Climbing Mt Fuji is probably one of the most rewarding experiences you can do whilst visiting Japan. If snowboarding or skiing during winter in Japan is a must on your to-do list, then this is the summer/autumn equivalent. Anyone can hop on and off a bus and take a picture of the mountain, but how many can truly say they’ve ‘experienced’ Mount Fuji by actually climbing the beast of a mountain? Yes, it’s absolutely stunning from afar, especially during clear, cloudless days when framed by cherry blossoms, but to push through the incredibly tough incline, temperamental weather, rocky paths, and extremely early morning starts to reach the peak of the mountain as the sun rises (in the land of the rising sun, no less) is something that can’t quite be described in words. We’ll breakdown some of the important information that you may need before you beginning your ascent.
Climbing Mt Fuji #1 – The Best Tours
If it’s your first time and you’re not exactly at peak level fitness, or if you’re traveling with a group of people who aren’t exactly well-versed in hiking, then we highly recommend that you book a tour. Many foreign tourists hike through tours: they’re easy to organise, convenient, affordable, and you know you will be getting the experience you imagine. Whilst it’s nowhere near as difficult as climbing Everest, there are a few things that need to be organised beforehand and you will need to gain an understanding of the terrain and the conditions to properly prepare. You may miss something important, leading to a less-than-savoury experience. We’ve heard some shocking stories of people not rugging up enough, not wearing the right shoes, not booking huts ahead of time, and we want anyone who’s planning to climb Mt Fuji to avoid that altogether, which is why we’ve teamed up with GoVoyajin to offer this fantastic overnight climbing tour for an incredibly affordable price.
From 21,220 yen per person, you will be guaranteed a professional guide who will overlook all safety precautions during the hike, cover your overnight stay at a hut, reaching the peak for a sunrise above the clouds, a certificate which proves you did the hike to the summit, and last but definitely not least, a relaxing and refreshing onsen bath to loosen those muscles after the hike, with a free souvenir towel.
Climbing Mt Fuji #2 – Official Season
The official climbing season for Mt Fuji usually starts from 1st July, and ends mid September, around the 14th. Throughout this period, all trails up the mountain and facilities are opened to the public, including restrooms, huts, and little food stores. You will likely not encounter any snow during this period, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you won’t need a warm jacket – the peak gets pretty chilly, even in summer!
We (as well as most Japanese people) recommend that you plan your hike during this period. Even if you plan to hike without a guide, there will be other crowds there to assist if you need, and more facilities are open, meaning you will be able to safely rest if required. For those without much proper hiking experience, definitely go during this period. If you’re a seasoned hiker, planning a hike before and after may be plausible (as some mountain huts open a few days before and a few days after), provided you take all necessary precautions before you set off. Hiking right in the middle of winter is definitely a no-go, even for the most experienced.
Tip #3 – The Different Trails
There are officially four different trails that can be taken up the mountain, and they all vary in length, time taken to complete, and starting areas. Mount Fuji itself is split into ten different stations, or rest stops, with station one located at the foot of the mountain, and the tenth station located at the summit. The 5th station area is the most popular station to actually begin the ascent up the mountain, as it’s the last station that the paved roads up the mountain reach, hence you will most likely see crowds of tourists and fellow climbers being dropped off here. For each trail, there are different 5th station starting points.
Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station – Yoshida Trail (Yamanashi)
This is the most popular base to start climbing the mountain for a few reasons: it’s the easiest to access from the Fuji Five Lakes and hence Tokyo, it’s the most developed with parking (although it will be closed during climbing season to make way for the multiple tour buses coming in and out), some restaurants and shops that sell supplies, and an observation point for those who want a different perspective but don’t actually want to climb the mountain.
Because of its popularity, expect to experience some crowding during the peak climbing season, although it does help that there are separate uphill and downhill tracks, and multiple huts along the way to even out the crowd.
From here, it’ll take between 5-7 hours to ascend, and 3-5 hours to descend.
Fujinomiya 5th Station – Fujinomiya Trail (Shizuoka)
This is the mountain’s second most popular starting point, and is the trail of choice for those coming from western Japan, traveling to and from Shin-Fuji and Mishima Station. As with most other trails, the parking lot at this starting point is closed off to the public during peak periods to make way for the shuttle buses. During the season, the area is bustling with enthusiastic climbers getting ready for their epic journey or struggling down to find a place to rest their sore, tired feet. The trail offers a shop which sells hiking supplies, restaurants, and a rest area. The start point is also the furthest up the mountain, and thus is the shortest route to hike to the summit of Mt Fuji. However, despite physically being the shortest route, it’s the only route that doesn’t split their ascending and descending pathways, meaning that if you’re climbing during peak period, be prepared for some congestion. Also, a big thing to note is that, whilst other trails will offer you a glimpse of the sunrise before you hit the sunrise (JIC you don’t get there on time), this trail does not. You will need to be at the summit to catch first rays.
From here, it’ll take 4-7 hours to ascend, and 2-4 hours to ascend.
Subashiri 5th Station – Subashiri Trail (Shizuoka)
Subashiri 5th Station is the second easiest starting point to reach from Tokyo after the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, but is located on another side of the mountain. You can easily hop onto a bus from Tokyo to this starting point daily throughout the peak season. Whilst it does consist of a parking area, a rest area, and some restaurants and shops, it’s substantially smaller in scale than the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station. You will be able to meet up with fellow hikers on the Yoshida Trail after the 8th station, as that’s when the trails join up.
Other than climbing Mount Fuji, you can also head to this trail to hike to a smaller scale peak called Kofuji, which is a short 20-minute walk from the starting point. This is a good way to experience the mountain for those not quite up to the major hike.
