Becoming Found

by Courtney Graves (United States of America)

I didn't expect to find Japan


I had spent many months physically preparing for my climb of Mount Fuji. The summit of Fuji-San was a dream-haunting goal — a kicking in the night as I imagine traversing her snow-speckled face, kind of goal. When myself, my father, and my soon to be step-mother finally arrived after a tedious journey from Tokyo, I eagerly galloped ahead of our trio to the mouth of the trail. Freckled as my own cheeks, Fuji-San was there dotted with Torii gates, her haunting beauty not so distant now. Laden with dense, eerie forests below and equally burdened with fog above, Fuji-San seemed to exist in this mighty balance between elements. As I began my ascent, my mind was overwhelmed with a lust for the summit. In the distance, a yurt puffed smoke into the impenetrable foliage. In front of me, an elderly Japanese man glided over boulders and traversed the rocky, steep body of Fuji-San with buttery ease. Behind me, streams of hikers like salmon in the whites of a river, determinedly puffed their way up the mountain. Everything about Fuji-San bloomed with strength. It was a contagious feeling. But four stops from the top, my eyes set on the vermillion Torii gate just minutes from my grasp, my father grabs my arm to tell me we have to stop. My step-mom had altitude sickness. The feeling of disappointment in both of us was latent, the ring my father was going to propose to her with sitting idly and pathetically in the bottom of his rucksack and my own ambition scurrying away from me like a mouse from a den. As I thumbed the scorch marks of successful station arrivals on my walking stick, we begrudgingly made our way back down. Defeated and distraught, we took the late bus to the bottom of now distant Fuji-San, and found ourselves wandering around a train station that was closed for the night. We elected to stay in a backwater hotel in the town we wound up in where we laid towels on the lumpy beds for some meager comfort and almost got killed by a very determined elevator. I’m not going to lie. I was pretty bitter at this point. Fuji-San was still there in the distance, her snowy peaks like a poltergeist for my nightmares of her summit being just a google search and not an achievable dream. But morning came anyway. We awoke to perhaps the quietest town I had, at that point in my personal history, ever encountered. It was so quiet, all you could hear was a broom somewhere far off in the distance, prancing along the pavement, not even the wind stirring. The neon signs of the night before had sputtered out and left stark white planks of wood against white buildings and white sidewalks — it felt like I was still in some stage of dreaming. The peace was overwhelming. And then we came across the lake. We had no idea what town we were in. We had no idea which direction Fuji-San was either. But this lake gave us enough grounding that we forgot for a moment we were lost somewhere in rural Japan. The fog of the mountains around us was reminiscent of the wisps of air from Japanese paintings, the curling arms of the clouds encircling the body of the lake and enveloping the trees in an embrace of mist. Little brightly colored duck boats bobbed gently against a rickety dock and smiled with the promise of springtime tourism that perhaps never came. A woman moved ever so carefully about the grounds of a small shrine, dharmas and cats stationed around her as she knotted paper wishes to a thread. Delicate reeds and grasses sprung from the ghostly surface of the water and swayed in a hypnotizing back and forth caress of the sky. And the mountains themselves, stood fast against the gray of the horizon, a cocoon of sorts, and we had never felt safer in our lives. The air was sweet as my father asked his beloved to marry him. And I didn’t expect to find myself so in love with a place I’m still not even sure exists.