Mt. Fuji: Climbing the Japanese Icon
Mt. Fuji looms large in Japan. The mountain’s iconic silhouette appears in everything from Edo-period woodcuts to Hello Kitty charms. The mountain is easy to get to. You can see the massive volcano from Tokyo.
Any relatively fit person can manage the climb. It’s not uncommon to see Japanese people in their eighties making the trek to Mt Fuji’s summit.
But don’t be fooled: Mt. Fuji isn’t as gentle as it looks. Altitude sickness and extreme cold await climbers at the top — 3,776 meters from the bottom. In fact, you only have a window of a few months each year to climb Mt. Fuji safely.
Do your research before you go. Avoid getting caught in the extreme weather, large crowds, or other hazards of Japan’s most-loved mountain.
Having said that, climbing Mt. Fuji is one of the most awesome things you can do in Japan. Just follow a few common sense tips and you can be quite safe while enjoying the climb of a lifetime.
Check out this video to learn more about Mt. Fuji:
Climbing Mt. Fuji
People have been climbing Mt. Fuji for hundreds of years.
The volcano is a sacred site; it was once a place of pilgrimage. Many Japanese people still take climbing Mt. Fuji very seriously today.
Pilgrims traditionally started their climb at the Fujiyoshida Sengen, a Shinto shrine. This beautiful shrine sits at the base of Mt. Fuji, near the starting point of the Yoshida-guchi trail.
It was formerly known as Kitaguchi Hongū Fuji Sengen Jinja. The gorgeous red walls and Shinto deities carved into the roof make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 1600’s.
The landscape becomes a barren wasteland once you leave the treeline behind you.
The mountain can get cloudy and the view is sometimes shrouded by thick fog. Even so, the sunrise from Mt. Fuji is one of the most beautiful sights on earth if you’re lucky enough to see it.
To See a Sunrise
You can do one of two things:
1. Climb during the day and stay overnight at one of the huts on the mountain. Get up in the early hours of the morning to finish your climb in the dark.
2. Start your climb in the afternoon and reach the summit in the dark. The authorities discourage this — a night climb is more dangerous.
Also, climbers hurrying to reach the summit have a greater risk of altitude sickness.
Huts are available for an overnight stay on the mountain. Reserve your space in advance if you want to stay in one. They fill up fast, especially during times of high demand.
Be prepared. These huts are the exact opposite of luxury accommodations. They are small, cramped, and cold. During busy seasons, prepare to be sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder with another fellow hiker.
You can choose between just staying the night or staying and having a meal. Having a meal reduces the amount of food you need to carry, but you don’t have much selection.
Four trails lead to the peak of Mt. Fuji. These trails are broken down into 10 stations found at different parts of the mountain.
Very few climbers begin at the bottom. Instead, most catch a bus or drive to the fifth station on one of the trails. They start their climb about halfway up Mt. Fuji.
What kind of experience you have on Mt. Fuji depends on which trail you choose.
The Subaru Trail
The Subaru Trail (also known as the Yoshida trail) is the most popular trail on Fuji. The Subaru trail is a great place to catch a sunrise.
Although it gets crowded at peak times, this trail has the most amenities. There’s a first aid station and many bathrooms. The Subaru Trail has the most huts. They’re located between the 7th and 8th stations.
Costs vary, but you typically spend about 5,000 yen to sleep in a hut. It’s around 7,000 yen with a meal included.
The ascent takes between 5 to 7 hours. The descent, on a different path, takes 3 to 5 hours.
For More Information
The Mountain Hut Booking service will make a reservation for you for a slight fee: Fuji Mountain Guides Page
The Subashiri Trail
The Subashiri Trail is a more scenic alternative to the Subaru Trail. You spend a lot more time in the forest.
It connects with the Subaru/Yoshida Trail at the 8th station. It takes 5 to 8 hours to reach the summit and 3 to 5 hours to descend. There’s a separate path for part of the descent.
The Gotemba Trail
The Gotemba trail has the lowest starting point and takes the longest amount of time to complete. It’s also the least used of the trails and isn’t as well maintained as the others.
