Climbing Mt. Fuji – an all-in-one guide that gets you from Narita Airport to Japan’s tallest peak

June 29, 2018

The symbol of Japan and arguably the most recognizable mountain in the world, Mt. Fuji has evolved from a sacred pilgrimage to a world-renowned climbing route, one that even casual hikers dream of scaling one day.

And with proper preparation and care, it can be done! This all-in-one guide will explain how, from preparations to descent and everything in between.
But be warned: Mt. Fuji is a serious mountain. It may look serene from a distance, but up close it is a craggy and steep volcano that has claimed lives. Come prepared with proper hiking gear and sustenance, be ready for cold conditions even in the height of summer, and do not attempt to scale Mt. Fuji outside of the official hiking season (July 10th to September 10th).

There are also multiple trails up Mt. Fuji. This guide will describe the Yoshida trail, the classic and popular route. The Yoshida trail segments the ascent into 10 sections, each earmarked by a “station” (usually a small hut with a rest area, food and souvenirs to buy).

Getting to Mt. Fuji from Narita Airport

Keisei and Fujikyu bus companies operate infrequent buses out of Narita Airport that travel directly to Kawaguchiko station, the nearest train station to Mount Fuji. These buses typically take just over 4 hours and include rest stops along the way. A one way ticket costs 4,400 yen but there is a 3,300 yen option if booked by 5pm the previous day.

Kawaguchiko station

From Kawaguchiko station, you have two options: either begin hiking from there or take a second bus up to the Subaru 5th station, about halfway up the mountain.

If you opt for the first option, allow yourself about six hours to reach the 5th station. The route begins at Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine (富士吉田浅間神社), about 1 hour from Kawaguchiko station, though that walk can be cut in less than half if you take a train just one stop to Fujisan Station. This route takes you through forest and the abandoned ruins of the 1st station through to the old 5th station. From there it’s a short walk to the Subaru 5th station complex. It’s by no means a glamorous hike but for the hardcore completionist it’s a must.

Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine

If you opt for the second and more popular option, buses leave from Kawaguchiko to the 5th station hourly between 8:40am and 2:50pm, and you’ll arrive at Subaru 5th Station about 1 hour later.

Subaru 5th Station

While any time is workable, if you want to see the sunrise from on or near the summit of Mt. Fuji, aim to be at the Subaru 5th station around 1pm – 2pm. This will allow you time to enjoy the shops and features of the 5th station, get lunch and steel yourself before beginning the climb in earnest.

The Climb

View of Yoshida Trail from 6th station

After a short walk from the 5th station, you’ll be confronted with a direct view of the Yoshida trail as it winds its way up the mountain. Do not be fooled by this view: distances on the slopes of Fuji are much further than they appear! Also, if you’re a seasoned climber and you enjoy the wild freedom and oneness with nature that mountains bring, make peace with the fact the Mt. Fuji is not like that. You will be sharing this hike with hundreds of others, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself in a queue on the narrower sections. Instead, embrace a sense of camaraderie with your fellow climbers as you help each other scramble over the more intense sections of the path, with calls of “ganbare!” (“Hang in there!”).

As you climb higher, the air will get thinner. While this is generally not a problem if you’re in reasonably good health, it does mean that you will be short of breath more frequently and may feel lightheaded. Take it slow, rest often and if it becomes severe do not proceed any further.

The Stations

The stations also offer useful points for pacing out your climb. If you purchased a walking stick from the 5th station, you can also pay each station to brand your stick, making it a very practical memento! Most stations also sell drinks, snacks, and also full meals if you find yourself approaching dinnertime. Meals are typically simple fare, such as udon or curry. Bear in mind that the higher up the mountain you go, the higher the prices will be. If you’re budget-conscious, carry as much of your own food and drinks wherever possible.

Similarly, stations also charge for a “rest” (sitting inside the station building), though there’s no charge for sitting outside. When night falls, one can also pay to stay overnight at a station. Similar to all Japanese mountain huts, this amounts to little more than a narrow futon in a shared room but can cost as much as a full-board hotel room in downtown Tokyo.

Dusk on Mt Fuji summit

If you’d prefer not to sleep in a station, the alternative is to reach the summit of Fuji before nightfall and find somewhere to rest until sunrise. Only do this if the weather is clear, the wind is calm and you have warm clothes (temperatures can drop to freezing even in mid-August). You won’t get any quality sleep but at least it won’t cost you. The added benefit is that you’ll be in a prime position to witness the sunrise. Speaking of which…

The Sunrise

Mt. Fuji is a gruelling climb. Whether you opted for a futon in a station or a rough night on the summit, you won’t have got a good sleep. That groggy feeling, however, falls away when you witness the iconic sunrise. A sunrise so staggeringly beautiful the Japanese have their own word for it: Goraikou (ご来光). It’s the experience of a lifetime, and makes the long hike more than worth it. When the sky begins to brighten on a new day, make sure you’re facing east, settle in and witness The Greatest Show on Earth. Join in with the Japanese as they throw their arms up and yell “Banzai!” too! Bear in mind, though, that the sunrise itself is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short. Be patient, and be ready to take any photos and videos: you won’t have long before the sun has risen over the horizon.

After the sunrise, take a walk around the route circling the crater, around one hour. Be sure to stop by the weather station, the absolute pinnacle of Mt. Fuji.

The Descent

Yoshida descending route

Any seasoned climber will tell you that the descent can be harder than the ascent, and Mt. Fuji is no exception. While it takes nowhere near as long (about 2 hours), it can be very hard on the legs, and your exhaustion catches up with you: slips and falls can happen. Don’t rush and be safe. Also, if you’re descending back down the Yoshida trail, bear in mind the descending path is separate from the ascending one. Follow the signs for Fuji Subaru 5th station: it is close to where the ascending route ends.

When you get back to the Subaru 5th Station, give yourself a pat on the back: you’ve done it! Treat yourself to a hot meal from the main building while waiting for a bus back to Kawaguchiko station: what may have seemed expensive before may now seem like a bargain compared to the higher stations! If it is busy, make sure to line up for your bus well in advance of the departure time: if the bus fills up you may have to wait until the next bus departure. Buses leave the 5th Station hourly between 10:40am and 4:20pm and take about 45 minutes to reach Kawaguchiko station. From there you can connect to trains and other modes of transport out of the Mt. Fuji area.

Accommodation around Mt. Fuji

View from Oike Hotel

Whether you want to rest up before your big climb or unwind after you’ve finished, the surrounding area has you covered. In particular, Lake Kawaguchiko (a 15 minute walk from Kawaguchiko station) is lined with a myriad of hotel options. Many of the hotels include dinner and breakfast, and a few of them also include “onsen” (hot spring) baths: one such example is Oike Hotel (大池ホテル), which also includes baths in the rooms that tap into the onsen water so you can have your own private onsen, as well as commanding views of Mt. Fuji. Nothing helps a Japanese mountain climber unwind quite like a soak in an onsen while looking out over your freshly conquered peak!

For those working on a budget, Fujiyoshida City has many hostels for those simply looking for a place to lay their head. Bear in mind that most hostels are further into the city, so you’ll need to travel away from and back to Kawaguchiko station if you’re planning to use the bus up the 5th station.

WRITTEN BY PETER LEONARD