Gazing down on Japan from atop its symbolic mountain is high on the to-do list for most visitors and residents alike, but at 3,766m it’s not the effortless stroll that many elderly Japanese people make it seem. If climbing Fuji is your summer to-do this year, here’s what you’ll need to know.
Climbing Fuji: The trails
It’s possible to take four different trails to the summit of Mt Fuji, as well as one that takes an ambling circular route around the fifth stations for anybody that enjoys punishing themselves without any payoff.
We recommend the Yoshida Trail, which is the most popular for good reason. If you’re coming from Tokyo, the Yoshida Trail is the most accessible, and faces the sunrise, making it perfect for overnight hikes. It’s also the oldest route, having been used used by pilgrims to climb the sacred mountain over 500 years ago.
An important question you should ask yourself before climbing Fuji-san is: “Can I do this without a long lie-down part of the way up?” As previously mentioned, it’s not the casual ramble that the apparently gentle slopes suggest when viewed from a distance. If the path is relatively quiet and you set a quick pace, it’s possible to get to the top in a few hours, but for most people it’ll take between 4-8 hours (depending not only on your own speed, but how crowded it is).
If that sounds excessive, it’s possible to book an overnight stay in one of the lodges part of the way up the Yoshida Trail, but be aware that you’ll be crammed in a small room with 20-40 other people. Those pictures you’ve seen of overcrowded prisons where it’s difficult to actually see the floor for all the bodies huddled together on it? That’ll be you. Still, if you’ll need a prolonged rest, prison huddle is the way to go.
- For hut and toilet info, this is the place to go. (Note that many of the reservation sites are in Japanese.) You can also print out this map of the loos on Mt. Fuji.
- For a (2016) list (in English) of huts, telephone numbers (for reservation), stations and altitudes, click here.
- Goraikoukan is a lodge fairly close to the summit—a good bet for predicting your arrival to the mountain top for sunrise. One night’s stay with two meals can be yours for ¥8,500 or just one night’s stay will set you back ¥6,500. The site has an English info page, but to reserve you must switch to the Japanese version. Reserving online shouldn’t be too difficult with the help of Google Translate, though.
Trails are typically open between early July and mid-September. In 2017 the following dates have been set:
Yoshida Trail: 1 July – 10 September (with the descent open until the morning of 11 September)
Fujinomiya, Gotemba and Subashiri Trails: 10 July – 10 September
Ohachi-meguri Trail (around the rim of the crater): 10 July – 10 September
The school holidays, from mid-July to the end of August, constitute peak season and the most crowded time to go is during Obon, in mid-August. Weekends are also much busier than weekdays.
If you don’t care about watching the sunset/sunrise, you’re in luck—plan your hike to arrive somewhere in between and the way will be much quieter. Otherwise, check the predicted times online and set off about 5-10 hours before then (go towards the higher end of the scale if you consider yourself unfit or you’re going at the weekend, lower end if you’re an athlete/half-man half-gazelle), remembering that you can relax triumphantly at the top if you’re early, but it can ruin the trip if you’re late. An added benefit of sleeping on the way up is the ability to more accurately predict when you’ll reach the top.
What you’ll need to climb Mt. Fuji
Even in the middle of summer, it gets really cold near the top, especially at night. Take at least three layers and some waterproofs in case it starts to rain. Also, don’t buy a cheap thermal blanket from a convenience store—they’re basically tin foil and you won’t realize until you open it halfway up and have to watch a crinkled reflection of yourself shivering and crying in it.
A regular torch will do if you don’t want the extra expenditure, but a headlamp will give you a free hand to carry things or grab onto support when you inevitably slip at some point. Also, it makes the whole climbing Fuji thing feel like a right old adventure.
Take something light with a high calorific content. Calorie Mate or dried fruit work well, but you can also take the opportunity to stuff your face with chocolate and claim it’s purely for survival (either in a low, comforting mumble to yourself or yelled panic-stricken at a companion). There are a couple of shops on the way up and a small restaurant at the summit (as well as the highest vending machine in Japan, possibly the world), but everything is at least twice the regular price, and it’s safer to have some of your own supplies just in case.
Lots of it. I idiotically only took 500 ml and ended up getting a severe headache due to dehydration. Again, there will be a couple of places to pick up more on the way, but it’s up to 800 yen for a small bottle—as with snacks, the key is to find a balance between how much you’re willing to spend and how much you’re willing to carry.
As well as any food and water you choose to buy while on the trip, you’ll also be asked to make a 1,000 yen donation to cover the upkeep of the trails.
A small backpack
Or be that guy with the bum bag/fanny pack if you insist.
How to get there
From 4,200 yen return; 2-3hrs – recommended for Japan Rail Pass holders
Since the JR Fuji Pass was discontinued, traveling by train is no longer the cheapest way to get to the fifth station, unless you have a Japan Rail Pass. Take the Chuo Line to Otsuki (1,320 yen from Shinjuku Station or free for pass holders), then the Fujikyu Railway to Kawakuchiko (1,140 yen), at which point you’ll need to transfer to a bus which will take you to the 5th station (1,500 yen one-way, 2,000 yen return).
2,700 yen each way; 2-2.5hrs – recommended for most people
Travelling by bus is the most painless method, as you won’t have to worry about transferring. Buy your ticket at the Keio office on Shinjuku Station’s west side, then take one bus directly to the Yoshida Trail’s fifth station.
Tolls 2,500 yen; 2-2.5hrs – recommended for small groups
Along the Chuo Expressway the tolls alone will cost around 2,500 yen, so factoring in the cost of renting a car and gas, driving is only worth it if you have a group of four or five people.
Take a look at our dedicated guide on transport to Mt. Fuji for more information.
What to expect
If you go at a ‘quiet time’, i.e. a regular weekday, climbing Fuji will still be a crowded hike. If you go at the weekend during peak season, then understand that you’re not going to be climbing, hiking, or even walking—you’ll be queuing, uphill and slowly, for a very long time. Also keep in mind that the hike from station 5 to 8 will be far quicker than from station 8 to the summit. It gets pretty grueling if you’re continuously expecting to reach the top soon.
The view from the top is nothing short of majestic; clouds gathering on mountains thousands of feet below appear like waves crashing against rocks, but the hike up is nothing special. Mt. Fuji is a volcano, so you’ll be staring at a desolate black landscape for the majority of the journey.
Possible altitude sickness
Some people experience dizziness, headaches and nausea during the ascent. To combat this take a break for a while and allow your body to adjust, or buy small tanks of oxygen.
Have you climbed Mt. Fuji? If you have, we’d appreciate comments with any advice you have for other folks planning to make the journey.
And if you’d rather skip the crowds and climb a nearby mountain for a view of Mt. Fuji, check out our Alternatives to Climbing Mt. Fuji guide.
This post was updated in June 2017 by Carey Finn.
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