During summer vacation, I was doing a part-time job, as many college students would do. But my job was far different from the ordinary ones we see on baito apps. My workplace was neither a restaurant, a cafe, a convenience store, nor a cram school, but Mt. Fuji — more specifically, the lodge at 8th station called Taishikan (太子舘). It is located at the altitude of 3100 meters (10170 feet), just in the middle between the 5th station, the general starting point of climbing, to the mountain top. It was my first time working there and climbing Mt. Fuji. But my four weeks-experience there definitely became one of my unforgettable memories. And I felt that there is something great in the life of Taishikan that people must know. Unfortunately, this unique part-time job is not widely known, so today, I’m going to share all that about ‘Fujisan-baito’ and what I learned from it.
- Why I decided to work at Mt. Fuji
Actually, I found this job by chance. It was about a month before summer vacation when I saw a recruitment poster with a big picture of Mt.Fuji, on the school dormitory wall. It was posted by one of the senior members who had worked there before. What I could get from the poster was only basic information, but somehow, I was very attracted to this unknown job. I had no idea whether the written salary was worth the working conditions at that time, but it just seemed a considerable amount of money, at least for me, whose working experience was only at a small cafe. Also, mountains have been quite close to me throughout my life, and it has been one of my dreams to live in the great outdoors for a long time; working at Mt. Fuji just sounded perfect for me. Besides, I’ve lived in a school dorm since high school, so I am used to communal living. I had no worries, such as sharing things with others or the absence of private space. But the conclusive factor was that I would be able to work together with my experienced dorm mates. That made me feel that I had to go no matter what. Going on this part-time job or not was kind of a decision that I should have taken a long time thinking about because it would sacrifice almost half of my summer vacation. But instantly, I made up my mind to apply without telling my friends nor my parents. So, to sum up, I decided to do this part-time job not so because of a particular reason or purpose, but by believing my interest and intuition.
- What Taishikan life is like
Now I’ll explain what employees need to do every day and the life in Taishikan.
Basically, employees are divided into two groups; one is those who serve visitors staying there and clean the entire lodge, called Banto(番頭), and the other is those who prepare the everyday meals for visitors and staff, called Cyubou(厨房). I was assigned to Cyubou, so I was mainly in the kitchen during my working hours. It would take too much space writing every detail of the tasks, so I would like to share the daily schedule common to most employees below roughly.
5:00 am Visitor’s check-out 5:25 am Meeting Cleaning 6:15 am Breakfast 7:15 am Coffee break 9:15 am Tea time 11:15 am Lunch 12:00 pm-2:00 pm Break 2:15 pm Teatime Visitors’ check-in Serving dinner to visitors 5:30 pm Dinner Serving dinner to visitors Cleaning 9:00 pm- Bedtime
As you can see, our schedule was tight and well-organized. Because all staff members stay in the same lodge where visitors stay, being punctual, prompt, and accurate in every single moment were some of the most important things. What I listed above is a rough timetable. Between each schedule, we were dealing with a huge amount of tasks; for example, cleaning visitors’ bedrooms and restrooms, unloading supplies from bulldozers, preparing meals for visitors/staff/doctors/guides, stamping on visitors’ climbing sticks, dealing with phone calls, and so on. In addition, the employees are highly required to actively find extra work. So even if you finish your assigned tasks quickly, there are things to do as long as you have time.
Talking about being punctual, we had to be super cautious, especially about serving dinner to visitors. Usually, visitors’ check-in begins at about 4:00 pm, and dinner is served every 30 minutes from 4:30 pm until about 7:00 pm. Banto decides the dinner time for each visitor group, considering their arrival time and conditions, then shares the schedule with Cyubou. Especially on the weekends or on sunny days, we had more than 100 visitors. The lodge gets very busy on such days, so cooking and serving hot dinner on time was really important to manage guests and prevent any mistakes. It was important for the kitchen crew to always check the clock, calculating when to start each process depending on the number of guests.
Now I want to share with you some of the rules unique to Taishikan that every staff member must follow.
- be silent and sit on your heels during meals
It is not because of Covid-19. You are not allowed to talk and be relaxed while eating, just like the old Japanese eating style.
- clean your plates and remove all food scraps with a pickle and green tea
Because you cannot waste any food there, after every meal, you have to pour green tea into the plates and bowls you used and rub them with a pickle to remove all food scraps. Then you drink the tea and make the used plates clean before washing. It is one of the great wisdoms passed on for a long time to save water in a limited environment.
- bathe once every four days
You have a chance to take a bath every fourth day. Since you don’t sweat so much on the mountain, it’s enough to keep your body clean. There are no showerheads and bathtubs, so you need to acquire the best way to wash your entire body with a little amount of water in a bucket.
- try to use the minimum amount of water
Because the water you use on the mountain is filtered from rainwater and it’s limited, you always have to be careful with the amount of water you use in every situation.
- What I learned through this job
One of the most important things I learned from this job experience is that we cannot take our food, water, and everything we have now, for granted. By putting myself in a limited environment far from our super-convenient life, I keenly felt that I had wasted too many resources before. I realized that we could live a much more sustainable life by trying to think of another way of using things we have. As I continued to live for four weeks on the mountain, I found little happiness in living with minimal things, and didn’t feel any inconvenience. What I want to say here is that the way of living I acquired in Taishikan is not only ecological and economical, but also healthy for our minds. Being grateful for what we have and taking care of them in the long term brings about spiritual affluence in our life. I also could improve many skills by working as a team. Respecting and trusting each other is important to make good relationships, of course, but I found that not completely trusting someone is as significant as the former, meaning that we have to be careful with what others do and what we do to deal with tons of work promptly and accurately. Also, I strongly felt that for good cooperation, each person’s independence is essential.
It was no easy job, and I was sometimes about to cry for repeated difficulties. But every time I saw the magnificent and heavenly sunrise in the morning, I thought I was truly lucky to be there and have such wonderful opportunities in my last summer as a teenager. Every day I felt inner growth little by little, being empowered by sunshine and fresh air. And above all, it was an irreplaceable treasure that I had brilliant friends there. Although I had never known them before starting this job, now I feel a strong bond with them, like a family. Lastly, I can’t thank enough those who trained me from scratch. They were sometimes strict but always treated me like a family member with lots of love.
As you imagine, ‘Fujisan-baito’ is so unusual and pretty tough. It requires a strong mind and patience compared with general part-time jobs. Even if it is very challenging, I strongly believe that this experience will become something special in your life, and you’ll be able to feel growth into an independent person. I hope some of you guys were inspired by life in Mt.Fuji, and even if only slightly, gained interest in this job. Thank you for reading!