Mount Fuji is one of the most iconic symbols of Japan. You can ask anybody to tell you about the image of Japan and Fuji San will be among the first five things that they’ll mention, among other clichés such as samurai, ninjas and geishas. It is so important in the Japanese culture that it features in many pieces of art, from the traditional ukiyo-e of Katsushika Hokusai, to the distinctive technique of Yokoyama Taikan, and more modern appearances in many manga and anime, as well as TV shows, Mount Fuji is one place you have to visit during your trip to Japan.
With a height of 3776 meters, Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan. An active volcano that had its last eruption around the year 1708, it is located in the border between the Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures, in the southwest of Tokyo. It was recently named a “World Cultural Heritage” site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); mainly because of its religious significance and the inspiration it has been for art. Therefore, the agency gave it the official name of “Mount Fuji: Object of Worship, Wellspring of Art.”
On a clear day, you might be able to see Fuji San from Tokyo and Yokohama, and if you are lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the iconic mountain on your train journey between Tokyo and Osaka. However, there are many ways to experience Mount Fuji, from just chilling out at the Five Lakes Region or in one of the many Hot Spring Resorts surrounding the area. However, if you really want to understand the special bond that the Japanese people have with Mount Fuji, the only way to do it is to climb all the way to the top.
The climbing season for Mount Fuji is between the months of July and August, although it might be possible to try your luck outside of this period, it will be very difficult. There’s almost no public transportation that can take you there except during this two month period, and the weather conditions off season can increase the climbing hazards, therefore we do not recommend that you to try it outside this period.
It is very important for us to mention some of the things that you’ll need to prepare before you start your trip to the peak of Mount Fuji. First of all, is some suitable clothing. One of the recommendations is to take many different layers with you. The Japanese summer can be very hot, and this weather will prevail at the 5th station, but as you climb up, it becomes colder, so you’ll slowly be adding layers of clothing as you go up. It is important that you take a raincoat or other type of jacket that will help you to keep warm and dry, in case it rains and also because the temperature at the summit can reach levels under zero degrees.
Another recommendation is to get proper hiking gear. There are many sports stores around the areas of Shinjuku and Shibuya where you can get what you need. Take special care purchasing a good pair of boots that will help you both in keeping your feet warm and stable during the climb. Although the road is pretty safe, there can still be some lose rocks that can make you miss your step, so having a good support for your feet and ankles is essential. This is the reason why many people also take walking sticks with them. You can find them in any sports store or rent them at the 5th station (this is free of charge, but you’ll have to give it back on the same day before 3pm, this means they are for people who do not plan to climb all the way to the summit, but just for a short hike). You can also buy a wooden cane at the 5th station, starting from 1000 Yen. Many people chose to buy these canes because as you climb, you can get a seal mark on it on each station. Every seal costs 200 Yen; each one has a different design and it makes a very good souvenir for your trip, as it will also prove that you made it to the top.
You also have to be prepared for the nighttime. Don’t forget to take a head lantern with you, this will provide you with the illumination you need and leave your hands free, as you’ll probably need them to climb on some of the rocky parts of the road. Many unprepared hikers try their luck climbing without a lantern, and although many of them do fine, we do not recommend this. As we have repeated many times in this text, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Have in mind that you’ll also need to keep your body fuelled during your hike; especially if you are aiming to see the sunrise on the summit. In many stations you can get some snacks or even a meal, but as you go up, so do the prices. It is very important to keep hydrated, so we suggest that you take at least 2lt of water with you. Also, although you need to take some food with you, have in mind that the more you take, the heavier your bag will be. This is why it is important to take with you things that give you the calories you need, are easy to eat and to pack in your bag, such as chocolates, cookies, and energy bars. We strongly suggest that you take some calorie jellies with you, which are sold at any convenience store. They are very light, will give you a lot of calories, and some extra proteins and vitamins that you’ll probably need.
