When I first moved to Japan a little over a year ago, it was recommended that while I was here I should hike Mt. Fuji, also known as Fuji-san. My immediate response was no, that I didn’t think I could do it and that I was not interested. About a year later I changed my mind.
As the end of my time in Japan has been approaching, I have been attempting to at least see Fuji, but it never crossed my mind to hike it. I have taken the Shinkansen and bus past Fuji several times, but I never saw it. The times I went to Tokyo it was always too cloudy to see it from such a far distance. I had read that on some of the hiking trails in Kamakura you can see Fuji, but I didn’t get to go on those trails. All of my attempts had been arrested.
August was rolling around and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do during Obon. A friend and I decided to take a day trip to the Fuji area to just see Fuji. One thing led to another and a different friend shared with me that she was going to hike Fuji. We started to exchange information and research and I began to think that maybe I could hike Fuji.
Let me start off by saying I am not an experienced hiker. I don’t know the technical ins and outs of hiking; I don’t have most of the equipment, just the basic stuff; and I prefer to mostly hike downhill (Duh! It’s easier!). For all of these reasons I thought Fuji was out of the question. What changed my mind about hiking Fuji was reading articles about kindergarteners and grandparents making it to the summit. I figured if they can do it so can I!
Once my mind was made up, it was time to put the plan in motion. First, I had to convince my travel partner that we could make it to the summit and that it was a possible feat. Once she was on board, we started calling the lists of huts on the Yoshida trail. I had been told that the Yoshida trail was the most popular and that it had plenty of huts for people to sleep in, then wake up early to watch the sunrise (that is the goal for most Fuji-san hikers: watching the sunrise). After making 6 phone calls and getting 6 “no’s” I gave up. My travel buddy agreed to at least try some of the other huts: her first call was a yes! All we needed was our gear and we were ready to go! (For a gear list, see the end of the post)
WHAT THE HIKE WAS LIKE
As I previously stated above, I had a partner in crime on this hike, but due to extenuating circumstances she couldn’t make it. The days leading up to the hike I decided that I was going to hike Fuji-san no matter what and that I would just have to make friends along the way!
I had read that in order to get used to the altitude I should spend a couple of hours at the 5th station. I got there around 12:30 and my chest was instantly a little tight due to the altitude, so I was glad that I got there with plenty of time to acclimate.
I was astonished by the number of people preparing to hike. I spent the next couple of hours watching people in big groups do calisthenics, give each other pep talks, buy souvenirs, pray at the shrine, and eat.
I ate my last pre-hike meal of curry and rice, checked out the different buildings and shops and then I was off on the trail by 2:20. I found that I was procrastinating quite a bit – probably out of fear. I was getting ready to do the toughest hike I had ever imagined (or never imagined) doing.
Getting ready at the 5th station
From Station 5-6
I found this to be the worst part of the hike, but not for physical reasons. There were tons of people, some in tour groups, some alone and some just sightseeing – so it was pretty crowded. There are also horse rides given to and from stations 5-6 so it smelled of manure and you had to dodge piles. Finally, I was full of anxiety. My heart was racing and I hadn’t even really begun! I was so nervous and plagued with fear that I almost turned around! Once I made it to the 6th station though, I was committed.
From Station 6-7
I felt like my level of commitment increased as I approached station 7. There was no turning back by that point, so the only option was to move forward. The hike was rocky and uphill – it is a mountain after all! I met Maggie, another solo hiker from Hong Kong. She was a flight attendant who had always wanted to hike Fuji but never got around to it. She had planned to have a friend with her, but due to a typhoon that hit HK, her friend wasn’t able to make it. We shared snacks, chatted and talked about how Fuji was, or wasn’t, difficult at that point.
Right before I hit station 7 I had to start adding layers. The sun was still out, but the temperature was beginning to drop.
