Difference between revisions of "Mount Fuji"
Revision as of 09:00, 19 September 2012
Mount Fuji (富士山 Fuji-san, 3776 meters) is Japan's highest mountain and the focal point of the sprawling Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Visible from Tokyo on a clear day, the mountain is located to the west of Tokyo on the main island Honshu, straddling the border between Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures.
A perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone, the mountain is a near-mythical national symbol immortalized in countless works of art, including Hokusai's 36 Views of Mt. Fuji.
The Japanese always refer to Mt. Fuji as Fuji-san, but the -san (山) here simply means "mountain", and has nothing to do with the honorific san (さん) for people's names. "Fujiyama" is a misreading of the name, and is never used by the Japanese themselves — except in the set phrase Fujiyama geisha, a lament at how Japan is misunderstood in the West.
When to go
Climbing outside the official season is extremely dangerous without alpine climbing experience and equipment. Nearly all facilities are closed in the off season. The weather, unpredictable any time of year, is downright vicious in the winter (temperatures below -40°C have been reported up top) and there are cases of people being literally blown off the mountain by high winds. All roads to the 5th station are shut out of season so you will have a long walk up. But if you insist, you're strongly encouraged to at least file a climbing plan with the Yoshida police  (Japanese only).
Fortunately, there are a few options for those who are not fit enough to climb or who would like to get "up close" to the mountain in the off-season. The trails at the bottom of the mountain are less steep, and suited more for an afternoon hike at any time of the year. The nearby Fuji Five Lakes (Fuji-goko) has many attractions close to the mountain, and Hakone also provides spectacular views. In a less nature focussed branch of things to do, the city of Fujiyoshida, which contains much of the mountain, is also home to Fuji-Q Highland, a leading amusement park.
Mt. Fuji can be approached from all sides, but note that transport schedules are sharply cut outside the official climbing season in July and August. For up to date information, the city of Fujiyoshida maintains a Fuji access page listing current routes and schedules.
From Tokyo, the easiest and most popular option is to take a direct bus from Shinjuku to the trailhead at Kawaguchiko Fifth Station. The most economical approach is by Odakyu train from Shinjuku to Gotemba, although you will have to change trains and the price difference is rather minimal.
The easiest option for reaching the slopes of Mt. Fuji is to take the Keio express bus from Shinjuku in Tokyo. The direct bus takes 2 to 2.5 hours, depending on traffic, costs ¥2600, and takes you directly to the start of the climb at Kawaguchiko 5th Station. To buy a ticket, take the west exit at Shinjuku station, then follow the circle of bus stops to the left. The Keio building is on the corner near stop 26, right across from Yodobashi Camera. You can reserve a seat for free at Keio express bus. You will still need to pay for your ticket at the station (cash only).
There is no direct access to Mt. Fuji by train, but you can get pretty close and change to a bus for the rest of the way, and doing it this way allows you to use any of the ascent or descent routes. From Tokyo, the two main staging points are Fujiyoshida and Gotemba, while visitors from western Japan can opt for Fujinomiya (Shin-Fuji) instead.
Fujiyoshida can be reached by taking the JR Chuo line to Otsuki and changing to the Fujikyu line. The Fujikyu line passes through Fujiyoshida to Kawaguchiko, from where hourly buses (50 minutes, ¥1700) shuttle to the 5th Station. If you are planning to walk from the foot of the mountain, Fujiyoshida is, also, the starting point of the Yoshida route. You will be able to visit Fujiyoshida Sengenjinja (shrine) on the way to the summit.
If heading for the Gotemba route (御殿場), Subashiri route, or Suyama route, take the JR Tokaido line from Tokyo through Odawara to Kōzu (国府津) station then change train for Gotemba. Alternatively, if traveling from Shinjuku, take the Odakyu line to Shin-Matsuda and walk to the neighboring Gotemba line Matsuda station. This local train usually runs just once per hour.
During official climbing season there are direct buses from Gotemba station to the Gotemba 5th station that take about 40 minutes and cost ¥1080/1500 one-way/return. Tickets to the Subashiri 5th station are ¥1500/2000 one-way/return. A bus for the Suyama route is ¥530 one-way. If you want to ascend and descend on different routes, you can purchase a 3-day round trip ticket for a little over ¥3000. Note that Gotemba buses run only during the official Fujisan mountain climbing season between July and August, but Subashiri route busses run till October and Suyama route busses run all year around.
There is also a bus to Kawaguchiko from the Gotemba station and a bus from Shin-Matsuda to the Kawaguchiko fifth station (¥3000 one-way).
Visitors coming from western Japan may wish to opt for the southern approach via Fujinomiya (富士宮) instead. The nearest Tokaido Shinkansen stop is Shin-Fuji station (新富士駅). From Shin-Fuji station, buses cost ¥4500 return. If arriving on the ordinary Tokaido line, change trains to the JR Minobu Line at Fuji station. The bus fare from Fujinomiya station to the 5th station of Mt. Fuji is 1,970 for one-way or 3,000 for round-trip.
