Climbing the tallest mountain in Japan
A little history, fireworks, a waterfall and of course some climbing.
This will be the big one, the way best way in my eyes to finish my year aboard in the one and only Japan. For a very long time I have been talking about climbing Fuji (I even brought my hiking boots with the very intention to climb) and now the 8th of August will be the day that I take it on.
View of Fuji overlooking Kofu, Yamanashi
I have only seen Fuji from afar, living in Yamanashi you are constantly reminded of 3776m breath-taking volcanos grandeur wherever you are in the prefecture. I had climbed some of Fuji’s neighbouring mountains and only been inspired more by the sheer size of the mountain.
My year in Japan has been one that I will never forget, and when in you come the land of the rising sun it is only fitting that you climb the most climbed mountain in the world, right?
With a climbing season of only 2 months and around 300,000 climbers every year, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about! It was recently added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List as “Fujisan – Sacred Place and Source of Artistic Inspiration” – June 2013. The reasons for this active volcano being added are to do with its contribution to the culture of Japan and also the art of the world. For the Japanese it wasn’t only a source of artistic inspiration but a holy place of worship and accordingly at the foot of Fujisan there are many shrines and temples. For hundreds of years the Japanese have climbed Fujisan as a part of a religious pilgrimage, this resulted in no women being allowed to climb Fuji until 1868.
The day before the climb
There were a few events and places surrounding Fujisan that I had never seen, so the day before I climbed myself and my good friend Yuka set out on an adventure to try and do a few!
Starting the day with the trip down to Shizuoka, Yamanashi’s neighbouring prefecture that also shares the beautiful Mt Fuji. Famous for the ocean, Macha (green tea) and oranges is another place I would recommend a quick stop off especially to the falls we visited!
Shiraito Falls (白糸の滝, Shiraito no Taki) near the border of Yamanashi and Shizuoka, right beside Mt Fuji.
The picture perfect scene, the iconic symbol when people think of Japan they often think samurai, geisha, sushi and Fujisan. So iconic in fact that they put the active volcano on the 1000¥ bill. We went to try and a get the view of Fujisan from Lake Motosu.
I had no such luck, of course, there was a lot of clouds that day… (its behind that cloud I swear…)
As mentioned before Fujisan had a great influence on in Japan but also in the west not only in art but in the music of the 1900’s. The 5th Paris Expo or Exposition Universelle held in Paris France was the first to bring the world of Asian art to Europe. Consisting of art, music, dance, food and pottery, this was the chance for the middle-class Europeans to come and experience world culture on their doorstep. One artist who was practically influenced by this was, of course, the young Frenchmen Claude Debussy, whose work would never be the same after that faithful day. It is clear that fuji and the music of Japan had a massive impact on his work after visiting the Expo he would go on to write ‘La Mer’ that was inspired by the famous depiction of the Great Wave off Kanagawa the woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai.
An obvious indication of this is shown in his choice of art used on the cover of the score. Other artists such as Van Gogh and Claude Monet would also gain inspired by Japanese works of art.
As well as visiting Lake Motosu I stayed a litter later as there was a firework festival that night at Lake Kawaguchiko. On the way picking up some budō (or grapes) as Yamanashi is the wine country of Japan they are the best here!
The firework display just so happened to be one of the biggest in Yamanashi Prefecture, with around 10,000 fireworks. For those of you who don’t know fireworks or Hanabi (花火, which translates as fire flower or flower fire) is an integral part of Japanese summer culture. All over Japan no matter was you go there will be abundances of Hanabi Taikai (firework festivals) going on! This was an opportunity to get on my yukata (summer kimono) and eat some kaki gouri (shaved ice with sauce) while watching the fireworks.
So, the Japanese know how to do a fireworks display, this was without a doubt the most impressive firework show that I had ever seen. Some of the larger fireworks were wider that the bridge that crosses Lake Kawaguchiko which is over 500 meters long. These things were HUDGE!
Prearing for the climb
Meanwhile doing all of this I made the time to prepare for the climb, and it turns out there is a lot to consider when climbing up 3700 meters. This was the biggest climb that I have ever done and I heard a lot of different stories from different people. Some people told me it was easy, others told me it was hell, I wasn’t really sure what to believe. Of course like any kid of the 21st century (if I can even call myself that) I went straight to the internet and watch some videos of the climb. After being inspired by youtube, and having a lot of laughs I went to prepare.
What I brought to Fuji
Hiking boots – you may take this as a given, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people that wear sandals, runners and other types of shoes that just wouldn’t cut it.
Clothing – I bought the day before the climb a pair of hiking trousers from Uniqlo (best purchase ever) they were comfy, warm and cheap too! A T-Shirt, woolly hat, fleece, shorts and an extra pair of socks.
Waterproofing – Bring a coat and if your trousers aren’t waterproof bring some waterproof ones. You won’t regret this if it rains a little and the wind picks up.
Drinks – I brought 2 litres of H2O, 1 litre of Green Tea and 6 or 7 various energy/sugary drinks.
Food – I brought some onigiri (rice balls), hard sweets, loads of chocolate and some other snacks.
Backpack – You need to put all your stuff somewhere, right? Just make sure it’s comfy as it’s going to be your best friend for the next 7 to, however, many hours you spend on the mountain.
