Mt. Fuji Love Story in the Year of the Horse: Horse Riding Near Mt Fuji
Joanne G. Yoshida
My ﬁrst dream this year was to ride (dance!) on a horse into the sunset within close view of Mt. Fuji.
Perhaps it was the call of my American roots returning to me after ﬁfteen years in Japan. Something about the horse and the freedom of the open road had a great appeal to me in this Year of the Horse.
In addition, my love for MT. FUJI has grown tall and wide in these years of living in Japan. I have begun to feel that Mt. Fuji IS Love.
I have seen Mt. Fuji from airplanes and in glimpses from trains and on my travels over the years but in this New Year I felt called to meet the whole mountain up close - and from a horse! The day before I traveled to Tokyo from Oita, however, I was still unsure if my dream would come true even though the plan was all set. Mt. Fuji has a tendency to be a trickster and she decides whether she will reveal herself and how much.
Today too it would be up to Mt. Fuji!
It was a lucky day! When I take a plane from Oita to Tokyo, I always request a seat on the side where Mt Fuji can be seen.'Fuji-san ga mieru gawa', I say.
This time, from takeoff, the sky was clear and in what seemed like a matter of minutes, I gasped to see Mt. Fuji rising over the clouds. I sat gazing out the window, a huge smile in my heart. Even when we landed in Haneda, Mt. Fuji was still there and could still be seen rising above Tokyo harbor. I felt that she was speaking to me, giving me my answer about today. YES, she said, she would be by my side today, all day long.
And indeed she was.
The day proceeded smoothly. My nephew picked me up by car at Haneda Airport, and we were on our way to Yamanashi Prefecture, where the Kiso Horse Ranch horseback riding stables are located. The drive out of Tokyo was like being in a game through tunnels and under passes. We could see Tokyo's monuments through openings in concrete arcades as the car sped at a decent speed. Even though it was a three day holiday weekend (for Seijin no Hi, or Coming of Age Day) there was surprisingly little trafﬁc.
There's Tokyo Tower, my nephew announced as the red and white lattice work shone in the midday sun and then disappeared through the passing scenes. We also passed the Imperial Palace, and were both intrigued by the way all of Tokyo is centered around this sacred residence.
My nephew who loves Tokyo and is an amazing guide picked up on the horse theme for today and pointed out two of Tokyo's famous horse racing spots as we passed them. First the keiba (horseracing) stadium in Chiba, and then a little farther out the famous Tokyo Racecouse in Fuchu city.
My nephew knew the road to Yamanashi well, and predicted just about when we could see Mt. Fuji appear. He said one of the best ways to see Mt. Fuji is from the car. Actually I am not a lover of cars and don't like to admit their attributes as I base my life on not needing a car, but this day I found the truth in what my nephew said. To get this constant changing view of Mt. Fuji in about an hour stretch of driving felt like a miracle.
Again, like on the plane, I gasped when we exited a tunnel and the snow-peaked mountain came into sight. As we drove she played with us in an exquisite game where we could see the curve of the mountains right side appear here, then see the top appear there; next the mountain disappeared completely and then re-emerged again... above an amusement park, behind a Seven-Eleven facade, and up from a roadside Buddha being sold on a corner statue stand.
The strip of road felt like a suburban stretch where I come from in Long Island, except for the roadside Buddha and Mt. Fuji appearing and disappearing. All the images I have seen of Mt. Fuji on postcards and in commercials and ads are always perfect depictions of the full mountain mirrored in surrounding lakes or with sprigs of cherry blossoms perfectly framing the mountain. But today it was like a Mt. Fuji view designed for me.
Each moment was 'raw' and new as the famous Mt Fuji appeared solid and ever-changing on this suburban stretch, popping out from behind convenience stores. Poking up above a ﬂat white building with the word "Curves" like she was an advertisement for the health club gym, Mt. Fuji revealed herself upfront and personal. Illuminated by beams of afternoon sun and shining like an angel who landed on earth she seemed to enjoy playing, and wanting to be just a 'regular' guy in the everyday world with us for the afternoon.
The day kept getting more amazing. When we arrived at the stables, Fuji-san was there.
It seemed we were lucky to be able to see her so clearly and fully. I kept thinking she would soon disappear, but then again realized how her promise was for real, she would be with us the whole day.
Mt. Fuji and horses go together well.
Kiso Ranch is a great place to experience traditional horseback riding in Japan. The name of the ranch comes from the small breed of horses called kiso, with a long history in Japan and particularly in Yamanashi Prefecture.
Once we were introduced to our horses and they were saddled, we were asked to step up on a wooden step to mount. My horse was named Akazuki. We were then given a brief lesson on the basics of using the reins. Our guide seemed to trust that we knew what to do and began to lead us up a slope on horseback.
Our guide made us feel comfortable and at ease on the horses, indicating where the road was icy and what patches to avoid, pointing out how to change our body position when going up or down slope, and telling us when it was ok to stop for the horses to snack on delicious mountainside grasses.
We planned to take a walking course further up the slope but the path was iced over so we stopped to enjoy the view of Mt. Fuji through the forest of trees, then turned around to go back down to the road.
We had the chance to run a little as well, as our guide sensed we were comfortable on the horse. It was wonderful to breathe in the mountain air and have such a marvelous view of Mt. Fuji. We could feel her spirit and energy as the afternoon sun shone through from between the trees.
On our way down the slope, someone from the corral yelled up for us to watch two riders who were practicing archery on horses below. It was was amazing to see the practice, as the riders approached the target and shot their arrows while in such smooth motion.
When we descended from our horses we could see some of the accoutrements of the archery and some of the trainers were sharpening arrows and preparing the tools of the sport. It was fascinating and brought images of samurai dramas and a time of wide open space in Japan's history when this type of horseback archery was practiced. This form of horse archery training is still practiced here at Kiso Ranch.
We had our kinen photo (photo to remember the day) taken while on the horse, dismounted, and thanked our horses and our guide.
We then drove back to Tokyo with the sun going down over Mt. Fuji.
We could see Mt. Fuji again the whole time on the ride back, as she once more appeared and reappeared from behind us. The sun and Mt. Fuji like a pair of magicians followed us and majestically disappeared over the horizon as we turned a curve that would take us back down into Tokyo's center.
by Joanne G. Yoshida