy companions I was relieved to finally leave the cover of the forest and stride onto the mountain’s barren lava rock covered slopes. In retrospect, the relief was similar to that which I felt when boarding the plane to Nagoya; finally some peace and quiet.
A bright sunny day greeted us and the summit, though many hours off in the future, was clearly in site. For hours we hiked the up the side of Mt. Fuji occasionally seeing other hikers stopped for a break or encountering large groups at the various huts perched on the side of the mountain. The air was cleaner than any I had breathed before and the silence was only broken by the sound of our books shuffling over Fuji’s dusty lava rocks. Except for the odd wild flower at lower elevations, the mountain was devoid of life. Even tough, as we climbed, it seemed to my eye to ever more resemble the surface of Mars as I imagined it to be from the Rover’s photos, I never felt separated from the life of nature. Far below, as far as the eye could see of the clouds would let me see, the world unfolded in a bountiful lushness of greener greens and bluer blues than I’d ever had the experience of seeing in such bounty ever before. Some may say Fuji is ugly up close and there are far more beautiful mountains to climb, but none to my knowledge offer the adventurous hiker so many hours of uninterrupted lofty views.
“Look at the garbage.”
Life was good, I was extremely happy and lucky to be where I was. China faded into the background of my mind like a forgotten realm, at least until I spotted the garbage eroding out of the mountainside. “look at the garbage.” I said, “Where’d that come from? I asked my hiking companion. “Oh,” she said, “hikers used to throw their trash on the mountain. Then Japan wanted Mt. Fuji to be listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO, but they didn’t get approval because of all the trash.”
Quite frankly this information took me aback; I had never imagined the Japanese as a people who would disgrace nature, especially on a mountain as culturally significant as this, by turning it into a huge 4000 meter garbage dump. But there it was, a pile of old cans eroding out of the hillside. On the way to the top, at the summit, and on the way back down I found more evidence of Japanese lack of environmental and aesthetic sense in the not too distant past. On the mountain today, no one litters and everything that gets carried in gets carried out. The mountain still has not been listed as a world heritage site, and much trash still needs to be removed by dedicated volunteers, but the Japanese are making it known by their actions that they want their scared hill listed by UNESCO.
The fact that such a drastic change in thinking and rapid reversal in habits were prompted by a wish to have their heritage recognized, gave me hope for China. Chinese are the most vivacious litters I have ever encountered. Whatever the Chinese have in their hand at the moment and no longer care to hold onto gets tossed to the wind. There is virtually no populated place in China that doesn’t have trash heaps in every convenient location save the main tourist and business districts. Even a lot of peasants’ homes resemble a trash bin more than a living space. When it comes to air pollution, it’s even worse. If any nation needs to get their polluting ways reigned in, it is China.
China has over 43 sites listed by UNESCO, none of which likely faced the scrutiny that Mt. Fuji did. For example, in 1990, UNESCO listed Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) as a world heritage site. Until it was privatized in 1996 over 6000 tons of trash was removed from its trails! While the Japanese have simply decided to stop littering on their beautiful peak, the Chinese continue to litter like crazy which means that thousands of workers must be employed to pick up the trash. Perhaps this adds to GDP? In light of China’s war on the environment, perhaps UNESCO should rethink its designations. Imagine if the delisted the Great Wall until Beijing cleaned up its air… Perhaps Chinese would be happier/healthier in the end.
Reaching the top after seven hours of climbing around seven kilometers of trail was exhilarating. I bought a beer chilled in Mt’ Fuji snow and sat back and relaxed. “Could one get any farther away from the noise and hustle of Shanghai?” I wondered. Except for the sharp hill delivered by the high winds sweeping over the summit, the experience of being on top of the highest point n Japan was breath taking, literally, as the air is quite thin and the effect of the beer quite strong. I traipsed around the cauldron left by the last eruption. High above the clouds with nothing but the sparsest smattering of lichen on the underside of some rocks, the otherworldly feeling of being on the surface of the Moon or Mars was enhanced. Words cannot express the beauty and solitude I found in that barren environment. The experience will last a lifetime! Having scaled the mountain and returned to comfortable elevation, I could help but think that there may be hope for China, at least where littering and other types of pollution are involved, after-all. The Next stop was Tokyo.