I know, I know… what lunatics hike Mt. Fuji in August, when even walking around Japan’s cities causes you to sweat in places you didn’t even know could produce sweat, and then have the nerve to critique the hike. That would be US! So if you want to be spared the grueling details of this hike before you go or just want to ride the Fujisan View Express around the mountain to take in all the views, please skip right over this post. ***Warning – this review is going to be brutally honest and not always positive*** So if you made it this far you are either super intrigued or want to see how much I can complain about this hike, then I’m sure you won’t be disappointed! Just kidding – sort of.
Mt. Fuji is known as a spiritual mountain for many different reasons and has various trails you can take to reach the summit. Most (smart) people start from the bus station that puts you at the 5th station (there are 8.5 stations), about halfway up and then hike through the night to the summit to watch sunrise. Most stations have expensive food and drinks for sale (e.g. 500 Yen ($5) for a 500ml/16oz bottle of water) as well as provide housing for those who made reservations, or if you’re lucky have any last minute vacancies. They also have at the 5th station a really cool, but slightly expensive souvenir walking stick that you can have branded with each stations’ own logo as a memento. You can also buy a smaller stick at the top with some of the logos already branded in for a lot cheaper and way smaller, which is what we did and it fit perfectly in our backpacks :).
Unlike 99.9% of people, we decided to do the Mt. Fuji Yoshida trail hike starting at the Fujisan Sengen Shrine, which is actually really beautiful as it is set back into the woods a bit where you walk down a long lane surrounded by trees and statues and has various buildings and mini shrines to look at. Rid suggested that we start at the shrine to retrace the path that the ancient people use to take up to the summit and because it leads you through the lower forest lands before getting above the treeline, he said it would be prettier. Honestly, if it wasn’t so hot and humid, starting from the shrine would be awesome as it really was serene to walk through the different types of forest with no one else around (except for apparently a bear!). Being by ourselves for the first 4 hours led me to think maybe there would hardly be any people on the hike as it was a Tuesday night… that was a big MISTAKE but more on that later.
We would honestly only suggest starting from the shrine if you are completely prepared to walk around 18 miles total in about 13 hours (if you are planning on ending at the 5th station bus stop rather than returning to the very bottom). The wooded trail also had a lot of big steps and rocks, which made it pretty exhausting and slow moving in combination with the humidity and heat. Also, to be clear, while Stations 1-4 are located on this portion of the trail, these are all old, dilapidated buildings that haven’t been inhibited since the Edo period and have no snacks/beverages. We found that out the hard way…
Once you hit the 5th station, you are greeted with a river of people flowing in from the bus stop as well as those staying at the different lodges overnight. Seeing as we had already been hiking for 4.5 hours, we wanted to grab dinner and dry out a bit before going higher. A major bummer is that the lodges won’t serve you proper meals past 4:30 p.m. as they will start getting dinner ready for their guests, meaning you will be able to buy cup noodles or small snacks for way more than they’re worth (but you’ll be so hungry that you’ll pay the exorbitant amount easily!). If you are going to hike from the shrine, definitely bring a change of clothes to switch into at the 5th station as it starts to get really cold and being in sweaty clothes is miserable. Then put your headlamp on and get in line with everyone else making the long, hard slog up the mountain.
What really shocked us was the amount of people doing the hike overnight to watch sunrise as there had to have been about 2,000 people on the summit. In fact, one National Geographic post we read reckoned there were 400,000 people doing the hike between the June to August hiking season. For us, there were at least 10 tour groups of 20+ people as well as big groups of friends and families traveling together making the climb. All of this means that you’re hiking up in rush hour where you stand in single or double filed lines for a LONG time. Towards the top, it took us about 3 hours to go the last mile just because of the amount of people all moving slowly to the summit. However, talking with an American guy on the bus ride down afterwards, he said those conditions are just normal for popular hikes in Asia…. YIKES! So be prepared to be to wait in line a long time and surrounded by a sea of people on the way up. The pic below isn’t great but you get the idea – think of a giant headlamp lit conga line!
While it was irritating at some points due to the heat/humidity and throngs of people, the hike did have some enjoyable moments such as reaching the next station as you scramble over slick volcanic rock faces, seeing the flash of lightning from a distant storm, and watching the night sky change from black to blue to light grey before the sun came up. Also, the cup noodles and canned hot chocolate were great ways of getting warmth back into our tired bodies. But mostly, the sunrise was SPECTACULAR and with 2,000 people yelling “OHAYO” to welcome the day, the whole summit experience was super cool.
While the sunrise did make the climb worth it, you have to mentally prepare yourself for another 4-5 hours sliding down loose volcanic gravel switchbacks (I believe we counted 65!) and a long trail back to the 5th Station, which was honestly soul crushing at this point. Our private onsen at the end of the day was soooo worth the two taxi rides and extra money we had to pay to hide Rid’s tattoo to relax our achy legs and swollen feet. I don’t think we’ve slept as good as the night after the hike the whole trip so far so definitely splurge a bit on your accommodation afterwards – you won’t regret it!
Overall, we would suggest doing this hike if you think getting that killer view is worth killing your body for 13 hours or if you enjoy hiking in big crowds or if you’re like us and hate it while doing it but loved it once a week or so had passed LOL!!