Climbing Mount Fuji (3776 meters), Japan’s highest and most prominent mountain, can make for lifelong memories. The mountain itself may look more attractive from afar than from close up, but the views on clear days and the experience of climbing through the early morning hours among hundreds of equally minded hikers from across the world are very rewarding. Mount Fuji’s exceptionally symmetrical cone, which is snow-capped for about 5 months a year, is commonly used as a symbol of Japan and it is frequently depicted in art and photographs, as well as visited by sightseers and climbers.
During the climbing season, climbers of Mount Fuji are asked to contribute 1000 yen per person at collection stations at each trailhead.
Mount Fuji is a very distinctive feature of the geography of Japan. It stands 3,776.24 m (12,389 ft) tall and is located near the Pacific coast of central Honshu, just south-west of Tokyo. It straddles the boundary of Shizuoka and Yamanashi Prefectures. Four small cities surround it: Gotemba to the east, Fujiyoshida to the north, Fujinomiya to the southwest, and Fuji to the south. It is also surrounded by five lakes: Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Yamanaka, Lake Sai, Lake Motosu and Lake Shōji. They, and nearby Lake Ashi, provide views of the mountain. The mountain is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. It can be seen more distantly from Yokohama, Tokyo, and sometimes as far as Chiba, Saitama, Tochigi, Ibaraki and Lake Hamana when the sky is clear. Particularly in the winter it can be seen from the Shinkansen until it reaches Utsunomiya station. It has also been photographed from space during a space shuttle mission.
Early July to mid September is the official climbing season when the trails and mountain facilities are open. During this period the mountain is usually free of snow, the weather is relatively mild, access by public transportation is easy, and the mountain huts are operating. Anyone without much hiking experience is advised to tackle the mountain during the official climbing season.
Climbing Mount Fuji is very popular not only among Japanese but also foreign tourists, who seem to make up more than a third of all hikers. The peak season for climbing Mount Fuji is during the school vacations. In order to encounter neither too large nor too small crowds, it is recommendable to climb Mount Fuji on a weekday in the first half of July before the start of the school vacations. The downside of a climb in early July is the weather, which tends to be somewhat more unstable than later in the season.
Some mountain huts open a few days before the start of the official climbing season and/or remain open until around mid September. Public transportation, is considerably less frequent or non-existent outside of the official climbing season. While there is usually no snow on Mount Fuji from late June until October, temperatures at the summit can drop to far below zero in the shoulder seasons. Only experienced hikers should consider the ascent in late June or September. If there is snow on the mountain, appropriate mountaineering equipment and experience is required.
In order to enjoy a safe hike to the summit of Mount Fuji, it is crucial to bring the proper equipment. Some of the most important things to bring are listed below:
- Proper Shoes
The rocky, steep terrain in some sections and the potential of sudden, strong wind gusts are reasons to bring proper hiking shoes which protect your ankles.
- Proper Clothes
Bring proper protection against low temperatures and strong winds. It can be below zero at the summit, and strong winds often make it even colder. Bring rain gear, as weather conditions can change very quickly on the mountain. Gloves are recommended both against the coldness and for hiking the steep, rocky passages.
If you hike at night, a flash light is highly recommended in any season and essential outside of the peak season when the trail is not illuminated by other hikers. Most people choose head lamps, as they leave both of your hands free.
It is important to bring enough water and food, particularly on the trails where there are few mountain huts along the way. Mountain huts offer various meals and drinks; however, note that prices increase with the altitude. Also, be prepared to carry home all your garbage as there are no public garbage bins on the mountain.
Cash is necessary to buy provisions on the mountain like water or canned oxygen and to use the toilets along the way. It is also important to carry should you need to seek emergency shelter in one of the mountain huts.
- Hiking Stick (optional)
While not crucial, many hikers purchase wooden hiking sticks at the 5th Station to aid in their climb up the mountain. Hiking sticks cost about 1500-2000 yen and are sold at all the 5th stations except Gotemba. In addition, for a few hundred yen you can get your hiking stick branded at the mountain huts along the way, turning it into a much cherished souvenir and chronicle of your journey.
The human body requires some time to adjust to a sudden increase of altitude, otherwise there is a risk of headache, dizziness and nausea. Quite a few people who climb Mount Fuji, suffer from altitude sickness. To avoid altitude sickness, you are advised to tackle the mountain at a slow pace, stay hydrated and make frequent breaks. An overnight stay at a hut around the 7th or 8th station is recommended as opposed to a straight climb to the top. Small bottles of oxygen, available at the 5th stations and mountain huts, can be an effective tool in preventing and fighting altitude sickness; however, the only reliable treatment is to descend the mountain.
Among Japanese there is a sense of personal identification with the mountain, and each summer thousands of Japanese climb to the shrine on its peak. Mount Fuji considered the sacred symbol of Japan. Don’t miss out this place if you are in Japan.