“This was the first time that I had felt really really small, but also complacent… like the world is right, the world is just, and the world is beautiful.”
Jeffrey watching the sunrise at the top of Mount Fuji
Jeffrey Vu (then 18, now 21) watched as Tokyo’s high-rise buildings whizzed past the window of the shinkansen (bullet train). It was the start of his first international trip without his parents and he was with two of his high school friends in Japan — a country that had been at the top of his bucket list for years due to his love of Japanese cuisine.
The next two weeks flew by in a flurry of experiences, ranging from visiting historic landmarks and temples to eating Okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) inside a hole-in-the wall shack, to strolling down the tidy streets of Tokyo. Yet for Jeffrey, the highlight of the trip was climbing Mount Fuji — an 3776 meter active volcano that has inspired countless artistic works.
“Mount Fuji was one of the destinations that we wanted to go to when we were making our itinerary a lot earlier,” Jeffrey said, “but I didn't think that it would be as impactful, or as picturesque and as mesmerizing, as it was.”
Top (left to right): exploring Jochi-ji, a Buddhist Zen temple in Kamakura; discovering the night life of Musashino ( a city located in the western portion of Tokyo). Bottom (left to right): Jeffrey, Kody and John at the premiere of Avengers; visiting Kotoku-in, a Buddhist temple in Kamakura
Jeffrey and his friends (John and Kody) booked a 2 day trek up Mount Fuji through a tour company. In the morning of the first day, a bus picked them up from Tokyo and dropped them off at Mt. Fuji’s 5th station, about 2,300 meters above sea level. There, the three boys began their ascent up the Yoshida trail.
The hike started as a gentle zigzag slope along switchbacks and then became steeper and rockier. Jeffrey said that it wasn’t too strenuous, as the tour was designated as intermediate.
“It was a good time,” Jeffrey said. “We were in high spirits, we had high energy.”
After 6 hours, they arrived at Goraikoukan station (located about three-fourths the way up the mountain). Following a dinner of curry and rice, the others in the tour group went to catch a few hours of sleep in the mountain hut’s cubicles before their sunrise climb to Mt. Fuji’s peak.
Jeffrey, not feeling tired, stepped outside and sat alone on a wooden bench in front of the barracks.
As he stared out over the rail at the lights of Tokyo, Jeffrey felt completely at peace. The cold pinched his skin, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave.
“This was the first time that I had felt really really small, but also complacent… like the world is right, the world is just, and the world is beautiful,” Jeffrey said.
In high school, Jeffrey said, he rarely took time to enjoy the present, and consequently, never felt truly happy with himself or other people. He had experienced a lot of success — he was ASB president, track captain and had earned good grades while maintaining an active social life — and consequently, his thoughts mostly revolved around himself and what further accomplishments he wanted to achieve.
“A lot of the thoughts in my head were just about being ambitious and striving,” Jeffrey said, “which are good thoughts to have, but sometimes life is about enjoying the beauty that the world gives you, embracing what's there in the moment and not being pent up about what you going to do next or what do you have to accomplish.”
Sitting on the side of Mt. Fuji, Jeffrey felt insignificant. Strangely though, he was completely ok with that.
“The pages keep on turning, and the world keeps on spinning whether I'm here or not,” he said. “Time is gonna keep passing, but not every waking moment of your life has to be trying to rush into something or trying to accomplish. It needs to be a balance. You obviously want to make an impact, but also, take the time to enjoy what’s around you.”
After almost two hours, Jeffrey went back into the cabin. At around 12:30 a.m., the group began hiking up the last stretch to Kengamine — the highest point of Mt. Fuji.
While the other hikers wore warm layers, insulating clothing and headlamps, Jeffrey and his friends had only light jackets and used phone lights to illuminate the path. Needless to say, they were unprepared, so the hike up was brutal. But once at the top of Kengamine, they no longer noticed the cold; they no longer cared about fatigue.
Before them stretched a panoramic view draped with the soft glow of dawn. Jeffrey said the landmarks before seemed to combine into one spectacular vista.
He watched as the sun rose above distant mountains and perched upon the cloud deck before rising higher in the sky. Its rays reflected off mist rolling through the valley slopes. Underneath, forests rippled with color and the lake mirrored the soft glow of the early morning light.
“I just remember seeing the most exquisite most angelic view that I have seen in my life,” he said. “I was like, ‘Darn, this is beautiful; this is quite swell.'”
To this day, Jeffrey’s phone lock screen background is a photo of him and his friends in front of Mt. Fuji. Every time he sees the picture, it grounds him and reminds him to appreciate Earth’s natural beauty.
“Japan is a beautiful place, but so is the rest of the world,” Jeffrey said. “Go explore. Go adventure. See what the world has in store for you, with all of its magnificence.”