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Is Climbing Mount Fuji Worth It?
Mount Fuji is one of the most recognisable and impressive mountains in the world. If you haven’t had the chance to experience the beauty of Japan’s Mount Fuji in person, you’ve probably been able to get a taste of its splendour somewhere on the internet. After all, it’s one of the most photographed mountains in the world, too.
It has been, and continues to be, the muse of many poets and artists, and is an iconic symbol of Japan and Japanese culture. Today, the elegant, sacred gravity it holds is as powerful as ever, with approximately 400,000 locals and tourists ascending its flanks every summer.
In this article, we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about Mount Fuji, why it’s worth climbing, and how you can plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the ancient pilgrimage site.
The significance of Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji sits on the island of Honshū, the most populated of Japan’s islands, and, yes, it is an active volcano. Although, the last recorded eruption occurring on the 16th of December 1707. Named the Hōei eruption, which formed the secondary eruption site on the southwest slope, called Mount Hōei, the event lasted a total of 16 days, with volcanic ash reaching as far as Tokyo.
It’s this long history of volcanic activity in the area that has created the iconic volcanic cone that is revered today.
Despite geologists providing the practical answers for the modern man, the history of Mount Fuji’s formation and purpose has been mystified, re-worked and re-told in cultural legend for centuries prior. It’s those legends that provide the drive in the hearts and minds of the pilgrims who set off for Fuji’s 12,388 feet (3.78 km) summit.
In ancient times, before the sixth century AD, when Japan’s predominant religion was Shintoism, the mountain was worshipped in Japanese culture from afar. According to Shinto mythology, the volcano is regarded as the sacred kami, or spirit, of Princess Konohanasakuya-hime, who had the power to control elements like fire and water.
The mountain was said to be too sacred for mortals to tread, and the Ashama shrine was built at the foothills of the volcano to ward off eruptions.
During the Heian period of 794-1185, a more stable Mount Fuji saw the arrival of Shugendō, a religion built on the doctrines and ritual systems of local folk-religious practices, Buddhism and Shinto mountain worship. Under this new philosophy, the followers of Shugendō were the first to use Fuji as a base, and, by the early 12th century, a temple was founded on the summit by Matsudao Shonin.
Later, in 1541-1646, the volcano was worshipped as a female deity by an Edo period cult called Fuji-kō, who actively encouraged their followers to climb Fuji’s flanks. Today, Fuji-kō exists less as an independent cult, although it does persist as a part of Shinto sects.
Why you should climb Mount Fuji
Climbing Mount Fuji is a unique and rewarding experience that attracts thousands of adventurers every year. Here are some reasons why you might consider climbing Mount Fuji:
- Majestic Views
Mount Fuji is an iconic and stunningly beautiful volcano. Reaching its summit allows you to witness breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes, and the sunrise from the top is a truly unforgettable sight.
- Personal Achievement
Climbing Mount Fuji is a challenging endeavour, and reaching the summit gives a great sense of accomplishment. It can be a great way to test your physical and mental strength, and push your boundaries, to see what you’re capable of.
- Spiritual and Cultural Significance
Mount Fuji has been considered a sacred mountain in Japan, and climbing it has spiritual significance for many people local to the country, for thousands of years. The journey can provide a unique opportunity for introspection, self-discovery, and to forge a connection with this rich cultural heritage.
- Adventure and Exploration
If you enjoy outdoor activities and exploring new places, climbing Mount Fuji offers a once-in-a-lifetime adventure (although, some do find themselves drawn back to Fuji’s brilliance multiple times throughout their lives). The varying terrain and changing landscapes make it a thrilling and unforgettable experience.
- Bonding with Others
Climbing Mount Fuji is a popular activity, and you’ll meet people from different cultures and backgrounds along the way. The climb allows you to share the journey with fellow climbers, and can create lasting friendships and memories to cherish for the rest of your life.
