My Maria moment came during Obon this year when some friends and I set out to climb Mt. Fuji! I also checked out Nikko National Park and a bit of Tokyo but the star of the show (and this post) was definitely Fuji.
Most everyone is familiar with Fuji as an icon of Japan and its silhouette is instantly recognizable. At 3,776m it is the highest peak in Japan and a World Heritage Site (not necessarily a huge coup when it comes to Japanese attractions). It's an active volcano as well, though it has been over 300 years since its last eruption. Climbing season is officially during July and August and there are huts open to sell food, drinks, and offer lodging for rest along the way.
Our timeline for climbing the mountain started around 2:30 in the afternoon. We took a bus about halfway up the mountain to the 5th station and ate some lunch and checked out the various souvenir shops. The coolest souvenir for sure was "the staff". You can buy a staff (not just any old walking stick) that from the 5th station starts out blank and as you ascend the mountain you can buy various 'stamps' that are branded into the wooden staff. You can see it in some of the photos and 10/10 coolest souvenir. We set out from the 5th station around 2:30pm and reached the 8th station by around 6. We were 'sleeping' (I put sleeping in heavy quotations) here for the night before continuing on to the summit for sunrise. One of the major concerns with hiking Fuji is altitude sickness, and while it is definitely possible to do it all in one go (beginning hiking overnight to reach the summit for sunrise) I'm glad we broke up the hike with a rest and a hot meal. We 'awoke' around 1am to continue climbing to the top for sunrise and were greeted by large crowds of people.
Before going several of my coworkers warned me separately about two things-- the crazy crowds and the price of drinks from the vending machines at the top. Of course there's vending machines at the top of the mountain. Especially during Obon we were worried about the crowds but going on a rainy Wednesday seemed to be an alright plan. The first part of the hike to the 8th station was not busy at all; however, the trail from the 8th station to the top was slow going. The path is quite narrow and the congestion was heavy so large portions were spent just waiting to shuffle up some rocks ( just to wait again). While it was slow, I've heard it can be way worse on a weekend so I think we lucked out! The second warning was that water from the vending machine on top of the mountain is 'ridiculously expensive'. I did look and a bottle of water was ￥400 (about $4) which for a bottle of water that had to travel up the entire side of the tallest mountain in Japan to reach that machine seems... quite reasonable to me. I opted for a bowl of hot ramen instead though as, apparently, it gets quite chilly at 3,776m. Who knew.
We reached the top in time for the 5:05 am sunrise and, while completely freezing, it was totally worth it. The descent was a long dirt switchback road down the side of the mountain and, apart from one rolled ankle, everyone made it back in one piece. The rest of the day was spent relaxing, napping, recovering and going to bed at the very reasonable time of 9:30.