At 3,776 metres (12,388ft), Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest mountain, and casts an awe-inspiring figure on the horizon that’s visible for miles around. There’s no need to restrict yourself to admiring its beauty from a distance, however. The ease of access, well-maintained and signposted trails, and lack of technical sections put the summit well within the reach of almost all aspiring climbers. Read on to find out how to make it to the top in time to see Japan’s most magnificent sunrise.
Mount Fuji’s official climbing season runs from the start of July to the middle of September – exact dates for each year can be found on the official climbing website. This short window of opportunity means the mountain can get busy at peak times. Hike on a weekday and avoid the Obon holiday period in mid-August to steer clear of the biggest crowds.
There are four hiking trails running up to the summit of Mount Fuji: Yoshida, Subashiri, Gotemba and Fujinomiya. Each one is divided into ten ‘stations’, with the vast majority of people starting their climb from the fifth station. Of the four, Yoshida is the most popular thanks to its superior support facilities and ease of access, and is generally considered the best route for first-time climbers. Alternatively, if you’d like a quieter hike or a more challenging route, try the varied views of Subashiri, the long and peaceful Gotemba, or Fujinomiya’s steep and rocky path. Full details of each route can be found online.
As well as knowing what time of year to go, you also need to decide what time of day to set off. The climb takes on average 8-10 hours, so it is possible to do it in a day if you start early. However, one of the most magical parts of climbing Fuji is the chance to watch the sunrise from the summit. Known as goraiko in Japanese, this is what the majority of climbers aim for. The fickle weather means a cloud-free view can’t be guaranteed, but if you’re lucky enough to get one, it’s one of the most beautiful sights you’ll ever see.
To reach the summit in time for sunrise, one option is to start in the late evening and make it to the top at around 4:30am. The alternative is to start your hike in the early afternoon, and rest at a mountain hut on the way up before making the final push to the summit at around midnight. This gives you more time to rest and acclimatise to the altitude, so is considered a better choice for beginners.
Mountain huts are like mini rest stops dotted along the hiking trails. To stay at one, you’ll need to book a space before you climb. Several huts take online bookings in English, and will provide you with a sleeping bag for the night as well as dinner and breakfast.
Whether you’re staying the night or not, at mountain huts you can also buy any supplies you may need as you climb. Be aware that this will be at highly inflated prices though, so it’s strongly advised to get everything you need before you start. Toilets are also available at the huts – again for a cost, so bring plenty of change!
Once you know when and where you’re going, the next step is getting your gear together. The great thing about Fuji is that it’s not a technical climb, so you don’t need any special equipment. Having said that, the right clothing is crucial and can make all the difference between an enjoyable climb and an unpleasant one.
The weather on Fuji is notoriously unpredictable, so bring waterproof clothes even if it’s sunny at the base. Dressing in layers is ideal, because you’ll find the temperature drops dramatically as you get higher – this is particularly true if you’re planning to see the sunrise from the top. You’ll also want some sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support. If you’re climbing at night, bring a head torch and spare batteries to navigate the rocky trails in the dark. Trekking poles can be helpful, especially on the loose scree of the descent, but are not essential.
If you don’t have all this gear, or just don’t fancy bringing it on holiday, there are plenty of climbing shops where you can hire everything you need. Several will let you reserve your equipment online in English, and then you can have it shipped to your hotel or pick it up in person when you arrive. And you don’t even have to clean it before returning it!
Fuji is not a technical climb so you don’t need much in the way of climbing skills to reach the summit. The main challenges are the length of the climb, the sometimes steep and rocky terrain, plus the altitude. Take it slow if you need to, watch your footing on the loose rubble, and make use of the numerous rest points.
Having regular breaks as you ascend is also important to help you acclimatise to the higher altitude. Altitude sickness – caused by the low levels of oxygen in the air – can be debilitating, with symptoms including breathlessness, headaches and nausea, so stay hydrated and don’t rush to the summit.
Unlike many of the world’s other famous peaks, it’s absolutely fine to climb Fuji without a guide. However, if you really don’t feel confident about tackling it alone – or would simply rather leave the organisation to someone else – you can hire a guide or join a tour.
For climbers tackling the Yoshida trail, Kawaguchiko is the best place to choose as your base. The picturesque lakeside town is located at the foot of the mountain on the north side, and is full of climbing shops, restaurants and a wealth of tourist attractions to explore. Regular buses run from the train stations up to the Subaru Line fifth station, where you can stock up on last-minute necessities or enjoy a quick meal as you acclimatise to the altitude before setting off.
Those staying in Kawaguchiko can get a direct bus there from Tokyo or Shinjuku stations – it takes about two hours and costs around 2,000 yen (£14).
For those coming from Kyoto or Osaka, the cheapest way to reach Kawaguchiko is by overnight highway bus. The journey takes around 9-11 hours, and costs about 16,000 yen (£112) for a return trip. For a quicker but more expensive journey, take the shinkansen (bullet train) to Mishima station, where a bus will take you the rest of the way.
In a word, yes. Climbing Mount Fuji, especially if you hike through the night, is a unique experience guaranteed to leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. It’s true that the trails can get crowded, but chatting with fellow hikers as you make your way up is all part of the fun. The feeling of anticipation as you sit huddled in the cold at the summit waiting for the sun to rise is palpable, and the sight of it inching over the horizon to the sound of cheers and applause is genuinely moving. All in all, summiting Fuji is an amazing achievement and an experience not to be missed. So what are you waiting for?