Mt. Fuji, most familiar Japanese symbol, dominates the region southwest of Tokyo. Although Hakone is probably the most famous spot for Fuji-viewing, those with an aversion to crowds will prefer the scenic Fuji Go-ko region.
Mt.Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan standing 3776m high. When its capped with snow in late autumn, winter and spring, it’s a picture-postcard perfect volcanic cone. Fuji-san, as it’s known in Japanese (san is the Chinese reading of the kanji or character, for mountain), last blew its top in 1707, covering the streets of Tokyo with volcanic ash. On an exceptionally clear day, you can see Mt.Fuji from Tokyo, 100km away, but for much of the year you’d be hard pressed to see it from 100m away. Your best chance of seeing the notoriously shy mountain is in the late autumn, winter and early spring when the air is fairly clear. Even during these times, the mountain may only be visible in the morning before it retreats behind a curtain of haze or clouds.
Climbing Mt.Fuji, Mt.Fuji Climber’s Guidebook and Mt. Fuji & Fuji Five Lakes brochure are available from the Tourist Information Center inTokyo (TIC; 3201-3331) and provide exhaustive detail on transport to the mountain and how to climb it, complete with climbing schedules worked out to the minute. During the climbing season, there is climbing information in English (24-1236; available 9:30 am-5:30 pm, Mon-Fri)
Alternatively, contact the Kawaguchi-ko Tourist Information Centre (72-6700; open 8:30am-6pm daily).
You can get a classic view of mt Fuji from the shinkansen as it passes the city of Fuji ( sit on the northern side of the train). There are also good views from the Hakone area. Nagao-Touge Pass on the road from Hakone to Gotemba, and the northwest coast of the Izu-hanto. But the best and closest views are from the Fuji Go-ko region where, on a clear day, the hulking presence of the mountain seems to fill the sky.
Officially, the climbing season of Mt. Fuji is from 1 July to 31 August, and the Japanese, who love to do things “right”, pack in during those busy months. Actually, you can climb Mt. Fuji at any time of the year, and it may be preferable to do just outside the official season to avoid the crowds, but keep in mind that transport services may be less frequent and some of the huts may be closed. Of course, any time there’s snow on the mountain you’ll need the proper equipment and experience to climb Mt. Fuji, and a midwinter ascent is strictly for expert mountaineers.
Be warned that there is no free water available on the mountain, either bring your own or shell out 500 yen for a half litre bottle. Although children and grandparents regularly make it to the summit, this is a serious mountain and not to be trifled with. It’s high enough for altitude sickness and, as on any mountain, the weather on Mt.Fuji can be viciously changeable.
On the summit, it can go from sunny and warm to wet, windy and cold in remarkably little time. Even if conditions are fine, you can count on it being close to freezing on mornings in season, and much colder out of season. Whatever you do, don’t climb Mt.Fuji without clothing appropriate for cold and wet weather. The mountain is divided into 10 stations from base to summit, but these days most climbers start from one of the four 5th stations, which you can reach by road. From the end of the road, it takes about 4 1/2 hours to climb the mountain and about 3 hours to descend. Once you’re on top, it takes about an hour to make circuit of the crater. The Mt.Fuji Weather Station, on the southwestern edge of the crater, is on the actual summit of the mountain. You want to reach the top at dawn both to see goraiko (sunrise) and because early morning is the time when the mountain is least likely to be shrouded in cloud. Sometimes, it takes an hour or two to burn the morning mist off, however. To time your arrival for dawn you can either start up in the afternoon, stay overnight in a mountain hut and continue early in the morning, or climb the whole way at night. You do not want to arrive on top too long before dawn, as it’s likely to be very cold and windy, and if you’ve worked up a sweat during the climb, you’ll be very uncomfortable. Although nearly all climbers start from the 5th stations, it is possible to climb all the way up from a lower level. The low-level trails are now mainly used as short hiking routes around the base of the mountain, but gluttons fro punishment can climb all the way on the Yoshida Route from Fuji Yoshida, or on the Shoji Route from near Shoji-ko. There are alternatives sand trails on the Kawaguchi-ko. Subashiri and Gotemba Routes, which you can descend very rapidly by running and sunabashiri (sliding), pausing from time to time to get the sand out of your shoes.
There are four 5th stations around Mt. Fuji and its quite feasible to climb from one and descent to another. On the northern side of Fuji is the Kawaguchi-ko 5th station (2305m) which is reached from the town of Kawaguchi-ko. This station is particularly popular with climbers starting from Tokyo. The Yoshida Route (which starts from much lower down close to the town of Fuji-Yoshida) is the same as the Kawaguchi-ko Route for much of the way.
The route from the Subashiri 5th Station (1980m) meets the Yoshida Route just Gotemba 5th Stationis reached from the town of Gotemba and, at 1440m, is much lower than the other 5th stations.From Gotemba station it takes seven to eight hours to reach the top of Mt.Fuji, as opposed to 4 1/2 to 5 hours on the other routes. The fujinomiya (Mishima) 5th station (2380m)is conenient for climbers coming from Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and western Japan. It meets the Gotemba Route right at the top.
Make sure you have plenty of clothing suitable for cold and wet weather, including a hat and gloves. Bring drinking water and some snack food. If you’re going to to climb at night, bring a torch (flashlight) or headlamp, and spare batteries.
There are lodges dotted up the mountainside, but they’re expensive 4000 to 4500yen for a mattress on the floor squeezed between countless other climbers and you dont get much opportunity to sleep anyway, as you have to be up well before dawn to start the final slog to the top.The huts also prepare simple meals for their guests and for passing climbers, and you’re welcome to rest inside so long as you order something. If you don’t feel like eating, a one hour rest costs 500yen. Camping on the camp is not permitted.
Travelers intending to head west from the Fuji area towards Nagoya, Osaka and Kyoto can take a bus from Kawaguchi-ko or Gotemba to Mishimastation on the shinkansen line. From Kawaguchi-ko, there are bus services up to Kawaguchi-ko 5th Station (1700yen, 55 minutes) from April to mid-November. The schedule varies considerably during that period- call Fuji Kyuuko bus (72-2911) for details. At the height of the climbing season, there are buses until quite late in the evening- ideal for climbers intending to make an overnight ascent. Taxis operate from the train station to the Kawaguchi-ko 5th station for around 8000yen, plus tolls, which is not much more than the bus fare when divided among four people. There are also direct buses (2600yen, 180 minutes) from the Shinjuku bus terminal to the Kawaguchi-ko 5th Station. This is by the fastest and cheapest way of getting from Tokyo to the 5th Station. If you take two trains and a bus, the same trip can cost nearly 6000yen. From Subashiri, buses to the subashiri 5th station cost 1220yen and take 55 minutes. From Gotemba station they cost 1500yen. From Gotemba, buses to the Gotemba 5th station (1080yen, 45minutes) operate four to six times daily, but only during the climbing season. The southern route up the mountain is most popular with climbers from western Japan approaching the mountain by shinkansen. Bus services run from Shin-Fuji (2400yen) and Mishima train stations (2390yen) to Fujinomiya (Mishima) 5th station in just over 2 hours. There are reservation centers in Tokyo (5376-2222) and in the Fuji area (72-5111).