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Photographs by Karen Kasmauski
Hiking Japans Sacred Peak
By Miki Meek
Revered as a sacred dwelling place of the gods, Mount Fuji has drawn pilgrims to its slopessituated between Shizuoka and Yamanashi Prefecturesto meditate and worship for thousands of years. Today the pilgrimage continues, but now tourists walk beside white-robed Shinto priests on the mountains rocky, brown trails.
Whether viewed as a celebration of sun goddess Amaterasu, mother of Japan, or as a challenge, Mount Fuji is a popular international destination. The July 1-August 27 climbing season beckons some 400,000 climbers to this ubiquitous symbol of Japan, and a good day can draw as many as 20,000 to the summit. Some begin the hike in the morning and others join the flashlight-bearing throngs who light up the mountain at night. For many Mount Fuji-goers, the ultimate objective is to reach the top and greet the sun with shouts of Banzai! as it begins peeking over the Pacific.
HOW TO GET THERE
- From Tokyo, the cheapest, most direct way to get to Mount Fuji is by bus. Departure times from Shinjuku Station are 7:45 a.m., 8:45 a.m., 10:55 a.m., 4:50 p.m., 5:50 p.m., and 7:50 p.m. It takes about two hours and 40 minutes to get to the main trailhead, Kawaguchi-ko Fifth Station. One-way tickets are about 2,600 yen ($20). Book seats through Keiou Highway Bus Reservation Center ( 03 5376 2222) or Fujikyu Highway Bus ( 0555 72 5111). You can also make your own reservation online at www.highwaybus.com/.
WHAT TO BRING
- While the summer days are hot and humid, the nights are brutally cold and sometimes wet. Wear layers of clothing, a wind-breaking jacket, hat, gloves, and sturdy hiking shoes. You can check weather conditions before you start on CNNs website, www.cnn.com/WEATHER/as/Japan/FujiMountainShizuokaRJ23.html, or at the Fujiyoshida visitor information service ( 0555 24 1236).
- Dont forget to pack water, snacks, a flashlight or headlamp, and spare batteries. These supplies can be bought at one of the ten stations on the mountain, but they come with a high price tag. Be sure to bring pills for altitude sickness.
WHERE TO START
- The two preferred starting places are the Fifth Station on the north side and the New Fifth Station on the south. The trail on the north is five to seven hours up and three hours down. The trail on the south is a little longer and rougher on the way up, but sunabashiri (slopes covered in volcanic ash) speeds up the descent time for many who slide their way down the mountain.
NEED A REST?
- Camping on Mount Fuji is prohibited, but several mountain huts dot the trails if youre in need of some shut-eye. Its almost a 90-minute climb to the top from the huts at the Eighth Station, which cost from 7,500-10,000 yen ($60-80) per person, per night. Climbers are lined up on futons dormitory stylehead to toe. And the food is notoriously bad. The huts are only open in July and August.
- After passing through the stone torii gateway that marks the last steps to the summit, youre free to hit the souvenir shops, vending machines, and the shrine, where you can get a calligraphic stamp on a personal item. You can also send postcards to friends and family from Japans highest post office or do some more rigorous hiking around the rim of the crater.
- On clear days the summit offers stunning views of the lakes below, and after sundown, the glittering lights of Tokyo, 70 miles (110 kilometers) away.
- On June 30 and June 31, revelers open up the hiking season with a festival in Fujiyoshida City. See a traditional mikoshi (portable shrine) carried from Kanadorii to Fuji Sengen Shrine, and join others in offering prayers for climbers safety.
- This year, the 55th annual Mount Fuji Climbing Race will be on July 26. Two races begin at Fujiyoshida City Hall. The first is a grueling 13-mile (21-kilometer) course to the summit, and the second is a 9-mile (15-kilometer) run to the Fifth Station.
- Closing out the climbing season is the annual Yoshida no Hi Matsuri (Fire Festival), August 26-27. On the first day a mikoshi procession and a bonfire lighting grace Fujiyoshidas main street at night. Festivities continue at the citys Sengen Shrine on the second day.
SOAKING YOUR ACHES
- If youre looking for some Japanese-style R&R after your Fuji hike, more than 20 onsens (hot springs) are spread around the northern skirt of Mount Fuji, and Fujiyoshida is host to three of them.
Open only to hotel guests and special lunch customers, it features outdoor baths in traditional styles, large indoor baths, and waterfalls. Cost: Starting at 18,000 yen ($140) per person, per night. Phone: 0555 22 3168
Location: 6283 Kamiyoshida, Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi 403
Features mineral baths and free tea. Open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance fee: 1,500 yen ($12). Phone: 0555 22 3362
Location: 6690 Shimoyoshida, Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi 403
Cold and hot mineral baths, enriched with calcium, are offered here along with a view of Mount Fuji on clear days. Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Entrance fee: 800 yen ($6). Phone: 0555 23 9239
Location: 4401 Oasumi, Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi