The time had come for Nate and I to cross one more item off our bucketlist for Japan: Hike Mt. Fuji! Would we survive?? Read below to find out! (And tips and info listed at the bottom of the blog for planning your trip to Fuji)
Only a week or so after we got back from Bali/Taipei - Nate and I headed to the mainland to tackle the highest mountain in Japan. We took the train from Tokyo Airport to Shinjuku station, and then a 2.5 hour bus ride up to the 5th station of Mt. Fuji. located at 2,304 meters (7,560 ft) above sea level.
We arrived on a beautiful, sunny, clear day in the late afternoon. We explored the 5th station a bit which is like a tiny little functioning city half way up the mountain - equipped with it's own little hotels, shops, restaurants, bus stations, and post office. Here we bought our hiking sticks that I read about before we got here. You could buy these wooden walking sticks for about $10-$12 with / without a flag and/or bells. These sticks can then be stamped at stations along the hike all the way to the top. I thought these would be a great souvenir and momento - little did I know how useful they would be as well! #thankfulandgratefulweboughtthem #plustheylookcool I opted for one with the Japanese flag and bells (so Nate could keep track of me on the mountain and make sure I didn't wander off somewhere or fall to my death) and he went with the patriotic American flag. #appropriate
I had booked us a 'hut' to stay in for the night - Okuniwa-so. When booking the reservation, I did so with my limited Japanese so I was praying they had the correct reservation for us. We got directions and headed a little further down the mountain to check out where we were staying for the night.
We arrived at our 'hut' for the night, Okuniwa-so, and luckily my reservation was confirmed #sweet #Japanesestudymustbepayingoff We got settled into our little room for the night. The place and our room was very cute - surrounded by lovely trees and nature - felt like the perfect spot to rest up before our big hike the next morning.
Once we were setlled in, we had dinner. They gave us ALOT of food and said we needed it for the hike the next day. So we ate as much as we could and spoke with our hosts in our broken Japanese and their broken English (but it worked :) ).
We then went into our room and made our bed on the tatami mat in our little space and bundled up for a long nights sleep so we were as well rested as we could be for the next day.
Since we slept on the mountain overnight, we didn't have to get up too early to start our ascent of Mt. Fuji. We had a nice, filling, Japanese breakfast at our hut before they gave us a ride back up to the 5th station, complete with eggs, fish, fruit, rice, miso soup, and a few other tiny side dishes.
When we looked at the weather on our phone - it didn't look too promising. It was overcast and there was predicitons of thunderstorms throughout the afternoon. Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, we started up the mountain around 8am. Our goal was to make it up the very top (10th station), where I had booked our hut for the night) by 5pm. I hoped this was doable since we hadn't really trained much to hike this mountain. I didn't know what to expect, or how hard it would be. I had only heard some horror stories from a few people in Okinawa about how bad and tiring it was. I figured 9 hours to hike up 1,472 meters (4,830 ft) was a reasonable goal.
We decided to hike the Yoshida Trail - the easiest and most populated of the 4 trails up Mt. Fuji thinking this was the safest route. We also hiked Mt. Fuji on a Monday to avoid the crowds (which are easily around 5,000 people on Saturday/Sunday) so it wouldn't be too crowded. Nate and I were two of 250,000 people who hiked Mt Fuji during the 2016 hiking season. Most people book huts at the 8th station, wake up around 2am, and hike the remaining 2 hours to the top in order to see the sunrise at 4am. I booked our hut at the very top so we could sleep longer in the morning, and not deal with crowds trying to reach the top in the middle of the night.
Mount Fuji (富士山), stands at 3,776 meters (12,389 ft), one of the most iconic symbols of Japan. It is Japan's tallest mountain and one of their "Three Holy Mountains" (三霊) along with Mt. Tate and Mt. Haku.
Our plan was simple: hike up the mountain slow and steady. Take breaks when needed at the stations - getting stamps, drinking water, and eating snakes. But keep our pace steady and see how we do (aka don't die on the mountain from exhaustion)
There are 5 stations to go through from the 5th up to the 10th (no shit sherlock). The 5th and 6th stations aren't too far apart and it's relatively flat between them. The 6th station is at 2,390 meters and has a restroom and spot to donate to the mountain (clean up, environmental, etc). We were happy that we made it to the 6th station so quickly! And the sun was starting to come out - looking like it might be a good day after all.
The hike from the 6th station to the 7th station was a bit harder, longer, and steeper. But it was sunny and we were in a good mindset - knowing we would be hiking all day long and just enjoyed our views and surroundings. Also having a moment of "Holy shit we're hiking Mt. Fuji!"
We finally reached the 7th station, getting a few stamps and taking a few breaks along the way. For the stamps, they are actually burned into the wooden stick (vs. ink stamp). The 7th station is only at 2,700 meters (8,858 ft) but the hike was alot steeper and we began to hike over some rocks instead of a paved trail.
The path was becoming a little rockier between the 7th and 8th station. The higher we went, the clouds started to come back as well. But there were plenty of chained in spikes to grab hold of while we climbed up the rocks. (Plus our cool walking sticks came in handy!)
