Climbing Mount Fuji was the icing on the cake for me after a 5-star, first-time trip to Japan.
I’d covered a lot of ground on an intense, jam-packed, 4-weeks trip and decided to say “Sayonara” to the Land of The Rising Sun, but not before having a crack at summiting her tallest peak.
If you’re interested in climbing Mount Fuji yourself one day, this guide is designed to answer all the questions that I had before I made my way to Japan, with this popular bucket list item in mind.
Meet Mount Fuji: Japan’s Tallest Mountain
62 miles southwest of Tokyo, you’ll find Japan’s largest peak, Mount Fuji. Commonly referred to as “Fuji-san”, this iconic symbol of Japan is a stratovolcano rising 3,776 metres (12,388 feet) above sea level, centrally-located in the country. Mount Fuji is part of Japan’s Fuji-Hakone-Izu National park, along with the town of Hakone, the Fuji Five Lakes, Izu Peninsula, and the Izu Islands.
Fuji’s defining feature is its remarkably symmetrical cone which is covered in snow for roughly 5 months a year. While it’s considered to be an active volcano, there hasn’t been an eruption since 1707, and as a result is a favourite destination among tourists and mountain climbers. In 2013, Mount Fuji was granted UNESCO World Heritage status, and is also revered as one of the Three Holy Mountains (along with Mount Haku and Mount Tate)
As far back as the 7th century, Mount Fuji has been a sacred site for practitioners of Japan’s Shinto religion, with shrines scattered around the base of the volcano and along it’s ascent. Up until the 1860’s women were forbidden from the mountain, and ancient samurai would train at its base near present-day Gotemba.
The first recorded foreigner to climb Mount Fuji was British diplomat Sir Rutherford Alcock in 1860. It took him 8 hours to reach the summit and 3 hours to return to base. 7 years later, the first non-Japanese woman, Lady Fanny Parkes ascended it. In 2009, an estimated 300,000 people climbed Mount Fuji.
How To Get To Mount Fuji
Most travellers to Japan will spend some time in the capital city of Tokyo, which is the closest big city to Mount Fuji. In fact, on clear days you can see Fuji’s looming presence in the distance. There are a few ways you can get from Tokyo to Mount Fuji; by bus, train, or via tour.
The cheapest way to get there is by bus, and there are direct routes that run all day long, from 6:20am to 9:20pm, with the majority of buses leaving in the morning. Getting to the mountain takes anywhere from 2 to 2.5 hours depending on traffic, so plan on it being a long day if you’re doing a day trip.
Also, the local buses will bring you to the Mount Fuji area, but they don’t drop you off directly at the base of the mountain. To get there, you’ll take a bus from Tokyo to Kawaguchiko Station , and then take a second bus from Kawaguchiko Station to Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, where the lookout point and Base Camp are. This bus runs hourly and will take an additional 50 minutes.
In the months of July to mid-September when climbs are most frequent, you can take the Keio Express bus from downtown Tokyo directly to 5th Station (the most popular starting point for climbing Mount Fuji) at the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal. This bus costs ¥2600 ($25 USD) and sells out quickly, so it’s recommended to book it in advance online.
This (slower) train costs more and takes longer than the bus, the advantage it has is that you’ll enjoy scenic mountain and lake views along the way. The Fuji Excursion Limited Express train is your best option, and it leaves from Shinjuku Station to Kawaguchiko Station. You’ll then have to take a local bus to get to 5th Station.
The train leaves for Fuji only in the morning, and is limited to two departures on weekdays, and 3 departures on weekends. The return train back to Tokyo runs at 5:38pm, so plan accordingly.
Japan’s famous bullet train, The Shinkansen, is the other train you can take to get to the Mount Fuji area although it doesn’t take you to Base Camp. The Tokaido Shinkansen train leaves from Tokyo and ends at Odawara Station. From there you’ll switch to a local Hakone Tozan train and get off at the Hakone-Itabashi station. The Fuji Five Lakes are here and provide some of the best views of Mount Fuji.
A big reminder for first-timers visiting Japan; you can only get your bullet train tickets outside of Japan, so make sure you do your due diligence if you want to take the bullet train at any time during your trip to Japan.
Climbing Mount Fuji can be done by going on a group tour. There are different tours you can choose from (single day or multi-day) and they’ll transport you to and from the mountain by private bus. Most tours will designate a meeting point (usually at a train station), and leave in the early morning hours.
The Best Time of Year To Climb Mount Fuji
If you want to climb Mount Fuji in the best possible weather, go between the months of July and mid-September. Not only will you have ideal conditions, but all the trails and mountain facilities are open during this time. The temperatures are relatively mild during these months, and most of the snow will be gone.