It takes 7 to 10 hours to climb Mt. Fuji from the Gotemba 5th station, and 3 to 6 hours to descend. Like the Subaru/Yoshida and Subashiri trails, part of the descent is along a different path.
The Fujinomiya Trail
The Fujinomiya trail is the shortest route to the summit, but it’s a lot steeper than the other trails. It’s the second most popular trail.
In spite of its popularity, there’s no separate path going down the mountain. This leads to massive crowds. I suggest you pick a different trail for this reason.
The ascent takes 4 to 7 hours. The return journey takes 2 to 6 hours.
The official climbing season is announced around July 1st.
The climbing season usually starts in early to mid-July and ends in September. The opening and closing dates of the climbing period vary depending on weather conditions. The days are often different each year.
The different trails may open and close on different days.
The 2017 season runs from July 1st – September 10th for the Subaru Trail, and July 10th – September 10th for all other trails.
Most people climb Mt. Fuji during the official season. The mountain can get exceptionally crowded.
Try to avoid climbing on weekends and public holidays. You especially want to avoid the Obon holiday period. This varies from year to year but generally is around August 13th – 17th. Mt. Fuji gets so busy during Obon that lines form at points along the trails.
Climbing before Marine Day (the 3rd Monday in July) allows you to avoid the crowds. But beware: you risk temperamental weather and the possibility of snow and ice on the mountain.
The trails close when weather conditions pose a threat. Keep an eye on the weather and check the status of the trails before you leave for your climb.
Climbing out of season is not recommended.
It’s still possible for an experienced climber… but it gets dangerous once snow and ice settle on the mountain.
If you climb Mt. Fuji outside the climbing season, don’t climb alone. Submit the details of your trip to the local police station before you go.
Even during the summer, the temperatures at the peak can approach freezing. Many climbers get caught in strong winds, fog, or other hazards at the top.
If the weather is good, some mountain huts remain open for a week or two after climbing season ends. Everything else closes — including first aid stations.
The buses to the 5th stations are less frequent out of season and may stop running altogether.
Is Climbing Mt. Fuji Worth It?
Climbing Mt. Fuji is a feat you can be proud of.
The camaraderie between Japanese climbers has to be experienced to be believed.
Even if you miss that perfect sunrise, you’ve still climbed a Japanese legend.
Getting to Mt. Fuji
You can reach Mt. Fuji on a variety of buses and trains during climbing season. How you get there depends on where you’re coming from as well as which trail you want to take.
*IMPORTANT! – If you drive or buy a return ticket for a bus, make sure you descend down the same trail you used to climb the mountain. You don’t want to find yourself stranded!
Getting to the Subaru Line/Kawaguchi-ko/Yoshida Trail 5th Station
The Subaru Line 5th Station (also known as Kawaguchi-ko 5th Station, Yoshida-guchi 5th Station, and Mt. Fuji 5th Station) is the easiest to reach from Tokyo. It’s the most popular starting point.
The Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station is the only starting point in Yamanashi Prefecture. It connects to Tokyo by bus and train.
Taking a bus is the easiest and most direct way to reach the Subaru Line 5th Station.
From Shinjuku Station
Buses depart from the Shinjuku Express Bus Terminal. They stop at Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park and Kawaguchi-ko Station before getting to Mt. Fuji 5th Station. The journey takes 2 hours and 30 minutes, and the fare is 2,700 yen for an adult, 1,350 yen for a child.
During the climbing season at least nine buses depart daily between 6:45am and 4:45pm. Extra buses run on the weekends and at peak times.
Tickets must be purchased in advance. You can book online or buy your tickets from the Shinjuku Express Bus Terminal. The return buses start at 10:20am and end at 5:00pm.
For More Information
Train and Bus Combination
It takes just over two and a half hours to reach Kawaguchi-ko Station by train from Tokyo Station. From there you can catch a bus to Subaru Line 5th Station.
The easiest route (and cheapest) is to take the Chuo Line to Takao. At Takao switch to the Chuo Line for Kobuchizawa. Get off at Otsuki and change to the private Fuji-kyu Railway for Kawaguchi-ko. The trip takes 3 hours and costs 2,630 yen.