From Station 7 to Toriiso, my hut at the 7-8 border
Station 7 was almost all rock scrambling. There was less hiking on level ground and more climbing over rocks. It was starting to get more difficult for me and I was having more trouble breathing, partly because of the thin air, but also because it was just plain difficult!
At one of the huts I was taking a nice long break and it was there that I met John and Matthew, a father-son duo from California. Matthew was going to school in Osaka for the summer and John (dad) had come to visit during Obon break. They were having a good time, but dad was having a bit of a difficult time climbing the rocks.
I finally saw the red gates which marked Toriiso, my hut, and I knew I was home for the night.
My Toriiso hut experience
Thankfully, there was one person at the hut who spoke pretty good English. I don’t speak any Japanese and wasn’t in the mood to play charades (I was way too tired). I checked in, was given a bag to put my shoes in, and was shown my ‘bunk.’ I use the term ‘bunk’ only because I don’t know what else to call it. The hut is composed of one open area where people dine and there is a kitchen, then behind a curtain are three floors where people sleep. You climb a ladder, just like on a bunk bed, to the floor you will be sleeping on. You do not have a private bed, just a sleeping area with a pillow, sleeping bag and a hook to hang your bag above your head. Curtains block out the light at your feet. I didn’t know if I’d be able to sleep, but after my group dinner of all-you-can eat curry and rice I passed out for 2 short hours. I got up at 10:30 to begin the last part of the hike to the summit. It had gotten much cooler since the sun went down so I piled on all of my clothes and got ready to leave.
view from my hut
From Toriiso to the 8th station
Upon leaving my hut I was hit with a massive traffic jam of people wearing headlamps. I had read that there was the possibility of bottlenecks in the trail, but I wasn’t expecting this many people! I stood in line and took my turn. What I learned was that lines always preceded difficult parts of the trail. I had a really hard time with the remaining portion of the 7th station trail. I don’t know if the terrain got harder or if it was fatigue or cold, but I stopped every 15 minutes to take a break.
night hike traffic jam
From Station 8-9
At this point in the hike people are getting sick from altitude sickness. I see people vomiting and breathing in canned air. I didn’t seem to have too much trouble. I believe that if I would have had canned air it may have helped my breathing but I didn’t feel any nausea and because I was taking Bufferin I didn’t have a headache. What I found most interesting was that altitude sickness hits people randomly. Like I said, I didn’t have any major problems, but I saw one girl, in her mid twenties, in pristine physical shape who had to stop because she couldn’t breath. She kept apologizing to her friends because she was holding them up. My thought was that I should be the one getting altitude sickness, not her! Afterall, she’s in her 20s and in good shape and I’m in my 30s and in round shape… but for whatever reason I wasn’t the one who got sick!
Station 9 to Summit
I was soooo over hiking around station 9. I just wanted it to be over. I was tired of hiking in the dark; of being cold; of being hungry; and wanted to go home… and then the sun started to peek out. Dawn was on the horizon and I wasn’t at the summit. I kept going in hopes that I would make it. 200 meters from the summit I stopped hiking, sat down and enjoyed the sunrise. Plenty of other people decided to do the same. It was what we had all hiked Fuji-san to see: the breathtaking morning sunrise. I was not disappointed. In the time it took the sun to break through the clouds I felt such an immense wave of gratitude for my experiences in Japan. I was proud for hiking Fuji alone, for following through with something I didn’t think I could do, for following my dream of living abroad. I immediately texted friends and family who had supported me through the hike and thanked them – I could feel their love and was grateful for it.
I wish I had more to say about the summit other than it was crowded. I was so fatigued that all I did was get my walking stick stamped and then ate. I was happy to be at the summit but now that I was there I wished that there was an elevator to take me back to the fifth station… I took a peek into the crater, saw the red torii gate on the highest point, then headed down.
