Travels with Lonely Planet: The ancient climb up Mount Fuji

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Travels with Lonely Planet: The ancient climb up Mount Fuji

Postby Bob_san » Mon Jun 11, 2007 9:03 pm

I found this article in the Salt Lake Tribune this past weekend:

http://www.sltrib.com/travel/ci_6047438

Also I present the article here in case they delete it:

Travels with Lonely Planet: The ancient climb up Mount Fuji
By Regis St. Louis
Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated:06/04/2007 10:05:06 AM MDT

One of the world's most iconic peaks, Mount Fuji rises to conical perfection some 12,388 feet above Japan's Yamanashi and Shizuoka districts. On a clear day the mountain is visible from the streets of Tokyo, 60 miles away.

Yet for some, the views of Mount Fuji aren't nearly as enticing as the views from Mount Fuji. Each year, around 200,000 climb Japan's highest peak in hopes of catching the goraiko (Buddha's halo) as the sun first appears on the horizon.

The climbing tradition dates to A.D. 663, when, according to legend, an unknown monk first reached the summit. But it wasn't until the 15th century that the ascent became popular. In those early days, climbing the mountain was a spiritual journey not to be taken lightly. Fuji pilgrims, who became known as Fujiko, arrived in the town of Fujiyoshida to purify themselves and prepare for the long, difficult climb.

Since the 1960s the trek has become much easier, owing to a paved road that reaches halfway up the mountain. The majority of climbers now start at the Fifth Station, where the road terminates. For purists, climbing from the Fifth Station is tantamount to starting a marathon at Mile 18. It also means skipping the most beautiful part of the climb, which traverses lush forest past hidden shrines.

Since almost no one starts from the bottom, climbers will have the trail mostly to themselves. They'll also get the full Fuji experience, which - weather permitting - entails both sunset and sunrise, overnighting in a mountain hut and perhaps getting a breath of that elusive spirit so deeply sought by pilgrims in the past.

Of the three routes up Mount Fuji, the Yoshidaguchi Trail is the oldest, first blazed many centuries ago. It begins at the Sengenjinja, where Fujiko pay their respects to Konoha Nasakuya-Hime, the Shinto goddess and protector of Mount Fuji. The shrine stands just a short walk from the Fujiyoshida train station and dates back to 1615, although earlier shrines have been here since at least 788.

A massive torii gate marks the entrance, with weathered stone lanterns and towering cryptomeria trees lining the path - a fitting introduction to the sacred mountain.

The trail begins just past the shrine and soon enters the forest, where deer, songbirds, wild boar, even bears may be spotted. A few kilometers up lies Nakano Chaya, where a shaded tea and soba restaurant provides the last refreshment before the Fifth Station.

Further up is Umagaeshi, once the old stable where riders dismounted before entering the sacred part of the mountain. Beyond that, the Nyonin Tenjo was, until 1832, as far up as women were allowed to go. All that remains is an altar, hidden in the forest. Eventually, the path merges with the Fifth Station road, which has overnight huts and makes a good place to bunk for the night.

It takes about five hours to reach the Fifth Station from the Sengen Jinja. The next day is a more difficult five-hour ascent up the scarred barren mountain, among many more hikers. The reward - with luck - will be a breathtaking goraiko and blessings from that elusive mountain deity for many years to come.

Practicalities
* Although now a dormant volcano, Fuji last erupted in 1707, with enough force to blanket the streets of Tokyo with ash. Flames feature prominently in one of Fujiyoshida's biggest festivals, the Yoshida no Hi Matsuri (celebrated in late August), complete with bonfires lining the streets.

* To reach Fujiyoshida, take a Chuo Highway bus (011-81-555-72-5111) from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station to Fujiyoshida Station (one-way $14). Get maps and trail information at the station's excellent information center (www.city.fujiyoshida.yamanashi.jp).

* The mountain is officially "open" from July 1 to Aug. 31, when the weather is mild. However, this is when visitors pack the mountain. If you can climb just outside these times, you'll still enjoy mild weather and beat the crowds. Some mountain huts open in late June and remain open until mid-September (the mountain is dangerous between October and May and is for experienced climbers only).

* Because services are limited, bring food and water. At the mountain hut, you'll be provided with a sleeping bag and a spot on the floor. You can also order a hot meal here, recommended for that needed boost the next day. Near the Fifth Station, Sato Goya (011-81-555-23-1807; open April 1 to Dec. 31) is one of a dozen huts on the mountain offering lodging and one meal for $50.

* After hoofing it back into town (or catching the bus from the Fifth Station; one-way $13), treat yourself to a night's stay at Mizunosato (011-81-555-72-1831; www.mizunosato.jp; doubles from $115), a traditional Japanese guest house perched on the edge of Kawaguchi Lake. Its onsen (hot baths) have stunning views of Mount Fuji, a perfect remedy after a long mountain climb.


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