The climbing season on Mt. Fuji began amid cloudy conditions on Saturday with the opening of the Yoshida route on the Yamanashi Prefecture side of the iconic landmark.
A ceremony to pray for the safety of climbers was held at a shrine located at the fifth station of the mountain, while there were mixed fortunes for those hoping to see the sunrise to mark the occasion.
Spencer Josloff, a 22-year-old university student visiting from the United States, could not contain his excitement as the sun's first rays briefly pierced through the overcast sky. "It's gorgeous," said Josloff, who visited the mountain with two friends.
But Toya Desui, a 25-year-old company employee from Kobe who reached the summit with friends, was left disappointed. "We couldn't see anything because of the wind and rain but we hope to make another attempt next year on the mountain's opening day."
The festivities at the shrine featured a man dressed as a "tengu", a mythical bird-like creature, who ceremoniously cut a sacred rope with an "ono" ax. As the "mikoshi" portable shrine was carried around, visitors erupted into enthusiastic applause.
Mount Fuji opened to climbers amid concerns over "bullet climbing," the practice of ascending to the peak through the night by those unable to book accommodation at one of the mountain's huts.
This year's climbing season, scheduled to run through Sept. 10, is the first since the lifting of COVID-related movement restrictions, and most of the mountain lodges en route to the summit have been reserved.
That has led to growing concern that climbers unable to book a place to stay will try to press on in the middle of the night, placing themselves in danger.
Bullet climbing in a shorter time increases the risks of altitude sickness and slipping. People lingering near the summit could also suffer from hypothermia.
To prevent such incidents, Yamanashi Prefecture has shortened the night hours of the Fuji Subaru Line toll road that connects the fifth station of the Yoshida entrance and the foot of the mountain during the climbing season.
Local governments on the Yamanashi Prefecture side of Mt. Fuji submitted a request to the prefecture to limit the number of climbers.
But the prefectural government's position was that it "cannot impose restrictions." The Yamanashi prefectural police have stressed that climbing Mt. Fuji should not be seen as simply an extension of sightseeing and urged people to prepare carefully.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Mt. Fuji's registration as a World Heritage site and many people from both Japan and abroad are expected to flock to see the sunrise from the top.