Every year thousands of people make the trek to the top of Mt. Fuji, Japan’s tallest peak. A hike up Mt. Fuji most popularly begins at the “5th station” and ends at the 10th station, or summit. The Outdoor Recreation group, on base, take many trips to Fuji every summer, but you must be 16 years or older to join their tours. Though quite a challenging hike, it is very possible for children of all ages to make it to the top. My daughters were 6 and 7 when we made our trip up Mt. Fuji, so here are a few tips and suggestions for anyone considering this amazing adventure.
First off, and most importantly, your child needs to have the desire. If they are not 100% on board, I would not attempt it. The going can certainly get rough, so having your child’s buy in is paramount. (**TIP- if you think your child is not “all in” you can still easily make it to the 6th station, take in the views, turn around and have ice cream at the 5th station, and call it a day.)
The terrain is challenging, but not insurmountable. The 5th to 7th station trail is mostly gravelly rock on a steep incline.
After the 7th station, it gets more rocky, and boulder-like. My girls almost did better than we did because kids are so agile with low centers of gravity!
And closer to the top, it is almost straight up, like a stair case.
The down route consists of switchbacks all the way down the mountain, which I found considerably easier than the up. And it’s much faster, too. (If you don’t make it to the top, there is a path to reach this down route around the 8.5 station. Find it! It will make life easier.)
The Yoshida Trail is the most popular trail and also the most accessible from base. There are several mountain huts with food, and drink along the way, also lots of restrooms along the way, which cost about Y200, for each use. (Keep in mind, you may only go inside most of the huts if you are staying the night there. There is no other form of shelter on the mountain, as you are way above the tree line. This can get difficult if you run into bad weather.)
Speaking of weather, the volatility of this mountain is your biggest unknown and can either make or break your trip. Even if you have clear skies at the bottom, you never know what’s going on up top. High winds are common, as is rain and even snow in early July. Trust me, staying dry is HUGE when it comes to reaching the summit, especially with kids. We bought the cheap plastic rain outfits from a convenience store and cut them off to fit. I think this was a difference maker in our success. (On the other hand, I had a friend get third degree burns on her lips from sun exposure, so be prepared for anything and everything!) I like this website for weather at the top. http://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Fuji-san/forecasts/3776Altitude sickness can also be a very real problem for people of all ages. Make sure you take lots of breaks and have lots of snacks and drinks on hand. (Find out more about altitude sickness here. http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6901.html) I would recommend buying an oxygen can at Outdoor Recreation before you go, if you don’t need it then they will let you return it for a refund. This was a difference maker in my oldest daughter reaching the top. (You remove the lid and it attaches like a face mask, then push the button and breathe.)
Lets talk logistics. The hiking season is very short, officially only July and August, and sometimes the first few weeks of September. During July and August, the toll road that leads to the 5th station is closed to local traffic. You must park and ride the shuttle to the 5th station to begin your hike. The Fuji Hokuroku is a great place to park and the shuttle runs every 30 minutes to the 5th station, and takes approximately 30 minutes. (See the schedule here; http://www.pref.yamanashi.jp/kankou-sgn/documents/jikokuhyou.pdf ) Cost of parking is Y1,000 and cost of the shuttle, round trip, is Y1,860 adult and Y930 child, cash only. The shuttle runs every 30 minutes between 0530-2200 Sunday-Thursday and 0430-2200 on Friday and Saturday. You don’t need reservations for the shuttle, just show up and buy your ticket at a hut at the parking lot.
Be sure to take lots of yen, even more then you think you’ll need. If you are planning to buy food and water, everything gets more expensive the higher you get. Don’t forget, the restrooms cost Y200 per use and you may want to purchase a souvenir hiking stick, as well. The initial cost was Y1,200 and you can buy stamps from each hut you reach. Each stamp costs about Y200-400, but it is such a one-of-a-kind souvenir, I’m really glad I have it.
When you make it to the top, there is an actual town with a shrine, and a ramen shop, of course! You can circle the crater if you wish, which will add an extra hour to your trip. For us, getting to the top and down before dark was our goal. It took us 8 hours to reach the summit, we spent about 30 minutes at the top, and 3 hours to climb down. We took the 0500 shuttle and began the hike at 0530, and were back at the car by 1900 and home around 2100. So, plan for a long day. Also, throw some dry clothes in the car, for the return. Just in case! (You might consider spending the night before or after at Camp Fuji, this really cut down our drive time in the morning).
This is a good website for general information. http://www.fujiyama-navi.jp/fujitozan/en/ And, definitely stop into Outdoor Recreation to pick up a map and a list of packing essentials. They are very knowledgeable about the mountain and you can even rent water gear, and adult hiking boots. We found some very reasonable hiking boots for our daughters at Sports Depo, across from Moritown mall.
The bottom line is, you know your kid and their personality. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a “fun” activity, but it was a very rewarding one for our family. It was a very good test of will and perseverance, and my daughters still talk about lessons learned while on the side of Mt. Fuji often. So, be prepared, do your homework, and make some memories! Jamie Cowan, July 2015
DIRECTIONS TO HOKUROKU PARKING LOT: Plan on this drive taking you about 1.5 hours from base. GPS coordinates, 35.4819018, 138.7734145