Mount Fuji

Few images are as iconically Japanese as Mount Fuji. With its snow-covered peak and distinct shape, it dominates any picture that includes it. The mountain has captured the Japanese imagination for centuries and for good reason. It is simply stunning to look at. Lake Kawaguchi, one of the most scenic lakes of the Fuji Five Lakes, is considered the best spot to enjoy incredible views of Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji is about 60 miles west of Tokyo, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It is the tallest mountain in Japan, rising up to 12,388 feet (3,776 meters). The base is about 78 miles (125 km) in circumference and the diameter is 25 to 30 miles (40 to 50 km). At the top of Mount Fuji is a crater that is about 1,600 feet (500 meters) in surface diameter and is about 820 feet (250 meters) deep.

Mount Fuji and Lake Motosu. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Many pictures of Tokyo include the mountain looming in the distance. The mountain goes by many other names: Fujisan, Fujiyama, and Fuji no Yama. The Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park is centered on Mount Fuji, as is a UNESCO Heritage Site, which was designated in 2013.

Mount Fuji owes its unique shape to its nature as a volcano. Don’t worry about your trip to Tokyo turning into a disaster movie! The mountain has not erupted since 1707. It has been dormant since then, though scientists do classify it as an active volcano. Because of its close proximity to a very highly populated city, Mount Fuji is very closely monitored for any sign of volcano activity. Updates are regularly posted online based on data collected by a number of observation stations.

Mount Fuji is incredibly important to the Japanese people and is considered sacred by many. In earlier days, the climb up the slopes of Mount Fuji was done by extremely pious people and took many days of hardship. The samurai conducted training based around Mount Fuji, and the modern Japanese and American military have both conducted operations from the mountain. It has long been considered the home of warrior culture in Japan.

From the base of the mountain, you can occasionally get a truly scenic glimpse, especially in colder winter months, but Mount Fuji is very often obscured by clouds. However, one of the best ways to experience the majesty and beauty of Mount Fuji is to climb the mountain.

Photo Credit: David Hsu at Flickr.

The first person to climb the mountain was a monk in 663. Until the 19th century, women were not allowed to climb Mount Fuji, but now thousands of climbers, men and women from all over the world, make the ascent during the climbing season every year. The climb was once made wearing the white robes of pilgrimage, but now, of course, most climbers wear modern climbing gear.

The climbing season for Mount Fuji is very short. It typically extends from the start of July to the end of August, give or take several weeks year to year. During this season, the weather is relatively mild and there is not likely to be snow. The mountain huts that dot the trails up operate during this time and it’s pretty easy to reach the trailheads. It is possible to summit the mountain outside of the official climbing season, but it requires more preparation and climbing experience. It is a much more dangerous and difficult climb during other periods of the year.

As grand as Mount Fuji is, the climb typically takes between 4 and 8 hours. It is not an easy climb and training in advance is highly recommended. Mount Fuji is a high altitude climb, as well, and you should take your time and run as little risk of altitude sickness as possible. There is cell phone reception on the mountain during the climbing season.

There are four trails up the mountain: Yoshida, Subashiri, Gotemba, and Fujinomiya. The trails have slightly different seasons, though they all overlap substantially in the middle of the summer. There is also the Ohachi-meguri Trail, which runs along the crater rim.

Equipment is incredibly important for climbing Mount Fuji. Some of the most important things to bring are warm clothing (the mountain is very cold even in summer), mountain climbing rain gear (both top and bottom), and water. The mountain gets very crowded on weekends and also during Obon Week, which is in mid-August. Climbers often have to wait in line at certain passages.

If you choose to climb Mount Fuji, remember that this is a sacred mountain. Do not remove rocks, plants, or animals. Do not leave any graffiti. Public urination, defection, and littering are prohibited. Be polite and courteous along the trail. There are hundreds of other climbers on the trail, including many Japanese and foreign climbers. It’s physically challenging and good trail etiquette will make it much easier on everyone.

View of Mount Fuji and autumn leaves from Lake Kawaguchi.

The network of mountain huts offer various services. Overnight stays usually cost about 5000 yen per person without meals and 7000 yen with meals. You can make reservations in advance. At some of the mountain huts, climbers can rest inside for 1000-2000 yen per hour. Most of them offer paid toilets (100-200 yen) and may sell food, water, and other climbing provisions. There are no fees for climbing the mountain, but donations of 100 yen per climber are greatly encouraged.

Some cool souvenirs are the hiking sticks sold at the bottom of the mountain. Most of the mountain huts have brands that they use to brand a symbol on the sticks for a small fee.

There are ten stations on Mount Fuji along the trails, with the tenth being at the summit. There paved roads that extend to halfway up Mount Fuji, to the fifth station.  There are a number of ways to reach Mount Fuji, whether to make the climb or visit.

You can take buses to the 5th stations along all trails and to the trailheads from (variously, depending on which trail you want to go to) Shinjuku Station, Gotemba Station, Shin-Fuji Station, Fujinomiya Station, and Mishima Station. There are also access roads for cars that are open during certain parts of the year.

Mount Fuji is truly a wonder. If you are spending time in Tokyo, it is well worth a trip and if you are there during the climbing season, embrace the chance for an incredible adventure and memories that will last a lifetime.

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