The Hike Down to the 6th Station
I’m going to be really honest about the hike down: IT SUCKED. In some ways it was easier because you had momentum helping you down the mountain. On the other hand, there were tons of volcanic rocks everywhere causing you to slip and slide down the hill. There was no scrambling over rocks, but tons of places where if you weren’t careful you’d get rocks in yours shoes. (Ouch!) As I previously mentioned there was only 1 hut on the way down to purchase food and go to the bathroom and that was near the summit – otherwise you had to wait to go to the bathroom until the 7th station where there was a pay/public facility. (but no food)
One of the coolest things I experienced on the hike down was the clouds. They were moving at a rapid pace up the mountain. I could sit in one place and have an entire group of clouds pass right through me. It was amazing! It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience and even though I took video, it doesn’t capture just how cool it was!
The downward trail meets the upward trail at the 6th station, so things start to look more familiar and you know you are getting closer to the end!
From Station 6-5
From station 6-5 the terrain was much easier and I booked it to the end. I was on cloud 9 when I saw those souvenir shops and restaurants!
I took the first bus I could find back to Shinjuku where I was staying for the night.
Its been a couple of days since the hike and I am still feeling the aftereffects. The first day post-hike I avoided all stairs and only used escalators and elevators. I couldn’t bear the thought of walking up or down. I still have an insatiable hunger that I can’t seem to ever fulfill. I have been hungry for almost 48 hours now… I slept for 14 hours the night after Fuji-san and then managed to sleep most of the ride back to Osaka on the night bus (I generally can’t sleep on the bus, but exhaustion allowed it!). I still have a couple of days to rest prior to returning to work, and thank God I do because I still don’t know that I have the energy!
Climbing Fuji-san was such an amazing experience! I have only had a couple of other experiences where I pushed my body to its limits and I always feel so alive when I do. This hike was also such a great opportunity for self reflection, gratitude and joy. I will forever be grateful to Japan, but mostly Fuji-san, for providing me with this once in a lifetime experience!
NEED TO KNOW FUJI INFO
Now that you’ve read my experience, you may want to attempt Fuji yourself! Here’s some helpful info I’ve compiled to make your journey better!
WHAT I DEEMED NECESSARY TO HIKE MT. FUJI (some other people might not find these items necessary):
- At least 4 liters of water (I didn’t drink all 4 but I would rather be safe than sorry)
— I found 1 liter water pouches at Daiso for 100 yen a piece. The great thing about them is that they are reusable and when they are empty they can be folded up so they aren’t bulky.
Photo Credit: here
- Gaiters or some kind of ankle cover. These were necessary to keep rocks out of shoes on the way down from the summit.
Photo Credit: here
- Layered clothing – there is a 36 F degree difference between the summit and the base. I started out in a tank top and leggings and reached the summit in a winter fleece, windbreaker, fleece pants, gloves and hat (and I was still cold!)
- Rain gear – it didn’t rain during my hike to the summit, but just as I was reaching the 5th station on my way down it began to sprinkle just a little. After having endured the long hike I realized just how lucky I was that it hadn’t rained. I bought tons of rain gear and was lucky that I didn’t have to use it.
- Headlamp, or a flashlight, but preferably a headlamp – if you hike during the night you will not be able to see ANYTHING without some kind of light. I saw people hiking with flashlights in their hands, but they had more difficulty. There are several portions of the hike that you must scurry over boulders and it’s much easier if you have both hands free
- 100 yen coins – there are no public toilets on the mountain, so you must pay 200 yen to use any of the facilities on the way up and down
Other items I found extremely useful:
- Hand warmers – when it was terribly cold, in the middle of the night, at least my hands were warm. The warmers stayed warm for 16 hours, so I only needed one pack
- Hand sanitizer – there isn’t very much running water on the mountain (even at the 5th station) which means you cannot wash your hands after you go to the bathroom. I used my hand sanitizer religiously
- Baby wipes – I was covered in a thick red dust by the time I reached the end of the hike. The baby wipes helped me clean off
- Sun glasses – The hike down the mountain kicked up tons of red dust. Sun glasses not only helped with the sun, but it kept the dust out of my eyes. (many people also wore scarves or surgical masks over their mouths to keep the dust out of their mouths)
- Tylenol or some kind of pain reliever – Right before my hike my dad sent me this article (I would highly recommend reading it because it’s full of great info AND it inspired the post I’m writing now!) which talked about how one of the symptoms of altitude sickness was a headache and that the writer was able to prevent her headaches by taking a pain reliever. I did the same thing. On two different occasions on my hike I felt the onset of a headache and Bufferin helped me prevent them from turning into full-fledged missery.
