I remembered back when I was still very young, my parents brought me to Tioman Island, east of Peninsular Malaysia. I remembered very vividly looking up into the midnight blue sky at night and gasped at the infinite stars and the cosmic depths of the universe out there. I felt very small and vulnerable, but at that moment I discovered my wanderlust for the open skies and green fields of nature.
Growing up, I rarely had a chance to travel due to personal and work commitments – I grew frustrated and depressed in the concrete jungles of Singapore. The few times I was able to travel, I always felt a burden off my shoulders and I always enjoyed my travels. However, the infrequency of travelling always gnawed at my soul.
After departing on a different path of my life’s journey, I was given an opportunity to travel to Japan for about a week plus. Due to an amusing circumstance, I was advised to hike up Mt Kintoki – this circumstance was brought up when a work colleague saw that I had a wallpaper of Kantai Collection on my laptop. When the suggestion for the hike came up, I did some research on Mt Kintoki and realised it was also called Mt Ashigara – it was my work colleague’s subtle hint that she knows about my discrete interest (also realised that she was concealing her own otaku interests as well).
This hiking opportunity struck me as some kind of homage to a legendary mountain as the WWII Japanese cruiser, Ashigara, was named after this mountain. As I have always found particular interest in the various WWII Japanese warships that had called at Singapore during the war (such as Myoko, Haguro, Atago, and Takao), I became even more interested in hiking up Mt Kintoki (besides knowing that I might be able to see Mt Fuji from there).
The trail wasn’t difficult but it was made difficult for two reasons: spring was thawing out (muddy) and I was really out of shape (typical city slicker). My legs, thighs and body groaned in pain but I pushed myself… I wanted to get to the summit to see something I have never saw with my own eyes.
I wanted to see Mt Fuji.
I sat down on a rock at the summit with tears welling up for some strange reason. A veteran Japanese hiker sat down beside me and said, “Mt Fuji is beautiful, isn’t it?”. I bashfully agreed as I wiped away my tears. After realising I was a foreigner, the veteran hiker introduced me to other veteran hikers and we shook hands and declared that it was a good day for hiking!
The same veteran hiker invited me to the traditional rest stop to meet the owner (a lady whom he claims to be more than a hundred years old) and have a meal there. This lady is locally known as the Kintoki Musume, Daughter of Kintoki. Apparently she had begun living up at the mountain since she was a teenager after her father died in an avalanche.
The veteran hiker told me stories of the old lady and asked where I came from. He then introduced me to a group of older men – whom I realised later that one of them was the mayor of the town and they were having a “work break” up at the summit. Apparently they were checking on the trail for loose rocks and other hazards along the way up.
At the insistence of the mayor’s companions, the veteran hiker explained that I should write down my name in their register.
The mayor then told me (at least from what I could understand) that if I registered myself for every trip that I made up here, I could be on the way to getting a plaque to myself.
“What plaque?” I asked. He pointed up to the roof and I saw rows upon rows of plaques and these plaques had people’s names on it. The hiker then said that each of this plaque is a milestone for the name of each hiker that registered themselves whenever they reached the summit. To have my name there, I need to attain at least 300 climbs.
“I only did 287 climbs so far… I need to work harder!” he laughed. The old lady shuffled out from behind the counter and her helper (who does the cooking) came to greet me and make small talk (later, I didn’t managed to get a photograph taken with the old lady as she was being interviewed by two Tokyo producers).
When I had felt that my aches dissipate from my bones, I thanked my Kintoki hosts for their warm and friendly hospitality.
“Please come back again soon. I am very old and don’t have much time left… so it would very nice if you would come back again!” the Kintoki Musume said to me with an affectionate smile. I was really moved and I promised that I will come back again to visit her.
As I went down the hill, I realised that this is something I really enjoyed – the hiking, meeting of people, and smiles of everyone…
This is something I should continue.
And one day, I will visit Mt Fuji properly.