“”If you come to Japan and don’t climb Mt. Fuji, you’re a fool; but if you climb it more than once, you’re an even BIGGER fool.” Old Japanese Proverb
Why This Mountain?
Tami went to Tokyo, Japan about 10 years ago for three days of work. She always wished she had stayed longer and explored Japan more because she found the city to be fascinating. 52 Peaks will be a chance to revisit Tokyo and also cross Kyoto off the bucket list. Mt. Fuji looks to be a beautiful mountain in all the pictures and it’s a peak Tami has wanted to hike for a couple of years. We wanted to include Asia during the year and stopping in Japan as we fly west to east back to the states seemed a logical choice. This will be the last peak on the first international leg. After Japan, Team 52 heads back to the states!
Mountain & Route Facts
Mt. Fuji is 12,389 feet high and is the highest mountain in Japan. It is an active volcano that last erupted in 1707-8. Mount Fuji’s exceptionally symmetrical cone, which is snow-capped several months a year, is a well-known symbol of Japan and it is frequently depicted in art and photographs, as well as visited by sightseers and climbers.
Mount Fuji is one of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains” along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku. It is also a Special Place of Scenic Beauty and one of Japan’s Historic Sites. It was added to the World Heritage List as a Cultural Site on June 22, 2013.
It is thought that the first recorded ascent was in 663 by an anonymous monk. The first ascent by a foreigner was by Sir Rutherford Alcock in September 1868. The summit has been thought of as sacred since ancient times and was forbidden to women until the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Ancient samurai used the base of the mountain as a remote training area.
Mt. Fuji is a frequent subject of Japanese art especially after 1600, when Edo (now Tokyo) became the actual capital and people saw the mountain while traveling on the Tōkaidō road. Among the most renowned works are Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji and his One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, as well as Utagawa Hiroshige’s similarly titled 36 Views of Mount Fuji. The mountain is mentioned in Japanese literature throughout the ages and is the subject of many poems.
We hiked the mountain by the most popular trail, the Yoshida Trail in one day (a long day). The trail is a lollipop loop. You head up the right side for the way up and then down the other side for the way down. The last couple of miles are the same for the ascent and descent. For the first couple of miles down, you will actually descend by the Subashiri Trail (before it merges back up with the Yoshida descending trail).
The top of Mt. Fuji is a volcanic crater. There are a number of peaks on the rim surrounding the crater and the Yoshida Trail arrives at the Kusushi Shrine. This is not the true summit. The actual highest point on Mt. Fuji, at 12,389 ft, is Kengamine Peak, which is on the opposite side of the crater from the Kusushi Shrine. We walked the entire crater’s edge to reach Kengamine. This walk, which is about an extra 1.5 miles, is called ohachi-meguri. The Yoshida route, including the crater walk and reaching Kengamine, is 11.3 miles with an elevation gain of 5,741. There are places where the terrain is mild scree and it’s tough on the feet for the descent. On the way up there are some boulders, but they can be hiked through with minimal hand assist. We went during the hottest season in Japan, but on the mountain the weather was reasonable and even crisp at times. We needed a jacket at the top and for some of the descent.
It is believed that Mt. Fuji is the most hiked mountain in the world, so we were expecting large crowds, but it really wasn’t that bad (and there was a marathon going on at the summit the day we were there). The Mt. Fuji walking stick is an amazing souvenir. At each station on the mountain (about 15), you get a “chop” or stamp of that station to prove you have traveled up the mountain to reach that point! Mt. Fuji is unique from any mountain I have ever been on in that there is so many structures to support the hikers. The summit has an entire village of shops and restaurants. There is a functioning shrine and even a post office! There are about 15 stations in which you can stop for food and the bathroom. If you are okay with Japanese food, then you don’t need to carry food or extra water. There are also cokes and candy bars at most stations. In four stations, you can stay the night. Be aware that the stations with sleeping areas are long bunks in which a number of people squeeze in side to side. You will likely be sleeping up close and personal with a stranger! However, staying at a station to break Mt. Fuji into two days would be our recommendation (it’s recommended to book a bed in advance, but we did see vacancies). It’s a lot of ascent and descent to squeeze into one day. This is a challenging hike due to 1000 feet of gain per mile on both the ascent and descent and at over 12,000 feet, you are hiking in higher altitude for the majority of the hike. It took us over 11 hours to hike Fuji in one day (we did stop at every station to get the stamp and spent a considerable time at the summit).
If you are going to do it in one day, be sure to start very early, around 5am. This will require about a $150 cab ride to the 5th Station trailhead as buses do not run until at 8:30 from the town of Kawaguichiko. Also be sure to check the schedule for buses leaving the 5th Station trailhead to return to Kawaguichiko. They typically stop running around 6:30 or 7pm. The town of Kawaguichiko is about a 2.5 hour train ride from Tokyo, so if you are doing it in one day, be sure to arrive the day before. The train system in Japan can also be confusing, so give yourself plenty of time to get a train into Kawaguichiko. If your hotel offers shuttle pick-up from the train station, the last shuttle is typically 6:30pm.
