Climbing Mt. Fuji, the World Heritage Site-to-be

Starting to climb Mt. Fuji from the Fifth Station

Being from Hong Kong, Mt. Fuji is a symbol of Japan to me. Since I was a child, it has been my wish to someday visit Mt. Fuji, because the mountain I saw on TV looked somewhat divine. The excitement I felt when I actually came to Japan and saw Mt. Fuji from the window of the bullet train was incomparable to that I had felt when I’d seen it on TV. The incredibly beautiful scenery dazzled my eyes. I thought, “I want to climb to the top.” And so I did.

Although we can enjoy the beautiful view of Mt. Fuji throughout the year, we can only climb it during summertime (the climbing trails are closed except during the period from 1st July 1st to 26th August). From Tokyo, I head straight to the entrance of the trail to the top of Mt. Fuji. Needless to say, I am fully equipped for climbing the 3,776-metre high mountain. Although my backpack is a little heavy on my back, my heart is ready to jump with excitement, thinking that I am about to climb Mt. Fuji, which I have been longing to do.

I select the Fujinomiya Route, which is said to be suitable for beginners among the four major climbing routes. I arrive at the Fifth Station of “Fujinomiya-guchi” at about 2:00 p.m. It is only about the halfway point of the mountain, but it sure feels like a mountain. As I fill my lungs with the mountain air, which is cool despite being midsummer, unlike the steaming air of Tokyo, I think about this big event of climbing Mt. Fuji.

Although I am eager to climb, I stay at the Fifth Station for a little while to allow my body to adjust, so as not to get altitude sickness. I look around the shops crowded with climbers and the surrounding area, and have coffee at a lodge, and then it becomes 3:00 p.m. Now, let’s start climbing!

To the top of Mt. Fuji!

©Yamanashi Prefecture
©Yamanashi Prefecture

I climb slowly while keeping my own pace, taking deep breaths and staying hydrated. I do not play sports much, and it is my first time to climb a 3,000-metre level mountain, so I am careful to conserve my energy. The trail becomes narrower as I climb; the trees decrease and the gravelly area, where small and large stones are scattered about, begins. I don’t feel lonely, however, because I frequently pass people coming down the mountain. When I see people coming down filled with joy, my spirit is lifted, and I congratulate them. Evening comes and the sun begins to set. I will see the sunrise from the top of the mountain tomorrow morning – this thought relieves my fatigue a bit.

©Yamanashi Prefecture
©Yamanashi Prefecture

After 6:00 p.m., I arrive at the Eighth Station. I am about to reach my physical limit, and a lodge warmly welcomes me. After changing my sweat-drenched clothes, I relax for a while just watching the sunset. After dinner, I am instantly knocked out by overwhelming sleepiness.

I wonder how long I have slept – the noise of the surrounding area brings me back from my dreams. When I get up and look around, it seems like most of the people have already left. I look at my watch, and it is past 1:00 a.m. I now head off to the top of Mt. Fuji.

Seeing the majestic sunrise

Mt. Fuji late at night is a pitch-black world. There are few plants, and I must ascend steep rocks for quite awhile. My headlight is my anchor. Just as I think that I might become absorbed in the darkness, I see a light out of the corner of my eye. I look up and find bright stars in the sky are watching me. My heart instantly lights up and I feel as if I am in the center of the universe. I am overwhelmed by this simply supernatural scene, which I am embarrassed to describe as “dreamy,” for the risk of it sounding cliché. Telling myself that I will faint when I see the sunrise at this rate and smiling wryly, I continue climbing.

There are many climbers near the top, and I can only move slowly; however, I manage to arrive at the top before the sunrise. The pitch-black sky begins changing in colour to navy blue, bringing excitement to the climbers. The colour of the sky changes by the minute. Shadows of people reflect on the sea of clouds. In preparation for the miraculous moment, the cool air at the mountaintop feels good.

©Yamanashi Prefecture
©Yamanashi Prefecture

The sky changes from navy blue to light blue, and then begins being eaten away by the colour orange. An indescribable feeling of tension builds up. This really is a part of the cosmos. Heaven and earth are overpowering and the ocean appears far away. From below the clouds beneath our feet, the sun begins appearing slowly and the orange light extends to every corner of the world. The clouds are lit by the rising sun and the boundless prospect of green mountains creates harmony. Is this the spectacle the Japanese call “Goraikoh (the sacred sunrise)”? Is this mystical experience of being filled with light in space a sense of “living” for Japanese people? The feelings of the Japanese towards nature and Japanese traditions are all connected to what I see. I now feel that I suddenly understand Japan. Surrounded by excited people, looking at the mountains peeking through the sea of clouds, I begin to enter a trance-like state. I have climbed to see this alone – this is how I feel.

At the top of Mt. Fuji, there is a view of Japan that I had not known. I have been in Japan for 11 years, but in climbing Mt. Fuji I have discovered Japan anew. No, it is not “new Japan,” but rather ancient Japan, which has continued to this day since long before I was born. The ancient Japan I see from the top of Mt. Fuji and modern Japan are connected. This is why I will never forget the spectacle I behold on top of Mt. Fuji, even after returning to my life in Tokyo.

Surprises on Mt. Fuji

©Yamanashi Prefecture

There are many “surprises” at the top of Mt. Fuji; there are lodges where we can eat something that warms our bodies, including hot ramen or miso soup. Isn’t it surprising that there are vending machines on a mountaintop? From Mt. Fuji Summit Post Office (opening hours: 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., only in summer) near the summit of the Fujinomiya Route, you can also send a postcard with a “Mt. Fuji Summit” stamp as a memento of your climb. In addition, there is also the Okumiya Inner Shrine of the Sengen Taisha Grand Shrine at the summit, where you can give thanks that you have made it safely (it is said that some couples have had their weddings there!).

©Yamanashi Prefecture

The thrill of descending towards the clouds when you return down the mountain is something you can never experience anywhere else. There are many hot springs near Mt. Fuji, so why don’t you soak in hot water and heal your weary legs?

©Yamanashi Prefecture

I recommend that you obtain a “Certificate for Climbing to the Summit of Mt. Fuji” if you climb all the way to the summit. If you have a photo that can prove you have reached the summit, you can apply through the Yamanashi Prefecture Tourist Association website (price: \1,050/ 1 copy). If you do not feel confident about climbing, it is recommended that you refer to the “FYG (FUJI-YAMA Guides)”, a trekking guide that is also available for non-Japanese people.

Mt. Fuji has been recommended for registration as a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, and is expected to be formally listed in June, 2013. Why not try climbing Mt. Fuji, which symbolizes Japan? Please refer to the respective JNTO webpage about other World Heritage Sites in the country.

Profile of the author, Au Yeung Yu Leung

Yu Leung was born in Hong Kong and is a speaker of several languages including Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese, English and Japanese. She is a graduate from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School. In Hong Kong, she served as the chief editor for a major magazine providing information on Japan. Her works include “66 Mysteries about China that it is Too Late to Ask Someone About” and “Japanese Words Often Seen in Games.” Currently, she is actively working in Japan to foster mutual understanding between China and Japan and to promote Japanese culture overseas.