Take the Chuo Expressway from Shinjuku. Tolls will set you back around ¥2500.
By guided tour
There are also Fuji-san climbing tours offered by numerous travel companies throughout Japan. These tours may include round trip bus fare, climbing guide, hut, dinner, breakfast (packed rice box), and a visit to a hot spring after the descent. Prices tend to be expensive though: a one-day "superman" tour costs around ¥20000 and a more leisurely two-day approach (including overnight stay) is over ¥30000. Most of these tours are conducted in Japanese and stick firmly to the trodden path, but if you need an English-speaking guide to accompany you to the top or want to explore the less-well known "pilgrimage" routes, Fuji Mountain Guides  offers small group ascents from ¥32,500 for a two-day trip, including round trip transportation from tokyo, lodging and 2 hot meals on the mountain.
Once on the mountain the only way of getting around is on foot. The sole exception is horseback riding, available on the Fujiguchiko trail between the 5th and 7th stations only for the steep price of ¥14,000.
For merely seeing Mt. Fuji, it's better to maintain some distance. The most popular places for sightseeing tours of Fuji and surroundings are Hakone, to the east of Mt. Fuji towards Tokyo, and the Fuji Five Lakes, located just north of the mountain. Note, however, that Fuji is notoriously shy and is wreathed in clouds most of the time: it's entirely possible to drive around the mountain and never see it. Visibility tends to be the worst in the hot, muggy summer and the best in the winter, when the air is dry and clear.
The Mt. Fuji Welcome Card  is a free card that can get you discounts for various attractions and tours in the vicinity.
The thing to do on Mt. Fuji is, of course, to climb it. As the Japanese say, a wise man climbs Fuji once, and a fool twice, but the true wisdom of this phrase is usually only learned the hard way. Athletes have completed the climb in under two hours and there's even a yearly race to the top , but for most people it takes 4 to 8 hours at walking speed (depending on your pace), and the descent another 2 to 4. An overnight climb in order to reach the top for the sunrise (go-raiko) is the most traditional thing, but you will probably be shuffling along in a slow-moving line for the latter stages of the ascent. Consider starting out in the late morning to reach the summit for the equally majestic sunset, with a tiny fraction of the crowds to accompany you. Afterward, you can try to sleep in a mountain hut (see below) and catch the sunrise if you like; two for the effort of one.
An absolute minimum set of clothing for climbing Fuji would be:
Take it from someone who's climbed Fuji-san, do NOT wear shorts. Such a bad idea.
Gloves and warm, layered clothing are also strongly recommended. Other supplies you will need are:
Also bring along at least 1 litre of water per person, preferably 2. High-energy snacks (Calorie Mate) as well as a more substantial fare (rice balls and such) will also come in very handy.
Kawaguchiko (Fujiyoshida) route
The most popular starting point is Kawaguchiko 5th Station (河口湖五合目 Kawaguchiko Go-gōme, 2305m), which offers you a last chance to stock on supplies (at a premium) before heading out. The initial stretch through flowery meadows is pleasant enough, but the bulk of the hike is a dreary and interminable slog: the volcanic landscape consists of jagged red rock in varying sizes from dust to boulder, with the trail zigzagging left and right endlessly, and the hike just gets steeper and steeper as you progress. Actual rock climbing is not required, but you will wish to use your hands at some points for support — bring gloves. (If you forget them, they can be purchased in the shops at the Fifth Station for ¥200.)
The trail is well marked (even at night) and in season you will find it difficult to get lost, as the trip is completed annually by 300,000 people and there may even be human traffic jams at some of the dicier spots. However, due to the danger of landslides do not venture beyond the trail; visibility may also be very rapidly reduced to near-zero if clouds roll in.
Once at the top, you will pass under a small torii gate and encounter a group of huts selling drinks and souvenirs; this being Japan, you will even find vending machines on the top of Mount Fuji. Yes, this is as anticlimactic as it sounds, but with any luck seeing the sunrise above the clouds will make up for it. You can also gaze into the long-dormant crater at the center of the mountain. Strictly speaking, this is not the highest point of the mountain; that honor goes to the meteorological station on the other side of the crater, an additional 30 minutes hike away. While some might consider it not really worth the trouble, a purist will tell you that if you do not stand at the highest point, you never really summitted, so the choice is yours. A full circuit of the crater takes around an hour.
There is a separate path for descending down the mountain back to Kawaguchiko; be sure you take the right one! Do not attempt to run down the mountain; rolling down isn't fun, it's a long way to the nearest hospital, and you don't want to find out how much a helicopter medevac costs in Japan.
This is the longest and toughest access route from the fifth station, with Gotemba 5th Station (御殿場五合目 Gotemba Go-gōme) located at 1440 meters, nearly 900 meters lower down than Kawaguchiko.
