“He who climbs Mount Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool.” — Japanese proverb
I love Mt Fuji. I loved the look of it in winter from my apartment window back in Tokyo, looming on the horizon. I love the look of it in old ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock) prints, mysterious or bold, however the artist perceived it. So naturally, I thought I would love the view from the top of this legendary peak.
Let’s just say that I will never, EVER be the fool in that proverb. 🙂
Scaling Mt Fuji is a memorable experience. But this is not mountain to be trifled with. A hike to the peak and back is a good 7-8 hour endeavor and the weather is rarely agreeable at the top. I wouldn’t undertake it if you’re in bad shape, have health problems, are pregnant or are under the age of 7.
That said, if you’re up for the challenge, an ascent of Mt Fuji is a great addition to any Japan adventure if you happen to visit in July or August. Outside of those months, Fuji is closed and even in the height of summer, bad weather can sometimes force trail closures. If you’re staying in Tokyo, buses leave Shinjuku bus terminal for the mountain’s 5th station, from where most hikes begin. The trip out is about two hours; be aware, however, that weekend traffic can nearly double the time … and not all buses have bathrooms!
Mt Fuji’s fifth station feels as busy as a turnpike rest stop. Here you’ll find restaurants, an information stand, a small shrine and a number of shops – if you’ve forgotten something (poncho, water, boots, etc) they’ll have it here, along with the popular Mt Fuji walking stick. A great, if somewhat impractical souvenir, the stick can be branded at each station on the way up the mountain. Just don’t feel obligated to keep those highly annoying bells on top. Mine lasted about 100 yards before disappearing into my pack for the rest of the hike!
The trail up the mountain is rocky and uneven; I recommend a good pair of hiking boots as even sneakers won’t give you great support. If you get tired, stop off at any of the huts that line the path from the 6th station on. At least one hut at each station serves some form of sustenance, like noodles. During the day, the huts might allow you to rest – at night, they’re booked up full, offering dinner and a hard bunk (blankets and small pillow included) for a few hours before hikers tackle the last few hundred meters to the top to see the sun rise. At the hut where I stayed (we did the overnight), we were served a decent plate of chicken curry and rice and given heavy blankets and very thin, small pillows. You’ll want those blankets – it gets COLD up there.
A torii gate marks the final push to the summit, reminding hikers that this is indeed a sacred peak. Most people stop once they reach the apex, enjoying a well-deserved rest or a cup of noodles or tea. If you’ve still got energy, you can make a circuit of the crater at the summit (remember, Fuji is a dormant volcano). The loop takes about an hour so plan accordingly if you’re short on time.
The way down is where Fuji gets its revenge. If you’re a tad weak in the knees, definitely consider popping a few anti-inflammatories or taking along a set of trekking poles to help ease the pressure on your joints. It’s a long 2-3 hour descent on a trail comprised of loose, slippery shale.
Once at the bottom, give yourself a huge pat on the back. Not everyone gets to even see Mt Fuji on their trip to Japan, let alone scale it! Then go soak your muscles in a lovely onsen (hot springs). You deserve it.
Want to climb Fuji but leave the details to someone else? Give me a shout and I’ll arrange your itinerary.
If you want some resources, Yamanashi Prefecture has a great website dedicated to its most famous landmark.