Climbing Mt Fuji – Sunrise in the Sky

Ever since seeing it tower over the Tokyo Skyline on my first visit to Japan, I’ve always dreamed of climbing Mt Fuji. In August of 2019, I finally fulfilled this dream of mine when I stopped in Japan for a few days on my way home to America from Korea.

Tokyo with Mt Fuji in winter
My first ever view of Mt Fuji from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatory, January 25th 2018.

The Plan

When climbing Mt Fuji you must make a choice between either taking two days and spending the night on the mountain or doing a “bullet climb” round trip in one day. Most websites I read suggest spending the night. By doing so you can become more acclimated to the high altitude and lower your chances of altitude sickness. In addition, you can most easily be on the summit in time for sunrise, which is what most climbers go to see. I decided this was the best option for me because I wanted to get the “full Fuji experience” of staying in a mountain hut and catching sunrise from the summit.

Day One

Transportation to Mt Fuji

Mt Fuji lies about two and a half hours west of Tokyo by Bus. Buses run from Shinjuku Station straight to Fuji 5th Station where the Yoshida trail to the summit begins. A one way bus ticket was just 2,950 yen, or about $30 USD. I was a solo tourist without a car, so this was the easiest and cheapest route for me.

When climbing Mt Fuji, you must be prepared with all the correct gear. I was just stopping in Japan for a couple days before flying to America to visit home, so I didn’t bring any. Luckily there are many companies that rent out gear to hikers. One such store, Yamarent, is conveniently located in Shinjuku near where the bus departs from, and it opens early in the summer. Before catching my bus I stopped in to rent a backpack, a hat, a jacket, and rain gear. I then stored the rest of my unnecessary belongings in a coin locker to save weight and I was on my way.

It was a beautiful clear morning, the weather was perfect except for one factor – the heat. I knew people always said that Tokyo was hot in summer time, but I definitely underestimated the heat. I expected temperatures to be similar to in Seoul, but it felt way hotter and more humid. I’ve never been the kind of person to enjoy hot weather, so I worried that the heat would cause me some problems while climbing Mt Fuji.

Mt Fuji in summer from a distance
View of Mt Fuji from the bus window.

Fuji 5th Station

My bus pulled into the Fuji 5th Station parking lot at about 10:20 a.m., where I immediately saw a ton of hikers gearing up for the climb. Upon stepping off the bus at Fuji 5th Station, the first thing I noticed was how much cooler the weather was here. The 5th Station is located at an elevation of 2,300m / 7,546ft, just over halfway up the mountain. Instead of the sweltering heat and humidity in Tokyo, it was the kind of weather where you would be comfortable with a sweatshirt at this altitude. 

Crowd of people at Fuji 5th Station
The massive crowd of hikers at the 5th Station where the hiking begins.

At this elevation the atmosphere is much thinner, so many people experience altitude sickness. It is recommended that you spend a little bit of time acclimating to the elevation before beginning the ascent in order to lower your chances of feeling sick. I decided to use this time to grab some food at a restaurant and explore the souvenir shops.

Mt Fuji shaped tonkatsu curry rice
Tonkatsu curry rice – the rice is supposed to be in the shape of Mt Fuji.

Climbing Mt Fuji

After enjoying a tonkatsu curry rice I was ready to begin really climbing Mt Fuji. I had made a reservation for the highest up mountain hut I could book, which ended up being Tomoekan at the 8th step. Here the elevation is about 3,350m / 10,991ft. Reservations fill up fast, so I suggest booking early if you want to guarantee availability.

Map of climbing routes on Mt Fuji
My planned route for the hike: Day 1 (Red) – Mt Fuji 5th Station → Tomoekan Mt Fuji Hut. Day 2 (Blue) – Tomoekan → Mt Fuji summit and crater hike → Mt Fuji 5th Station
People hiking at Mt Fuji
Beginning the hike and starting in the clouds.

Originally I was worried about being in the sun with no protection at high elevations all day. However, when I began climbing Mt Fuji I was lucky to be in a cloud that blocked out most of the sun. Unfortunately this meant that I didn’t have great views, but overall it was for the better. As the day went on it started warming up a bit more, but because of the clouds I never felt too hot. If I did have more sun I would have been very hot carrying my big backpack all day!