A faster option is to take the Chuo Line to Shinjuku. Transfer to the Limited Express Kaiji 113. Get off at Otsuki and transfer to the Fuji-kyu line. This reduces the journey by half an hour but costs 4,080 yen.
You could even take the Narita Express from Tokyo to Kawaguchi-ko directly, without having to transfer trains. This costs 4,730 yen and takes around 142 minutes.
Once you reach Kawaguchi-Ko
Buses run from Kawaguchi-ko Station to Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station during the climbing season. There are 19 buses throughout the day, starting at 6:40am and ending at 7:10pm. A one-way ticket for an adult is 1,540 yen, and round trip is 2,100 yen.
Getting to Subashiri Trail 5th Station
You can get to the Subashiri Trail from Gotemba Station.
During the climbing season, 7 buses take climbers from Gotemba Station to Subashiri 5th Station daily. 4 more buses run on weekends, public holidays, and during Obon season. A one-way fare is 1,540 yen, a round trip fare 2,060 yen.
Gotemba Station is a portal station to the Fuji-Five Lakes District. It’s connected to Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station by a limited express train. It links to Yokohama, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Haneda Airport by bus.
Getting to Gotemba Trail 5th Station
Gotemba Station also connects to Gotemba Trail 5th Station by bus. There are 6 buses daily, running between 7:35am and 4:45pm. The fare is 1,110 yen one way, 1,540 yen round trip.
Getting to Fujinomiya Trail 5th Station
Buses link the Fujinomiya Trail to these stations: Mishima, Shin-Fuji, Fuji, and Fujinomiya.
Shin-Fuji is on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line. It serves passengers from Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, and Osaka.
A highway bus to Fujinomiya 5th Station leaves from Shin-fuji. The ride takes 2 hours and 40 minutes and costs 2,380 yen one way, 3,100 yen round trip.
There are 9 buses a day, with the first departing Shin-Fuji Station at 8:25am, and the last departing at 5:55pm. The buses go to the Fujinomiya 5th Station via Fuji Station (2,300 one-way /3,100 round trip) and Fujinomiya Station (2,030 one-way /3,100 return).
An additional 4 buses leave from Fujinomiya Station. Fuji and Fujinomiya Stations are more useful for travelers coming from within Shizuoka.
Mishima Station is also on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line. From July 1st through September 10th, one highway bus departs daily. An additional 3 buses operate from July 16th through August 28th. Another bus runs at the end of the weekend. A one-way fare is 2,460 yen and the return trip is 3,100 yen.
Note: Double-check the bus times when you plan your climb — they can and do change.
If you’re unable to find information about bus timetables, leave from a bigger station like Shinjuku or Shin-Fuji.
Every year, some unfortunate climber underestimates Mt. Fuji. Make sure that you prepare yourself in advance. It is recommended that climbers bring at least two liters of water, clothes that will keep you warm and dry despite the cold temperatures on the summit, stout walking shoes, plenty of food, and if climbing at night, a flashlight.
Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of altitude sickness, and consider buying canned oxygen from the shops located at the 5th station before you climb. Bring plenty of cash for things like food at the mountain huts and to use the toilets. Be prepared to carry your rubbish home with you.
My number one tip is to make sure that you have the right shoes. Take stout hiking shoes that are comfortable to wear and will protect your feet. You may also want to consider purchasing a hiking stick. Although you won’t really need it on the ascent, you will find it useful as you make your slippery descent. You can get it stamped as you progress higher up the mountain so that you end your climb with a one of a kind souvenir of your accomplishment.
Have You Been to Mt. Fuji?
What was your favorite part of the trip? Did you get to see the sunrise?
If you haven’t been to Fuji, would you like to climb the iconic mountain? Do you want to complete an entire trail, or would you rather start halfway up? Let us know in the comments.
Don’t forget to share this article with your more adventurous friends. Tell them you want to climb the biggest, coolest mountain in Japan and you need someone to go with you!
Jon Craig Hanson/123rf.com