Fuji-san (aka Mount Fuji), located 100km southwest of Tokyo, is the highest mountain in Japan and is known around the world as a symbol of Japan as well as Japanese beauty. The volcano is now considered dormant having its last erruption end in 1708. For climbers it can be a very interesting mountain to visit throughout the year but for vastly different reasons during the official climbing season (July 1 - August 27), immediately outside of the climbing season, and during the winter. During the climbing season, this is your chance to hike up the mountain with up to 2000 people per day and literally run into gridlock on the mountain as hordes of people stream out from the mid-mountain huts to wait for the sunrise, possibly preventing you from reaching the summit in time and forcing you to see it on the slopes. What may be more interesting during the climbing season, however, is that you can also see people climbing with the use of oxygen canisters usually reserved for 8000m peaks. The months on either side of the official season will allow you to climb in peace and quiet without the commercial activity huts. Winter time is a time for mountaineering, skiing, snowboarding, and even winter camping on this peak. Many tourists buy walking stick or bring up a block of wood to collect brandsat each of the stops, however, this is one item you won't be able to get outside of the tourist season.
The fact that most people who climb Fuji-san are not climbers is evident in the popular saying: "He who climbs Mount Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool." This may also account for the need for supplemental oxygen by some climbers. Another popular saying is that Fuji-san is the most climbed mountain in the world, however, this has recently come under debate with New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock (3,165 feet), with 125,000+ climbers / year, as the challenger.
There are four ascending and three descending YDS class 2 routes to and from the summit, the most popular of which is the Kawaguchiko Route (~4.5 km) from the north. Kawaguchiko means "Lake Kawaguchi" and has the easiest trailhead to reach from Tokyo. The trail initially goes around the mountain clockwise, losing some elevation before ascending to the Sixth Station (Roku-gome) where you join the Yoshida Route to the summit. There is an Anzen Centre (safety center) here. Above the Sixth station you will see many barriers put in place to prevent rockslide as you follow the lava road up past several huts to the Seventh Station (Nana-gome). Follow the switchbacks as the trail stepens beyond the Eighth (aka Old Eighth) stations where you will reach the crater rim and be greated by a pair of lions and a torii gate, Kusushi-jinja. You are now on the northeast end of the crater and you will need to make your way around the crater rim to the summit Tsurugi-ga-mine (3776 m). For the desent route, follow the same route you came up until just below the Eighth Station where the descent track will brach right (east) to follow a less steep path down (this is also the winter ascent route) joining the ascent route at the Sixth Station. The Fuji Suburu Line road to the Fifth Station here is typically open during the winter as is the tourist facilities, making this one of the more popular winter routes.
For information on climbing off-sease, be sure to read the "When to Climb and Ski / Snowboard" section below.
The other routes are the Subashiri from the east, Gotenba (aka Sunahashiri) from the southeast, and Fujinomiya from the south. These are described on the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) Climbing Mt. Fuji Page.
Although each of the summit routes has 10 stations on the way to the summit, most people take a car, bus, or taxi half way up to the 5th station on each route. The trailheads described here are the 5th station trailheads including the 1st station for Fujinomiya (South Side).
KAWAGUCHIKO (2,305 m) / NORTH SIDE: The Kawaguchiko-guchi Go-gome (Kawaguchiko Fifth Station) trailhead is the easiest trailhead to reach for those coming from Tokyo. From Tokyo, the simplest way to make this trip is to take the bus from the Shinjuku bus terminal (near western end of Shinjuku Station) to end of the Fuji Suburu Line. The direct bus runs three times a day and costs ¥2600 and takes 2.6 hours. Most climbers take the evening 7:30pm bus which arrives at the Fifth Station at 10:00pm so they can start hiking soon after (vs. the two morning buses). This bus runs only from July 10 to August 31 and you should expect an entire fleet of buses to cart would-be climbers off to the mountain from Shinjuku Station. Call 0353-76-2222 to make the necessary reservations. You can also take an hourly bus to Kawaguchiko and then transfer to the Tozan bus (¥1700 1-way, 50 min) to reach the Fifth Station. Once the official season is finished by the end of August, buses from Shinjuku to Kawaguchi-ko run twice per day during the weekends, at 08:45 and 09:45 and back at 15:00 and 16:00. That leaves you 4h 45' to do the round trip to the summit and back, unless you plan to stay in one of the few huts, if any, that remain open (Ref: Hector Garcia Hevia). Of course, you can always take a car or taxi as well. Unlike the Fuji Skyline Road that closes during the winter, you can often find the north side open for tourists to the Fifth Station making this a popular trailhead for winter ascents.
SUBASHIRI (1,980 m) / EAST SIDE: Take the train to Tokaido Honsen line to Numazu Station and then connect to Gotemba Station. At the station you can hire a bus or taxi to take you to Subashiri-guchi Shin-go-gome (Subashiri New Fifth Station) from where you will start your hike. Use the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) road and train map.
GOTEMBA (1,440 m) / SOUTHEAST SIDE: Take the train to Tokaido Honsen line to Numazu Station and then connect to Gotemba Station. At the station you can hire a bus or taxi to take you to Gotemba-guchi Shin-go-gome (Gotemba New Fifth Station) from where you will start your hike. Use the JNTO road and train map.