- Nature and Wildlife
The climb allows you to experience the natural beauty of Mount Fuji up close. You may encounter various flora and fauna along the mountain’s winding trails, adding to the overall lived experience.
- Physical Fitness
Climbing Mount Fuji requires a good level of physical fitness, making it an excellent opportunity to challenge yourself and improve your health.
Planning a pilgrimage
Planning a pilgrimage to Mount Fuji requires very careful preparation to ensure you can experience all the benefits without putting your safety, and the safety of others, at risk. Here are the steps you need to help you plan your pilgrimage:
1. Choose the Right Time
Mount Fuji is typically open for climbing during the summer months, from early July to mid-September. Within this period, it is essential to select a date that suits your schedule and allows you to avoid peak crowds and adverse weather conditions.
2. Obtain Information
Research and gather all necessary information about climbing Mount Fuji. Study the various trails, their difficulty levels, and the facilities available on each route. Familiarise yourself with the rules and regulations set by the authorities.
3. Physical Preparation
Climbing Mount Fuji requires a certain level of physical fitness. Engage in regular exercises to build stamina and endurance. Cardiovascular training, hiking, and stair climbing can be beneficial in preparing for the climb.
4. Make Reservations
If you plan to stay in mountain huts along the trail, make reservations in advance, especially during busy periods. Some huts may require bookings, and having a place to rest is essential, especially for overnight climbs.
5. Packing Essentials
Prepare a comprehensive packing list, including
- Appropriate clothing – although you’ll be travelling in summer, keep in mind that the summit of Mount Fuji is going to be a lot colder than the base.
- Sturdy hiking boots – whether you buy a new pair, or opt for your trusty favourites, make sure that your hiking boots provide ankle support, with good grip sole technology, and are somewhat waterproof.
- A backpack – make sure your backpack has comfortable padded straps and side pockets, to hold your liquids. Consider a backpack that’s able to clip around both your waist and your chest, for added support. The size or litre capacity of your backpack will need to accommodate your supplies, but try to keep it as small as you can to avoid overloading, which will make your climb more difficult.
- A headlamp or flashlight – either of these items are essential. As you climb to the summit, you may encounter heavy clouds, or weather conditions that affect visibility. A headlamp/flashlight will help you to stay safe on the rocky terrain, and help others see you through mist.
- Water and snacks – you’re likely to sweat quite a bit on your hike, and it’s imperative that you keep hydrated. Especially as you will be climbing to higher altitudes than you may be used to, which can cause dizziness and altitude sickness.
- A first aid kit – if you travel with a guide, they may carry a first aid kit as standard protocol, but it’s always a good idea to bring your own kit and sunscreen. If you have any pre-existing health conditions, let your guide know, and make sure to bring any medications you might need.
Plan your transportation to and from Mount Fuji. Depending on where you’re starting your climb, there are various transportation options available, such as buses and trains.
If possible, spend a day at a higher altitude location near Mount Fuji to help your body acclimatise to the change in elevation. This can reduce the risk of altitude sickness during the climb.
8. Safety Considerations
Keep a close eye on weather forecasts and the volcanic activity status. Avoid climbing during adverse weather conditions or when the trail is closed due to safety concerns.
9. Respect Local Customs
Remember that Mount Fuji is a sacred place in Japan, and it is essential to show respect to the mountain and its surroundings. Follow the rules, avoid littering, and be mindful of the environment.
10. Inform Others
Let someone know about your pilgrimage plans, including your intended route, dates, and emergency contacts. It’s crucial to have a backup plan in case of any unforeseen circumstances.
Remember, climbing Mount Fuji is a challenging endeavour, and safety should be your top priority. With proper planning and preparation, your pilgrimage to Mount Fuji can be a memorable and spiritually fulfilling experience.
We hope you’ve gained some helpful takeaways from this article, and we have much more free information about Japanese culture for you to explore. If you’re interested in experiencing Japan first-hand, get in touch today to find out how you can discover Japan whilst earning a living.