Mt Fuji at sunset  

Sunday, 7 December 2008

We visited my beloved J-Mart DIY store this afternoon. On coming out, I was surprised to see Fuji san silouetted against the evening sky. It's not often that you get to see the mountain due to the cluttered skyline and photochemical haze that hangs over the city during the day. My shaky picture taken on a cellphone doesn't really do it justice. But it was a powerful and unexpected encounter with this most Japanese of icons, made all the more striking by its appearance in the most mundane of settings.

Fuji is an impressive sight. At 12,388 ft (3776m) it is the highest of Japan's many mountains. Even though it is around 60 miles away, it has a brooding presence that makes it seem far closer. I was surprised - and a little shocked - to learn that Fuji san is officially an active volcano, albeit with a low probablility of eruption. As someone who grew up in the comparatively benign environment of the British Isles I must admit to being quite terrified of volcanoes. I sometimes question the wisdom of moving to a country that boasts over 10% of the world's active ones! We Brits are not accustomed to thinking of Mother Nature as anything other than nurturing and obliging in her bountiful gifts. Here it's a different story. Of course it's a beautiful country, but there is an unspoken understanding that it is also a fragile one; for all its rich culture and its technological advances, Japan is completely at the mercy of Mother Nature. Fuji san awakening from its slumbers, for example, would be enough to turn Tokyo into an ash-choked wasteland.

As I gazed at Fuji san, it was a sobering thought that this dark silouette on the horizon had the power to change the lives of literally millions of people at a stroke - not the sort of apocolyptic vision likely to be encountered in the car park at B&Q Canterbury.

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