FUJINOMIYA (2,380) / SOUTH SIDE: From Tokyo, take the Tokaido Shinkansen (bullet train) to Shin-Fuji Station and then drive or take a bus 2 hours through the town of Fujinomiya and up the Fuji Skyline Road to Omote-Fujinomiya-guchi Shin-go-gome (Fujinomiya New Fifth Station). From here you will hike north along the Fujinomiya Track. If you want to hike from the First Station, start your hike in Fujinomiya City's Sengen Gingu, the main Shinto shrine for followers who worship the mountain. The Fuji Skyline Road on the south side of the mountain is closed from December to April so this route is not often used for winter ascents, unless you want to start at the Shinto shrine. Use the JNTO road and train map.
Although the official climbing season lasts from July 1 to August 27, no one will stop you from climbing outside that period. All the official season really means is that the shops and huts will be open for you along the way so you can buy soda along the way and get your official branded climbing seals. It also means you'll be surrounded by throngs of other people and that camping isn't allowed.
ON MOUNTAIN / IN SEASON: During the official climbing season (see Red Tape section), camping is not allowed on the mountain, however, there are many huts on the mountain between the Fifth and Ninth Stations along the trail. Fees are ¥4000-¥4500 per night and ¥500 per hour and generally no reservations are necessary. You can also stay inside if you order something to eat, a popular way to get out of the cold on a summit night hike. The menu generally consists of soup, noodles, chocolate, coffee, and tea.
ON MOUNTAIN / OUT OF SEASON: No one will stop you from camping on the mountain and, during the winter when the mountain is snow-clad, many people bring up tents and camp halfway up the mountain or even on the summit. Fuji-san's almost perfect cone shape means that you can encounter strong winds so make sure you have a sturdy tent and stake it down firmly. If there's enough snow people have been know to pitch their tents on top of the hut's flat roofs. If you find the right guide, you may also be able to stay in the Seventh Station Hut on the Kawaguchiko Route during the winter.
OFF MOUNTAIN / KAWAGUCHIKO - NORTH SIDE / GOGOEN REST HOUSE: Located at the Fifth Station on the Kawaguchiko Route, this is a large log-cabin type lodge that houses a hotel, restaurants, and gift shop. There is also a rest area for climbers. Apparently, this is often open through the winter and is a good location to stay before attempting a winter climb.
OFF MOUNTAIN / GOTEMBA - SOUTHEAST SIDE / FUJI HAKONE GUEST HOUSE: Traditional Japanese accommodations at very resonably prices in beautiful Hakone. Online reservations are available. Also has information for Moto-Hakone Guest House and Sengokuhara Youth Hostel.
Many casual climbers are unprepared for the high and exposed nature of Fuji-san's slopes often ending up not bringing enough warm clothes on a night ascent. The average summit temperature during the months of July and August are 40.8°F (4.9°C) and 43.6°F (6.4°C) respectively. Generally the summit temperature is 18-20°F (~10°C) cooler than at Fifth Station and 36-40°F (~20°C) cooler than sea level (compare against Tokyo temperature on Weather Underground).
CURRENT CONDITION RESOURCES
HIGH (OFFICIAL) SEASON: If you want the tourist experience and the possibility of seeing people using oxygen canisters, go during the "official" climbing season which generally lists from July 1 to August 27. You'll also get to listen to the Japanese national anthem during the morning. Celebrations are held during both the start and ending of the season at various shrines around the mountain. Some of the most notable festivals are held in Fujiyoshida City including the opening season festival at the Main North Entrance Fuji Sengen Shrine (Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja) and the Mount Fuji Fire Festival which marks the end of the season. If there is still snow anywhere on the mountain on July 1 the National Park Service may delay the start of the climbing season and has done so in the past up to two weeks. The end of the season, however, is always August 27. And of course, don't forget to bring / buy a wood walking stick or a block of wood to collect brands at each of the stations for a souvenir.
FAIR WEATHER CLIMB: Since the climbing season always ends on August 27, you can climb immediately afterwards to escape the crowds and shops, but you won't get your branded walking stick. Hiking before the official season in June can mean for some mild, but nice, snow hiking.
WINTER MOUNTAINEERING: Late November to May or June are best times to climb this peak under snow. Be sure to bring your crampons and ice axe as the routes can get icy near the summit. You also have the option of bringing your tent to camp anywhere along the way or at the summit. Bryowan adds:
A few words about climbing Mt. Fuji in winter - be fully prepared for hard ice and high winds from at least 1000m below the summit. Early season ice is still hard, but very thin, with just a wisp of neve underneath. It can and does blow climbers off their feet, with no possiblity of self-arrest. Almost every year one or two lives are lost this way or from slipping unroped or unprotected.
With snow and/or ice covering the scree it is possible to climb directly to the summit by one of the ridges or snowfields or almost any combination. When glissading, stay alert so as not to pass the fifth station if your vehicle is parked there!
A very enjoyable climb but not one to be underestimated.
SKIING / SNOWBOARDING: Fuji-san is a easy spring skiing peak and the best times to go are May to June. Time your ascent to reach the summit a few hours after sunrise to allow the snow to soften. The maximum angle has been reported at 30° for presumably the Kawaguchiko Route and a quick descent can take but 30 min. Check the Mountain Conditions section for sunrise times and a link to the Weather Underground which lists daily sunrise times for Tokyo.