With more than a million visitors arriving each July and August to make the approximately eight hour ascent, the crowds climbing Mount Fuji can at times seem a little daunting (likewise, the roads leading to Mount Fuji are sometimes gridlocked). This is especially true at sunrise at the summit, the reason the majority of Japanese visitors make the pilgrimage, an important rite of passage to be tackled at least once in a lifetime (an old Japanese saying states that only fools make the climb a second time), a tradition that reputedly dates back to the seventh century when the first monks began climbing the mountain.
There are four routes up Mount Fuji, each divided into 10 stages or "gome" of varying lengths, at the end of which are stone direction signs along with, in most cases, mountain "huts" (often quite spacious lodge-style facilities offering food, drink, and accommodations). While huts are always open during July and August, be sure to check in advance for locations open during cooler months of the year. Most climbers start their ascent in the early afternoon from the 5th Station so as to reach the 7th or 8th Stations before nightfall, spending the night in a hut before making the final summit climb early the following morning. Once there, climbers rest, take a walk around the crater's edge (the Naiin, or "shrine") before beginning their descent around midday, returning to base in the late afternoon. An increasingly popular variant is to make the ascent in one go, starting after 4pm and reaching the summit at sunrise. This latter option also offers great views from the summit before clouds begin obstructing the view down into the valley, usually after 9am, and ensures a chance of catching a glimpse of the famous Mount Fuji sunrise (goraikō).
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