- Hiking stick – if you don’t already have one you’re in luck! They sell wooden ones at the 5th station for 1000 yen ($10) and you can pay 200 yen at each hut to have it branded on your hike up. It’s a pretty awesome (and useful) souvenir.
- FOOD, FOOD and more FOOD – This is what I told a friend who is preparing for her hike: pack all the food you think you will eat in 2 days; then pack more. Better yet: PACK ALL OF THE FOOD IN JAPAN. You will eat it: trust me. A friend told me they were surprised by how much they ate when they hiked Fuji-san, so I knew this would happen – but I still managed to pack too little food! The draw back to not having enough food: you will pay 400 yen for a cup of noodles, 300 yen for a Snickers bar, and even more for food that is prepared. On the hike down there is only one place to buy food and that’s near the summit. (I learned this the hard way)
Additional Helpful Hints and Tips (AKA: things someone told me or that I had wished I knew prior to the hike):
- I am a budget traveler, so I found this trip to be a bit expensive. Here’s a breakdown of what I spent:
— 5600 yen for my round trip bus ticket to and from Shinjuku
— 7600 yen for my stay at the Toriiso Hut and for the 2 meals they fed me (I was told by a friend that I should get the meals, and I was glad I did)
— Hiking stick: 1000 yen
— Stamps on the way up (at least 10 huts plus 6 stamps at the summit): around 3000 yen
— Incidentals on the hike (remember, I didn’t bring enough food and you must pay for bathrooms): around 5000 yen
— Pre hike meal and post hike meal: 1000 yen each for a total of 2000 yen
That brings the total to around 24000 yen (near $240). That’s way more than I expected to spend, so make sure you budget wisely. It was pretty miserable when I ran out of food and only had 800 yen left in my pocket. I devoured 6 small sponge cakes at the 5th station while waiting to board the bus to return to Tokyo because that’s all I could afford.
- There are tons of coin lockers at the 5th station, but they aren’t always in plain sight. Many of them are on the second floor of the shops and restaurants. The impression I got was that everyone knew about these lockers and brought an extra pair of clothes to change into and left them in the lockers. (everything you bring on the hike will be covered in red dust, so you must leave clothes in the lockers if you want them to be clean) What this meant was that I was the only one on the bus back to Tokyo smelly and covered in dirt. It also meant that when I was on the train in Tokyo that no one wanted to sit next to me. 🙂
- I am a really, really, really slow hiker (I won’t confess how long it took me to hike Fuji, but lets just say that I was pretty close to the last person to reach the summit) so I booked my bus back to Shinjuku for pretty late in the afternoon. I got to back to the 5th station about 3 hours prior to my departure time. I wanted to leave earlier so the bus attendant was able to switch my reservation time.
- There are no trash cans on the mountain, not even at the 5th station. Plan to carry your trash with you the entire hike.
- If you have a Japanese cell phone you will probably have service for most of the hike. I have Softbank and never once lost service. With this being said, my battery was drained. I have an Iphone and in order to preserve the battery I turned it to airplane mode (settings, then slide the switch the on next to airplane mode). When I wanted to use data or make a call I just turned airplane mode off. I also purchased a battery powered charger for 1000 yen so I could recharge my Iphone since I was also using it to listen to music and to take picture.