Mount Fuji with its 3,776 meters high, is the symbol of Japan, not only for tourists, but also for the Japanese: it’s the sacred place where the Kami of Princess Konohanasakuya resides, and climbing Mount Fuji is one of the experiences that should be done in life. It’s a relatively simple climb, which can be faced by everyone with a minimum of preparation and is roughly suitable for everyone. But forget the silence and quiet of climbing in the mountains: the climb of Mount Fuji is allowed only two months a year and the 300,000 annual visitors are all concentrated in this timing, so expect to also proceed in a row, especially near the top!
Despite the traffic jam and relative ease, climbing Mount Fuji is something magical, an unforgettable experience that will certainly remain in your heart. Once at the top you will experience a unique emotion, the feeling of having made it and having somehow achieved something extraordinary. Perhaps it is precisely for this reason that Mount Fuji is a fundamental spiritual place for Japan and Shintoism: there is an inexplicable force that surrounds this mountain and penetrates the hearts of those who face it.
Climbing Mount Fuji – useful information
Before explaining my experience of climbing Mount Fuji, here is some information that could be useful.
When climbing Mount Fuji
The trails leading to the top of Mount Fuji are only open for a couple of months a year, generally from mid-July to mid-September, and the exact dates are announced every year according to weather conditions.
Climbing Mount Fuji in the off-season is very dangerous, because for most of the year the summit is covered with snow, but also because the particular climatic conditions can lead to sudden changes in weather.
In addition, during the off-season the mountain huts are all closed. I tried to climb Mount Fuji at the end of September, about ten days after the end of the season so when there was still no risk of snow, but shortly after the seventh station, I had to go back because of the wind and heavy rain which made very dangerous to continue, besides the fact that once at the top I should have spent the night in the open air waiting for dawn, being everything completely closed. Furthermore, in case of need, the rescuers will not respond in any way.
During the off-season, better admire the surroundings of Mount Fuji as you can read in my previous post.
Climbing is usually done at night, starting in the evening in order to reach the summit to enjoy sunrise.
Of course, you can also do a day excursion, but consider that there are no trees, so you will do it all under the sun and climbing and descending require pretty long walking time and you need to consider the bus time to get back to your overnight town.
Along the trail to the top of Mount Fuji there are several mountain huts where you can get food or overnight. Usually near mountain hots there are also toilet, where there is usually a box where you have to put an offer of 100 yen per person. I underline that Mount Fuji is a sacred mountain and water is a precious asset, so try to use the toilet properly.
In the mountain huts it’s possible to buy snacks and drinks, although personally I recommend bringing some from home, being the prices naturally higher. Mountain huts offer the opportunity to overnight, for around 7,000 yen per person. It’s recommended to book in advance, especially on the weekends of August and in those close to the top. Don’t expect luxury: you will have a sleeping bag probably in shared spaces and with the constant movement of climbers who stop to overnight or decide to leave earlier. Personally I chose to NOT overnight in the mountain huts, but just stop twice for a 50-minute long stop, the maximum allowed with a drink (and be careful, not all mountain huts allow it).
Temperature and equipment needed
The climate on Mount Fuji is moderately unstable even in the climbing season and the temperature is generally below 10°C even during the day.
Around dawn the temperature is between 0°C and 4°C and there is often windy. When I climb, around the end of July, I started from a temperature of about 29°C in Tokyo and about 22°C at the fifth station from where I started around 8PM. Once it reached the top, the temperature was 4°C with a lot of cold wind.
As a result, you understand how important it’s to wear several layers of clothes.
I was equipped with thermal shirt, t-shirt, Windstopper, and winter down jacket (a Woolrich padded with hood). Thermal pants and mountain socks. Scarf and gloves.
Also important is a windproof/rainproof cape, because you may encounter some rain during the ascent, but also shelters you from the wind, which in some places is very lashing.
Normal trekking shoes are fine, however, being the terrain quite accessible, even good non-slip sneakers could be enough, but they could cause you ankle discomfort especially along the steep descent.
If you are climbing at night it’s also useful to have a light to illuminate the path, you can use the cellphone or light to hold in your hand, but for comfort, I recommend a headlight in order to keep your hands free that you might need in some points.
If, on the other hand, you go up during the day, don’t forget sunscreen and hat to avoid burns and heat stroke.
And given the need to have your hands free, I personally don’t recommend the use of trekking poles, that in some points of the climb might even hinder you. An alternative could be the folding sticks, that in the descent could be very useful!
Physical preparation necessary
The most frequently asked question is about the physical preparation needed to climb Mount Fuji. Let’s start with the premise that it’s still hiking in altitude, whit final destination at over 3,700 meters. So a minimum of habit to the mountain, walking for a long time, and a minimum of physical preparation are necessary. However, it is a relatively simple climb, well signposted, and with several points where you can stop to take a break. Climb with no rush, getting used to the altitude little by little, and you shouldn’t have any big problems.
However, oxygen cans are on sale to avoid mountain sickness that might cause dizziness and vomiting. I personally have not suffered, despite the previous time I went hiking on Alps was over two years earlier, and in Japan, there are not many high mountains where you can train at altitude.
The summit of Mount Fuji
Once you reach the summit, after the long moment of joy and emotion that you will surely have, you can decide to do the trail along the crater which lasts about an hour and a half. But you will probably be truly tried and prefer to treat yourself to a nice meal or hot drink at the small shop. Here you can also buy a postcard and send it to yourself: the postmark will bear the wording “Fujisan”, tangible proof of your experience!
At the top, as well as almost all the way, there is the free wifi of the Mount Fuji network and get ready to be surrounded by climbers who gather here from the four ascent paths!
