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Recalling Summer, Part Three: Cat Cafés and Climbing Mt. Fuji

October 15, 2012

Near the middle of August, I was lucky enough to have my baby sister, Lisa, come and visit me in Japan for a week. I had a fantastic time showing her around Koga and various parts of Tokyo, but there were two things on her list that she wanted to do while she was with me.

Lisa’s List
1) Visit a cat café
2) Climb Mt. Fuji

I knew about these demands well-enough in advance, so I had time to research cat cafés in the Tokyo area and figure out how to get to Mt. Fuji, how long it may take us to climb it, and what would probably be best to bring along. It’s difficult to put into words how excited I was to have Lisa come and visit me, and I must have looked like a child who ate way too much sugar as I was riding the trains to Narita Airport to go and pick her up.

I suppose I should explain what a cat café is. There are many people in Japan who love cats, but for whatever reason — such as their apartments not allowing pets, or a member of the family being allergic to cats — can’t keep one. Cat cafés exist as a way for these cat lovers to get their kitty fix without having to move house or put family members in a state of discomfort.

The cat café we decided on was located in Kichijouji, within the greater Tokyo area. Luckily for us, it was right next to the station, so we didn’t have to go far in searching for it. In order to get to the café, we had to ride an elevator up to about the fourth or fifth floor. Once we made it, we went to the desk and paid our money in order to go and play with cats for an hour. We were given tags to wear around our necks (so they could keep track of who started when) and were directed to a sink to wash our hands before entering the play room.

There is more than one feeling you will have when you enter the kitty playroom, at least in my experience, but excitement beats it all by a landslide. You walk in, and there are cats everywhere! There’s one sleeping in a box at your feet, while another is batting at a toy one of the customers is waving around. Yet another is sitting staring at you from the top of a climbing tower. It’s heaven for any cat lover. While I actually prefer dogs over cats, even I was getting excited to hang out with these cats for an hour. Not that I don’t like cats, but I just like dogs more.

Lisa and I eventually ended up on a padded bench next to a grey cat wearing a little black bow tie. This cat had absolutely no interest in us, until I paid for a small Tupperware filled with shredded chicken. Once she saw that Tupperware in my hands, I was her best friend and nobody else could come near me. She would start swatting at other cats if they got in her way. It was pretty hilarious to watch.

Me with my demanding new friend. Photo courtesy of Lisa.

I think she had to be my favorite cat, but only because her blue eyes were slightly crossed so I would have to suppress a laugh every time she looked at me straight on.

I mean, look at THAT FACE. Too cute.

An hour passes by quickly at a cat café and when our time was up, rather than pay more money to stay longer we decided that it was time to return to Koga. Going to a cat café was a lot of fun, but I highly doubt it’s going to become a regular thing.

We addressed the second item on Lisa’s list a couple of days later. We got up early, stopped at a convenience store for food and drink, and then began our long trip to get to Mt. Fuji. We left Koga at around 8:00 a.m. and arrived at the Kawaguchiko train station at around 11:00 or so. The whole train ride there our conversation kept circling back to, “Oh my God, we’re about to climb Mt. Fuji.” We couldn’t believe it was actually happening. You see, Mt. Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan, standing at 6,077.2692 km (3,776.24 miles) above sea level. It’s one of Japan’s Three Holy Mountains, with Mt. Haku and Mt. Tate finishing off the list. Climbing the mountain was especially exciting for Lisa, since she made a model of the mountain a long time ago for an elementary school project, complete with Polly Pocket figures going up the mountainside! It was a dream of hers since then to climb the mountain.

From Kawaguchiko station we took a bus to the Fifth Station on Mt. Fuji, where we would start our climb. The mountain has nine stations, with a lot of places to rest along the way. However, if you want to use the sleeping area in the rest house or buy food, you either need to make reservations pretty far in advance or pay a hefty little fee.

And we’re off!

We took the Yoshida Trail up the mountainside, which is clearly the most popular trail to take. There were even hiking groups of older folk led by two younger, more experienced hikers. For groups of their size, they definitely made good time climbing. There was one group that Lisa and I would pass as they rested, and then while we rested they would pass us. At one point we even followed them a short while, and learned the proper way to climb the stairs.

It’s six kilometers (3.72823 miles) from the Fifth Station to the top of the mountain. While the average climbing time is 5 – 7 hours, we took a little bit longer because we would experience the warning signs of oncoming altitude sickness at different times and would have to stop to wait for the other to acclimate. As we were climbing, we gave up and bought some oxygen (which was sold in something that was a cross between an inhaler and an aerosol can) in order to stave off some of the altitude sickness. In addition, we did decide to stop at one of the rest houses near the eighth station for a short while and get a few hours of sleep in before continuing the rest of the way.

Saying goodnight to the sun! Taken long before we’d stop and nap for three hours.

It was around 4:00 a.m. when we reached the top of the mountain. The sun was slated to rise at 5:30 a.m., but the sky began lightening at around 4:30. We decided to hunker down in an area facing east, and tried napping a short while. However, since we were at the summit of Mt. Fuji and the sun was down, it was pretty cold up there! Well below freezing, by the feel of it, though it was difficult to really know. Luckily we remembered to pack scarves, gloves, and hats so we stayed slightly warmer than the rest.

The sky is starting to lighten!

By 5:00 a.m. the sky was orange, pink, and red and it was an amazing sight. We were lucky to reach the summit when we did, because soon everyone was scrambling to find a perfect spot to watch the sun rise. Lisa and I were in prime position, and we couldn’t have been happier.

Amazing colors.

It wasn’t a little while longer until a bright orange ball of light began peeking over the horizon. It was a pretty surreal experience to sit and watch the sun rise with hundreds of other people who also just toiled up the mountainside in order to reach the summit in time to see the same event we were watching. There was one point where everyone also broke out into applause once the sun had appeared over the horizon.

Here comes the sun (doo doo doo doo)!

You would think that going down the mountain would be a little bit easier than climbing up, and it kind of was for the most part. However, rather than walking on solid ground climbers have to walk down a path covered in loose rocks and pebbles. If you aren’t careful, down you go! I slipped a couple of times, but didn’t feel all that embarrassed because everyone else was too! I did see several neat tricks on how to avoid toppling over. One person was walking down the slope backwards which seemed sort of counter intuitive to me, but I never saw him fall so it seemed to work. Another person was zigzagging down the slope at shallow angles, and was definitely making good time in doing so.

Once Lisa and I finally reached the bottom we treated ourselves to Tootsie Pops, which I had packed in my bag for our celebration. We walked around the Fifth Station to check and see if we wanted any souvenirs, but then got on the bus back to Kawaguchiko Station and made our long journey back to Koga.

Climbing Mt. Fuji was an amazing experience, but I think that I’m going to stick to a common Japanese saying (which I’m paraphrasing), “You’d be a fool not to climb Mt. Fuji, but you’d be a fool to climb it more than once.”

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