by Carille Guthrie
Mt Fuji is located just 2 hours outside of Tokyo. It makes for a lovely day trip, provided you follow these two simple suggestions: 1. Buy your bus ticket the day before, because the train/bus station is massive and hell to navigate if you’re in a rush; 2. Research the shuttle bus times that take you from the Mt Fuji bus stop to the base of the mountain. I did neither of these things.
I decided to climb the mountain on a whim based on a recommendation from a hostel roommate. She claimed that all she needed was a coat (which I had), a flashlight (which I also had), and some food and water (which I could surely get). So, armed with little-to-no information, I headed to the West Bus Terminal at Shinjuku train station. Picture Grand Central Station, combined with the Port Authority… everything in Japanese. Several “Excuse me… do you speak English?” exchanges later, I found the correct ticket counter and got my round trip ticket to the mountain. Thinking that the hard part was surely over, I soon discovered that finding the actual bus was the mental equivalent of climbing a 3,776 meter volcano.
Having located the bus with minutes to spare, I arrived in the quaint town of Kawaguchiko and inquired about the shuttle bus to the mountain. I was more than ready to experience the night climb my roommate had spoken so highly of. Unfortunately, a very courteous ticket attendant informed me that the last bus to the mountain departed 2 hours prior to my arrival and the next shuttle left the following morning. The only other way to get to the mountain was by taxi for a whooping 12,500 Yen. My hostel was 1,500 Yen a night, so a taxi ride of that proportion was out of the question. Side note: never EVER take a taxi in Tokyo unless you’re ready to spend at least $50 USD. And that will only get you around the block.
The resort town of Kawaguchiko has some lovely hotel choices. I chose the 2nd bench on the right at the bus station, since that was the only thing within my price range. Japan is not a place to go if you’re on a budget. 14 hours after my ill-timed arrival, I boarded the shuttle to 5th Station, the starting point of my seemingly never ending adventure. The climb up the mountain is divided into 5 different stations. At each station there are basic amenities like first aid, a bare bones hotel or a minuscule restaurant. A hotel stay costs $75 USD, which includes 2 meals, but it is possible to climb the mountain in 1 day, excluding shuttle bus debacles. If you chose the day trip option, be prepared for a workout. Especially if you're from Chicago, where the definition of a hill is based on the 20 foot ridge that skirts my childhood neighborhood in an otherwise utterly flat topography.
Hiking from the 5th to 6th station is a warm up. Trekking from the 6th to 7th station introduces you to a little thing called elevation. Struggling from the 7th to 8th station pushes your cardiovascular skills to their limits as you stop every 50 feet to catch your breath. When scrambling from the 8th station to the summit, the adrenaline kicks in and although your pace is a mind numbing step-pause-step-pause-pause-pause, the summit is visible and it's the mother of all motivators. The view from the peak, as the clouds come streaming over the craggy mountain side below, is breath-taking. And as you survey the never ending farmland and undulating country side of Fujinomiya, you can't help but feel as if you're at the top of the world. There is an hour long walk around the crater's rim, but if you want to do the trip in one day, you'll be hard pressed for time; there are only 8 hours between the first and last shuttle and it took me 7 hours and 20 minutes to ascend and descend.
All-in-all the climb is worth it; from the views, to the friendly fellow climbers who always greet you in passing, to the day of blood pumping exercise. My roommate's recommendations were certainly warranted, but for my next mountain climb, I'll remember to get a little more background information before scaling a volcano.
Carille Guthrie is an aspiring photographer, an absentee architect, an impulsive tourist and a good samaritan. When she is not obsessing about rugby or managing life saving logistical needs for work, she is avidly trying to explore the four corners of the world.
You can follow her latest travel faux pas on Twitter at @carille1 or view her attempts at capturing light and images on instagram at @carille1 and see the rest of her amazing work at carilleguthrie.com