“You’ve been everywhere in Japan,” my former coworker told me, “The only place left for you to go is up!” And up I went – 3,776 meters (12,389 feet) to the summit of Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan. Together with my adventurous friend, Alex, we climbed Mt. Fuji one weekend in early July. For us, it represented a final challenge before we both finished our teaching contracts and bid farewell to Japan.
Although there is no fee to climb Mt. Fuji, as you begin the ascent there is a tent with volunteers eager to take your ¥1,000 ($10) donation towards conservation. Hoping to garner good karma for the climb, I made the donation. In return I received a Mt. Fuji pin and a small plastic package, which I assumed contained instant ramen noodles since I had heard that was a popular dish to eat on top of the mountain. Yet as I walked away and examined the package, I realized it held a portable toilet! Precisely, the package included a pop-up box, some rocks (imagine kitty litter), a privacy poncho for you to wear as you squat over the box, and of course a garbage bag for you to carry away your waste since there are no trash cans on the mountain. Nevertheless, I did not try out this well-intentioned gift because there are in fact toilets on the mountain which you can pay a mere ¥200 ($2) to use.
After approximately 3 hours of trekking, Alex and I reached our mountain hut way above the clouds. At this point we were three-fourths of the way to the top of Mt. Fuji. Yet it already felt so cold that the hot summer temperatures we left behind at the base seemed like a distant memory. After a hearty dinner of hamburger steak, rice, pasta, salad, and miso soup, we retreated to our beds to sleep like sardines from about 7 PM to midnight.
Tired, we awoke in the dark, robotically layered on our winter clothes, and adorned our headlamps to begin the most difficult part of our journey to the top of Japan. A full moon rested above the silhouette of Mt. Fuji and a procession of climbers, all wearing headlamps, illuminated the zigzagging path to the summit. Although the majority of the trek was a manageable steepness, some parts required us to climb up uneven rocks using both of our hands. As we neared the top, the path narrowed, and our pace slowed to a halt as we caught up with the crowd of climbers all hoping to watch the sunrise from the summit. With the sun peaking through the clouds, we decided to take a seat just off of the trail, rest, eat breakfast, and enjoy the most magnificent sunrise of our lives – which quickly went from shades of blue to orange and pink and illuminated the mountain range and lakes that surround Mt. Fuji.
Finally, around 6 AM we made it to the top of Mt. Fuji! With the freezing cold wind and clouds from the higher elevation blocking most of the view, we were actually glad that we had stopped to watch the sunrise just before the summit. Although it is possible to make a one-hour circumvention around the volcanic crater on top of Mt. Fuji, Alex and I decided it was best to complete our goals for the summit as quickly as possible and then descend. First, we promised our friends that we would twerk, a dance popularized by Miley Cyrus, and make a video of it. This meant asking some unsuspecting Japanese people to make a video of us dancing. Needless to say, the young woman who filmed us and her friends were shocked by our moves! Yet we must have inspired them, because right afterwards they made their own twerking video. Secondly, I changed out of my hiking boots and into my Tieks, a pair of flats I won in a contest from the Young Adventuress travel blogger, and Alex took a picture of me. Then back in my warm boots, we headed down the mountain, completing the descent in a quick three hours compared to the eight hours it took us to ascend.
Mt. Fuji is an iconic symbol of Japan and the source of inspiration for countless works of art. Joining the centuries old tradition of climbing Fuji-San, as it is called in Japanese, was one of the most incredible, breathtaking, inspiring, and memorable experiences of my time in Japan. If you are interested in climbing Mt. Fuji and you will be in Japan in July or August when the mountain is open, here are some helpful links:
- An overall guide with descriptions of the various trails leading up to the summit and tips about what to expect and bring
- The bus from Tokyo that goes directly to Mt. Fuji
- A list of mountain huts and their contact info