Cloudy views when climbing Mt Fuji
Views from the first section. I couldn’t see anything in the clouds, but at least I was protected from the sun!
Mt Fuji Climbing Safety Guidance Center on cloudy day
Mt Fuji Climbing Safety Guidance Center. After this point the steep ascent begins.

After a short relatively flat section, I reached the Mt Fuji Climbing Safety Guidance Center. Beyond this point the climb goes straight up through a series of many switchbacks. This area is notable in that it is the last toilets in which the 200 yen tip to use them is listed as optional. Mt Fuji does not have running water, so all the waste must be carried down. When thousands of people are climbing the mountain every day in the summertime, the cost of carrying all that waste down adds up. This is why there is a box for paying a small fee. I took advantage of the last free toilets before continuing on my mission to climb Mt Fuji.

Deposit box to pay for toilet use when climbing Mt Fuji
This is the last toilet where the fee is optional! Beyond this point you must pay 200 yen to use the toilet.

The Switchbacks Begin

As soon as I left the Climbing Safety Center behind, the trail shifted from a gradual slope to a steeper incline. Looking up all I could see was more and more switchbacks that faded into the clouds. By this point it was just past noon and the day began to grow hotter. I was grateful that at least it didn’t feel humid like downtown Tokyo, and I still had some cloud cover.

People climbing Mt Fuji
Switchbacks going up Mt Fuji

Looking up all I could see was switchbacks that faded into the clouds, and the summit remained hidden from view. By now I had been going uphill for over an hour, but it still felt like I made no progress. Every so often there were signs posted on the switchbacks with the distance and time from the summit posted. It is easy to become demoralized when you see a sign suggesting a further five hours to the summit after feeling like you’ve just walked the same switchback 50 times over.

Distance marker for climbing Mt Fuji
When you feel like you’ve been going uphill for a while, it feels bad to see a sign that says it’s over 5 hours to go.
Mountain huts on Mt Fuji on cloudy day
Starting to rise up out of the clouds and have better views.

Out of the Clouds!

Slowly but surely, I felt myself starting to escape from the clouds. This was both good and bad. It was good in that I could finally see what was up ahead, but bad that I was now becoming more exposed to the sun. After climbing for about 2 hours, I found myself at one of the first huts where you can spend the night. I still had much further to go, but it was a nice milestone where I rewarded myself with a choco pie.

Snacks for sale on Mt Fuji
One of the many huts along the way that sells snacks. As you climb higher so do the prices.
Hiker climbing Mt Fuji
Almost out of the clouds!

Three hours into the hike, I finally escaped from the clouds and had my first real view of the summit! After what felt like a long afternoon of climbing and making no progress, the summit now looked so close that I could almost touch it. It wasn’t even 3 p.m., so I briefly considered aiming for the summit on this day, just because I felt like I could. However, when it comes to climbing mountains, things are never as close as they appear.

Hikers climbing Mt Fuji
For the first time I can see the summit.
Hikers on Mt Fuji
Coming up the last section before the hut where I will spend the night.

I’m not sure if I was just lucky, but I still didn’t feel any of the effects of being at high altitudes. I come from the American Midwest, which lies close to sea level, so I was mentally prepared to experience some sort of elevation sickness. Maybe it was because I was hiking at a slower pace than normal due to the weight in my backpack? My pace was slow, but I was steadily making progress in climbing Mt Fuji.

Hiker above clouds on Mt Fuji
Now that I’m out of the clouds and into the sun, I’m glad I had this ridiculous bucket hat.
Panoramic view of clouds from Mt Fuji
Panoramic view of the clouds.

Arrival at Tomoekan

After about four and a half hours of nonstop switchbacks, I finally arrived to the mountain hut where I would be spending the night – Tomoekan. Upon checking in, they gave me a small wood block with a number on it. As they prepared dinner, they would call your number to come pick up your food. The dining space is limited, so only a small group can eat at any given time. I was told the wait would be about an hour, so I first got myself situated in my room and then enjoyed the incredible views while I waited.

Snacks for sale at Tomoekan Mountain Hut on Mt Fuji
Snacks for sale at Tomoekan.
The summit of Mt Fuji
The summit was very clear from here now that I was completely above the clouds.

By now the weather was beginning to quickly change from hot to cold. For me this was a much needed change. For everyone else it was time to put on their jackets, whereas I enjoyed the cool breeze in just a t-shirt.

