In a country that’s roughly 75 percent 山地 (sanchi, mountain country), it’s no surprise that activities such as ハイキング (haikingu, hiking), トレッキング (torekkingu, trekking) and 登山 (tozan, mountain climbing) are popular.
In 1964, alpinist Kyuya Fukada compiled the “日本百名山” (“Nihon Hyakumeizan”), a list of his 100 favorite mountains in Japan, and it has become something of a hiker’s bucket list. As a hiking enthusiast myself, I enjoy the trek up 宝満山, (Hōman-zan, Mount Homan) in Fukuoka Prefecture, but the crown jewel of Japan’s mountains has to be 富士山 (Fuji-san, Mount Fuji). This month sees the 山開き (yamabiraki, start of mountain climbing season) on the 3,776-meter peak, which welcomes an average of 300,000 climbers each year.
Before going out on any hike, you’ll want to check the 山の天気 (yama no tenki, mountain forecast) on websites such as Tenki to Kurasu or Yamaten, which provide detailed information on mountains, highland areas known as 高原 (kōgen, plateaus) and 峠 (tōge, mountain passes).
For those coming to or living in Japan, climbing Fuji is the ultimate challenge when it comes to hiking. Many people aim to climb to the summit — referred to as both 頂上 (chōjō) or 山頂 (sanchō) — to catch the sunrise. There, 多くの登山者が日の出に挨拶するために「バンザーイ」と叫びます (ōku no tozansha ga hinode ni aisatsu suru tame ni “banzāi” to sakebimasu, many hikers will shout “banzai” in order to greet the sunrise).
There are four main 登山道 (tozandō, trails) that run up to the top of Fuji: 吉田ルート (Yoshida rūto, the Yoshida trail), 須走ルート (Subashiri trail), 御殿場ルート (Gotemba trail) and the 富士宮ルート (Fujinomiya trail). Each of those trails is marked by 合目 (gōme, stations), with 10合目 (jūgōme, station 10) being the 頂上 and 1合目 (ichigōme, station 1) being the 麓 (fumoto, base) of the 山 (yama, mountain).
多くの登山者は、選んだルートの5合目から登り始めます (Ōku no tozansha wa, eranda rūto no gogōme kara nobori hajimemasu, Most hikers will start hiking from the fifth station of their chosen route), which is where the main 登山道入り口 (tozandō iriguchi, trailhead) or 登山口 (tozanguchi, trailhead) is. It’s important to note that while the 吉田 ルート is perhaps the easiest, it’s also the most crowded. The 富士宮 and 御殿場 trails are more difficult. Regardless of the route you choose, you’ll likely be asking, “頂上まであとどのくらいですか？” (“Chōjō made ato donokurai desu ka?,” “How much longer till the summit?”).
Along each route there are several 山小屋 (yamagoya, mountain huts), where tired hikers can rest, eat and sleep. You can try asking, “ここで休憩をとってもいいですか？” (“Koko de kyūkei o totte mo ii desu ka?,” “Is it OK if I take a break here?”), but you’ll need to call ahead and make a reservation if you want to sleep at one. There are no キャンプ場 (kyanpu-jō, campsites) on any of the trails to put up a テント (tento, tent). Also, 富士山はテントを張るには傾斜が急すぎる (Fuji-san wa tento o haru ni wa keisha ga kyūsugiru, the slope of Mount Fuji is too steep to set up a tent).
The hike up Mount Fuji is considered difficult enough there’s even a Japanese proverb about it: 富士山に一度も登らぬ馬鹿、二度登る馬鹿 (Fujisan ni ichido mo noboranu baka, nido noboru baka, A wise man will climb Fuji once, only a fool climbs it twice.) However, experienced or repeat hikers may try to attempt a full sea-to-summit hike, known as 富士山登山ルート3776 (Fuji-san tozan rūto 3776) — Route 3,776, for short — to make the climb more of a challenge.
There’s no fooling around when it comes to 高山病 (kōzanbyō, altitude sickness), however. It tends to be a problem after the 3,000-meter mark, and some climbers will bring 酸素缶 (sansokan, bottled oxygen) with them to help alleviate it, though in my experience it’s unnecessary. Resting at a 山小屋 can help you acclimatize to the altitude.
It’s best to be aware of symptoms of 高山病, regardless. Symptoms include: 頭痛 (zutsū, headache), 吐き気 (hakike, nausea), 疲労 (hirō, fatigue), 息切れ (ikigire, shortness of breath) and 食欲の低下 (shokuyoku no teika, loss of appetite). If you are inexperienced or worried about climbing to such high altitudes, you should think about hiring a 山岳ガイド (sangaku gaido, mountain guide) to help you through it. It’s also worth thinking about buying 山岳保険 (sangaku hoken, mountain insurance) before climbing. Good insurance should include helicopter rescue and evacuation, and expenses for 捜索救助 (sōsaku kyūjo, search and rescue).
And, of course, don’t forget to say こんにちは (konnichiwa, hello) and 頑張って (ganbatte, good luck) to the other hikers you meet along the way.