Peak season coincides with summer holidays (July 20 to August 31), with the busiest time being Obon Week, where there’s so many people climbing Fuji that you’ll have to wait in queues at times. For the least amount of foot traffic, try to climb it during a weekday in the first half of July.
From the months of October to March, the mountain is closed to the public. Mid-April to June is considered the shoulder season, but be prepared for a difficult climb as the mountain will still have plenty of snow and ice for that extra workout you weren’t quite sure you’d signed up for.
Can You Climb Mount Fuji Independently?
Ascending Mount Fuji on your own is possible, (I did it) and I’d consider myself a beginner climber back then, as this was the highest I’d ever attempted. Climbing Mount Fuji (in just one day) gave me the confidence to summit Mount Kinabalu in one day, a few months after Fuji, before taking on the likes of much naughtier mountains, such as Mount Elbrus years later.
So to wrap it up, climbing Mount Fuji without a guide is completely legal and it’s absolutely doable as a newbie if you are reasonably conditioned.
It’s generally safe and I didn’t get lost, with the exception of one time in the dark when I strayed off course a little for about 15 minutes, but it was all good in the end. I hiked the least popular trail, so I had less people to follow until later on, and I don’t have the greatest sense of direction…so if I can do it…(you know the rest).
There were a few dicy incidents over the years (7 people died climbing it during the 2017 off-season), resulting in more stringent regulations being implemented for climbers.
Climbers who wish to scale it in the offseason now have to complete and submit a Climbing Plan, which must be approved before you can start your climb.
Cost of Climbing Mount Fuji
The cost of climbing Mount Fuji varies, as some days are cheaper than others, and DIY’ing the mountain will be cheaper than if you go with a guided tour. Most people climb the mountain over 2 days, so that adds to the price as well.
For the most part, a guided tour on a weekday in the off-season costs ¥33,500 ($300 USD), and if you go on a weekend or holiday it will be an additional ¥20,000 ($180 USD). If you want to go with a tour in the peak season, you’re looking at around ¥50,000 for a group tour and up to ¥100,000 ($900 USD) for a private guide.
If you’re going solo, you can take the bus from Tokyo and do the 2-day trek for under ¥20,000 ($150 USD). Contrary to popular belief, there’s no actual fee to climb the mountain. Things you’ll pay for are transportation, guide fees (if on a tour), equipment rental fees (ie. walking stick, warm weather gear, etc.), use of a toilet, mountain hut accommodations, and food.
Climbing Mount Fuji solo? Expect to pay $9USD as a “donation” to enter the park. Nice one.
Can You Climb Mount Fuji in One Day?
If you’re an avid climber, you can climb Mount Fuji in a day (aka the “Bullet Climb”) and it can take anywhere from 5 to 10 hours to complete (this is what I did). However, the majority of people do a 2-day trek due to the difficulty of the climb, and to avoid altitude sickness, or maybe they’re just not suckers for punishment like me and they want to just have fun and take in the beauty (I’m working on it).
There are 4 station points where you’ll find huts for overnight stays to help you acclimatise while on the mountain. It’s recommended to pre book these as they sell out and you don’t want to be caught sleeping outside on the rocky mountain floor.
- 5th station: 2,300m (7,550 ft)
- 6th station: 2,325m (7,630 ft)
- 7th station: 2,700 – 3,000m (8,860 – 9,840 ft)
- 8th station: 3,100 – 3,400m (10,170 – 11,150 ft)
Although it’s “not recommended,” by the park, the Bullet Climb can be done in one of two ways. Either wake up early and scale the mountain and be back to 5th station Base Camp at 5pm, or start your climb mid-day and do an overnight hike so you can see the sunrise from the summit.
5(ish) Established Routes For Climbing Mount Fuji
There are 4 routes for you to choose from for your climb, last one is optional (but not generally recommended).
The Yoshida trail is the most popular one, and starts at an elevation of 2,305m (7,560 ft) at the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station. The ascent time is roughly 5 to 7 hours, with descent being 3 to 5 hours. It’s a fairly straightforward trail although its popularity means it can get congested at times. The sunrise is easily seen from any point on this trail, which is great in case you don’t make it to the summit in time.
This trail is located at a lower altitude of 1,950m (6,398ft), and starts on the eastern side of the mountain at the Subashiri 5th Station. This is a challenging 8km trek to the summit, but there are plenty of stations along the way for you to rest at. The Subashiri trail takes roughly the same amount of time as the Yoshida trail, but it’s less busy and even has a detour trail to a small peak on the mountain called Kofuji (Little Fuji).
