Despite the pain, and despite the breathlessness, climbing Fuji-San was undoubtedly one of the high-lights of my time in Japan!
Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain, reaching a pinnacle of 3,775 metres. It’s almost perfect conical appearance has led to its worship as a sacred mountain and has been very popular with the locals for centuries. However, it’s not the locals who idolise Fuji-San – tourists flock here in their hundreds of thousands every year to marvel at its beauty. Some people, like myself, even have the audacity to climb this behemoth, during the official climbing season between June and September! Advice on how to get to Mount Fuji from Tokyo.
What may be surprising to some people is the somewhat urbanised features of Fuji-San. It’s not just a distant volcano reaching up to the clouds, but actually, at its foot, there is a hive of activity as residents and commercial companies line up and offer products for sale and advice on how to conquer the mountain! You should have your own backpack with you when you attempt to climb Fuji-San, but if not, then I guarantee you will find some here!
As with most volcanoes, you should only attempt to climb Fuji-San if you are in good health. Personally, I have never had any troubles with my health, but even I found the altitude of Fuji somewhat troublesome – and that’s what will hit you the most, the lack of oxygen. In terms of hiking trail standards, I did not find Fuji to be that bad, and perhaps some parts were no worse than what I encountered in Java at The Mighty Mount Bromo.
In terms of the layout of Fuji, there are 10 ‘stations’, each being positioned at varying altitudes on the way up the volcano. Station 1 is positioned at ground level, with station 10 being the idolised one up at the very summit! Interestingly, you may wish to know that there are paved roads allowing vehicular access up to station 5 (there are 4 Station 5s, one on each side of the mountain, and your climb proper will begin from one of these), so there is actually not even any need to walk all the way up if you don’t feel like it!
My group were assigned to the Yoshida Trail, which is a fairly easy ascent to the crater. You cannot hike up Fuji on your own, you have to be part of a group, but fortunately I had already pre-arranged a tour, and the people I met on this tour were a fantastic bunch. The tour leader was a Japanese-American, going by the name of Ben, which I thought was a very strange name in this part of the world! But Ben was very friendly and very considerate to the needs of all of the climbers (I think there were around a dozen of us on that day).
You would not think that, in the rural parts of Kanto, with a snow-capped peak, Fuji-San would have such brownness to its slopes. This surprised me a lot, and I think I was expecting much more green foliage as we made our way up the volcano. I mentioned Mount Bromo earlier, and I think it is a good comparison in terms of what the scenery is like during the ascent. In all, it took us over 7 hours to reach the peak, having set out shortly after 10am, and reaching the top of Fuji not long before 5.30pm. This was a great time to watch the sun go down, and while it was way too cloudy to get any decent shots of a Fuji-San sunset, it was quite an eerie feeling to watch the light disappear from what is effectively the roof of Japan!
Being able to sit and relax at the summit, to TRY to ease the pains that had began in my calves and thighs was a godsend; it was almost as heavenly as the views over a darkening Kanto. My guide, Ben, was also feeling the pain. I asked him how many times does he do this with us tourists, and he surprisingly remarked that it was his third time that week! I began to feel very dizzy at the top of Fuji, but I was assured it down to dehydration (I would have put it down to altitude sickness!) and given an extra bottle of water.
It took only about 2 hours to come back down the Yoshida Trail to Station 5, from where we got in to little buses to bring us back down completely. I would recommend climbing Fuji-San to everybody, but you need to remember it really is a full day trip, and preferable to have a local homestay or hostel in the Fuji Five Lakes region for the night, rather than head back to Tokyo on the train before midnight. I may be brave enough to climb the highest mountain in Japan, but I am not brave enough to experience the Tokyo Metro on my own after dark!