The Ever Elusive Mt. Fuji

With a bit of time off from teaching in Tokyo, I had the opportunity to travel to Hakone over Halloween. Not a lot of costume parties up there in the mountains, but I enjoyed some much needed relaxation and fresh air. The hotel's Onsen (traditional Japanese bath / hot spring) was soothing and refreshing and the fall foliage magnificent.

The highlight of my trip was catching a stunning view of Mt. Fuji, Japan's cherished and iconic mountain. One would imagine that over six trips to Japan and countless visits to sites where Fuji can be viewed, I would have seen her by now. Not so. Fuji is elusive. Often hiding behind cloud cover, a haze of humidity and bright sunlight, or other mountains, Fuji's peak comes and goes (mostly goes) from view.

Past prospects of viewing Fuji have given me moments of high hopes, deflated expectations, and in the end disappointment. It's a giant mountain, how can it be so hard to see? Apparently I'm not the only one missing out.

I arrived by mountain ropeway at Owakudani, "The Great Boiling Valley." Engulfed in vapor of sulfuric gasses, I walked a narrow path packed with school children waving hands over noses and giggling about the fart smell. I was not aware that this stop on the typical tourist loop was also a prime Fuji viewing point. I just moved along with the crowd, hoping to avoid the biggest of the fart plumes. Then murmurings from the older adults in the crowd: "Fuji-san, Fuji-san..." The oldest of the group were suddenly animated as school children. Sure enough, through a break in some tall grasses I caught my first glimpse. A Japanese man standing next to me waived his hands excitedly for my attention, gesturing in the mountain's direction, "Fuji-san!" Finally the path opened into a clearing I took in the breathtaking view.

Isn't that how it happens though? We can search all day, but these gifts come when least expected. Or you search and search for your keys only to realize they were in your hand the whole time.

A similar phenomenon occurs in yoga practice. We can seek to "gain" a posture, to "get there" in meditation, or to "transform" ourselves in some way. Like Fuji hiding behind a veil of vapor, these gifts are always there for us if not visible at the moment. The practice of yoga is an act of preparation, planting seeds, creating the ideal conditions for an event to occur. Of course, one must act. I never would have seen Mt. Fuji sitting around in my apartment in Tokyo all day, but the end result is a mystery. So we press on through the fart vapors, working to clear away the obstructions standing in our way. We practice knowing that the mountain peak is there somewhere behind those clouds. We practice as preparation for the unexpected gifts that are coming.

Click here to view more photos from my trip to Hakone.