At an elevation of only 1,400m (4,593 ft), Gotemba is the least developed of Mount Fuji’s trails and ascending it takes anywhere from 7 to 10 hours from Gotemba 5th Station. The upside is that it’s the least populated of Fuji’s 4 trails. However, due to its lack of development, there are no huts, toilets, or emergency facilities until you get to 7th station.
The trail has a gentle slope and is good for those who can deal with large altitude changes, and you can see the sunrise anywhere on it, however it is prone to dense fog which can be disorienting.
In contrast to Gotemba, Fujinomiya is the shortest trek, starting at Fujinomiya 5th Station which has an elevation of 2,380m (7,808 ft). It takes between 4 and 7 hours to ascend and 2 to 4 hour to descend. Fujinomiya is the second most popular trail with a round-trip distance of 8.6 miles (13.8km), however it’s also steep and rocky. While It tends to get crowded, the trail branches off to Hoeizan, a secondary peak that offers panoramic views where you can see the Pacific Ocean and Tokyo.
My very own path, could easily be named “The Fools Itinerary” too. I walked 4 hours from my hotel in town, up to station 5 and then hiked up the Gotemba Trail and back down again in one day. My invented nicknames aside, Climbing Mount Fuji in one day is legitimately named “The Bullet Climb,” and I did that plus some more.
I’m not putting it here because I think I’m a superior badass, or that you should try and emulate me in some sort of weird climbing Mount Fuji, willy-measuring contest.
As I stated earlier, I really like to push myself with endurance challenges, however I have to hold my hands up high here and admit that I massively got my time estimations wrong. English is not widely-spoken in Japan and I screwed up with my map…thinking it would only be an extra hour.
Those extra 4 hours really took it out of me, but I made it up and down in one piece. Just promise me that if you do the same fuck up as me, you’ll refer to it as “The Middleton Route.” Cheers.
Packing List for Climbing Mount Fuji
To survive your time on the mountain, make sure you bring the following items:
- Food & Water: You’ll need energy so bring enough snacks and drinks to sustain you. If you’re staying overnight, your accommodation will provide you with meals.
- Sun Protection: Being exposed on the mountain means you’ll spend hours under the sun. Wear sunscreen and bring sunglasses. Headwear is important too (especially for the folically challenged), and a warm hat is recommended for when it gets nippy.
- Clothes: Fuji’s climate changes as you ascend/descend, so dress in layers. Ensure that your clothes and outdoor apparel can withstand wind and low temperatures, as the average summit temperature is -7°C (19.4°F), and the warmest it gets is 5°C (41°F).
- Gear: Proper hiking shoes with ankle support (although I did it in trainers with terrible grip as a newbie), gloves, walking sticks, and hand warmers are all going to help you reach Fuji’s peak. A headlamp is an absolute must if you’ll be hiking in the dark.
- First Aid Kit: There are emergency facilities on the mountain but taking a basic first aid kit is a no-brainer. Make sure it’s supplied with bandages, Band-aids, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointment, sterile gauze pads, and adhesive tape.
- Mobile Reception: Mount Fuji provides 72 hours of WIFI for climbers in spots along ascent, but you should always keep some data as a backup.
- Phone Battery Backup: Bring a battery backup pack to charge your phone in case you run out of power.
Travel Insurance vs Extreme Sports Insurance for Climbing Mount Fuji
If you’re climbing Mount Fuji and you have travel insurance, you’ll need to double check it to see what it covers. Most travel insurance companies won’t cover a climb such as Fuji’s, due to the high altitude (mine does, and they’re the best digital nomads/travel insurance on the market).
If your travel insurance won’t cover you, you can purchase extreme sports insurance on your package.
Climbing Mount Fuji: My Experience of Summiting the Highest Mountain in Japan
As previously mentioned in my embarrassing revelation, I got my bearings wrong – and speaking of which…there was a panicky period where I was lost in the forest and I kept seeing signs for warnings of bears!
Now I am yet to see a bear in the wild (even though I’ve been to Canada 3 times) and it’s on my bucket list, but it’s safe to say I’m happy I didn’t achieve this goal on my own, off-piste in Japan.
After paying the 1000 Japanese yen entrance fee (a steal at $9 USD) I knew I was way behind my schedule for seeing the sunrise from the very top of Mount Fuji, but my relief for finally getting there superseded my anxiety (a little).
With my daypack on, snacks abound and 5 litres of water – I got my back into it. As I had organised this on the fly, it turned out that the Gotemba Trail was the least-travelled route, which is great as there are less queues – definitely a positive for someone like me who is impatient.
