[an error occurred while processing this directive]

More to Explore

Did You Know?
Related Links
NGS Resources

On Assignment

On Assignment

Mount Fuji
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

Zoom In

Get the facts behind the frame in this online-only gallery. Pick an image and see the photographer’s technical notes.

Zoom In Thumbnail 1
Click to ZOOM IN >>

Zoom In Thumbnail 2
Click to ZOOM IN >>

Zoom In Thumbnail 3
Click to ZOOM IN >>

Zoom In Thumbnail 4
Click to ZOOM IN >>

Zoom In Thumbnail 5
Click to ZOOM IN >>


Eyeing Another Explosion?

Map Thumbnail
Click to enlarge >>

By Tracy DahlbyPhotographs by Karen Kasmauski

Japan’s famous peak is: A) a serious volcano, B) the spiritual epicenter of a nation, or C) a tourism engine whose image is plastered on countless consumer goods? Answer: all of the above.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

It was 25 years since I climbed Mount Fuji the first time, and my 51-year-old knees reminded me, painfully, of the old saying: Only a fool climbs Fuji twice. But there I was, at 2:35 in the morning, clinging to the inky slopes with my old friend, Gerry Curtis. Only the lights strung around the ubiquitous climbing huts were visible, running in a crazy line to the top, as we hunkered down in a cold, gritty wind. Gerry, an esteemed professor of Japanese politics at Columbia University and a street-wise New Yorker, was making his first ascent. And now, exhausted, walking stick in hand, he looked dangerously cranky.

“We’re lucky,” I said, trying to avert a mutiny.

“Yeah, how’s that?” muttered Gerry, as Japanese climbers stepped around us shouting brisk words of encouragement.

“For one thing,” I said, “we don’t have altitude headaches”—the clanging pain that comes when reduced oxygen forces a climber’s brain to expand against the immovable skull. “Turns out, as we get older, our brains shrink—so fewer headaches.”

“Is that so?” said Gerry. He took a hit from an oxygen canister and stared at me. “My brain must have really shrunk to let you talk me into this.”

I couldn’t blame him. Climbing Fuji isn’t the snap many people think. Yet every year, during the July-August climbing season, some 400,000 mostly enthusiastic tenderfoots (20,000 on a good day) scramble for the summit of Japan’s mighty beacon. For the Japanese, Fuji (early Chinese characters for which mean “without equal”) is unrivaled in its capacity to stir a sense of national identity even in a society that is more individualistic than in the past.

“People my age can’t even name Japan’s second highest peak,” said Atsushi Yamada, a sturdy 22-year-old climbing instructor with a bushy head of dyed orange hair. (It’s Kita-dake in the Japan Alps.) “But everybody wants to climb to the top of Fuji.” And at 12,388 feet (3,776 meters) you need neither rope nor crampon to get there. Just energy, particularly if you do it a popular way—a lemminglike dash to glimpse goraiko, or sunrise, from the highest point in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Our foursome, including my guide, Munetaka Yaginuma, and godson, Arthur Mitchell, a student of Japanese literature, fit right in. We started up with gusto at 11:30 p.m., but as dawn lightened the sky, the thin air and lack of sleep slowed us to a head-bowed crawl. Then, nearing the summit, a sudden miracle—a luminous egg yolk peeped through ruffled clouds, spreading golden fluid through the heavens. Climbers halted to savor the moment. Some applauded. Others whipped out cell phones, describing the scene for loved ones back home. Elated, possibly from oxygen deprivation, I called my brother Dave in Seattle.

Gerry, rejuvenated, looked like a man who had planted a flag on a distant planet—“Spectacular,” he beamed.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

E-mail this page to a friend


Online Extra

Make your own trek up Mount Fuji with these useful travel tips.


In these fast-paced times, traditional pilgrimages to sacred sites continue to take place. What compels people today to make such arduous treks? Voice your opinion.


Paragliders sail through the clouds to light softly on your desktop.

Send a gargantuan e-greeting to a friend.
More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Although Mount Fuji appears to be a single, almost perfectly symmetrical cone, inside it is far more complex than you might guess. The cone that we call Mount Fuji is actually made up of three superimposed volcanoes. They are called Komitake, Older Fuji, and Younger Fuji. A very close look at the mountain’s silhouette reveals irregularities that are the result of this overlap. For example, a slight bump on the northern slope of the mountain, at about 7,550 feet (2,301 meters), is part of the summit crater of Komitake, the oldest of the three volcanoes. It was active in the middle Pleistocene. Older Fuji was active between 80,000 and 10,000 years ago. The volcanic events that have taken place over the past 10,000 years contributed to the growth of Younger Fuji, the mountain that we see today.

—Robin A. Palmer

Did You Know?

Related Links
Shizuoka Prefecture: Mount Fuji’s Story
This site explains how Mount Fuji was formed, gives some history about the mountain’s name, and offers guidelines for those thinking about climbing to the top.

Volcano Research Center, Earthquake Research Institute, University of Tokyo
This academic website provides information about recent volcanic activity in Japan and lists links to other Japanese sites about volcanoes. The “Fuji Volcano” section offers some interesting pictures of Fuji’s craters and a detailed description of Fuji’s geologic history.

Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA)
The JMA explains how earthquakes and volcanic activity are monitored and lists recent seismic and volcanic activity in Japan. You’ll also learn about the different levels of tsunami (tidal wave) warnings that are issued by the agency.

Introduction to Mount Fuji Climbing
Created by an American who guides U.S. military personnel to the top of Mount Fuji, this site is full of useful tips for those thinking of making a summit attempt. The author lists typical prices for basic supplies on the mountain, offers safety guidelines, and tells you what sort of gear you’ll need to make the climb.

Japan Information Network
The Japan Information Network provides a wealth of information about the country, from a virtual museum of Japanese art to national statistics to a section designed especially for kids.

Japan National Tourist Organization
If you are thinking of traveling to Japan, check out this site, where you’ll find sample regional itineraries, maps, and information about festivals, accommodations, and more.


Kamachi, Noriko. Culture and Customs of Japan. Greenwood Press, 1999.

McClain, James L. Japan: A Modern History. W.W. Norton and Company, 2002.

Ritchie, David, and Alexander E. Gates. Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes. Checkmark Books, 2001.


NGS Resources
Doubilet, David. “Suruga Bay: In the Shadow of Mount Fuji,” National Geographic (October 1990), 2-39.

McCarry, Charles. “The Japan Alps,” National Geographic (August 1984), 238-259.

Weston, Walter. “The Geography of Japan: With Special Reference to Its Influence on the Character of the Japanese People,” National Geographic (July 1921), 45-84.


© 2002 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy       Advertising Opportunities       Masthead

National Geographic Magazine Home Contact Us Forums Shop Subscribe