One of the most thoroughly Japanese things you can do is climb Mount Fuji, Japan’s national icon and inspiration for proverbs (“a wise man climbs Fuji once, but only a fool does it twice”) and art.
I went with a bunch of friends from Waseda; all of them wanted to tackle Fujisan at least once before going back to their respective countries (we “graduated” from Waseda a few days ago). Our ascent was a little different than most climbers’ though. Apparently, many climbers stop halfway through the ascent, sleeping for a few hours, and resuming the climb, aiming to reach the summit in the early morning in order to see the sunrise. We, however, chose to do Mount Fuji in a single trip—an overnight climb—reaching the summit just in time for sunrise, and a daytime descent.
For the most part, the route itself was not extraordinarily difficult or anything, except that because of the way our group was organized—6 girls and 3 guys—it became a bit harder. The guys ended up carrying most of the weight as altitude sickness and fatigue seriously affected a few people (girls) in the group. Needless to say, the climb became considerably more difficult because of these factors; also, especially nearer to the summit, Fujisan became especially crowded, further slowing us down.
At times, parts of the route were very rocky; certainly, one can appreciate just how steep it is simply by looking back (or rather, down). These parts were probably very dangerous, as the wind kept hitting us, the poor ryugakusei group with what was probably a shortage of equipment (we didn’t bring walking sticks). Stories of people falling to their deaths or dying from hypothermia definitely did not sound highly encouraging.
Nevertheless, I still think that anyone living should try to climb Mount Fuji at least once! The view from the summit is extremely beautiful; all the more so seeing as how it seemed the climb would never end! A few people in our group became highly emotional and teary-eyed. As for the fear-of-death, do not worry too much; there are people with megaphones standing on tall rocks immediately outside of the main trail (rain or shine) whose whole job is to shout encouraging things to climbers: “Ganbare! Don’t give up! You are almost there!” This definitely added a touch of humour to an otherwise highly physically demanding climb.
Needless to say, the climb cemented our already strong friendships into lifelong ones. It truly is the best way to finish a year of living in Japan.