Some like to throw big parties for their milestone birthdays.
For my 30th, I celebrated by climbing Mt Fuji.
It was 2005- just before Iphones took off with their camera wizardry.
To capture the adventure I took myself to ‘Big Camera’ in downtown Nagoya for a state of the art digital camera.
A few shinkansens and bus rides later- and armed with backpack, fancy camera and fresh bottle of oxygen (all the rage in Japan!) I set off on the climb.
In truth, Fujisan wasn’t nearly as scenic as I’d imagined.
A sea of steep, reddish-grey gravel was mostly what I saw on the way up.
Nevertheless, I found myself taking happy snaps of the odd blade of grass or rare wildflower that had managed to push through the powdery Mars-like surface.
And then- sometime between lunch and sunset I made a dreadful discovery.
I’d dropped (lost!) my brand new camera.
More than the money, it was the lost memories I was most upset about.
Angry and disappointed, I stomped the rest of the way up to my mountain hut for an udon dinner, more self-flagellation and an early night.
By 3.30am pre-dawn wakeup I’d accepted reality:
My Mt Fuji 30th birthday pilgrimage would have no photo records.
And I sleepily joined thousands of other pilgrims trudging single file for the final summit climb- all of us ready to see dawn break in the ‘land of the rising sun’.
Reaching the top, I grabbed a can of warming green tea from a vending machine (unexpected at the summit!) and found a quiet spot to sit and take it all in.
I noticed- jealously- those around me setting up tripods and taking warm-up pics before the sun appeared.
Sinking into the reality I needed to rely on memory alone, I slurped my tea in self-pity.
And then- gradually from somewhere beyond the clouds the sun appeared- majestic rays shooting outwards exactly like the Hinomaru flag.
I sat mesmerised as the world clicked and flashed around me- nothing to do but simply notice each magnificent ray.
And in that moment I understood the One Thing.
The gift of losing my camera.
More than 15 years later, that Mt Fuji dawn is still etched into my mind like a Yakuza’s tattoo.
No photo could ever give it more justice.
It’s one of my most significant life memories- second only to the birth of my daughter in the tub at home (as planned).
Fast forward to January 2021 and Day 10 of my ‘digital osouji’ – a week and a half without iphone, socials or emails.
The Mt Fuji sunrise returns to me today as I reflect on these past 10 days of phone-free, digital detox living.
I could say this time has helped me:
All would be true.
And- underlying it all is the One Thing I discovered up on Mt Fuji.
It’s a feeling I notice we don’t get for sustained periods anymore in this dinging, ringing, reactive, hands-free, connected, FOMO, distracted world (or is it just me?)
It felt really good.
And so now the challenge is to find a way to maintain that presence and stay connected since ditching the Iphone – while tempting- isn’t a realistic option.
Setting limits around screen time is something I’ve tried and failed at before.
Although I’ve noticed keeping notifications switched off and keeping the phone on aircraft mode for set periods definitely helps.
I wish I had more solutions.
For now I’ll sit- with presence- with the unknown.
And anticipation for next year’s annual digital osouji.