Mount Fuji (3776 metres) is Japan’s highest and most prominent mountain, and climbing Mount Fuji can make for lifelong memories. The mountain is named for the Ainu (the aboriginal inhabitants of Japan) fire goddess Fuchi and is sacred to the Shinto goddess Sengen-Sama, whose shrine is found at the summit. It is the holiest of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains.” Every summer thousands of pilgrims and tourists climb to the summit, many of them hiking throughout the night to witness the sunrise from its summit.
However be aware that it is a gruelling climb not known for its beautiful scenery or for climbers experiencing being at one with nature. During the climbing season routes are packed and its barren apocalyptic-looking landscape is a world away from Fuji’s beauty when viewed from afar.
Climbing Mount Fuji
The climbing season is open for two months, from July to August, and some 300,000 people climb Mt. Fuji during this period. Climbing Mt. Fuji is very popular not only among Japanese but also foreign tourists, who tend to make up more than a third of all hikers.
There are several paths climbers can take to the summit, and most of the trails start at one of the four “5th Stations” which are positioned roughly halfway up the mountain. The most popular 5th Station starting point for climbers is the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, which sits at 2,305m elevation. From here via Yoshida Trail it will take 5 to 7 hours to the summit and 3 to 5 hours for the descent.
What to see & do at Mount Fuji
A beautifully proportioned volcanic cone in a spectacular natural setting, Mt. Fuji is beloved for its symmetrical beauty as well as its holiness. It is a very popular subject in Japanese art and landscape photography.
Fuji’s nickname Konohana-Sakuyu-hime means “causing the blossom to bloom brightly,” referring to the pink cheery blossoms that frame the snowy mountain in the spring.
An especially memorable moment is to complete the hike in the early morning, catching the sunrise from the summit of Fuji, known as goraiko.
There is a small post office on the top of the mountain. If you want to send your family or friends a letter from the top of Japan you can most certainly do that. I am sure a lot of people would appreciate that postcard back home.
Tips for Climbing Mount Fuji
Mt. Fuji can be climbed by beginners, but one must keep in mind that it is a difficult hike that does not need climbing equipment. The temperature can be below zero at the summit and strong winds make it seem even colder. Rain gear is also recommended for unpredictable conditions.
What to bring – Climbing Checklist:
- Sturdy climbing shoes – Comfortable and waterproof
- Rain jacket and pants – Water and wind resistant with hood
- Light pack/sack – with a capacity of at least 25L
- Socks and base layer – wool or synthetics
- Warm cloths – Comfortable pants & sweater – light weight fleece
- Gloves – to keep your hands warm at night and provide protection
- Light – head lamp or a hand flashlight – for climbing in the dark
- Trekking poles – provide good stability and reduce stress on the knees
- High energy snacks – power-bars, chocolate, nuts etc.
- Water – one litre bottle to start, more can be bought later
- Pack/sack cover – most backpacks are not waterproof
- Hat – otherwise a bandana or towel – provide protection from sun
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- ¥100 coins – restroom facilities from the 5th station require ¥200
- Cash – credit cards are not taken on the mountain
- Camera – to capture the most spectacular sunrise you will ever witness
Ancient past pilgrim route
The original Mt. Fuji Pilgrim Route: The original Yoshida route starts from Fuji Sengen-Jinja shrine, where the pilgrims of over 500 years ago came to pray before they started their climb of the sacred mountain. These first pilgrims became known as Fujiko, arriving to purify themselves and then pay their respects to the Shinto goddess and protector of Mount Fuji. The shrine stands just a short walk from the Fujiyoshida train station. A massive torii gate marks the entrance, with weathered stone lanterns and towering cryptomeria trees lining the path – a fitting introduction to the sacred mountain.
Taking the traditional pilgrim route from the bottom allows hikers to enjoy the historical and cultural heritage along the way. Eventually the path merges with the fifth station road, where you will meet thousands of walkers that have just begun their climb. It takes about five hours to reach the fifth station from the Sengen-Jinja shrine, however, making the traditional spiritual journey from the bottom as the original Fuji pilgrims did centuries ago is highly recommended.
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Next time I will be sharing tips on how to take beautiful pictures of Mount Fuji!
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