Usually when hiking there are other surrounding mountains that are close in height to what you are climbing. When you are climbing Mt Fuji nothing else comes close. You are so high above everything else that it almost feels like looking down on the world from an airplane.

Man sitting above clouds on Mt Fuji
At this time, around 5:00 p.m., it started to get cold fast.

Because I was a solo hiker, I was assigned a room with a group of six other hikers. The rooms are quite small and cramped; after laying out our provided sleeping bags there wasn’t any space left in the room. We were essentially packed like sardines. My space was perpendicular to the other group’s spaces, so I was accidentally kicked a few times throughout the night. It wasn’t the most comfortable rest, but it was for sure worth it to be so close to the summit.

Sleeping bag

Inside Tomoekan. Space is tight up on the mountain, so this sleeping bag was the entirety of my space in the room. Dinner is provided to those spending the night -a hamburg steak with curry rice.

Dining room in Mt Fuji hut

Hamburg steak with curry rice

The provided meal was curry rice again, but this time with a hamburg steak instead of tonkatsu. To be honest it wasn’t great, but after hiking all day any hot meal is still satisfying. While eating I planned out the next day so that I could catch the sunrise from the summit. Sunrise would be at 4:57 a.m., and they said it is an hour and a half to the summit from Tomoekan. I planned to get up at 2:00 a.m. in order to give me time to find a good spot at the summit.

Evening Views on Mt Fuji

View of clouds from Mt Fuji
Views from just outside my accommodation at Tomoekan.

Because I planned to wake up at 2:00 a.m., I didn’t have much time left before I should get to bed to get a good nights sleep. After finishing dinner it was close to 6:00 p.m., so I decided to stay up and watch the view as the sun goes down before trying to get some shut eye.

Shadow of Mt Fuji on clouds
As the sun sets behind Mt Fuji, a shadow is cast upon the clouds.
Shadow of Mt Fuji on clouds
At 6:40 p.m. the shadow of Mt Fuji was cast upon the clouds in the upper atmosphere, giving the illusion of a second Mt Fuji off in the distance.
View of sunset from Mt Fuji
Views from Tomoekan.

While watching the views outside I had some conversations with the few people that could speak English. There were mostly Japanese people at Tomoekan, but throughout the day I did hear a lot of people speaking European languages as well. One French couple that I talked to told me that they planned to ride bikes along the Shimanami Kaido. This is a bike route that travels across a few islands and large suspension bridges that connects the main island of Japan, Honshu, with the island of Shikoku. I had previously cycled that route back in February, so I assured them that it would be a worthwhile trip!

Night Time on Mt Fuji

Tomoekan Mountain Hut on Mt Fuji
Tomoekan exterior.
Night view from Mt Fuji
As it became late the lights in the cities below began to illuminate the land.

After watching the city lights below turn on as the sky darkened, I returned to my cramped room to prepare for bed. I set my alarm for 2:00 a.m. and tried to get some rest. I usually go to bed at around 1:00 a.m., so falling asleep at 8:00 p.m. while in a crowded room and where people down the hall were making a lot of noise was difficult. This definitely wouldn’t be the best sleep ever. However, I eventually did fall sleep around 11:00 p.m. or so.

Day 2

Climbing Mt Fuji to the Summit

I awoke to the sounds of many hikers gearing up for the climb. Did I sleep through my alarm? Was I going to be late for sunrise? I looked at my phone and saw the time – 1:15 a.m. Trying to go back to bed for 45 more minutes wouldn’t be worth it at this point. Besides, if other people are getting ready now then that probably means that I should be getting ready as well. I packed up my belongings and walked outside where I quickly realized why everyone was up so early. I saw more hikers than I had ever seen in my life, and I had seen the craziness at the 5th Station just the day before. It was like rush hour traffic; everyone was bumper to bumper in a line that slowly ascended the mountain.

Rush hour on Mt Fuji with crowd of people
Rush hour traffic on Mt Fuji. Everyone wants to summit before sunrise.

I went to use the restroom before beginning the final push to the summit, but even there I had to wait in a line. Now I was glad that I had woken up early. If I woke up later I might not have made it to the summit in time for sunrise! By 1:46 a.m., I made it through the bathroom line and began the slow walk to the summit.

Hiker at night with headlamp
1:46 a.m., time to finish the hike!

