Travel Story 


Watching sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji

It’s around 7 p.m. on an August evening in Japan’s busiest train station. Most of Shinjuku station’s three million odd commuters have already passed through for the day and are at home or out in the Tokyo streets shopping, slurping back ramen or unwinding in an izakaya (Japanese pub).

Exiting into the Tokyo air it’s about 27 degrees and humid. The goal is to find the bus kiosk and buy a ticket to Kawaguchi-ko fifth station on Mt. Fuji, where I will begin my overnight ascent to the 3,776-metre summit to watch the sunrise.

With ticket in hand there is roughly 45 minutes to kill until the bus departs. With the current inventory of my backpack being an old rain suit, some extra layers, a mediocre flashlight and a thermos of green tea, it was time to stock up on some much needed supplies. A nearby convenience store serves the purpose with onigiri (a rice ball), a sushi roll, water, chocolate and an energy drink. The rest of my time is spent wandering around in a daze of neon and casino-like noises. There is a vast array of electronics on the streets of Japan that won’t hit North America for at least a few years.

As all things Japanese, the bus leaves on time. To my surprise it is half empty and mostly packed with foreigners.

As we head past the Tokyo skyline on a raised expressway everyone exchanges small talk and the hustle and bustle is quickly left behind. The tall buildings and massive urban sprawl thin out considerably and the density seems to disappear as we near the Kawaguchi-ko countryside at the base of Mt. Fuji.

The time passes quickly and the bus arrives at the 2,305-metre Kawaguchi-ko fifth station at 9:45 p.m. Upon exiting the bus it’s noticeably cooler – the temperature has already dropped to 17 degrees at this elevation.

After some final preparations at the bus terminal it’s time to begin the 1,471 metre ascent to the summit.

The idea is to be at the top no later than 4:30 a.m. to see the beginning of the sunrise. As the lights of the bus terminal fade away it darkens considerably. It quickly becomes obvious that my mediocre flashlight is pretty much useless. Not to worry though, my eyes adjust as the darkness descends.

Although up to 3,000 people climb Mt. Fuji every night during the official July-August "climbing season" there seem to be few people around at the moment. There are five major routes to ascend Mt. Fuji; hikers usually chose the most direct route depending on which part of Japan they are starting from.

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