Seeing Mt. Fuji

Let’s face it, Mt. Fuji is one bad ass mountain. It is essentially one of the key landmarks in Japan. And you have to at least see it in order to experience the variety of things Japan has to offer. It isn’t exactly the ultimate climb, but it will wet your appetite for more mountain climbing in Japan, which there is a plenty of.

How about some stats? The mountain is 3,776 meters or 12,338 feet high. The climb is divided into 10 stations, called 合目(goume) in Japanese to break up the journey although most hikers start from the 5th station. Every year, somewhere around 300,000 hikers climb it during the official season. Although there is plenty of off-season hiking. There are basically 4 major trails to the top with Yoshida being the most popular. The highest temperature on record at the top was 17.8 degrees Celsius or 64 degrees Fahrenheit in August of 1942 while the record low is -38 degrees Celsius or -36 degrees Fahrenheit in February of 1981. Pretty cold at the top basically.

It is a mountain that you should climb once in your lifetime if you spend any amount of time in Japan, because the sunrise and views from the top are absolutely beautiful. It is also a pretty easy, fairly safe climb to the top as well. So as long as you follow some of the basic guidelines you should be able to enjoy a one of a kind experience.

Getting there

Getting there is generally quite easy, it being a major tourist attraction and all. From Tokyo, you just need to hop a bus from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko which is only about an hour and a half ride. Then take another bus from kawaguchiko to the 5th station of the Yoshida Trail, the most popular trail up. Here is a lovely video that explains the process step by step via shaky cam:

Note that you can also take overnight buses from Osaka or other major locations around the country. Fujikyuuko Bus offers pretty good service to the Mt. Fuji area. The English site only offers information about buses from Tokyo, but the Japanese site offers a wider variety of ticket options. If you need help reading it, the Google translate version is kind of understandable.

I personally took the shinkansen to shinfuji then a taxi to the 5th Station of the Fujinomiya trail. This is probably one of the fastest ways to get there from Kansai, because the Fujinomiya trail is on the south side of the mountain closest, which is the face that is closest to the Shinkansen line. You can, of course, take a bus to the Yoshida trail if you prefer that route, but the bus times are pretty limited, so if you want more options, the Shinkansen might be a better choose.

That’s actually why we choose to take the Shinkansen. We wanted to climb up and reach the summit by sunset, spend the night on the top, and then roll out of bed to see the sunrise. This seemed to like a great way to experience absolutely everything there is to experience about Mt. Fuji. It didn’t quite work out as planned but more on that later.

Hiking

There are actually a couple of trails that will take you up to the top of Mt. Fuji. The all pretty much offer the same hiking experience. Although at the base of the most popular trail, Yoshida, there are numerous shops and even a hotel where you can rest and get something to eat (at a premium of course) before taking on the mountain. I should also mention that at Yoshida they have coin lockers to store things if you’d like to lock up any extra baggage before your ascent. Fujinomiya doesn’t have much of anything.

The hike up on Fujinomiya and Yoshida is kind of the same, black rock. Mt. Fuji is, after all, a big volcano, and there is plenty of things to not see on your way up. It can be a bit disheartening to see the next station up the mountain as you climb slowly creep toward you without passing any real noticeable milestones. Not too mention that if you are hiking during July and August you will most likely be stuck in a bit of a traffic jam as you inch your way up.

No matter what trail you take, you will be asked to donate Y1000 to help keep Mt. Fuji clean and preserved. This isn’t exactly heavily enforced. You can, of course, be a jerk and walk around the little booth that collects money, but you know, it’s better to not be a jerk. And considering Mt. Fuji has become one of the dirtiest mountains to climb, it is probably a good idea to help them out with some yen.

There are two other common trails, Gotemba and Subashiri. These two offer a very different experience. The side of the mountain where these trails are, is made up of very loose rock, making any ascent a lot tougher as you sink fairly deep into the sandy mixture with every step.

However, this unique feature is the best thing ever for a descent, because you literally run down the mountain. Plus you can take giant leaps in the air, flying for several meters before crashing down into the soft sooty mixture. This was probably the best part of the actual climbing for me. As an added bonus, there is often a misty cloud that prevents you from seeing anymore than about 20 meters or so in front of you, making it appear that you are jumping into oblivion. This is probably a little dangerous so jump with caution, but it is a blast, especially after the tiring climb to the top.

Get souvenirs

The quintessential souvenir is the wooden hiking stick that you can buy just about anywhere there is a shop on Mt. Fuji. You might already have a hiking stick, but this is pretty cool because at every station on your way up the mountain you can have them burn seals into the stick (at a cost). I got seals all the way and all the way down, because I took two different paths, making for a well marked, cool looking stick you can shake at people with authority.

Another cool thing is to mail something from the top, which is kind of cool souvenir to send to family and friends. It isn’t the highest post office in the world, but it is pretty close.

Warnings

It’s cold. Seriously, you might think that since walking around outside in Japan in the summer is like walking in a giant sauna that there is no place in this country that could possibly be all that cold during summer, but Mt.Fuji can get pretty cold. The average high during July and August is somewhere between 7 and 9 degrees Celisus (about 45 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit). So it is important to pack a jacket as well as several layers that you can put on or take off to adjust your body temp as you see fit.

You will also want comfortable hiking boots, but a decent pair of tennis shoes will work if you don’t feel like packing your big ole boots. Also, be sure to pack snacks, food, and lots of water with you. These are all available on the mountain during the regular climbing season of course, but they come at premium, so it is best to buy them ahead of time.

A lot of the trail heads don’t have coin lockers (except Yoshida trail), so just assume you can’t stash anything there. Whatever you take with you, you are taking up the mountain, so try to make arrangements ahead of time for a place to store your other gear.

If you are susceptible to altitude sickness, you might want to take a few iron tablets before heading up the mountain, this will help your blood absorb more oxygen. You may also want to pack oxygen for a little boost here and there to help you get up the mountain. I personally didn’t use oxygen that much because it does help you feel good momentarily, but the effects don’t last and it is quite expensive.

Sleeping on the mountain can be quite troublesome with the thin air. Although we reserved and stayed on the cabin at the top, I could barely sleep because we were packed in like sardines and I just couldn’t get enough air. On top of that, lights out is well before sunset, so you either have to sneak in afterwards, maneuvering your way through a pile of sleeping people in the dark or miss seeing something that is arguably just as good as the sunrise the next day. To me, it wasn’t worth the Y10,000 I paid for the night, but it is up to you.

Overall

I had a great time on Mt.Fuji. It is a pretty easy climb, except for the thin air, and the view is one in a million. It is definitely something you should try if you are in Japan, especially if you are a hiker/outdoorsy person. Just be sure to do your research before you go and pack accordingly. Although thousands make the climb every year from young to the old, there are usually a handful of deaths that happen because of simple carelessness. It’s a big mountain, act accordingly.

What’s your Experience?

Have you been to the top? Let me know what it was like below.

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