However, there are extra challenges one must be aware of if they take the Gotemba Trail, (especially if you do it as a Bullet Climb).
One issue was I got slightly lost on the mountain at one point in the dark (I left my hotel for the climb at 7pm). No one told me that I was going the wrong way (remember Japanese people don’t widely speak English and it wasn’t too busy anyway), but something just ‘felt’ off, so I gathered my bearings and in the distance could see some headlights going up, so I corrected the course accordingly.
It’s not a nice feeling when you’re alone and that happens, a worse version of me could easily have overreacted, but I had my head together on that night and everything was fine. It’s something to consider though, as I keep reading online that it’s “impossible” to get lost climbing Mount Fuji.
Not all routes are created equal (especially The Middleton Route) and most authors online claiming this are talking about more popular routes, so they’re right – it’s harder to get lost when there are more people to follow.
Night time + a quiet Gotemba = more challenges.
The other challenge is that “stations” 6 and 7 are not really stations at all, just a couple of planks of wood. So there are less places to rest compared to the other routes for climbing Mount Fuji.
I was down on my hunkers around station 7 when I met a lovely Japanese father and son hiking together. We spoke in 2/10 broken English plus hand signals/gestures until station 8, which was around 4 am.
Ideally, I wanted to see the sunrise from the very top of Mount Fuji. But sometimes it’s just not meant to be and with my earlier Mount Fuji logistical errors, I decided to do something I should do more often; stop and smell the roses.
So I sat with the young boy and his father, exchanging awkward, but genuine smiles until the big event…sunrise at Mount Fuji. Wow. It was spectacular and another positive for the Gotemba Trail. I didn’t know this at the time, but from this route you can see the sun rise perfectly from anywhere on that trek.
When weighing up the pros and cons of this trail, this one is surely a biggie. Japan’s nickname “The Land of The Rising Sun” was not lost on me in this beautiful and powerful moment.
Fresh from the rest and revitalised by the sun, I got up there with extra bounce in my step… I was a new man and my spirit animal was definitely a mountain goat.
The rocks closer to the top were even steeper, but within a couple of hours I was at the very top of Japan and absolutely elated. It’s been said that happiness is only real when shared, but I was in a complete state of bliss on my own.
Or maybe it was because of the connection with the father and son, us watching in awe the beauty of the sunrise together? Perhaps I was just delirious with altitude sickness! Who knows? It felt amazing and with Japan’s impressive technology, I had full bars on my phone to call my mate back in the UK from my Skype account.
I’ve since seen people complain about the commercialisation of Japan’s most famous nature landmark. I do get it, I’ve felt exactly the same way before about other destinations. Admittedly, I did not give two shits on this day; I was relatively new to travel and I was having the time of my life.
I got some shut eye at the top after photos, stocking up on more water and hoovering up a big bowl of noodles. I woke up about an hour later and began to make my descent.
Climbing Mount Fuji taught me a valuable lesson about mountains at this point; coming down the mountain is often as hard as getting up it and the hard work isn’t done once you’ve summited. It’s very slippery and with my legs already feeling like led after the absurdly extra activity I’d given myself, I kept falling on my arse.
A Japanese man roughly 60-years-old, kept doing the same thing, both of us in fits of frenzied laughter each time. He was going at some impressive speed, but I wasn’t too surprised after learning in Okinawa that people of this nation do not let age slow them down.
He offered me a lift back to my hotel when we got to the bottom (which at this time in my exhausted state, I would have struggled on foot, or to even communicate by taxi). I could have kissed the man, what a champ!
Roughly 14 hours after setting off, I was back in my hotel bed, after a glorious shower and I’d fallen asleep with the lights still on, as I was so spent.
If I was to do it again (I won’t, the Japanese even have a saying for this; “A wise man climbs Mount Fuji once, only a fool climbs it twice.” 一度も登らぬ馬鹿、二度登る馬鹿) I would pack some gaiters, as the stones getting in your shoes on the way down becomes annoying very fast.
Also, I suffered heartache after climbing Mount Fuji. I’m a sentimental guy and I climbed Fuji-san with a traditional Japanese walking stick, with the name/number of each station carved into it in Japanese. I sent it home to the UK and it got lost in the post.
Devastating blow for a wistful wanderer.
If you are a sucker for nostalgia like myself, hold onto that until you’re home (if possible) and pay the extra for awkward shaped luggage on your flight.
Climbing Mount Fuji was the perfect swan song to my time in Japan, but I agree with the Japanese quote…once is enough for me.