Looming 60 miles from Tokyo, Japan's immense, symmetrical, 12,388-foot peak all but taunts even mild adventurers to conquer it. Plenty accept the challenge: On just about every day during the July-August climbing season, thousands of mainly greenhorn hikers hit the trails, cheering each other on with cries of "Gambatte!" ("Hang in there!")
Summit by Sunrise
Fuji is Japan's great democratic trek. Anyone of reasonably sound body has a decent shot at making it all the way, no complex technical gear required.
The bottom-to-top hike takes about 12 hours one way, but most hikers opt for a shortcut that still yields a feeling of accomplishment. A two-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station deposits hikers at Kawaguchiko Fifth Station, the most popular of Fuji's four main staging points (011-81/3-5376-2222, $22). From there, it's five to eight hours of hiking until you get to the Tenth Station at the summit.
By some combination of hiking in darkness and staying in one of the many huts on the way (city.fujiyoshida.yamanashi.jp, from $60 with meals, reserve ahead), you can meet the goal of standing on the summit forgoraiko (sunrise). The heavens, clearest at that time of day, fill with golden light, and the crowds cheer.
Though it's simple enough to hike Fuji on your own, a package from Sunrise Tours handles the details, with private transportation from Tokyo, an English-speaking guide, one night at a hut, and meals, including breakfast at the summit (011-81/3-5796-5454, jtbgmt.com, $295).
Bring Your Own Oxygen
Around the Eighth Station, the mix of high elevation and an increasingly steep trail leaves hikers gasping for breath. Beyond the basics--rain gear, worn-in boots, flashlight—bring a couple of oxygen canisters. They're sold at Toyko sporting goods stores for $4 apiece. Also, ask your doctor to prescribe Acetazolamide, a remedy to treat the headaches, nausea, and other symptoms of altitude sickness.
Of Sticks and Stamps
One very usable souvenir, sold at the Fifth Station for about $8, is an official walking stick. Hikers have special chops, or stamps, burned into the stick for $2 apiece at hill stations. An old saying goes, "The wise man climbs Fuji-san but once; only a fool does it twice"—and you'll want proof of just how far you made it.
Leave No Trace
Climbers find an environmentally friendly Fuji thanks to cleanup patrols that keep trails free of soda cans and other debris that once left Japan's national symbol somewhat of an eyesore. Don't make their job any more difficult: Take the "leave no trace" ethic to heart, and hike responsibly.