For this last section it truly didn’t matter how physically fit you were. The line moved at a slow speed and there was no room to get around it. All I could do was hop in line and walk out the rest of it. After about two hours of this slow walk I finally reached the summit. Here I saw the most Japanese thing I had ever seen – two vending machines sitting there ready to serve up hot drinks. Vending machines are everywhere in Japan, and apparently the tallest peak in the country is no exception. 

Vending Machines at night on Mt Fuji
It wouldn’t be Japan if there wasn’t vending machines waiting for you with warm tea at the summit.

I walked around the rim for a little bit to find a decent rock to sit on while I waited for the sunrise. After finding a good spot, all I had to do was wait for an hour. While waiting I realized that I wasn’t properly prepared for how cold it would be at the summit. My “coat” was more of a rain jacket than a winter coat, and the weather was close to freezing. It was wild how this trip went from me dying of heat in Tokyo to now freezing my ass off atop the summit of Mt Fuji. I just wanted the sun to rise and warm me up!

Night view from Mt Fuji
View from my spot to watch the sun rise. I took this with night mode on my phone. In reality it all looked pitch black on the horizon still.

Sunrise on Mt Fuji

I was truly lucky with the weather that I had when climbing Mt Fuji. Even though I was freezing for an hour, I had clear skies for sunrise. I’ve known a few friends that had climbed Mt Fuji before, but every one of them had overcast clouds and didn’t experience a real sunrise. My horizon was completely void of clouds, but there were a few thin clouds overhead. These clouds ended up making the sunrise even more beautiful as they reflected the red sunlight.

Sunrise on Mt Fuji
The sky beginning to turn red as sunrise approaches.
People watching sunrise on Mt Fuji
Swarms of people waiting for the sun to come up over the horizon.
Sunrise over mountains from Mt Fuji
One minute until sun rise.
Climbers watching sunrise from Mt Fuji
People watching the sunrise from the summit of Mt Fuji.
Climbers watching sunrise from Mt Fuji
People watching the sunrise from the summit of Mt Fuji.
Sunrise from Mt Fuji
Rays of sun through the clouds.

Mt Fuji Summit Crater Loop

After the sun rose it finally illuminated the crater behind me. Now it was time for the Mt Fuji Summit Crater Loop. The actual highest point on the mountain is on the opposite side of the crater as the sunrise. I would have to hike around the entire perimeter to reach it. I’m the kind of person that always wants to officially reach the top of every mountain that I hike, and climbing Mt Fuji was no exception. Reaching the summit on the other side would also present an entirely new view that had been previously obstructed by the mountain.

Mt Fuji crater
Now that the sun is up, I could see into the crater for the first time. To my surprise there was some snow inside!

Strangely, there is actually a post office not far from where the trail connects to the rim of the crater. When tractors come to the summit to restock the huts with food and water, they bring down boxes of mail from the post office. From here you can send a postcard to family or friends back home. However, this will of course mean waiting in another line. I decided to skip the mail and just continue along the rim to reach the true summit.

Fujisan-Cho Post Office on Mt Fuji
For some reason there is a post office at the top of Mt Fuji. Many people go to send postcards home from here, but I decided to skip the line and enjoy the beautiful views all around for longer.
Mt Fuji summit
Looking across to the official summit. It doesn’t count unless you reach the tippy top!

As I approached the opposite side of the crater, I had a brand new view of the city Fuji and the Suruga Bay off the coast. The final approach to the true summit is the steepest section on the entire mountain, but luckily it wasn’t too much higher. From the summit I had incredible views across the crater and could see where I watched the sunrise from.

City view from Mt Fuji
Looking down at the city of Fuji, located right on the coast.
Rim of Mt Fuji at sunrise
Views across the crater while walking towards the summit.
View from the summit of Mt Fuji
View from the summit.
Hiker at summit of Mt Fuji at sunrise
Mt Fuji Summit – 3,776m / 12,388ft elevation

After my obligatory picture with the summit marker, I continued the perimeter trail around the other side of the mountain. From up on the summit, I looked straight down at all the other tiny mountains in the area. However, upon closer inspection, I realized that those were in fact massive mountains themselves. The mountains are so big that they break through the clouds. It really puts into perspective just how tall Mt Fuji is.

