In Japanese culture, the mountain is a mythical, fundamental theme in art, music and literature.
It is one of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains” along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku. It was added to the World Heritage List in June 2013, not as a Natural but as a Cultural Heritage Site, because in the UNESCO description, Mount Fuji has “inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries”.
For many Japanese, the mountain has a religious significance, and the quite arduous ascent to the summit is undertaken by young and old as a kind of pilgrimage.
Mt Fuji is an active volcano, of the classic stratovolcano type (like Krakatoa and Vesuvius). This means it has been formed by successive layers of erupted lava, creating a remarkably symmetrical, consistent shape. Its last major eruption was in 1707–08.
Mount Fuji lies about 100 kilometres (60 miles) south-west of Tokyo, and can be seen from the city’s high-rise buildings on a clear day.
The mountain is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and is surrounded by the so-called “Fuji Five Lakes”: Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Yamanaka, Lake Sai, Lake Motosu and Lake Shoji. They, and nearby Lake Ashi, provide excellent views of the mountain.
Mt Fuji from the Bullet train (Tokaido Shinkansen)
When travelling on the Bullet train out of Tokyo in the Osaka direction, try to get your seat on the right-hand side, for an impressive view of Mt. Fuji in the distance, about 45 minutes into the journey.
As the Japanese saying goes, “You’d be a fool not to climb Mount Fuji once, and a fool to climb it twice”. The usual climbing schedule is to climb the mountain at night to reach the top in time to see the rising sun, the symbol of the Japanese nation. The ascent of the mountain is only possible in July and August, when the peak is free of snow. The experience is thoroughly recommended; a 2-day excursion with English-speaking guide is offered during July-August by JTB Sunrise tours.
Hiking clothing and a certain amount of equipment is required, even in mid summer, as the temperature at the peak is often 15° cooler than at sea level. As can be seen from photos, the higher slopes of the mountain are bare volcanic rock, without any vegetation. The only protection and shelter from bad weather is provided by mountain huts.
Mount Fuji is divided into ten “stations” with the first station at the foot of the mountain and the tenth station being the summit. Paved roads go as far as the fifth station, halfway up the mountain. There are four 5th stations on different sides of the mountain, from where most people start their ascent:
The Yoshida Trail starts from the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station (altitude about 2,300m) and ascends the norther side of the mountain. Ascent 5-7 hours, and there are separate trails for the ascent and descent. The sunrise takes place on this side of the mountain.
The Subashiri Trail starts from the Subashiri 5th Station (altitude approx 2,000m) and climbs the eastern side, until it joins the Yoshida Trail around the 8th station. Ascent 5-8 hours
The Gotemba Trail goes from Gotemba 5th Station, which at 1,400m is the lowest 5th station, making the ascent longer (7-10 hours) up the south-west flankof the mountain.
The Fujinomiya Trail takes on the mountain from the south, starting from Fujinomiya 5th Station at around 2,400 m. The ascent is the shortest route at around 4-7 hours. This is the only route that is not split into separate ascending and descending trails, which can result in congestion on busy days of the climbing season.
- Hakone (27km to the southeast) can be reached by Bullet train from Tokyo to Odawara Station then local train (Hakone Tozan railway, or Odakyu line) or bus.
Alternatively, the Odakyu Line (private railway) runs services to Hakone-Yumoto from Shinjuku station. (approx 1h10min)
- Kawaguchiko (15km to the north) can be reached by train from Tokyo to Otsuki, then on the private “Fujikyu” railway (approx 2h30min). Interestingly, the JR Kanto Area Pass (not available outside Japan) can be used on the Fujikyu line.
Mt Fuji on our Google map