Many of my friends have climbed Mt. Fuji, but one story sticks out the most. One friend said that he took the task lightly since “everyone seemed to be able to do it.” He almost went in sandals, but was advised at the last minute to change shoes. He did go hungover, though.
If you ask him about his experience, “misery” sums up what he went through. It even started raining during his climb, which he was also unprepared for. A fellow climber kindly gave him a garbage bag to use as a poncho. My friend eventually made it to the top, where he said, in his state of disarray and exhaustion, he had the best instant ramen ever.
To have a better experience than that guy, here are a few cultural insights and climbing tips that may help you along your journey.
1. Mt. Fuji is, and has always been, considered sacred.
Shrines are scattered throughout the mountainside today, and in the past, the grounds were used as training for Shinto and Buddhist monks, as well as samurai. The first known climber was a monk in 663.
2. Women were not allowed to climb Mt. Fuji until 1912.
Women were banned because of the sacredness of the mountain, but were welcome to join in on the pilgrimage to the top by 1912. In fact, on your way up, a grandma will probably pass you.
3. Climbing Mt. Fuji is a local affair.
Of the 200,000 climbers each year, 70 percent are Japanese, and only 30 percent are foreign residents and tourists. This shows that the mountain holds a strong cultural importance.
4. The climbing season is less than 2 months long.
So the lackadaisical tourist shouldn’t “wing it.” Make plans to go between July 1 and August 27 when the weather is stable but note that temperatures can average between 5 to 8 degrees Celsius during that time. The rest of the year, climbing is closed to tourists because the weather can be brutal and dangerous.
5. Mt. Fuji received UNESCO status only recently—in 2013.
Why did it take so long for this beautiful sight to be honored? Because the climbing season is so short, it took a while for the significance to be recognized. In addition, the beauty of Mt. Fuji was threatened by littering climbers. UNESCO finally recognized Fuji’s cultural, historical and spiritual value, so please be mindful of your trash and keep the mountain sacred.
6. The most popular trail is Yoshidaguchi, which is accessed from the Kawaguchiko 5th station.
This fact should not deter you from this path. The reason it is well-traveled is because there are small restaurants, vending machines, souvenirs and rest stops on the way. Just make sure to keep on the same trail down or you will end up descending on the wrong side of the mountain.
7. The climb isn’t easy.
There is a saying: “Climbing Mt. Fuji once is an achievement, but climbing it twice is stupidity.” Another reason people take the Yoshidaguchi trail is because they need the support to battle hardships such as steep paths, sudden drops in temperature, wind, rain and altitude sickness. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes, dress in layers and have either oxygen or medication for the altitude.
8. Most people try to make it to the peak for sunrise, or goraiko.
The term is beautiful; it specifically refers to the sunrise seen from the top of Mt. Fuji. To do this, most people take a bus to the Kawaguchiko 5th station and start the hike between 8 and 9 p.m. and make the climb overnight. Although it will be a tiring journey, goraiko is spectacular, and the way down will take significantly less time.
9. NTT Docomo provides Wi-Fi service at the top of Mt. Fuji.
Sign up with Docomo before you start the journey and enjoy Wi-Fi service at various rest points along the way to the top. You made it! You deserve to gloat on social media. And maybe e-mail your mother and tell her you are all right.
10. Soak in an onsen at the end of your journey.
Take advantage of Mt. Fuji’s geothermal activity and book a night at a hotel or ryokan around Mt. Fuji to recover from your climb. Some places may provide a scenic view of Mt. Fuji from the room or from the onsen. There are five beautiful lakes situated around the mountain, and one of them, Lake Kawaguchi, provides a perfect reflection of Fuji-san.
Good luck on your journey to the top. May you have an amazing, and perhaps spiritual, journey. Knowing the cultural significance and being prepared for possible physical hardships will help you make the best of your adventurous climb. And of course, don’t forget to use NTT Docomo’s Wi-Fi to post a breathtaking, probably sweaty, sunrise selfie on top of the world.