I did it twice when I lived there. Both times we had guides who knew the way up and down, though.
The climb is long, but nowhere near ropes-and-pitons difficulty. In good weather it takes about six hours to go up, and about two to go down. There are rest stations along the way, with food and water, and usually lots of people hiking along with you. Little old Japanese ladies making the ascent are a not-uncommon sight as you hike; it takes them maybe three days, sleeping at the rest stations along the way, but they make it.
The atmosphere is almost festive; everyone coming down shouts, “gambatte!” (meaning “fight” or “press on” or something; it’s a general encouragement) to the people going up. This is especially noteworthy because the Japanese almost never speak to strangers, or even make eye contact with them, in public. This is a different situation though.
The first time I did the climb, when I was 14, was dreadful: We drove about halfway up, as most folks do, then started hiking early in the morning. A horrible storm blew up, with the only wind that has ever knocked me completely off my feet. The raindrops blowing down the mountain felt like rocks hitting my head (or maybe it was hail). The crew was me, my dad, another father-and-son pair, and our guide who had grown up on and around Fuji; this was, he informed us, his 500th ascent.
About an hour from the summit the other kid, who was a year or two younger than I, started crying and said he couldn’t keep going, so he stayed at a rest station while the rest of us continued on up. I was feeling really horrible by that time; my face was numb, my legs rubbery. I wanted to stop too, having lost all interest in finishing the climb, and it was only mulish pride that kept me from staying there with him.
Eventually we got up to the top. We stood around in wind and rain and fog for a while, and ate something, then turned around and went back down. The whole thing sucked.
The second time I was sixteen, and the difference was night and day. We were in a group of about fifty people. About half were American, British, Australian, Canadian, and other native English speakers living in Japan; the other half were Japanese folks who spoke English, with a scattering of other nationalities such as French, German, and a couple of folks from the Ivory Coast. (It’s a long story how this group came together. Beer was involved.)
This time the weather was utterly beautiful. We started hiking at about noon; everyone was laughing and having a great time. Several people had big wineskins full of wine, and we all shared it and sang songs and stuff as we hiked.
We got up to one of the final way stations about an hour from the top, and settled in for the night; then the party began. Everyone drank and talked and had a big old time under lantern-light, and it was one of the Great Times of my life. I was sixteen, and the others ranged (at a guess) from maybe 22 to 65. I had always been more comfortable around adults than kids, though, so I fit right in.
We sacked out in bunks at about 10 p.m., and then about twenty of us got up at 4 a.m. to finish the hike in near-darkness. When we got to the top, there was almost no one there, and we watched the sunrise from the peak of Mt. Fuji. I’ve been told that’s the first spot in all of Asia that the sun hits in the morning; I imagined that for one moment my shadow stretched across all of China.
We hung around for a while, sent a few postcards (there’s a post office up there so you can get the uber-prestigious postmark on your mail), then hiked on down.
So yeah, my second ascent was terrific, one of my happiest memories. Sorry to ramble on here, but I had a rush of nostalgia when I saw the thread title.