Destination fuji

In Search of Goraiko: Destination Fuji (How To Climb Mt. Fuji)

The  beauty of the Japanese language, in my opinion, rests in the existence of a myriad of words used to describe very specific feelings that are often thought to be difficult to put into words. Let me elaborate. The Japanese word “goraiko” (ご来光) can be defined as the sunrise from Mt. Fuji, and sometimes as the overwhelming feeling you get when witnessing said sunrise. This feeling is often thought to be a sacred experience, as the sun is considered to be godly or god-like.

Of course this word does not exist in the English language, but I was still determined to experience its meaning. After all, how can we truly understand a feeling unless we have previously experienced it ourselves? And with that, I made the (crazy) decision to hike to the peak of Mount Fuji, a World Heritage Site and Japan’s highest mountain. At night. Oh my!

What will follow are general Fuji hiking tips mixed in with an account of my own personal experience.

No this isn't Shinjuku station- even the summit of Fuji is super crowded during the hiking season.

No this isn’t Shinjuku station- even the summit of Fuji is super crowded during the hiking season.

Preparation and the Great Fuji Myth

As far as mountain climbing is concerned, Fuji is by no means a difficult climb. Or so they say. Fuji is often advertised as being a mountain that anyone, regardless of level or age, can climb. This should really be taken with a grain of salt. After all, how easy could climbing 3,776 meters for 5-10+ hours be? Realistically, hiking Fuji should not be underestimated and you MUST prepare adequately. Only you can know your own limits, but if you have difficulties climbing up a flight of stairs (as I sometimes do) then you will obviously have difficulties climbing Fuji.

These hikers were well prepared, and they made it to the top!

These hikers were well prepared, and they made it to the top!

Fuji has an official hiking season, early July to early-mid September. This is when most people will climb the mountain, and this is also when I decided to climb. Outside of peak season, climbing Fuji is much, much more challenging, and only experienced hikers are advised to climb. Though it is considerably less congested, temperatures dip well below zero, and the rest huts along the trails are not open for business so you must be bring everything you need.

What you should absolutely have:

  1. HIKING BOOTS. Confession: I climbed Fuji wearing the wrong footwear. I was told that you can rent hiking boots at station 5 of the Fujinomiya trail, however I did not have time to rent any as the rental place closes at 3p.m. Be wary of this! Going up Fuji I was relatively fine with my definitely-not-made-for-hiking sneakers, but on the way down… absolute hell! So please, please, please make sure you bring adequate footwear!
  1. Water! And food! And yen! Yes, you can purchase things to eat or drink along the trail, but the general formula on Fuji is “as altitude increases, prices also increase”. You must keep hydrated as you climb, so it’s good to have plenty of water- as much as you are willing to carry but not less than 1-2L. As far as food goes, the usual hiking foods will do: trail mixes, protein bars, replacement meals, and the like. As for the money, you will need between 200-300 yen each time you use the bathrooms at the rest huts, so plan accordingly.
  2. Layers of warm clothing. It gets very, very cold! Even if at the bottom you are dying from hyperthermia, realize that you may be dying of hypothermia by the time you go up. So bring extra layers, scarves, gloves, hats, blankets, a heated kotatsu table (just kidding on this last one… maybe), etc.
  3. Flashlight, preferably a “head light”. I did not have a head light, but most people did. This will allow you to see while you climb in the dark with both hands free. Very convenient.
Remeber to bring a buddy! Or two!

Remeber to bring a buddy! Or two!

5. At least one buddy! So, you could theoretically climb alone. During hiking season the mountain is literally packed with people so you will technically never ever be alone, but it’s always nice to have someone with you who can help you if anything were to happen. Also my hiking buddies really helped keep me motivated. I am convinced that if I did not have someone with me I would not have gotten to the peak.

  1. Probably something else, but I forget.

Fujinomiya Trail-blazin’

There are four trails you can take to reach the peak. Varying in difficulty and location, each trail offers a slightly different experience. As I live in Shizuoka prefecture, I hiked on a trail starting from there (one trail begins in Yamanashi prefecture)- the Fujinomiya trail. This is a good choice for the less experienced hikers because it has plenty of rest stations along the way. The trail begins at Station 5, 2,400m along the mountain. The peak is Station 10, but this is a bit misleading because there are more than just stations 6, 7, 8, and 9 along the way. There also exists “Old Station 7”, and Station 9.5.

Hiking along the Fujinomiya trail alongside the clouds.

Hiking the Fujinomiya trail alongside the clouds.

