Though Mt. Fuji is worshiped throughout Japan, I was surprised
to learn that only 1 percent of the Japanese ever experience the
thrill of a Fuji ascent. That number, however, doesn’t translate
into a solo expedition. Since the official climbing season is only
two months, July and August, a line of humanity can be spotted
threading its way toward the summit especially on weekends during
this period. But the camaraderie of a shared goal reaching the top
transcends language barriers and adds to the experience.
At 12,388 feet Mt. Fuji is divided into 10 stations, with
the first station at the foot of the mountain and the 10th being on
the summit. Most hikers begin their hikes from one of four 5th
stations which are accessible via paved roads. During the summer
months access by public transportation is available.
The ascent to the summit from Kawaguchiko 5th Station is the most
popular and usually takes five to seven hours and the descent three
to five hours for those in good condition. But it’s no cakewalk.
From the Kawaguchiko, the Yoshidaguchi Trail leads to the summit
and there are separate trails for the ascent and the descent.
Sunrise takes place on this side of the mountain and the trail is
lined by more than a dozen mountain huts between the 7th and 8th
stations. Other trails have fewer mountain huts. An overnight stay
at one of these huts costs around $42 without meals and around $58
per person with two meals. The Fuji-Yoshida City Web site
(www.city.fujiyoshida.yamanashi.jp) lists phone numbers for
Even during the summer months when the weather tends to be
relatively mild and mountain huts with basic supplies and sleeping
areas are open, it’s important not to underestimate Fujisan. Proper
preparation is essential. Regardless of the temperature at the
starting point, the weather can change quickly, so warm clothes and
a rain jacket is a must. It’s a good idea to fill a small backpack
with a hat, gloves, sunglasses and sunscreen, a water bottle,
toilet paper, a flashlight, a basic first-aid kit and high-energy
snacks. I wore a fanny pack for easy access to my camera. We picked
up walking sticks for around $8 at Station 5, which turned out to
be a very helpful piece of equipment and a great souvenir. At each
of the stations along the climb 200 yen ($1.50 or so) will get you
a stamp branded onto your stick as a memento.
A popular way of climbing the mountain is to hike through the
night to reach the summit in time for sunrise. (Japan after all is
the Land of the Rising Sun.) Sunrise takes place between 4:30 and 5
a.m. in summer. The recommended way of doing this is to climb to a
mountain hut around the 7th or 8th stations during the day, and
spend some hours resting before continuing to the summit late at
night. This pace helps reduce the possibility of altitude sickness.
(Small bottles of oxygen are available at the 5th stations and
mountain huts and can be effective in dealing with altitude
My wife and I decided to start from Kawaguchiko 5th Station at
10:30 p.m. for our summit attempt. We were told we could make it in
4½ hours. If your clients are told the same, tell them not to
believe it! We left an hour earlier than suggested, and it was
touch and go whether we were going to make it to the summit in time
The climb up is a combination of hiking and climbing through
ancient lava flows. There are chains along the steepest inclines to
help pull yourself along. As dawn approached around 4:20 a.m.,
people yelled words of encouragement to each other above and below
them to find the strength to make it to the top in time for the
magical moment when the first rays, and then the ball of the sun,
rise above the horizon.
We passed through a large Shinto gate known as a tori and found a
vantage point on the summit just in time to observe an amazing
sunrise. After a few minutes of gazing in awe at the magnificent
start to a new day, we then turned the camera on ourselves for a
“We made it!” photo. We then headed into a large shelter and joined
fellow climbers for a well-deserved bowl of hot ramen.
On the way down we caught two hours of sleep at the hut
at Hachigome (Station 8). The relatively shallow slope, with soft
pumice acting as natural shock absorbers on the descending trail,
allowed us to do a kind of trot.
After five hours from the time we left the summit we were back at
Station 5 where we stopped in at the O-miyage Ya (souvenir shop)
and bought certificates with our names in calligraphy proclaiming
our successful summit bid.
There’s a Japanese saying which loosely translates as: “He who has
never climbed Mt. Fuji is a fool. He who has climbed Mt. Fuji more
than once is an even bigger fool.” At least in this context we
cannot be considered fools. Climbing Mt Fuji has given us a memory
that will last a lifetime, and I consider it one of my greatest
achievements. For me, it was my personal Everest.
Outside of the official climbing season of July and August, there
are fewer or no bus connections to the 5th Stations. Only seasoned
climbers with proper gear and willing to pack in their own supplies
should consider taking on this majestic volcano from October to May
when extreme weather conditions and avalanche possibilities become
a real concern.
To Kawaguchiko 5th Station: There are many buses from Shinjuku in
central Tokyo directly to the 5th Station (about $22, 140 minutes
one way). There are also about three buses a day from Shin-Fuji
Station on the Tokaido Shinkansen line directly to the 5th Station
(about $29, 160 minutes). There are frequent buses between
Kawaguchiko Station and the 5th Station (about $17, 55 minutes
To reach Gotemba from Tokyo, take the JR Tokaido Line to Kozu (75
minutes) and transfer to the JR Gotemba Line to Gotemba (45
minutes). An alternative is to take the Odakyu Line from Shinjuku
to Matsuda (80 minutes) and transfer to the JR Gotemba Line to
Gotemba (30 minutes).
To Fujinomiya 5th Station there are direct buses from Shin-Fuji
Station (135 minutes) and Mishima Station (125 minutes) on the
Tokaido Shinkansen line, Fuji Station (130 minutes) on the local JR
Tokaido Line and Fujinomiya Station (100 minutes) on the JR Minobu
Line. A roundtrip costs approximately $25.