With the arrival of summer which includes events and festivals such as Marine Day (Umi no Hi), Japanese Festival of the Dead (Obon), and the summer vacation for students, many people in Japan will be heading outdoors especially to the mountains and beaches. As Japan’s most iconic mountain, Mt. Fuji is a popular choice for hiking among domestic and foreign tourists. However, do you know when is the best time during summer to do so? Or the things you should take note of before your trip? Read on to find out more and be prepared to scale this famous mountain in summer!
Before Mt. Fuji became a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site in 2013, its summer climbing season usually began from the 1st of July to the end of August. Since 2014, the day when the mountain is opened to the climbers (Yama-biraki) has been changed. Using 2016 as an example, there are two Yama-biraki dates for the four hiking routes on Mt. Fuji – the 1st of July and the 10th of July. The Yoshida route from Yamanashi Prefecture is the first to be opened on the 1st of July; while the three routes from Shizuoka Prefecture (Fujinomiya, Subashiri, and Gotenba) and the Ohachi-meguri, which goes around the volcanic crater on top of Mt. Fuji, will be opened later from the 10th of July. Despite the difference in the opening dates, all four routes will be closed after the 10th of September. However, note that even though the mountain is open for hiking, it doesn’t mean that the snow at higher altitudes has melted completely so it is important to exercise great caution during your climb.
On the eve of the Yama-biraki on the 30th of June, there is a Zenyasai which is held at the Fuji Asami Shrine in Fuji-Yoshida City’s Kamiyoshida in the afternoon. The parade begins at 1:30 p.m. from a park at the Fujisan Station’s East Exit to the shrine as part of a ritual to pray for the safety of the mountain climbers. Upon reaching the shrine, the procession goes through a circle made of cogon grass three times in the direction of drawing an 8 on the ground during the Chinowa Kuguri Ceremony. Last but not the least, at the entrance to the mountain, the Omichibiraki Ceremony will feature a sacred straw rope which will be cut by the God of Strength, Tajikara Onomikoto, with a wooden hammer.
On the day of the Yama-biraki on the 1st of July, a Shinto ritual to celebrate the opening of the mountain will be held at the Fujisan Komitake Shrine which was built at the 5th station of Mt. Fuji during the Heian period. The chief priest will then recite Shinto prayers to wish for the safety of those who visit the mountain. People who are dressed as goblins will then conduct the Omichibiraki Ceremony at the shrine’s gate (torii) before a wine cask in the shape of Mt. Fuji is carried around the 5th station in a procession. Once the entire ceremony is completed, the climbers can then head to the mountain.
Before embarking on your hike up Mt. Fuji, it is recommended that you do some research on the routes. Here is some information which will be useful in your planning:
As per the map shown above, the four routes are represented in different colors. Orange for the Yoshida route, blue for the Fujinomiya route, red for the Subashiri route, and green for the Gotenba route. In terms of distance to the respective routes’ summits (to and fro), Fujinomiya is the shortest at 8.5 km while Gotenba takes the top spot for being the longest at 17.5 km. As the Gotenba route is also no. 1 in terms of elevation difference and estimated time to go up and down the mountain (about 8 hours and 10 minutes upwards, and 4 hours and 20 minutes downwards), it is the least crowded among the four routes.
The Yoshida and Fujinomiya routes’ popularity contributes to the heavy crowds seen during the summer climbing season since they are not as physically demanding and take lesser time to complete. Coupled with the fact that the Yoshida route is easily accessible from the metropolitan area and has many mountain cottages along the way, it is recommended for first-timers or those who aren’t that physically fit. The trade-off is that the crowds may make it difficult to go at your own pace and you might not be able to find parking readily if you are driving to the starting point of these routes.
Once you get to the respective routes’ summits, you may wish to head for the highest peak of Mt. Fuji which is called Kengamine. Depending on the route you have used, the distance to Kengamine differs. As the summits at the Yoshida and Subashiri routes are in the opposite direction from Kengamine, you may need to spend another 1.5 hours on the hike; while you will need only 35 minutes or so if you are doing it from the Fujinomiya or Gotenba routes.
It is not a given that the routes going up and down the mountain are the same, although they may converge at some points. As such, you should keep a lookout for the signages especially when making your way down from the summit. Many accidents tend to happen while on the way down because people tend to let their guards down after finishing the climb and are prone to slipping or falling down.
Hikers can also choose to do the Ohachi-meguri route, which allows them to walk around the volcanic crater of Mt. Fuji, measuring 600 m wide and 200 m deep. For those heading to Mt. Fuji on a day trip, it is recommended that you do not attempt this on the same day since it will take another 1.5 hours to finish and you might not have enough energy after your climb. If you are spending a night in the mountain cottages, you can attempt this on the following day. In addition, on days with strong winds or bad weather, it is best not to attempt this since the view can be affected and there are fences set up at some parts of the route only. In recent years, the opening of this route is often delayed until late July due to the snow accumulated on the clockwise side from Kengamine so you may only be allowed to walk half the route. The standard practice ever since is that you should walk in a clockwise direction on this route.
Upon reaching the summit, do visit the Fujisan-cho Post Office which is the highest in Japan. This is only opened during the mountain climbing season in summer and its staff go on shifts lasting no more than one week each time. Besides issuing the certificates for those who made it to the summit, the post office also sells original postcards and allows you to send letters or postcards from here.
If you are wondering when would be the best time to climb Mt. Fuji, it is recommended that you do it from late July to early September. In recent years, the rainy season extended beyond early July, thus you may find it difficult and dangerous to climb the mountain in such unfavorable weather conditions.
It is also best to avoid the weekends and holidays such as Obon wherein there will be many people headed for the mountain. Besides the crowds during your climb, you will also have to deal with traffic jams along the way to the entry points of the routes and parking restrictions during peak periods. It is often more difficult to secure a booking for the mountain cottages as well, especially if you are planning to spend the night near the summit and catch the sunrise on the following day.
There are also timeslots considered to be peak periods during the climb. Using the 8th station on the Yoshida route, the two peak periods would be from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., and 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. This is because many climbers tend to take naps at the mountain cottages around the station in the evening and will head towards the summit after midnight so as to catch the sunrise. As such, you may have to adjust your climbing times if you wish to avoid the crowds.
- Due to the change in air pressure as you go higher up the mountain, you may suffer from altitude sickness. In order to prevent this, it is best to go to the entry points at least one to two hours before you begin your climb so that you can get used to the air pressure.
- During peak seasons, there will be parking restrictions at all the entry points except Gotenba. With that being said, it is recommended that you take the train to the nearest station and take shuttle buses or taxis to the various entry points.
- Do not remove or pluck any animals and plants from the 5th station onwards and do not destroy any rocks or trees.
- Do not leave behind any trash or graffiti on the mountain.
- Do not stray from the designated climbing routes.
- For people who are slower in climbing the mountain, walk on the left side. If you need to speed up, please walk on the right side.
- Due to the presence of volcanic sand on Mt. Fuji, it is best to wear high-cut hiking boots with thick soles to prevent the sand from getting in and the soles from being worn out.
- Bring along a raincoat or water-resistant jacket as the weather there is prone to changes such as rain and strong winds, especially at the summit. Umbrellas should not be used since they will break during the wind gusts.
After reading so much about climbing Mt. Fuji, I hope that this information helps you plan a safe and pleasant trip in order to experience the beauty of this Japanese icon!