All that talk of Mount Fuji the other day made me want to post this picture, even though it’s a wintry, snow-capped Fuji and my Bath Novel Award shortlisted novel You’re Beautiful takes place in the summer. I’d also been thinking of saving this particular image for one of the final posts in this series on the background to the novel because it’s the last Fuji photograph I ever took. I didn’t know that when I took it. I didn’t know that within two months I would have left Japan forever after living there for fifteen years.
I first saw Mount Fuji on the crudely tinted colour postcards my father sent from Japan, where he was stationed with the Royal Navy at the end of the 1960s. I couldn’t wait to see the real thing when I finally got to Japan as an adult, but the mountain is famously elusive, usually cloaked in cloud, especially in hot and hazy summer. Even though it’s only fifty miles from Tokyo, there are few places left in the high-rise city that offer a view of Fuji. Perhaps from the top of a west-facing skyscraper at sunset or on a clear winter’s day, if you’re lucky. I was luckier than most; the weekend seaside cottage I rented just down the coast was across the bay from Mount Fuji. Every morning the first thing I’d do was look out of the window to see if it was visible. I never got tired of looking at it; the fact that you could only see it sometimes made the sightings all the more magical.
A lot of the action in You’re Beautiful takes place on a fictional beach that is based on a real beach just down the road from my seaside cottage. Like the real beach, the fictional beach is across the bay from Mount Fuji, and the spectacularly beautiful mountain has a strong presence in a story that has beauty as one of its themes, particularly the pursuit of beauty in our everyday lives and the importance we give to it, from the barman intent on carving the perfect ice ball to the stalker obsessed with his beautiful victim.
Anyway, back to the above photo of Mount Fuji. I took it on 5th March 2011. Six days earlier I’d been informed, along with the rest of my colleagues, that our company was closing down and we were all being made redundant. Six days later, a few hundred miles up the coast, that same beautiful calm blue sea would rise up into the tsunami that killed thousands of people. Redundancy, earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown, all in the space of a couple of weeks. I decided to leave Japan. I always feel sad when I look at this photograph. It’s hard to believe that such serenity would soon be followed by such chaos.