From here, it’ll take 5-8 hours to ascend, and 3-5 hours to descend.
Gotemba 5th Station – Gotemba Trail (Shizuoka)
This is probably the least developed and least popular trail chosen by hikers to climb Mount Fuji. Unlike other stations, this starting point consists of very few amenities, which include a small shop, a bus stop, some toilets, and some parking. Because of its position (only 1400m above sea level, compared to Fuji Subaru Line’s 2300m and Subashiri’s 1950m), the ascent from this station will take much longer than other starting points. Also, please note that the terrain will consist mostly of yards of colourless lava rock. The main distinct advantage of picking this starting point is that there is a section known as Osunabashiri, or ‘the great sand run’, where there’s a wide, straight section of flat gravel that hikers can literally run down a massive part of the trail, cutting down their descent time. It’s quite thrilling, as testified by multiple hikers!
From here, it takes 7-10 hours to ascend, and 3-6 hours to descend.
Climbing Mt Fuji #4 – What To Wear and Bring With You
Although peak season is during summer in Japan, climbing to the summit will expose you to some pretty chilling conditions, with the lowest temperature possibly dropping more than 15 degrees below what you would experience at the 5th station starting points, thus you will definitely need to dress for a variety of climates.
We recommend that you wear a sweat-absorption layer as you will most likely perspire climbing up the mountain. On top of that, a thin but warm fleece to keep you warm would be the best option. Lastly, we recommend layering a waterproof windbreaker jacket to help protect you against the elements. As for pants, long pants that are stretchy and warm are the best option. Avoid anything to do with denim. We also recommend bringing a change of clothes which are waterproof as you may sweat through your clothing or get rained on, and may need an emergency set of clothes. The less bulky, the better, as you will need to carry this in your backpack. You should also pack a pair of sunglasses as the glare can get quite jarring. As for shoes, hiking boots are the best option, otherwise, anything enclosed that will support your ankles as the ascent can become quite challenging 3-4 hours into the hike, and don’t forget the pressure you’ll feel on your ankles during the descent.
In your backpack, you should have a spare change of clothes, spare pair of socks, a flashlight or a headlamp, enough water to last you at least two days (they do sell it at the varying stations up and down the mountain but it is relatively expensive), plastic bags to carry your rubbish, a towel to wipe your sweat, sunscreen, 100 yen coins to pay for restroom use, and most importantly (we’re joking…but we’d prioritise this fairly high on the list), enough snacks! Any foods that contain a fair amount of sugar is good. If you’re quite the creature comfort seeker and you have space in your backpacks, we also recommend packing a medical mask (as it does get quite dusty), a hat or a breathable beanie, hiking poles (you can rent a walking stick at the 5th station landing if you don’t want to buy them), knee braces for the descent, and band-aids.
Tip #5 – Is Any Training Required?
No one requires any official training to climb the mountain. On any given day during the peak climbing period, you will see children as young as toddlers right next to grandmas, egging each other on. In saying that, this climb should not be taken lightly. Due to its height above sea level (a whooping 3776m!), those who are not experienced hikers, which will be majority of the climbers, will experience a sense of breathlessness and slight nausea. Also, the actual pathway is nowhere near flat, rather, it’s unimaginably rocky, uneven, steep, and unsteady, hence the recommendation to wear hiking boots.
Our tips would be to drink plenty of water, take plenty of rests, and pace yourself.
Climbing Mt Fuji #6 – How Long Does It Take?
As mentioned above, climbing up the mountain may take anywhere between 4 to 10 hours to climb (depending on your level of fitness and the trail you decide to take), and between 3 to 6 hours to descend. Most people will climb it over two days, starting in the afternoon around 2:00pm at the 5th stations, and stopping over at the huts along 7th and 8th stations to get some rest before heading out again around 2:00am in the morning to try and reach the summit before the sunrise.
Climbing Mt Fuji #7 – Etiquette
One of the things that most people forget is that this long and arduous trek will be a shared journey with hundreds of others who have also slugged through hours of intense hiking, and are probably just as tired as you are, so there are a few rules that you should keep in mind:
- Bring a plastic bag to carry your rubbish with you. As with majority of the streets in Japan, there are no bins on the trek up towards the summit, so you will need to carry all your garbage with you up to the top and back down to the bottom. Don’t be one of those people who toss their rubbish out on the land, it is heavily frowned upon.
- Keep to the side if you are slowing down or need a rest. Everyone will inevitably get tired at some point and will slow down, but that doesn’t mean you need to block the pack for people behind you. Simply move to the side and slow down, or indicate that they can pass you.
- Don’t overtake in slim pathways. The track is not even throughout, and there will be sections where the pathways are slim enough for only one person at a time to pass through. If someone is taking their time, let them pace themselves. Others may not be steady on their feet, or may be experiencing more strain than you, and by quickly passing through them on a slim pathway, you may startle them.
- If you’re sleeping in the hut, try to bunker down and get some shut-eye as soon as possible. Other people would have paid the enormous fee as well, and most people will be buggered and just want a few hours of rest before the big climb the next day.
After reading this, we hope you have a better idea about what to expect when planning to climbing Mt Fuji. It will be strenuous, challenging, and painful, but the final result of standing at the summit, above the fluffy clouds, experiencing the first rays of the sunrise, is so incredibly rewarding that you’ll forget all about the pain (sort of). It’s a bucket list item for many people that’s neither cheesy nor overrated, and we’ve never heard anyone say that they regretted the climb. Just be prepared.
PS: If hiking is not your thing, you can also relax and enjoy a beautiful view on Fuji-san from one of these amazing Japanese traditional inns: Best Ryokan near Mt Fuji.