All you need to know to climb Mt. Fuji

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Mt. Fuji is not only the tallest mountain in Japan, but also the most iconic, and every year thousands of people climb to the 3776m summit during the short climbing season. Despite the fact that everyone from small children to old-age pensioners can be seen snaking up the mountain in a (slow) race to catch the sunrise, Mt. Fuji is not a mountain which should be taken lightly, and a bit of preparation is required. Here are some essential tips to help make your climb to the top a successful one!

There are four main routes to the summit; running clockwise from the north they are the Yoshida trail, the Subashiri trail, the Gotemba trail and the Fujinomiya trail. Like many volcanoes in Japan, the trails on Mt. Fuji are split in to ten stages or stations, called ‘gō-me’ (合目) in Japanese. Buses run as far as the fifth stations, so most people start their climbs from there.

The summit of Mt. Fuji is dominated by a huge 100m deep crater, and the true high point is called Mt. Ken-ga-mine, now home to a weather station. There are a few huts, shops and shrines along the summit ridge and the path around the crater takes about an hour to walk around.

Getting there

In the climbing season all four trails are easily accessible by public transport. For the Yoshida trail, Fujikyu buses run to the 5th station from Kawaguchiko and Fujisan stations all year round. The journey takes one hour and costs about 1500 yen (one way). During the climbing season there are buses roughly every half hour from about 6.30am until 8pm, and in the other direction from 8am until around 8.30pm. During the rest of the year there are hourly buses between 8.30am and 4.30pm. Direct express buses from Shinjuku Bus Terminal to the 5th station run from late April to early November.

For the Subashiri trail, 6 to 10 daily buses run between JR Gotemba station and the Subashiri 5th station, with the first bus leaving Gotemba at 7.35am, the last one at 5.25pm (6.25pm on weekends and holidays). For the reverse journey, buses depart the 5th station at 8.45am until 6.45pm (7.45pm on weekends and holidays). Outside of climbing season there is a limited service of 3 buses a day on weekends and holidays from mid-May until early July. Another service operates from mid-July to early September between Odakyu Line Shin-Matsuda station and the 5th station, stopping at Subashiri Sengen shrine on the way. It runs five times a day on weekends and holidays, and just twice a day on weekdays.

Private vehicles can drive to the Subashiri 5th station, although there are restrictions during climbing season, with shuttle buses running from the car parks at the bottom of the Fuji Azami Line.

The Gotemba trail is the least developed of the four routes, but there are 6 or 7 buses a day from JR Gotemba station to Gotemba New 5th Station, with the first bus departing at 7.35am and the last one at 4.45pm. From Gotemba New 5th Station the first bus back to civilisation is at 9.25am and the last one leaves at 6.45pm. Outside of climbing season there are only 3 buses a day on weekends and holidays from mid-May until early July. It is possible to drive all the way to the 5th station, with no restrictions even during climbing season, and there is plenty of parking space available.

For the Fujinomiya trail, during climbing season Fujikyu runs regular buses from Shin-Fuji station to the 5th station, stopping at Fuji and Fujinomiya stations on the way. These run everyday from about 8.25am to 5.55pm. There are earlier buses from Fujinomiya station only, departing at 6.30am and 7.30am. Buses in the other direction run from 8.30am to 7pm. There are also buses roughly every two hours from Mishima and one a day from Shizuoka. Outside of climbing season there is a much reduced schedule with three buses a day from Shin-Fuji station on weekends and holidays only, operating from the end of April until the end of October.

(The Must-See Japan guidebook has all the information needed for getting to Kawaguchiko and the Mt. Fuji region, plus advice on what to see and do there, rail passes, Wi-Fi rental etc)

 

Mt. Fuji mountain huts

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Mountain huts can be found along all four routes on Mt. Fuji, from the trailheads at the 5th stations and at regular intervals right up to the summit. They offer accommodation and sell simple meals, snacks, drinks and souvenirs (although prices increase with altitude), and many have toilets (for a small fee).

Accommodation is usually mixed dorm-style, with futons or sleeping bags and blankets provided and everyone sleeping in very close quarters. Bring ear plugs and an eye mask if you don’t want to be disturbed by people at night. Meals are usually curry and rice or noodles, and breakfasts are rice-based bento box style. Dinner is served from about 5pm, and lights out is usually at around 9pm, with wake up calls from about 1.30am onwards (depending on how far up the mountain the hut is). A nights stay costs around 5500 yen (no meals), plus an extra 1000 yen for dinner and another 1000 yen with breakfast. Expect to pay an extra 1000/2000 yen if staying on a Friday or Saturday night. Prices are the same for both adults and children. If the weather is bad or you just need a break, huts usually let you take shelter for a while if you buy some food.

