About a year ago, I started to really find a passion for climbing; rocks or mountains, climbing has become a huge priority in my life for many reasons. Six months ago, I decided how badly I wanted to climb a peak in Japan. Considering how much we, as kendama players, get the wonderful opportunity to travel there, I figured it would be feasible.
Mt. Fuji is the highest peak in Japan standing tall at 3,776 meters (12,389 ft), which is why it was the ultimate goal. I had planned out in my travel journal the best season to climb, how to get there, which route to take, how much it would supposedly cost and decided to try my best to make it a reality. When I found out I was going to Kendama World Cup this year, I figured it would be the perfect time to try. I just needed the plane ticket, a solid crew to climb with and the motivation to make it up.
Fuji crew at 5th station right before the climb! From left to right: Haley, Keith, Yuka, Rod, Eric and Kengo.
On the way up the mountain, there were many stops and stations where we met a lot of really cool people who lived and worked on Mt. Fuji. Not only did we meet some people who were familiar with kendama, but actually had a kendama up on Fuji with them. The jobs of the so-called sherpa’s were to work at the shops where people could resupply on food and water, and to burn stamps into the trekking poles of hikers. At each checkpoint on Fuji, you can collect a wood burned stamp, showing how far you’ve made it up the mountain.
Despite how unique of an idea this was, it was a very foreign experience to me. Foreign; not in the sense of being in another country surrounded by an entirely different culture and new people but in the climbing world. Never have I been on a mountain where there is such an industrialized, consumer-based environment. Usually when you climb, you bring what you need, what you can carry and that’s all you have for your trip. The whole way up, hikers could resupply on food or drinks that were, in my opinion, incredibly overpriced. As much as I disagree with this style of money-sucking mountaineering, it certainly has positive attributes. This kind of climbing gives anyone the opportunity to climb, especially any one who has never attempted something like this before and may not know how to properly prepare for a trip. I am completely and entirely supportive of opening people’s mind to the world of climbing, however that may happen. Fuji is the perfect mountain for those who are just getting introduced to the vertical world!
The shadow of Mt. Fuji just before sunset (above).
We had reached the 8th station, 3,250 meters high, where we were going to be staying for the night just after the sun had set. Once we checked into our cabin, put all our bags in the tight sleeping quarters, we went outside. In one of the towns at the base of Fuji, there was a firework show, which we sat and enjoyed until we went to bed. There could not have been more of a perfect way to end the long day of hiking. Good company and an impromptu firework show from 10,000 feet above Japan. Cho Yabai!
When we woke up at 1:30am to climb to the summit, we were all shocked at the amount of people headed toward the top. Headlamps were as prominent as the stars, as they made a zigzag trail all the way up the switchbacks of the mountain and far into the distance behind us. The only thing I could compare this experience to is standing in line for a ride at an amusement park. Needless to say, the amount of people was overwhelming and Fuji was unexpectedly overpopulated. I had never seen this many people on a mountain at once. At the same time, it was really inspiring to see how many people had the same goal as we did, summit by sunrise!
The crew bundled in the wind and freezing temps at sunrise, around 4:30am.
Sunset (above) vs. Sunrise (below)
Climbing is not only a physical challenge but a mental one too. Your heart is beating fast, your legs are tired and sometimes you want to stop. Knowing you’re headed towards something new, exciting, foreign and beautiful keeps the motivation high, even if you don’t exactly know what to expect. And this time, the summit was definitely worth the work. Standing on top of Japan was one of the most unforgettable, rewarding and breathtaking experiences of my life.
It’s always good to have a progression in your life, push your self slightly out of your comfort zone and experience new things whenever given the opportunity. The true purpose of life is to enjoy every single moment. Living in the present can be easily forgotten and is something we all need to be more conscious of. Climbing, for me, is my way to stay fully engaged in the now. You are only focusing on one step and one breath at a time and most importantly, always moving forward. Find your climb, find what helps you progress and makes you intrinsically happy; and most importantly, always remember to practice Kaizen.
I’m beyond grateful for this group of people, the kendama community as a whole, and the hard work and hospitality of everyone in Japan. Without the continual support and help from Hajime, Zawa, Kengo, Yuka, Rod, Eric, Keith and especially Jeremy from KendamaUSA, this goal would not have been achieved. You have given me opportunities of a lifetime and for that, I thank you eternally.
A few words from Keith Matsumura-
Japan is an amazing and beautiful country. Every time I have visited that place I can barely bring myself to leave. This year was no exception; although I think it was harder than ever to say goodbye. I thank Gloken and all of our Japanese friends who do so much to provide such an amazing experience for us every time we venture to their country. We appreciate you all so much.
The Kendama World Cup this year was the best competition event kendama has seen to date, as I’m sure it will be again and again every year. I was so happy to make it to finals and cheer on so many of my friends in to the finals and the podium this year. I want to say a huge congratulations to Wyatt Bray for the victory, to Lukas Funk for taking second, and my man Nic Stodd rounding out the podium in third. Truly an epic display of skill this year.