We finally reached the last little stretch between the 8th and a half station (located at 3,450 meters (11,319 ft)) and the top - only 260 steep meters to go and not as much oxygen. We could do it though and the top was in our sites! With not as much oxygen up this high, and after hiking for about 6.5 hrs at this point, we had to take more frequent breaks, but we were determined! We also could hear a thunderstorm happening on the mountain to our right and were trying to get to the top before it reached us. #motivation
The 9th station is located at 3,600 meters (11,811 ft) and there really isn't much to it. I think there was a small shack that was abandoned but that was it for the 9th station. Still - since we reached a station, it was my excuse to sit and take a quick break!
Only a few meters from the top, a wooden torii gate, guarded by two shisa looking statues (dog/lions), marked the beginning of Mt Fuji's sacred ground. As you can see from the pictures, many coins are stuck into the cracks of the wooden torii gate. I assume this is for luck, or a thank you that you didn't die climbing up, or maybe a well wish that you'll return one day - but Nate and I, not wanting to miss out, made sure to put a coin in and thank the gods we survived!
We arrived at the top around 3:30pm, making our whole hike up the mountain (about 8 miles according to my fitbit) about 7.5 hours. I thought that was great, especially with us not training for the hike at all, and both of us feeling great. After a few celebratory pictures of the summit, and making sure we got our "Top of Mt. Fuji" stamps on our sticks, we checked into our hut on top of the volcano. We had an hour or so to spare before dinner so we explored the area and the crater a bit more. On opposite sides of the volcano's deep crater, two concrete Shinto shrines were built. Little bells and souvenirs were left around the shrines, deposited for luck by the climbers.
We were served Japanese curry for dinner, and it definitely hit the spot #weearnedit! Our tablemates at dinner spoke a little english and we were able to converse a bit. Two of them were older women in their 70s. This was the 7th! (Yes, 7th) time one of the women had climbed Mt. Fuji! I was super impressed. After dinner, we sent a few post cards home since you are able to mail postcards from the top of Mt. Fuji #prettylegit Sent one to each of our parents, and us as a momento. #whodoesntlovepostcards
Our hut was only about a quarter of the way full, which was pleasantly surprising. It's literally like one big slumber party and everyone is snuggled in next to one another. I was so tired at that point that I didn't care who I was sleeping next to or what was going on, but I was thankful for the earplugs I brought since a couple of our slumber party buddies were definitely snoring throughout the night. We headed to bed around 6:30pm so we could get up bright and early for the sunrise around 4am.
Around 4am, everyone was up and about on top of the mountain, waiting for the sunrise. We could hear fellow hikers coming up the hill in the dark and Nate and I were thankful we got to sleep on the top the night before so we didn't have to hike up in the dark. One of the many awesome things in Japan is their canned coffee. They have lots of flavors, it's cheap, and you can get it hot or cold (including in vending machines). This made for a nice breakfast to get our day started: granola bar and hot coffee.
Unforunately for us, there wasn't much of a sunrise. It basically was a fog that got lighter and lighter. But hey - the sunrise was there (buried behind the clouds somewhere) and we were technically at the top of the volcano for it #fujisunrise #fujifog We took a few more pics and then started our descent down the mountain since we had a long day ahead of us.
While posing for pictures at the top, we met a fellow hiker/friend who was currently living in California, Eli. He was on a long trip around Asia for the summer before he headed back. We became the three musketeers as we headed down the mountain, sharing travel stories and happy to have made a new friend :) And lucky for us - it did start to clear up a bit so we got some better views on the long hike down. Unlucky for me, the hike down is a different path and more of just sloped volcanic dirt that I had to try and step slide down sideways due to my knees #oldlady #30yearoldknees #theworst
Between the 7th and 6th station, it started to rain, not to hard but a steady rain. This meant ponchos for the rest of the way down. Once we reached the bottom (in only about 3 hours or so), we were able to take a baby wipe shower, and change into some new, dry clothes. We grabbed some yummy ramen and beer for breakfast while we waited for our bus back to Shinjuku so we could head to the Nagaoka region for a firework festival (read about it in our next blog).
All in all, I was super grateful and stoked that Nate and I had the opportunity to hike Mt. Fuji while we were here, and overall, had decent weather and an awesome experience! I was a little worried after hearing some horror stories from others in Okinawa, but Nate and I had a blast. We went in with a great mindset, and actually enjoyed the long hike up the mountain (and it was easier than I expected!). Thank you Mt. Fuji for not killing us and I hope to return back some day! :) There's an old Japanese proverb that says:
"He who climbs Mount Fuji is a wise man, he who climbs twice is a fool"
- so here's to hopefully becoming more of a fool one day! Cheers! :)
Follow in our Footsteps:
Some tips for Fuji - bring:
Here is the basic info Nate and I used for our trip:
Getting There - we booked a bus from Shinjuku station in Tokyo -> 5th station on Fuji. This can easily be booked online here and costs around ¥2,700 each way. If you can, smart to do in advance to make sure you have a seat.
Huts we stayed at:
This website also had great tips and information about hiking Fuji (and also this one here)
Make sure to research which trail you want to do (there's 4) and book a hut accordingly
Go with the right attitude - you will be hiking all day, the weather may be bad (but hopefully good) - but "Holy shit! You're hiking Mt. Fuji!" - enjoy the experience :)
Megan Bond - AUTHOR
Just a girl raised in California and loved exploring Southeast Asia with my husband! We're back in the States but still exploring the world as much as we can!