It is usually essential to book if you plan on staying at a hut, and many of them sell-out weeks in advance (for weekends and holidays). You will occasionally see huts with vacancy signs on quieter weekdays, but it is best not to take any chances. A few of the huts have online booking on their websites or via email, but for most you must call to make a reservation. Some huts have English speaking staff, but if not, try to speak slowly and clearly or get a Japanese speaker to call. Hotel staff will often help to make a reservation if you ask nicely and provide details of your stay.

The huts with some English information:

Yoshida trail

6th station – Seikansō 星観荘 (www.seikanso.jp/english.html)

7th station – Kamaiwakan 鎌岩館 (www.kamaiwakan.jpn.org/english/)

7th station – Fuji-ichikan 富士一館 (www.mfi.or.jp/fujiichikan/english/)

7th station – Toyōkan 東洋館 (www.fuji-toyokan.jp/english/)

8th station – Gansōmuro 元相室 (www.mfi.or.jp/w3/home0/fujisan/english/index.html)

8th station – Taishikan 太子館 (www.mfi.or.jp/taisikan/)

8th station – Hakuunsō 白雲荘 (www.fujisan-hakuun.com/en)

8th station – Fujisan Hotel 富士山ホテル (www.fujisanhotel.com)

8.5 station (after Yoshida and Subashiri trails merge) – Goraikōkan 御来光館 (www.goraikoukan.jp/english/)

Subashiri trail

7.5 station – Miharashikan 見晴館 (www.miharashi-kan.com)

8.5 station (after Yoshida and Subashiri trails merge) – Goraikōkan 御来光館 (www.goraikoukan.jp/english/)

Fujinomiya trail

7th station – Goraikōsansō 御来光山荘 (www.goraikousansou.com)

10th station (summit) – Chōjō Fujikan 頂上富士館 (www.fujisanchou.com)

To see the sunrise from the summit most people climb part of the way up, stay at a hut for a few hours of (poor) sleep, and set off in the dark to arrive at the summit in time for sunrise. Most of the huts can accommodate between 100 and 200 people, but on busy weekends and holidays they can be completely full and you may find yourself sharing a futon with two other people!

Camping on Mt. Fuji is not allowed, but there are many camp grounds in the Fuji Five Lakes area.

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When to go

The official climbing season this year is July 1st to September 10th (Yoshida Trail), and July 10th to September 10th for the other three trails (Subashiri, Gotemba, Fujinomiya). Buses will run regularly to and from trailheads, and huts are mostly all open during this time. It will be busy though, particularly on weekends and national holidays.

While it is generally discouraged, it is possible to climb in late June and late September, but don’t expect many huts to be open (a few do open just either side of official climbing season), and in June you can probably still find snow at higher elevations so caution is advised. Do not attempt any earlier or later in the season unless you are a very experienced winter mountaineer.

Mt. Fuji is often shrouded in cloud during the summer, and afternoon thunderstorms are a risk, but the summit is often clear even if it’s not at the trailhead. Temperatures are generally pleasant, but the summit can be cold and close to freezing (particularly at night and early morning), even if it’s hot and humid at sea-level. If a typhoon is forecast, it’s best to change plans as it can be dangerous (and not to mention less enjoyable) in the wind and rain. Weekends and public holidays (including Obon in mid-August) are very busy, so avoid if possible.

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What to bring

While it’s not uncommon to see people (usually foreigners) reach the top of Mt. Fuji in nothing more than shorts, t-shirt, a pair of trainers (sneakers) and clutching their snacks in a plastic bag, it is advisable to come better prepared.

Checklist:

  • Comfortable, sturdy footwear such as hiking boots or lighter trail shoes (terrain is quite rough and the volcanic rocks can tear up flimsy shoes).
  • Good socks to prevent blisters, bring an extra pair.
  • Gaiters to stop small stones and sand getting in shoes (particularly along the Subashiri and Gotemba routes).
  • Synthetic under layers, not cotton (gets wet easily and is a poor insulator).
  • Long-sleeve garment, plus a light fleece or down jacket for added warmth. A waterproof outer shell (rain jacket) is essential as it can rain anytime. Also keeps the wind out.
  • Shorts for walking, and lightweight trekking pants for the summit, which can be cold at night and early morning. A pair of waterproof rain pants are advisable too.
  • Small rucksack or backpack (15-30 litres), and waterproof cover (or pack everything inside a bin liner as an extra waterproof barrier).
  • Cap or hat to keep the sun off, and a warm hat for the summit.
  • Sunglasses, which also protect eyes from dust a bit.
  • Headlamp or small flashlight for climbing in the dark, and spare batteries.
  • Sunscreen (there is almost no shade).
  • Plastic bag for rubbish, as there are no bins along the trails or at mountain huts.
  • Tissues, wipes and basic toiletries are useful if you stay overnight.
  • Snacks and drinks, as prices are expensive at huts. Drinks can be heavy, so only bring as much liquid as you feel comfortable carrying. Water, tea and soft drinks are sold at all mountain huts (a 500ml bottle of water costs about 500 yen).
  • Cash, as huts almost never accept credit cards.