The last day before I was scheduled to fly back to North America with the KendamaUSA crew I made an attempt to change my flight for a week later. Haley, Rodney Ansell and Eric Martin from Terra, and Yuka and Kengo from Gloken were planning on hiking Mt. Fuji that next week, and I wanted to go along so badly. Miraculously the airlines were down to work with me and change my flight, so it was on.
After spending some time in Tokyo with the Sweets crew and some other foreign players, it was time for us to embark to Mt. Fuji. Hajime and Zawa graciously drove us to the mountain and made sure we were all good to go. We arrived at Fuji in the afternoon and by three o’clock pm on the 26th of July, 2015, we began our ascent to the summit. The plan was to get most of the way up that way and reach the summit for sunrise the following day.
The trail started out very mellow, and the temperature was cool. It was foggy out; I think really we were inside of the clouds even at the beginning point of our ascent. The trees and foliage around the base of Mt. Fuji reminded me of something from a fairy tale. Everything was very beautiful.
We climbed through the afternoon and evening, making periodic stops at the many waystations along the route to the summit to rest and play kendama with the staff of the stations. At one station we even came across a man who worked on the mountain that had a worn in kendama. He said he knew who we were and was very excited to meet us.
At another stop, we came across a dreadlocked Sherpa-like man working at the waystation who was also very excited about kendama. After some time talking to him I decided to trade him one of my kendamas in exchange for a heat stamp on a special Fuji stick Haley and I had gotten. All along the way up at the stations there are different stamps one can pay to have put on their walking sticks. If someone were to get all of them on the way up it might cost as much as 60 or 70 US dollars. I considered it a good trade to leave a kendama behind and save some yen.
By the time the sun was going down we were very close to the eighth station cabins where we were scheduled to spend the night. The last bit of the walk we used head lamps, and we arrived at the station in perfect timing to watch the light fade from view. It was one of the most beautiful and romantic settings I had ever witnessed.
The cabin cost far too much, but we considered it worth it for the experience we were having. Eric and I had been joking earlier in the day about how badly we hoped they would have curry and rice for dinner when we got to the cabin station. It seemed too good to be true when we arrived tired and hungry and what did they bring out for dinner but curry and rice.
After dinner and hot tea from the station we sat outside a while. We could not believe it when fireworks began going off in a village near the base of Mt. Fuji. The sky was clear, and we could see for miles, and miles, so our view of the fireworks was amazing. It was so strange to see fireworks shooting so high in the sky, but still be so far below us.
The night was beautiful and the stars were out. I could not believe where I was, and I could not believe how great of company I was in as well. The bathrooms and even hot water from the common area cost money, but nothing could dampen our spirits then.
The sleeping area was basic, with a sleeping bag laid out for us among many small sectioned rooms of 6-8 people sleeping in each. We did not sleep for long before it was time to get going in the morning. We got up at one thirty in the morning, had a meager breakfast and were out on the trail by two o’clock am.
The trail was completely packed with people wearing headlamps in the dark. It was like a line at a theme park but we were still hiking up a mountain. Every opportunity we had we were passing people to try and get ahead of the rush and clogged up trails. We did make it up to the top in great time.
By around four o’clock am we were on top of the mountain, sitting right on the edge of the volcano crater, though we didn’t even realize it till it got lighter. We huddled up together under Rick’s sleeping bag and watched the stars. The wind was bitterly cold on top of the mountain, but the breathtaking view of the stars and the light as it slowly crept over the horizon was enough to dispel the thoughts of the cold.
The sun came up and complete awe is how I would describe the mood. It was the most beautiful sunrise of my life, and I’m so grateful to have shared this experience with such great friends.
We stayed on the summit for a time snapping some photos and being in awe. Soon the cold drove us back to the small village area on top of the mountain to look for some hot food. We scraped together what yen we had to barely pay for some overpriced ramen and udon noodles. Oh it was exactly what we needed though.
We spent some more time filming some kendama and taking in the view before beginning the descent. By something like eight in the morning we were already well on our way down the trail. The beautiful moments on top of Fuji did not need to last for very long to be imprinted in our memories forever.
We were delirious and tired by the time we reached the bottom. I don’t think it was much past ten in the morning when we rolled back up to where we’d started the day before. I could not help but be in wonderment at how kendama had brought me together with this group of people. To the kendama community at large, I love you all. You make up an amazing community.
I want to thank KendamaUSA and specifically Jeremy for showing so much kindness to me and our team throughout the years. I don’t know where we would be without you and your hard work. I just hope that I can repay you at least in part someday for everything you have done for me. This amazing experience hiking Mt. Fuji would not have been possible if not for you.
Cheers friends to Kendama; to traveling; to friends; to enjoying life and seizing the day! My piece of advice is to seek to give generously to those around you, but don’t forget to take care of yourself and gain wisdom and love to share. Don’t take each day for granted and always be looking to push your comfort zone!