You can try to climb on your own or join one of the many tours that are offered. The cost of the tours varies between 19,000 Yen and 30,000 Yen, depending on what they include, but even the cheapest of them includes the bus round trip; a guide to lead your way to the summit; a night in a hut in one of the stations and a meal. Many also include a visit to an onsen after you come down from the mountain. Me and my friends took one of these tours, it was a very nice experience, the guides were really kind, even if some of us didn’t speak Japanese, they did everything they could to make it a very pleasant adventure. I also have to say that going to an onsen is the perfect way to reward yourself after such a physical achievement, so even if you don’t go with a group, don’t miss the chance to spend some time at one of the many resorts surrounding the area.
If you go in a group, always listen to the guides and don’t try to overrun them. Although at the beginning of your trip you might feel that the pace of the group is very slow, you need to have in mind that not everyone that is climbing with you has the same physical condition. Each person should climb at their own pace, but at the same time, remember that you are not doing this alone. Also, remember that the guides are professionals that have climbed to the summit many times with many different people, so respect the rules of the group and enjoy the hike. Also, if you feel sick or need any assistance, please tell your guide immediately, as they will know what to do. In my personal experience, they all take good care of the climbers, even if they are not in their group, they’ll help anyone in need along the way.
If you chose to go on your own, there are many places to start your trip to the peak of the mountain. The road is divided in to 10 stations, and many people, start from the 5th station, where many of the buses will leave you. It is also the spot where the paved road ends. There are four different 5th stations: Kawaguchiko, Subashiri, Gotemba and Fujinomiya. The most popular is the Kawaguchiko 5th station, in the path of the Yoshida Trail on the Yamanashi Prefecture. We strongly recommend that you start from here, as it has many places to eat and shop. It is also very accessible (the buses that take you here depart from Shinjuku station); and it has a great view of the Five Lake region. This is also one of the few places that are accessible during the off season (if the weather is permitting), so coming here it’s already well worth it, even if you don’t plan to get to the top of the mountain. It’s also home to the Komitake Shrine, that has an observation point with a view of Lake Yamanaka and Fujiyoshida City.
On the downside, the Yoshida trail can become very congested, and sometimes you’ll have to wait your turn to be able to pass through the stretch areas of the road. However, this also gives you a chance to talk and make friends with some of the hikers and to catch your breath. It also has a lot of different rest areas, where you can spend the night if you want to, around 5000 Yen without meals, and around 7000 Yen with two meals, or you can get some water. In our case, we took the Yoshida trail because it’s also the more accessible for inexperienced hikers, and has many good points to see the beautiful landscape.
For many people their aim is to see the sunrise at the summit. That’s why a lot of climbers and tours chose to start their climbing early, around noon and spend a night in one of the huts between the 7th and 8th stations. However, there is also the option for you to start in the evening and climb through the night. Whichever you choose, please bare in mind your physical condition. It’s better to pay some extra money to get some rest than to put yourself at risk.
Now you know everything you need to know to be ready to try to climb Mount Fuji. That being said, there are many things you have to take in consideration before deciding to climb Mount Fuji. The road to the top is not that difficult and does not require any special climbing skills; in other words, almost anyone can do it. However, you still have to be responsible for yourself and do not underestimate the hazards of this activity; remember, you are climbing a mountain. This means that there is a chance of being injured, getting sick or be stranded due to exhaustion. Please, consider your physical condition, climb at your own pace, and rest as many times as you need to; pay special attention to what your body is telling you. In case you feel that you cannot make it, it is better to go back down before anything dangerous happens. Also, remember that if you are so exhausted that you can not make it back, the guides will have to call for a horse service to pick you up and this will cost you around 50,000 yen. More important than money, is your health and wellbeing, so please, always have in mind that this is a trip in which you have to enjoy yourself, and not take any unnecessary risks.
We hope that this guide will help you during your trip to Mount Fuji. Enjoy the beauty of the nature and have a great time on your hike!!