I've turned down any television work the past few years. I don't enjoy it. I stumble over the polite verb forms in Japanese. I look like a dork.
I've been in Japan 24 years and the thought of climbing Mt Fuji never even crossed my mind. The climbing season is only two months long and on weekends thousands climb each day. Who wants to get stuck in a traffic jam of hikers on the slopes of a volcano? But since they were willing to pay me to do it, I accepted. (Since I am now addicted to house renovations why not?) I dragged myself out of bed dreading the whole thing. Cursing myself for caving in to Yoshi and Kazuko and friends who told me to do it.
Japan tried to have Mt Fuji registered as a World Heritage Site but failed several times. Easy to see why. Too many scratches and scuffs from humans over the centuries. And now too many military bases, golf courses and pitiful attempts at tourist traps blight the land around it's skirt and unique Eco-system. Now the local governments and central government are trying a new angle to get it put in the World Cultural Heritage category.
I just couldn't grasp what the director was trying to get me to spit out as a narrative. He thought I was being a stubborn jerk. I just couldn't gush over Mt Fuji and make the connection with Japanese culture in a sound bite in a natural believable way.
The connection is there, through paintings and poetry and religious pilgrimages over thousands of years. It is a sacred mountain and in the pantheon of Japanese Gods there are several connected to the mountain. Gods to keep it pacified so it doesn't erupt again. Gods to keep the water coming off and up from the mountain pure. Gods for the fresh air that will add years to your life. But something didn't resonate deeply at first with their concept presentation to UNESCO. At the time old Mt Fuji seemed to me more of a worn out tourist trap with a crowded, unpleasant climb up and down gravel and sharp lava. (Several visible planets, a brilliant milky way and breathtaking cloud formations quickly doused my skepticism.)
The day after the descent something dawned on me when a politician from one prefecture joined us several times in several places. I was the duped interviewer in a TV program to drill in the idea to the public that Mt Fuji was in fact an important and integral part of Japanese culture. Yikes. Media manipulation of the masses.
I was brutally honest to the politician. He was in on it to get money from UNESCO for his constituency. There was little if any good will towards preserving culture. I had a free for all with him. He is a politician...he could roll with the punches.
There were seven ancient pilgrimage entrances for ascending Mt Fuji. (Indigo sisters alert. We visited the north one together.) They existed before Shinto was actually recognizable as a religion in the 7th century. Mountain hermits and spiritual pilgrims prayed and purified themselves before and after the climb. We visited several of these mountain climbing entrances to film as they are important places in the concept of Mt Fuji being a cultural entity. These places now have Shinto shrines and gates. One was particularly representative of a pent up rant I had been storing.
Recently the soul of these places seems to have been completely ignored. The Shinto shrines are simply interested in selling protective votive papers and wooden tablets and silk bags (polyester) that guarantee a pass on your driver's license test. The sterile stone lanterns on the sides of the approach are carved from computer driven chisels, made from stone imported from another country. The stair railings are an abysmal rusting aluminum...... and check out this alter. The sign on the plastic donation box says, 'Let's always keep this place clean!' The politician had a genuine good laugh of defeat when he realized what I was up to taking this picture. You could see the 'Oh oh...damn.' look on his face while I chuckled and took pictures.