Memorializing tragic events has become a common practice in society, framing an event for future generations. Japan today sees itself as a bulwark of peace. Without a military — it relies on the U.S. for defense under the treaty that ended World War II — Japan has been left to deftly rebuild its war-torn cities. The Hiroshima monument teaches today’s Japanese children the importance of peace, but it is a complicated place.
Mount Fuji, towering over 12 thousand feet, is both a symbol of Japan and a UNESCO World Heritage site, making a visit almost obligatory if you are in the neighborhood. It’s worth the trip.
Only about 60 miles from Tokyo, getting there will still take about 2 hours in traffic. According to my Japanese tour guide, Fuji is the fourth highest peak not in a range. There are 10 “stations,” or stopping points, to the top. Usually the 5th station is always open, except in typhoons. Beyond that, you have to check with the park ranger. You can only drive to the 5th station. Further up is accessible only by trekking, about 6 hours to the top from station 5. Depending on the season, there can be up to 2000 people climbing the mountain. The paths are well-groomed, but the climb is challenging. There are actually four 5th stations on different sides of the mountain. Altitude sickness is the most common ailment among climbers as the oxygen level gets very low as you ascend.
In Texas it’s been debated nearly to death, but the bullet train is a common form of transportation in Japan. The Japanese bullet trains, called shinkansen, travel long-distance routes between major cities, about the distance between Dallas and Austin. All Japanese trains are very efficient, and the bullet trains are no exception. The Japanese set their watches to the trains because they rarely run even a minute late.
Train platforms have markings indicating where the doors on an arriving train will open. Before the train arrives passengers form a queue at that point. When the train pulls in, as soon as people get off, the line goes in. I timed it: The train stops less than two minutes before it pulls out. Hesitate at boarding and you’ll miss the train.
I watched at the end of the line when a train pulled into the Tokyo Shinkansen station. A troupe of five janitors dressed in pink uniforms took barely five minutes to completely clean the train before they emerged with bags full of trash, and the doors opened to boarding again. Although the Swiss have the reputation for being efficient, they can’t possibly improve on Japan.
Undoubtedly one of the world’s great cities, modern-day Tokyo is a marvel to see. Clean, vibrant, sprawling, intense, pulsating, neon-illuminated, urbane and yet genteel. If you have a chance to visit, plan to linger as long as possible to take it all in. There’s a lot to see and do.