In our third and final instalment of our YOLO trips, we have Yagnya, or more affectionally known as Iggy, here to share her craziness with us. Ever climbed a mountain? Without training? Nor a walking stick? And worse, no proper climbing shoes? She did! Read on to find out how she fared…
So, what was your YOLO experience?
(Nervous laughter) I climbed Mt. Tateyama, wearing Doc Martens and sans walking stick, just the day before I left Toyama Prefecture. I mean, I had REALLY wanted to do it for ages, and this was literally my last chance.
What inspired you to take on Mt. Tateyama? What did the mountains mean to you?
Toyama has nature that just can’t be found in Singapore; snow-capped mountains that stand huge and vast against the open skies. This was a sight I saw towering over Toyama from the first day I landed to the last- from buses and trains, and my apartment room on the 7th floor.
In the grand scheme of things, I realised, I was tiny compared to these mammoths. And in a weird way, this helped me overcome my anxieties. I got this sense of “enlightenment” that no matter how much you fall down, you can always get up again, because the world is so much bigger than that. So, I desperately wanted to climb Tateyama, to pay my respects and to thank it for the 3 years of solidarity and companionship it had provided me with.
Why didn’t you do it earlier?
During the prefectural orientation, we were brought up the mountain and I had a chance to climb it. The air was thin and cold, while snow covered the mountain top even until mid-August. There wasn’t enough time then for me to complete the climb, and I was ill-prepared for the unexpected cold. But, a new JET made a comment which brought me to tears for the first time since I landed, “Wow Iggy, look at how far you’ve come, from your tiny island to these mountains.”
Subsequently, despite making 5 trips to Tateyama, I never made it to the top. Having seen the mountains in almost every season, the only “easy” time you could climb was in summer. The changing leaves were beautiful in autumn but the mountain would be super chilly, and the mountain was closed for climbing in winter, while spring meant towering snow walls.
Thus, came your impulse decision?
Yes, in my last month in Toyama, I decided to climb the mountain the day before I leave because that’s the kind of calm, rationale adult I am… I was going to be in emotional pain from all the farewells anyway, so why not give myself physical pain too? A colleague found out and basically forced herself into my adventure because she was worried I was crazy. My friend from JET joined us too and I’m going to assume she did it out of love for me.
How did this trip go? Did you manage to prepare yourself?
We set out really early in the morning. The whole bus journey felt like I was closing chapter of my life. When we finally reached the mountain, it was 10 degrees in July and you could still see snow!
I had no climbing boots, just my Doc Martens (wise choices everywhere). I was worried about falling and rolling down the mountain, especially since I was leaving TOMORROW and the path was slippery with snow. Thankfully my colleague lent me her climbing stick. Along the way, climbers would greet one another with “ohayou gozaimasu”, “ganbatte kudasai”, “otsukaresama deshita”!
When we reached midway point, the path became really steep and with no clear path. My colleague helped me up a lot, by pushing my bag and waiting for me. The climb was tough, foggy and wet, and the air was so so thin. But I was hell-bent to reach the top. A memory of my special needs students came to mind: My favourite student told me to always “challenge yourself until your death” (he’s a ball of sunshine). He cannot climb this mountain due to Muscular Dystrophy, but his oddly encouraging words fueled me to keep going.
Did you reach the top in the end?
Yes! And at the top, there’s a shrine called Oyama Jinja. Tateyama is one of Japan’s three holy mountains (the other two are Mt. Fuji and Hakusan). My legs gave way and I just sat down for 10 minutes or so. I couldn’t believe I’d come this far, because I am not sporty. Others might have been faster, but not me. I guess this is life – we all have our challenges, and mountains to climb.
We had to descend soon so as not to miss the last bus. My colleague was a great help as I was really scared while climbing down and had several near falls (the kind with sliding rocks and life really does kinda flash in front of your eyes). A kind hiker stopped by and showed me the right way to manoeuvre around the rocks. We made it down safely, with 20 minutes to spare.
What advice would you give to those who want to climb up like you did? Well, any mountain.
PLEASE DRINK MOUNTAIN WATER COS IT’S AMAZING! It is magical, nothing like what you’ve ever tasted (the main reason I did 3 years). Also, please train before attempting to climb (don’t be like me). Gear up; wear a coat, proper shoes and bring a climbing stick.
What did you take away from this trip?
It was such a poignant ending to complete my JET journey; literally at the peak of Toyama.
Going up to the top was really an steep climb and going down wasn’t easy either. The journey was a metaphor of life. I work in theatre now, where there’s no clear path, but I do it because I believe in it. So it’s like a mountain again, where there’s no straight path – everyone has their own way of climbing up, be it fast or slow. Some reach the top on their first trip, others on their third, yet others who may never make it up. But really, you are your own yard stick and challenger.
So now, even on my REALLY bad days, the experience of having been to the “top of the world” helps me stand up again. I’m indebted to Tateyama for those 3 years, and I’m sure it’s not “Sayonara”, but “Mata ne”.