The other note about Japan, in general, is that it is expensive and there is an extra charge for everything. If you are getting the souvenir walking stick stamped, it’s 300 Yen (about $3) at each station (about 15 stations). On the mountain, the bathroom is 200 Yen (about $2) each station. ATMs are typically either in 7-Eleven or the Post Office, but save yourself the hassle and bring plenty of Yen from home. Plan on spending at least double what you think you will spend!
However, it’s worth every cent. Mt. Fuji is a beautiful, unique mountain in a country with rich traditions and history. Add it to your bucket list today!
Historical and Cultural Information
Like many of the international countries we have visited over the past two months, Japan has a very long and rich history. The capital is Tokyo which is ranked as the #1 most populous city in the world. The currency is the Yen. Japan is a constitutional monarchy whereby the power of the Emperor is very limited. Akihito is the current Emperor of Japan. The current prime minister is Shinzō Abe. Japan has full religious freedom. Estimates are that about 90% of the population practice Buddhism or Shinto.
A Paleolithic culture around 30,000 BC constitutes the first known habitation of the Japanese archipelago. This was followed from around 14,000 BC (the start of the Jōmon period) by a Mesolithic to Neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer culture. The Yayoi period, starting around 500 BC, saw the introduction of practices like wet-rice farming, a new style of pottery, and metallurgy, introduced from China and Korea.
Japan first appears in written history in the Chinese Book of Han (111 AD). Despite early resistance, Buddhism was promoted by the ruling class and gained widespread acceptance beginning in the Asuka period (592–710).
The Nara period (710–784) of the 8th century marked an emergence of the centralized Japanese state centered on the Imperial Court in Heijō-kyō (modern Nara). The Nara period is characterized by the appearance of a nascent literature as well as the development of Buddhist-inspired art and architecture. The smallpox epidemic of 735–737 is believed to have killed as much as one-third of Japan’s population. In 784, Emperor Kanmu moved the capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyōbefore relocating it to Heian-kyō (modern Kyoto) in 794. This marked the beginning of the Heian period (794–1185), during which a distinctly indigenous Japanese culture emerged, noted for its art, poetry and prose. Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji and the lyrics of Japan’s national anthem Kimigayo were written during this time.
Japan’s feudal era was characterized by the emergence and dominance of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai. In 1185, following the defeat of the Taira clan in the Genpei War, sung in the epic Tale of Heike, samurai Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed shogun by Emperor Go-Toba, and he established a base of power in Kamakura. After his death, the Hōjō clan came to power as regents for the shoguns. The Zen school of Buddhism was introduced from China in the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and became popular among the samurai class. The Kamakura shogunate repelled Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281, but was eventually overthrown by Emperor Go-Daigo. Emperor Go-Daigo was himself defeated by Ashikaga Takauji in 1336.
During the 16th century, traders and Jesuit missionaries from Portugal reached Japan for the first time, initiating direct commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West. This allowed Oda Nobunaga to obtain European technology and firearms, which he used to conquer many other daimyo. His consolidation of power began what was known as the Azuchi–Momoyama period (1573–1603). After he was assassinated in 1582, his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi unified the nation in 1590 and launched two unsuccessful invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597.
On March 31, 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry and the “Black Ships” of the United States Navy forced the opening of Japan to the outside world with the Convention of Kanagawa. Subsequent similar treaties with Western countries in the Bakumatsu period brought economic and political crises. The resignation of the shogun led to the Boshin War and the establishment of a centralized state nominally unified under the Emperor (the Meiji Restoration).
The Meiji Restoration transformed the Empire of Japan into an industrialized world power that pursued military conflict to expand its sphere of influence. After victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), Japan gained control of Taiwan, Korea, and the southern half of Sakhalin. Japan’s population grew from 35 million in 1873 to 70 million in 1935.
World War I enabled Japan, on the side of the victorious Allies, to widen its influence and territorial holdings in Asia. In 1931 Japan invaded and occupied Manchuria and following international condemnation of this occupation, Japan resigned from the League of Nations in 1933. In 1936, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany, and the 1940 Tripartite Pact made it one of the Axis Powers.
On December 7–8, 1941, Japanese forces carried out surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor, British forces in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong and declared war on the United States and the United Kingdom, bringing the US and the UK into World War II in the Pacific. Following a series of defeats across the Pacific during 1942-1945, which culminated in the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender on August 15. The war cost Japan, it’s colonies, China and the war’s other combatants tens of millions of lives and left much of Japan’s industry and infrastructure destroyed.
In 1947, Japan adopted a new constitution emphasizing liberal democratic practices. The Allied occupation ended with the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952 and Japan was granted membership in the United Nations in 1956. Japan later achieved rapid growth to become the second-largest economy in the world, until surpassed by China in 2010. This ended in the mid-1990s when Japan suffered a major recession. In the beginning of the 21st century, positive growth has signaled a gradual economic recovery. On March 11, 2011, Japan suffered the strongest earthquake in its recorded history; this triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, one of the worst disasters in the history of nuclear power.