Hikers on Mt Fuji Crater Trail
Walking around the backside of the crater and looking off to the distant mountains.
Tall mountains in morning
From up here the other mountains looked so small!

By now the sun had risen fairly high in the sky, lighting up all the villages and towns below. The ground looked so green when contrasted against the dark red and brown volcanic rocks of Mt Fuji. I probably took a million pictures while walking this section of the crater’s rim, but the pictures will never do it justice. It is a view you must see to believe.

View of mountains from Mt Fuji
Small towns at the base of the mountain.
Fuji Kawaguchiko from the summit of Mt Fuji
Looking across to Lake Kawaguchiko, a favorite spot to enjoy views of Mt Fuji that I had previously visited in January 2018.
Mountains in morning fog
Rays of sun shining through the fog down at the base of the other mountains.

Descending Mt Fuji

I spent about two hours walking the perimeter and enjoying the views, but eventually it was time to descend. My flight to Chicago was the next day, so I had a hotel booked near Narita Airport for the night. To get there I would have to first descend the mountain that took 6 hours to climb, take a two and a half hour bus ride back to Shinjuku, take the subway to Tokyo Station, then finally transfer to a train to Narita.

Hiker on Mt Fuji
Enjoying the beautiful views and cool weather.
Mountains in morning fog
More mountain views before beginning the descent.

I once read a post from someone that said they would rather do the ascent twice rather than go down Mt Fuji once. When I first read that I didn’t really understand, but after going down for just a minute I realized exactly what they had meant. The descent is steep and the ground is made up of loose gravel-like lava rocks that slip out from under your feet. Every step you take causes rocks to slide past you, creating a tripping hazard. At this point I was faced with a decision – go down carefully and try not to slip on the rocks, or go down fast at the same speed that the rocks fall so I don’t have to worry about them. In hindsight it may not have been the best idea, but I chose the latter.

Hikers climbing down Mt Fuji
One of the many switchbacks leading down the mountain.
Mountain views from Mt Fuji
Tall mountains in the distance.

As the trail descends it is steeper than the ascent, but the switchbacks are fewer and each one is longer. I got to enjoy the view ahead for a while, then turn around and enjoy the view in the other direction for a while. Further down the mountain I eventually connected with one of the mountain huts where I took a brief rest. It was still early in the morning, but because there was no clouds the weather was already hotter than when I ascended.

Climbers descending Mt Fuji
Approaching one of the huts as I descend from Mt Fuji.
Climbers descending Mt Fuji
Looking back up towards the summit and seeing how far down I’ve come already.

Using my method of going down the mountain fast, I found that the estimated descent times were much longer than I was taking. Before I knew it I was already starting to see more and more green vegetation as I came closer and closer to the 5th Station.

Mt Fuji summit
Finally back down to the vegetation…
Hiking at Mt Fuji
and into the tree line!

In the end I only took two and a half hours to reach the 5th Station, which was half the time it took me to climb. Because I was so much faster than the signs estimated, I had some time to kill. I decided to get some ice cream and lunch while I enjoyed the last views of Mt Fuji and waited for my bus.

Mt Fuji
Finished! From here I could sit back and take in the sheer size of the hike I just completed.

If you ever come to climb Mt Fuji, I highly recommend that you DO NOT buy the kokemomo soft cream. I have never been so disappointed in an ice cream in my entire life. Look at that advertisement. The ice cream is huge and covered in that delicious looking kokemomo sauce. But what you get is a dinky cone with some red juice sloppily thrown on. I’ve never seen a worse four dollar ice cream in my life. This was truly the most let down I’ve ever been with food in Japan.

Jokes aside, that was it and I was now on my way home! I made it to the bottom in one piece and I completed my goal of climbing Mt Fuji. I had perfect weather for both the hiking and the sunrise. Overall it was an incredible experience that I will never forget. If you enjoy hiking and ever have the chance to try climbing Mt Fuji yourself I highly recommend it. As long as the weather holds out for sunrise I promise you won’t regret it!

Crowds of climbers at Mt Fuji 5th Station
Now all that was left to do was wait for my bus, and then head back to Tokyo!

One response to “Climbing Mt Fuji – Sunrise in the Sky”

  1. […] with the weather when I wake up for sunrises. The last time I had been up for sunrise was when I climbed Mt Fuji. I had a clear horizon then, and this time there wasn’t a cloud in the […]

Leave a Reply