Optional:

  • Trekking poles, you can even buy a traditional pilgrims-style wooden staff at the start of the hike, which can be branded at stations on the way to the top.
  • Cheap surgical masks (popular in Japan and available in convenience stores) help to prevent breathing in dust.
  • Bottled oxygen is sold at the trailheads and at many huts, and it may slightly alleviate the effects of altitude sickness or give a boost to people not accustomed to such strenuous activity.
  • Plasters (band-aids) or duct tape are useful if you develop blisters.

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Routes and possible itineraries

All routes apart from the Fujinomiya trail have separate ‘ascent’ and ‘descent’ paths (in places), so follow the signs at all times. The estimated climbing and descending times for each route are as follows:

Yoshida Trail – up 6hrs, down 4hrs – The most popular route, with many huts along the way. Expect big crowds.

Subashiri Trail – up 6hrs, down 3hrs – A varied route, starts in green and verdant forest, joins the busier Yoshida trail further up. Descent route has an enjoyable ‘sand run’ section.

Gotemba Trail – up 7hrs, down 3hrs – Least popular route, mainly because it has the lowest of the 5th stations, and is a long slog in ascent. Excellent decent route down the famous ‘sunabashiri’ sand run.

Fujinomiya Trail – up 5hrs, down 3hrs – Shortest route and second most popular overall. Quite steep and rocky near top, where bottle necks can form. Of all the routes, this one arrives closest to the true summit of Ken-ga-mine.

The classic way to climb Mt. Fuji is to setoff during the day, arrive at a hut by late afternoon, have an early dinner and try to get a few hours sleep, before waking very early to continue hiking in the dark so as to arrive on the summit just in time for sunrise. If this is your plan, be prepared to approach the summit at a snail’s pace, as hundreds of other people will have the same idea, and the steep, narrow paths below the summit become clogged with hikers. But it’s a hiking experience quite unlike anywhere else, and the sight of hundreds of headlamps snaking up the mountain in the dark is quite mesmerising. During the hiking season sunrise is at around 4.30am, but it’s best not to arrive at the summit too early as it can be bitterly cold if you have to wait around.

It is also possible to start the walk later and climb through the night to arrive at the summit in time for sunrise. The last buses of the day arrive at the Yoshida and Fujinomiya 5th station trailheads at about 8pm during climbing season, so if you start climbing at around 10pm you will have plenty of time to reach the summit before it gets light.

Alternatively, if you’re not interested in seeing the sunrise then it is possible to climb to the top of Mt. Fuji and descend in one day. It’s a long and tiring day hike however, so you’ll need decent fitness and should catch one of the early buses to the trailhead.

Most people ascend and descend by the same trail, but it is certainly possible to combine different routes. The Yoshida and Fujinomiya trials are the shortest routes to the top, and so make for logical ascent trails. In contrast, the ‘sand runs’ of the Subashiri and Gotemba trails are much more fun in descent. So a good combination would be an ascent of the popular Yoshida trail followed by a return down the Subashiri trail (buses from this trailhead go to JR Gotemba Station, from where there are convenient transport links back to Kawaguchiko and Tokyo). The Fujinomiya trail is the shortest ascent route and it can easily be combined with a flying descent of the sandy Gotemba trail. But any combination of routes is possible.

To save a bit of money, there is a special ‘climbers bus pass’ which is valid for 3 days and allows you to ride a bus to one of the 5th station trailheads and then take a return bus from any trail after climbing the mountain. This flexibility is good for those who plan to ascend and descend by different trails. The ticket costs about 3000 yen and is available from most of the main bus/train stations in the Mt. Fuji area.

One word of caution – the top of Mt. Fuji is in the zone where altitude sickness, or acute mountain sickness (AMS) can start to occur due to the lower levels of oxygen in the air. Effects can start from 2500m, and anyone can be afflicted regardless of age, fitness or experience. There is an increased risk if you ascend quickly. On Mt. Fuji the effects are generally on the mild side but can include headaches, dizziness, breathlessness and nausea, and so if someone displays these symptoms it’s important to rest, and if necessary, head back down the mountain. Bottled oxygen is available at huts and may help a little.

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Many say that Mt. Fuji is a mountain best seen from a distance, and while it can be tough and tiring it is quite an achievement and likely to be something you remember for the rest of your life. Happy climbing!

Useful resources

See www.fujisan-climb.jp/en/ and www.mtfuji-jp.com

Also see www.japan-guide.com/bus/fuji_season.html for bus schedules

My recently updated guidebook, Must-See Japan has all the information you need for getting to the Mt. Fuji area, and what to see and do there. Check it out!

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