Cash – This is essential as you have to pay for the climb, food or water and if you need the toilet there are several (usually at the stops) but you have to pay, 200 while climbing and 300 at the summit.
Plastic bag – There are no bins on the mountain so bring a bag for your trash and also to stop valuables getting wet.
Sunglasses – If you don’t get rained on its going to be bright. These are also great for your decent (especially if it is windy) as the dust from the track goes everywhere and can get in your eyes.
Towel or bandana – This is super important for your decent unless you like eating lava rock. Covering your face with this really makes the decent a much more pleasant experience.
Suncream – The UV rays are ‘hella strong’ on Fuji and if you don’t wanna burn, bring suncream.
Medical supplies – We all like to think that nothing bad will happen but it is really important to be prepared in case something does. I brought some plasters (band-aids), painkillers and Imodium to ensure an easier climb.
Things I would recommend bring that I didn’t
Gloves – for general warm and also for some of the rougher bits of the hike where you have to climb.
Bag cover – if it does rain or you get stuck in a cloud, you’re gonna get wet along with your bag and all the stuff it contains.
Headlamp – if you’re gonna climb at night for the sunrise.
Shoes – A change of shoes for the bottom when you get down it is a great feeling to take off the old shoes and change into new ones. A light pair or flip-flops would be perfect.
Things that I would recommend not bringing
If you are only going to climb from the 5th station in one day (like most people do). One and a half litres of water is fine and 3 or 4 energy drinks would be enough just bring a little extra cash you can get more if need be. These will be the heaviest things that you will bring and if like me you bring an extra 2 litres you don’t need you will really feel it the next day or four.
Now that we are packed and ready to go, let’s climb!
8th August 2016
Wake up! – 3:00 am
It was lovely and quite an early start to the day, that involved getting dressed and packing my bag with the 10s of litres of liquids that I had foolishly decided to bring along with me. Then off to the bus to pick up the rest of the group!
5th Station, 2305M – 5:15am
Arriving on the bus to the fifth station, we spent some time to acclimatise and ready ourselves for the walk ahead! Starting our climb at 2305 meters we had another 1410 meters to the top! When we set off at 6 the walk was rather pleasant and we made sure to stop off ever 20 to 30 minutes for a quick breather.
6th Station, 2390M – 6:47am
The climb was going well everyone was having a lot of fun and the weather was brilliant!
7th Station, 2700M – 8:30am
The climb to the seventh was one of the longer climbs and had a rough patch of rock that lasted for 20 or 30 minutes. This was probably the most intense of all the climbs! The weather was getting worse as well, we started to walk into a cloud and everything was getting wet.
8th Station, 3360M – 9:32am
When I arrive at the 8th station I realised that my leg was starting to hurt, I think that I had pulled a muscle in my left leg. It was making things a little difficult at this point! As well as that a few of the people in the group had fallen really far behind and wouldn’t be able to make it to the summit in time so they were turned around. My leg was sore and the group had been cut in half!
Station 8.5, 3450M – 10:17am
Everyone was now very wet and one of the girls was showing signs of altitude sickness, meanwhile, my leg wasn’t getting any better. But the show must go on so we quickly made our way to the 9th station.
9th Station, 3600M – 10:50am
So close to the top at this point everyone was getting excited, the cold and wet wasn’t going to stop us, we were going to get there!
Summit gate, 3700M – 11:28am
Finally after 5 and a half hours of climbing we could see the gate to the summit of mt Fuji!!!
Summit, 3715M – 11:40 am
We got to the top (those of us left) and let out a group cheer! Then it was time to try and warm up, relax and get some food into our bodies! There are several shops at the summit all selling hot food and drinks, of course at very high prices but what can you do at 3700M. There is, of course, vending machines as it wouldn’t be Japan without them! Another very Japanese thing when climbing a mountain is to collect a little Omiyage (or souvenir) in the form of a small bell! I, of course, got mine and the shop owners will engrave the date of the climb!
Video of the Climb
Descent – 1:00pm
With all the fun over at the top, it was time to face the horrible fact that we had to get back down again… Taxi anyone? If only…
We started are descent and the wind had picked up, this meant that all of the loose gravel on the downward path was going everywhere. This is where the towel that I mentioned earlier came in handy. I wore it as a face mask and put on my sunglasses to protect my eyes, these two things were a real life saver and meant the descent was a lot easier and safer. I foolishly decided that it would be easier to jog down as the pathway is quite steep and awkward to walk on. Believe it or not, it was actually easier on my sore leg to jog. To cut a long story short after a lot of sweating and heavy breathing we made it to the bottom just after 3pm. With two hours to wait for the bus home, we just lay there and relaxed waiting for the rest of the group to arrive!
We headed home at 5pm and I was fast asleep as soon as we got home! Needless to say I could hardly move my left leg the next day but of course, the onsen fixed that right up! Over all what an amazing trip and great experience!
Best way to end the climbing experiance, get naked with lots of other men in a big bath! ut seriously, get to the onsen after your climb it will help if you are staying in Yamanashi this one is amazing! Kunitachi, Arashi no Yu, Spa in the Storm, Isawaonen, Yamanashi is famous for its pebble baths and will work wonders on any aches and pains you may have after the climb! It is also renoned for curing people of sickness and ailments, great spot well worth a visit! Unfortuntly they only have a japanese website, but if you visit the hotel you can go into the baths for the day at a resonable price!
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