During the hiking season, rest stations are equipped with rest huts where you can sleep if you choose to, but that will cost about 6,000 yen depending on the season, and you do need reservations. Fortunately, you do not need to sleep at the huts if you choose not to, and there is some floor room and benches outside of the huts where you can still pull out your blanket and rest for a bit. These rest stations also sell food, drinks, souvenir brand markings for your walking sticks, and bathroom access. It is advisable to rest anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour at any of these stations in order to adjust to the altitude and avoid altitude sickness. My group rested at station 5 for over an hour before beginning, and we spent about 20-30 min at each subsequent station after wards, with intermittent mini-rests throughout, as necessary.

Be prepared for breathtaking views!

Be prepared for breathtaking views!

My experience on the Fujinomiya trail going up was this: during the first 20 minutes I started out waaay too fast, and decided “wow, this is so hard, I can’t do it!”. Definitely you want to keep a very slow and steady pace when you go up… going too fast can really deplete you of oxygen, especially at these altitudes! Personal rule: I don’t always go slow, but when I do, it’s when I hike Mt. Fuji.

Please go at your own pace, drink lots of water, and when you feel like you want to give up (you may feel this a lot), please remember that something special is waiting for you at the top.

Nirvana!

Right before the sun rise...

Right before the sun rise…

...And there it is!

…And there it is!

There is a point on the Fuji hike where you will know that all of the difficulty was worth it- reaching the peak.

Watching the sun rise from the highest point in Japan is absolutely a moment you will remember and cherish for your entire life. No exaggeration. If there is a reason Japan is known as the land of the rising sun, this is it. I won’t describe this moment too much, but I will invite you to try and experience this for yourself at least once in your life.

Post-sunrise, the top of Fuji has much to offer. You can mail a postcard letting your loved ones know you are alive at the peak’s post office, visit a temple where you can purchase charms, walk around and enjoy the scenery, take a peek at Fuji’s very own crater (did you forget that this thing you were climbing was a volcano?), take a nap at the summit, or eat cup ramen at the tenth station.

It does get a bit congested, but I would recommend really soaking up the peak and looking at the volcanic landscape, the rocks, the tori gates, the views…

The Mount Fuji Descent: Descending the 9 Inner Circles of Hell

Beautiful yet deadly- the Mt. Fuji descent.

Beautiful yet deadly- the Mt. Fuji descent.

“That which goes up must also come back down.” – A Wise Man (also, a panicked realization of many people at the peak of a mountain)

Once you’ve reached peak, the only way down is… The way you came up from. Yes, you will have to face the tortuous trail once more! If you are on the Fujinomiya trail, you use the same path to go both up and down, so it can become quite congested during hiking season. You should factor this in with the estimated time it will take you to go back down.

For whatever reason, Fuji guide books say you can descend Fuji in as few as 2 hours. I think this may only be true if you literally jump off the top and fall to the bottom, because I found the Fuji descent to be much, much more difficult than the ascent (although it definitely does take less time). Remember that you probably have not slept in hours, and have just climbed up a mountain, so do not think you have to descend quickly. Take your time and be safe!

Climbing down gravely terrain means you should expect to fall on your bum at least once (or in my case, closer to one thousand times), so make sure you maintain a good pace as to not tumble down the wrong way and get seriously injured.

Yes, some people can run down Fuji and be done in just a few hours, but my guess is that they hail from Krypton and are thus super humans. If this sounds like you, then no need to worry too much about the descent.

Other than that, stay alert! And expect to hear many ohayo’s and konnichiwa’s from friendly hikers that pass you on your way up.

PFSD- Post Fuji Stress Disorder

It's been real, Fuji...

It’s been real, Fuji…

After Fuji you will be beat- in pain, exhausted, starving, and personally, I never wanted to even look at a mountain ever again… so, I fell into the deepest sleep of my life.

It was amazing.

And after that, you can do what I did and reflect back on what was accomplished- I just hiked to the top of Japan’s highest mountain! Check THAT off the bucket list!

“一度も登らない馬鹿、2度登る馬鹿” – “
You are a fool if you never climb it (Mt. Fuji), you are twice the fool if you climb it more than once”.

Author Bio
Elena Galindo

Elena Galindo

Born and bred in Italy's very own version of the inaka, or "la campagna", Elena is excited to be an ALT in the green tea field haven that is Shizuoka. Elena has an unhealthy weakness for overly salty foods, questionable fashion choices, and wide-brim hats, all of which are eerily abundant there...

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