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Japan Journal Pt. V: Hiking Mt. Fuji

Mackenzie Fuller
August 23, 2023

When I studied abroad in Italy, I developed a new love of hiking. Some of the highlights during my time abroad were hiking Mt. Etna in Sicily and the Seven Rila Lakes in Bulgaria. However, I have not done a big hike since then. While I’ve been itching for another hiking opportunity, I wasn’t expecting to find it in Japan. So, when my friend asked me if I wanted to climb Mt. Fuji, I responded yes with no hesitation. Here’s the story of how I and five new friends I made during our program climbed to the summit of Mt. Fuji.z

Hiking Mt. Fuji

Our dialogue started in Rikuzentakata and then Sendai. While in these two cities, we tried to plan how we’d spend our one weekend in Tokyo. Hiking Mt. Fuji was brought up a few times, but planning it seemed impossible. The huts on the mountain need to be booked months in advance and we weren’t sure the bus schedule would be feasible with our class schedule. So, while a group of us wanted to hike Mt. Fuji, we didn’t think we’d be able to do so.

Once in Tokyo, we thought more about climbing Mt. Fuji. We all realized it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and worked to figure out the logistics. If there’s a will there’s a way! On Monday (7/24) we seriously committed to the hike. On Thursday (7/27) we purchased all the bus tickets and booked the hotel. On Friday (7/28), we headed straight to the station after class to catch a bus to Fujinomiya, the closest city to Mt. Fuji.

I fell asleep on the bus in Tokyo and woke up in remote Japan. The views from the bus were breathtaking, with the green foliage and the picturesque mountains in the back. The sun was starting to set which only added to the beauty of the landscape. As we got closer, we could see Mt. Fuji, towering in the sky.

By the time we checked into our hotel, it was already 9 pm. We went to dinner (at a restaurant that used robots as servers) and then a 7/11 to buy some water and snacks for the hike. We had plenty of protein bars, nuts, and bananas to keep our energy up. After dinner, we went straight to bed, all tired from our long journey to Fujinomiya.

To catch the bus that would take us to the base of the mountain, we had to be ready at 5 am. We left the curtains open in our hotel room so the sunrise would wake us up. We then ate a quick breakfast in our rooms and were off to the bus stop!

After the 55-minute bus ride, we waited 30 minutes at the base to adjust to the altitude. We all stretched and hydrated to get prepared. Even at the base of the mountains, the views were gorgeous. The whole time I was thinking “I can’t believe we’re finally about to hike Mt. Fuji!”

Beginning The Trek

We left from the 5th station at 8 am sharp and started our journey. Going in, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I didn’t know how challenging the hike would be or if I’d be impacted by the altitude changes. The start of the trail was very gravelly and the path would zig-zag. Further on the trail was more rocky and I had to use my hands to climb.

After the 5th station, there’s a 6th, 7th, 8th, 8.5, and 9th station and then you reach the summit. At the stations are the huts where people can sleep, but also water to purchase (for 500 yen!). I didn’t bring a backpack to Japan, so the only water I could carry was in the pockets of my cargo pants. So, unfortunately, I had to buy many bottles of overpriced water. At the 8th station, the group split in two. I and three others went ahead while the other two waited at the station a little longer to recuperate.

Mid-July is tourist season, so there were plenty of people hiking. At some narrow points, I got stuck behind others, but mostly I was able to go at my own pace. While I could see my friends the whole time, I hiked at my own speed. I didn’t want to go too fast and risk getting tired or altitude sickness. I listened to the sounds of people’s feet hitting the gravel and conversations in foreign languages (from Japanese to Mandarin to Spanish). There was a wide age range of people hiking, from young kids with their families to older individuals. Being around so many people helped motivate me. When I felt tired, I would look at the little kids next to me and think if they can do it so can I!

The Summit

After about five hours, we made it to the summit! Up so high, we were in the clouds. This obstructed some of the views, but what I could see was unreal. Everything looked so minuscule from above. I could see people hiking from below and couldn’t believe that I had just hiked all that way. It was cold and windy at the summit, which helped me cool down from the sweaty hike up. As we waited for the others to join us, I took a little nap.

When I woke up, I went to get some water and look at the view again. It felt surreal to be there. Climbing Mt. Fuji was something I had wanted to do for so long but I never thought I’d actually be able to do it. I felt so grateful that I was able to make it to the top let alone be in Japan, three years after my original Japan dialogue was canceled. I felt so grateful for the friends I hiked with. 

Heading Back To Tokyo

While climbing up was more physically exhausting, hiking back down was more challenging. The path was a zig-zag all the way down. It was hard to control yourself on the gravel and many people (myself included) fell multiple times. On accident, the group split into two. The girls went down one trail and the boys down another. The path we took was not the one we went up so I got to see another part of the mountain. At the bottom, we hiked through some trees and it reminded me of hikes I’d done back home. After about 2 hours, we made it back down.

Since we came down different paths, we ended up on completely different sides of the mountain. Both groups were able to make the bus that takes you from the summit to the bus station and then on the bus back to Tokyo. It was a tiring day, and I enjoyed resting on the long bus ride back home. The whole time I was thinking I can’t believe I just did that!

Climbing Mt. Fuji will definitely be one of the most memorable moments from my time in Japan. I’m leaving Japan in exactly one week, and it’s hard to believe my time here is almost done. Overall, I’ve had the most amazing experience. From the people and the professor to the field trips and excursions, this trip has been incredible. I’m so happy I got to end my time at Northeastern by completing a dialogue.

Thank you to everyone who’s been reading my Japan Journals. I’m so happy I’ve been able to write and share my Japan journey! If you’re thinking about doing a dialogue, do it! If you’re thinking about hiking Mt. Fuji, do it!

Japanese Lesson (my favorite Japanese word/phrase)! 

か わ い い

ka   wa     i       i

Kawaii! 

“Cute” or “That’s so cute!”