The coach zigzagged its way up the hill, around a seemingly endless sequence of horseshoe bends. The scenery was pleasant but not startling, mountain scenery that you can enjoy in many places, steep slopes, evergreen trees and a few inches depth of unmelted snow, the last remaining from the winter. We were focussed on the next stage of our trip, which was a ride by cable-car down to a lake.
And then, abruptly, there it was. We gave a collective gasp. It was miles distant, and yet it loomed over us, the perfect volcano, an icon of Japan, Mount Fuji. The upper slopes were thickly snow-covered, gleaming in the sun, dazzling under the almost cloudless cerulean sky. I couldn’t help but feel the power of the symbol.
My photographs cannot begin to do justice to the sight; indeed, I hesitate to offer them at all as they fall so far short. My words are no better.
The Japanese feel a great sense of pride in the beauty and majesty of Mount Fuji, and that is as it should be. However, national symbols come with dangers. Think of the American flag, the singing of Jerusalem at the Last Night of the Proms. Because they cause men to come together with a sense of national pride, they can be used by unscrupulous politicians to set us against each other.
Today I sat in a coach with Japanese people, and shared their awe and delight in the might of Mount Fuji. As a human being, I am one with them, they are my brothers and sisters, just as Americans are, or Australian aboriginals, or continental Europeans. I must not, I will not, allow myself ever to be distracted or led away from that profound truth.