The first I saw Mount Fuji was on a sunny January morning from high in the sky. Jet lagged and slightly delirious, I was on a plane flying into Tokyo and gazing out the window. As we were landing, I saw what I thought at the time was a funny-looking cloud off in the distance. Studying it carefully, I realized that it was actually the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji above the sea of white stratus clouds below. Admiring its mysterious beauty and near-perfect cone shape, I knew one day I wanted to get a closer look. So, when I booked a weekend trip to Japan over Labor Day, I decided to attempt to hike Mount Fuji all the way to the summit…solo.
My hike spanned all four seasons and lots of wild emotions over the course of 15 hours. When I started off, I was wearing a tank top and cropped hiking pants, and when I arrived at the summit in the dark, I was wearing every piece of clothing I brought with me and was STILL freezing. Despite the drastic change in weather, summiting Japan’s highest mountain was highly rewarding, and I strongly recommend it to any brave visitors to Tokyo. It was an adventure to remember and one I hope you’ll all get to experience one day!
How To Hike Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest mountain, standing at 3,776 meters above sea level. As you might imagine, hiking to the top is no easy feat. However, with the right gear and pre-trip preparations, basically anyone can reach the summit. While hiking, I saw people of all ages alongside me, from young children all the way to elderly men and women. As long as you’re determined to get to the top, you can definitely make it there.
What to Pack
- Lots of layers — you’ll experience sweltering heat and near-freezing temperatures within a few hours.
- A waterproof shell — it rains frequently at Mount Fuji and the train has no tree cover, so you’ll need something to keep you dry. Umbrellas don’t work very well because of the strong winds, so I’d leave those at home.
- Clothes that are sweat-wicking and stink-proof — in the mountain huts you’ll be sleeping in extremely close quarters with other hikers, so being as sweat and stink-free will make for the most comfortable experience there.
- Thick and comfortable hiking socks — you’re going to be hiking a pretty steep and rocky incline, so treat your feet well so they don’t ache too much later.
- A quick-dry towel — it’s often foggy and rainy near Mount Fuji, so it’s nice to have something you can use to dry off once you reach your mountain hut.
- Coins to use the restroom and at the shops along the mountainside
- Sturdy hiking boots
- Trekking poles
- Water and snacks — the prices on the mountain are pretty expensive (almost 2x the normal price) and they don’t have a ton of variety
- A wooden stamping pole (optional, but a nice souvenir!)
When to Go
Mount Fuji is open to hikers from July to early September each year, with peak times in the month of August and during the weekends. I decided to go during Labor Day weekend in the US (the first weekend in September) so I wouldn’t have to take as many vacation days. Luckily for me, this was also the last weekend that Mount Fuji is open to the general public for hiking.
What to Expect (My Personal Experience)
I boarded a bus bound for Kawaguchiko Station from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Bus Station around 8:15 AM (cost: 3,500 yen round trip), with hopes to start hiking before noon. After a quick and easy transfer at Kawaguchiko, I was on the shuttle bus bound for the Subaru Line 5th Station (cost: 2,100 yen round trip). Most people (myself included) hiking the Yoshida trail (the most popular one) begin at the 5th Station, which is situated at an altitude of 2,300 meters. This circuit usually takes 8-9 hours, plus however long you decide to stay at the summit. There’s also an option to hike it from the base, which takes around 17-18 hours for the round trip.
During the summer months, Japan’s climate is very tropical. When I arrived at the 5th station, it was foggy, humid, and sweltering hot. I peeled my rain shell off of my sweaty skin and decided to start my hike in the drizzle wearing just a tank top and my rolled-up hiking pants. The first leg of the hike was pretty flat, with some downhill areas.
This is going to suck when I’m on my way back, I chuckled to myself.
After a while, I arrived at the 6th station, which marked the beginning of the areas of much steeper incline. The beginning of the path was mostly comprised of loose, dark volcanic soil, but as I trekked higher the soil path gave way to rock passes, which ended up begin the majority of the uphill hike. Unfortunately, it also started raining pretty heavily once I started on the incline, and thus began the secondary adventure of putting on layer after layer of clothing as I trekked higher in elevation.
Finally, after close to 3 hours, I arrived at my mountain hut I’d be staying at for the night — Taishikan. Taishikan is located at an elevation of 3,100 meters near the 8th station, about a 2-3 hour hike from the summit. It’s a charming but bare-bones establishment, with a few bunk rooms that likely house over 100 people each.
For 8,500 yen, you get a sleeping bag, a pillow, dinner with tea, and a to-go breakfast for your hike to the summit pre-sunrise. Though it was a pretty steep price to pay for sleeping on the floor alongside a few dozen people, it’s worth it to avoid altitude sickness and to get some rest before your final trek to the top. There are also charging stations for your phone or camera if you can get there early enough to snag one. Taishikan is renowned as one of the better mountain houses on Mount Fuji, and despite the price I highly recommend it if you’ve decided to stay the night on the mountain. The staff is quite generous and the food was decent, and I slept like a baby the whole night. Plus, it give you access to views like this:
After a good night’s rest, I awoke at 1:30 to begin my final hike to the summit. The night started off clear enough to see some shooting stars, but soon the rocky trail gave way to strong gusts of wind and thick fog. It took about 2-2.5 hours to get from Taishikan to the summit, mostly over steep, rocky trails. All the way to the top, there were people resting from the altitude sickness on the sides of the trail (so it’s important to prepare for this beforehand!).
At the top, I shivered in the cold with all my layers on awaiting the sun. It didn’t look great at first, with gusts of wind blowing clouds of rain above everyone on the mountain. I considered leaving early and descending down the trail to the avoid the miserable weather. However, after a while, the sun came out in bursts of orange, yellow, purple, and pink. The clouds moved quickly around us, forming a swirling mist around the rising sun. Dozens of hikers crowded around the east side of the mountain to catch some of the sun’s warmth and experience the colorful sunrise from the highest point in Japan. It was a surreal experience.
The walk down was fairly easy, except for the loose soil which caused some slippage here and there. I recommend using hiking poles to help you keep your balance. The views on the way down are really pretty in the early morning sun, and many of the paths look like you’re walking into a field of clouds.
Additional Things to Know
- It’s really crowded! Over 250,000 hikers hiked the trail in 2016 alone. Be ready to face fairly populated paths, especially if you decide to hike to the summit for sunrise.
- It is highly recommended to book a mountain house and stay the night if you are attempting to hike for sunrise at the summit. Not only will you avoid hiking 6+ hours up sharp rocks in the dark, but you will also give your body a chance to acclimatize to the altitude, which can take a huge toll on you if you’re not used to it.
- Bathrooms on the mountain cost 200 yen per use. It’s based on the honor system, but please do give what you can. People volunteer to maintain these for public use, so do the right thing.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my hike on Mount Fuji and, despite the popular proverb, would probably do it again one day. Maybe next time I’ll even hike the full mountain from base to summit!
Are you planning on hiking Mount Fuji? Do you have any tips to share? Tell us in the comments!