Problems to consider when climbing the Fuji
Climbing Mount Fuji is an unforgettable experience, but I want to recap the main problems to consider when climbing, to be prepared and get bad surprises.
It’s an excursion at high altitude and therefore, especially if you are not used to it, it is better to climb slowly, taking frequent breaks, in order to acclimate to the less oxygen. Mountain sickness could cause dizziness, a sense of nausea and vomit. If you have this fear, buy an oxygen canister at the fifth station or at one of the mountain hut. Don’t worry, many Japanese people also use them!
Prepare to be surrounded by people, especially near the summit, with points where you will have to proceed in line and also stop in waiting. Unfortunately, many Japanese are not used at all to the altitude and mountains, and this further increases traffic congestion in the last range, where the path becomes even narrower. It’s not allowed to leave the marked route, so wait patiently and don’t try to overcome by exiting the path. Arm yourself with patience and if you don’t want to risk to miss the dawn move ahead: on the top there are benches and a small shop where you can enjoy a hot drink while waiting!
Toilets and ban of camping
On Mount Fuji is not possible to exit the marked routes and camp. If you want to rest, you can do it briefly on the sides of the path, possibly in places that are not a obstacle to other hikers, or near the mountain huts, where there are benches and spaces where you can sit on the ground. Of course, there is also the option to overnight or stop for 50 minutes with a drink, to warm up yourself a little staying inside and close your eyes for a while to regain your strength.
Needless to say, for your needs, you have to carry them until toilets, leaving a usage contribution of 100 yen, using them conscientiously.
Everyone talk about the climb, but the real problem of climbing Mount Fuji is the descending, especially for the two most popular trails. Ascent and descent route follows two different tracks and if during the ascent you will find mainly hard and sometimes rocky terrain, the descent is ALL on soft, extremely steep and winding terrain. A real torture for knees and ankles… many people, obviously trained, do it running because that is actually the system that least stresses the joints. During descending, trekking sticks could be an excellent ally. Also, remember that the fatigue factor will take over, so pay attention to the descent as much as you paid to the ascent!
My experience on Mount Fuji – the Yoshida trail
22 km distance, 34,000 steps, 234 floors climbed. From 8PM to 9AM the following day. Endless emotions. So my experience of climbing Mount Fuji with my sister can be summarized.
To reach the summit there are 4 trails, and the Yoshida trail, the one I did too, is the most popular.
It is the easiest to reach from Tokyo, the one with the most mountain hut and the relatively simplest one.
Of course, it is also the busiest.
The climbing time (effective walk) is from 5 to 7 hours, my sister and I left the Fifth Station after 8PM and we reach the summit just on time for sunrise, around 4.30AM. We had several short and two 50-minute long snack breaks, for a total walking time of about 5 hours.
The path is relatively simple, with gently slopes except for some rocky sections, almost “step”, where it was more comfortable to use your hands and “climb”, from the Seventh Station onwards. To make the last 200 meters, we took 40 minutes because of the crowd. We had decided to leave from the stop at the last mountain hut around 3.30, but we would have done better to anticipate the restart so as to get to the summit earlier and eventually warm-up ourselves inside the restaurant at the top.
The return took about 3 hours, but we went rather quickly because we had booked the first bus of 10AM to return to Tokyo and we were afraid of losing it (actually we arrived at the fifth station shortly after 9, so we also had time to rest and have a quick souvenir shopping).
We didn’t have any problems, except feeling a bit spleepy for skipping the sleeping time… and we spent the following afternoon obviously asleep!
We also encountered a light drizzle and a lot of wind, but we did not particularly suffer from the cold: we wore all the layers, raincape included, only when we stopped to take a break and at the summit.
How to get there
To get to the Fifth Station from where the Yoshida Trail starts, there are direct buses from Shinjuku Station. I recommend booking them in advance from the website. The cost of the one-way trip is 2,950 yen and it takes about two and a half hours.
Alternatively, it is also possible to take a bus to Kawaguchiko and then from there take the Mountain Bus to the Fifth Station.
You could also consider stopping at Kawaguchiko the next night and taking advantage of it to relax the muscles in a onsen 😉
“Those who climb Mount Fuji once in a lifetime is a wise man, but who climbs it twice is a fool,” says a Japanese proverb.
But the trail to get to the top of Mount Fuji are four and the idea of trying at least one more buzzes in my head already……
However, as I mentioned, the Yoshida trail is the most popular and relatively simpler and more equipped, as well as the most comfortable to reach from Tokyo. However, here some quick information on the other paths, but I suggest you to visit the official website for the climbs of Mount Fuji for details.
It is the second most popular trail, where, however, ascent and descent follow the same route and therefore it’s necessary to pay more attention. It is the shortest route, it is less than 4 km, but it is very steep (it takes 5 to 7 hours to climb), so you already need a little more experience.
However, being the most convenient access from western Japan, it’s quite popular and there are many mountain huts as well.
The section near the top (from the eighth station) both ascending and descending is the same road as Yoshida Trail, so that part of the route is always quite crowded. The duration is also similar, although it starts from 2,000 meters above sea level. The first part is light and there is also some vegetation. It’s somewhat the younger brother of the Yoshida Trail, with the fifth station is less developed and the connections from Tokyo are also less comfortable.
It is the longest trail, less crowded and with fewer services, therefore might be not a good option for the less experienced travelers who may need to rest more often. Few mountain huts, this path allows you to see the sunrise from any point, even before reaching the top. It’s certainly the least busy, but the climb takes between seven and ten hours and until the seventh station there are no toilets or mountain huts, so you have to be ready to travel a long distance before being able to refresh yourself.