There are separate routes for ascent and descent, which will take 7 to 10 and 1.5 to 3 hours accordingly. The path is clearly marked with signs, so night climbing (with a flashlight) is possible. For your own safety, walking on the bulldozer path, which crosses the pedestrian path several times, is not allowed. The climb from the 5th to the 6th station is over an enormous ash field, which formed during a recent eruption in 1707. Mountain huts at the 6th, 7th and 8th stations operate during official climbing season and also provide warm food (curry rice, ramen, soba, drinks etc). Beware of rocks from 8th station and above. It is essential to bring enough water supplies or buy water at the fifth station, because there are limited places to resupply, although it may be possible to purify and drink the rainwater which is available for hand washing purposes at the mountain huts.
Advantages of this trail:
Disadvantages of this trail:
There are two other Fifth Stations at Subashiri (須走, 1980 meters) and Fujinomiya (富士宮, 2400 meters).
Fujinomiya is the shortest route, but as it is on the "wrong" side you will not be able to see the sunrise before the summit. Nevertheless, this was historically the main path to the top and is occasionally still known as Omoteguchi (表口), or "Main Entrance".
Subashiri Trail is on the east side of Mount Fuji, so you'll be able to see sunrise almost anywhere from the trail. The trail is the most gently sloped and forested up to around 2700m, making it rather more pleasant than the other routes, but it's consequently also longer in distance. The trail merges with the Kawaguchiko trail at the 8th station.
Beside climbing from the fifth station, there are three routes from Sengenjinja at the foot of the mountain. They are Yoshida route, Suyama route, and Murayama route. Murayama route is the oldest climbing route, followed by Suyama route. These routes offer a glimpse of the history of Mount Fuji climbing and are being restored. Be warned, however, not to expect to see too many people climbing from these routes.
If you have the energy to haul food and drink, buy it before coming to Mount Fuji. Once on the mountain, simple meals (curry rice and such), if available at all, will cost around ¥1000. As all materials have to be hauled up by tractors, food and drink prices are high and rise the closer you get to the summit. For example, a vending machine at the summit sells drinks and cans of corn soup for ¥400. However, as the summit has fewer people staying overnight and many more people resting, you can usually stop for a break without paying the resting fee (see Sleep), making the price of a cup of tea or a bowl of noodles enjoyed indoors somewhat more reasonable.
Kawaguchiko 5th Station is the last place to have a meal or stock up on supplies without breaking the bank, although there's a bit of inflation even here.
Huts from 7th station onward also offer primitive accommodation, and reservations are strongly recommended. Prices are pretty much standardized at ¥5250 a night for a very cramped space (one tatami mat or less) shared with the halitosis, funky boot juice and snoring of 150-500 strangers, plus an optional ¥1050/2100 for one/two meals.
Note that most huts will not allow visitors to stay within the (heated) huts without paying a resting fee, either ¥1000-2000 per hour or ¥5000 for the entire night. The fee may be waived if you buy a meal.
The huts also have extremely basic toilets, but they get the job done (¥100/200). Instead of the usual noxious sweet deodorant, some of these toilets use a pepper scent to mask the smell of the waste.
Mount Fuji is a real mountain and should be treated with respect. Near the top the air is noticeably thinner, which may cause altitude sickness and breathing difficulties. The hike to the top is taxing, but injuries typically occur during the descent phase when you're tired. Especially after heavy rains landslides are also a possibility.
It is very cold on top. During summer, when at the mountain foot the temperature is a sweltering 35°C, at the top it will be 7°C during the day and less during the night — ice and frost are common throughout the year. Add in strong wind and/or lashings of rain, and hypothermia can easily strike while waiting for sunrise at the goal. If your extremities go numb or you can't control your shivering, go indoors and get warmed up.
Do not climb out of season, even during months like April when it's warm down below, unless you are thoroughly prepared and know exactly what you're doing. Totally prepared means you have alpine climb gear and have climbed mountains like this before. If you choose to climb around the New Year, you could experience -30°C on the mountain top.
These warnings are not a joke: on average, around 4 people die and over a dozen are injured every year on Fuji by hypothermia or falling rocks.
Finally, geologists tell us that Fuji is a dormant volcano, not a dead one. The mountain has a cycle of roughly 300 years and the last eruption was in 1707, so the next one is due right about now.
If you undertake the more traditional and crowded overnight climb, be aware that the returning buses in the morning can be incredibly busy, especially from Kawaguchiko 5th Station to the bus and train station at Kawaguchiko. It is very easy to miss your bus from Kawaguchiko onwards to Tokyo if you leave your descent too long and join the back of a huge queue of tired climbers. Hitchhiking from the parking lot may actually be a faster alternative!
If you climbed Mt. Fuji and survived despite (thanks to?) all the apocalyptic warnings here, treat yourself to a dip in the hot springs at Hakone.