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Mt. Fuji

It is Japan's most familiar symbol and landmark for many countries. Mt Fuji, or Fuji-san, is Japan's highest mountain, standing at 3,776m high. During winter, it is a picture-perfect volcanic cone with its snow-capped tops. Winter and early spring are good times to catch the best view of the mountain.

The official climbing season is July and August. It is actually possible to climb Mt Fuji anytime of the year, but climbing during mid-winter is restricted to the more experienced mountaineers. Visitors will notice that almost everybody, from small children to grandparents, make the journey up during the climbing season. However, do not be fooled! Mt Fuji is one mountain not to toy with. It is high enough to experience altitude sickness symptoms, and like any other mountain, its weather can be viciously temperamental. The weather ranges from clear to cloudy, cold, wet, windy, and freezing cold! It is that changeable, especially up on the summit. Furthermore, the climb can be extremely dangerous. One should never climb without any appropriate clothing. Even on a good day in summer, the temperature at the top can be close to freezing.

There are 10 stations from the base of the mountain to its summit. Climbers need not start from the base though. By road, one can reach the fourth or fifth stations. It takes about 4 1/2 hours to climb the mountain from the end of the road, and about 2 1/2 hours to descend. The Mt Fuji Weather Station, located on the southwestern edge of the crater, is on the actual summit of the mountain.

Climbers should try to reach the summit before dawn, as the early morning is when the mountain is less likely to be shrouded in clouds. Also, one should try not to miss the sunrise or goraiko. In order to reach the top by dawn, it is important to start at the right time. Climbers can start in the afternoon, stay overnight in a mountain hut and continue early in the morning the next day, or to climb throughout the night. It is not advisable to reach too early before sunrise as it can get very cold and windy.

Mountain huts or lodges are located all over the mountainside. Do take note that they are expensive. These huts do prepare simple meals for guests, as well as passing climbers. Camping on the mountain is not permitted.

The northern side of Mt Fuji is surrounded by five lakes, which are often visited by Tokyo day-trippers. These lakes offer water sports, as well as good views of Mt Fuji. Very few tourists visit the five lakes, as Hakone has always been the more popular spot for views of the mountain.

Although Lake Yamanaka-ko is the largest lake in the Mt Fuji area, it does not offer many attractions. An enormous swan-shaped hovercraft does 35-minute circuits of the lake as part of the attractions.

Lake Kawaguchi-ko houses a town of the same name. It is a popular departure point for climbing Mt Fuji. It is located near Fuji-Yoshida, a town center that does offer a few attractions of its own. There is the Sengen-jinja Shrine, which dates from 1615. In the days before Mt Fuji became a tourist attraction site, a visit to this shrine was a must before the ascent up Mt Fuji. Some Edo-era pilgrims' inns can still be seen at the entrance to the shrine. Located nearby is the Fuji Highland, a huge amusement park, which attracts thousands on day-trips.

Lake Sai-ko is not as developed as the other areas around the larger lakes. However, there are good views of Mt Fuji on the western end of the lake. The Narusawa Ice Cave and Fugaku Wind Cave are located nearby. These caves were formed by lava flows from Mt Fuji's prehistoric eruptions.

Although the views at Lake Shoji-ko are not that impressive, it is by far the prettiest of the Fuji Five Lakes. From here, visitors can continue on to Mt Eboshi-san, a 1 1/2 climb from the road.

Lake Motosu-ko is the deepest of the five lakes. This lake is on the way to the wide and attractive Shiraito-no-Taki Waterfall.

There are only three youth hostels in the Fuji area, but visitors can still choose from the countless hotels and inns around the Fuji Five Lakes, especially at Lake Kawaguchi-ko.

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