So, you want to hike up Mt. Fuji.
You’ve seen and heard about this revered mountain and thought, “I want to climb that.” But you’re also a little worried that you won’t be able to do it on your own. So you decide to join a tour company.
You do a quick Google search of “Mt. Fuji Tours,” and look for a highly esteemed tour company that will get you to the summit, provide your meals, and take care of the logistics. That’s when you discover Willer Express. You look over the website and think, this looks great! The price isn’t too bad, so you book yourself a tour and call it a day.
But today I’m here to tell you why you should look elsewhere when it comes to tour providers. We booked a climb with Willer Express and were pretty disappointed with what we got.
Despite how much the tour frustrated us, there were still a few positives to touring with them. That being said, let’s start with the Pros to booking your Fuji experience with Willer Express.
**Disclaimer: This is merely our opinion of Willer Express. Others may have had different guides and/or hiked during a different time of year, and had a completely different experience.**
Pros of traveling with Willer Express:
1. The Pacing:
This is probably the biggest pro to hiking with our Willer Express Tour. I’m not even sure you could call what we did “hiking,” because we basically shuffled our way up the mountain path. At first, this aspect of the climb was annoying, but looking back, we’re so glad we didn’t rush past our mountain guides.
Going slow helped to regulate our breathing, we made it up to the summit with no symptoms of altitude sickness, and we didn’t get tired as fast as some of the other people we passed.
2. Navigating the mountain & choosing the right path:
Mt. Fuji is not the most difficult mountain to climb, but paths do get congested pretty quickly – especially on holiday weekends.
On our second day hiking to the summit, they took us on an “alternative path,” that I believe was not only easier than other paths, but helped us to avoid the crowds and get up to the top faster.
3. Peace of mind:
Even though Caleb is a planning master, climbing up Fuji by ourselves wasn’t something we were completely comfortable with. Between our small Japanese vocabulary and limited hiking experience, we knew we wanted to book a tour through a company to help us sort out the details.
Willer Express does a great job of making sure that you’re prepared for the climb; two meals are provided for you, they guarantee you have traveler’s insurance, and you’re given a bunk at the eighth station mountain hut.
There’s even the option to rent your equipment and you pick it up on the way to the fifth station. We had forgotten to pack flashlights, and were able to rent two headlamps that first day.
Going through Willer Express is a good option if you don’t really know how to go about planning your own trip up Fuji.
But now for the Cons:
Cons of traveling with Willer Express:
1. Confusing Instructions:
The morning of our tour, we got up early and made our way to the Shinjuku Bus Terminal where we thought we were supposed to meet our group.
The instructions that Willer Express sent us were pretty confusing, and we had no idea we had gone to the wrong place until we asked the lady at the Information Desk. We ended up having to run 10 minutes to a spot on the side of a random street, and wasn’t really the way we wanted to start our tour.
2. Our Bus Experience:
Another confusing aspect to this tour was that even though we booked through Willer Express (which is a bus company), we didn’t actually use a Willer Express bus to get to the fifth station.
Now, I’m not really sure what an actual Willer Express bus is like, but our bus had very little leg room, there were no arm rests between seats, there were no outlets, and there was no bathroom.
I honestly feel that nowadays, these amenities should be on any and every tour bus – especially because it ended up being a five hour drive from Shinjuku to the fifth station. While the traffic was out of Willer’s control, they could have put us on a bus that made the ride more comfortable.
3. The Tour Guides:
This was not something I anticipated being a con.
When we first met our mountain guides, we felt pretty happy and positive. They seemed really nice and funny, and they made us feel more at ease about the climb.
But then we started hiking.
We quickly discovered that our mountain guides had a strict schedule, and they did not want to stray away from it. This meant that we were yelled at each time we tried to stop for a walking stick stamp, to take a picture, or for a quick water break.
The worst part was when we got to the summit, and were then rushed back down to the eighth station right as the sun was starting to rise. We weren’t able to enjoy the sunrise and we weren’t able to get our last walking stick stamp.
I didn’t appreciate feeling like I was a nuisance when all I wanted was to enjoy my first (and last) time up Mt. Fuji.
4. Sleeping Conditions:
This is a tricky one because not everything was in Willer Express’ control. BUT, our sleeping conditions were pretty uncomfortable.
One man in our tour group described the mountain hut as “Auschwitz-like.” This, in my opinion, is a huge exaggeration, but to his credit, they did stuff us in small bunks, and didn’t really give us a choice as to who we bunked with.
We went on the tour with seven of our co-workers, but because we didn’t book together, they didn’t have us as an “official” group. We asked to be put together in one bunk, but they told us it was too difficult. Because of this, Caleb and I were placed together, but we were packed together with ten strangers.
5. The Food:
After a while, we began wondering what exactly we had paid for.
Not only were the tour guides pushy and the mountain hut uncomfortable, but the food was horrible. I understand having to feed a large group of people might be difficult – especially at such a high point on the mountain – but again, WHAT WERE WE PAYING FOR?!
Dinner was a sad bowl of beef curry, and breakfast was a bento filled with cold rice, fish, and egg.
This was a minor inconvenience, but still just annoying enough that it made it onto our Cons list!
At the beginning of our tour, the mountain guides handed out bright blue helmets to wear on the hike – only, we didn’t have to wear them until the next day on our way up to the summit.
We strapped the helmets to our backpacks, but they were so bulky and got in the way while we hiked. I even hit my head on a few helmets from people walking in front of me.
No other hikers we saw wore helmets, and while I understand they were an extra precaution, they still took away from the hike.
7. The Onsen:
I love going to onsen, but the fact that it was a mandatory onsen stop was a bit frustrating. I soaked in the baths for maybe 15 minutes before I was ready to keep going and get back home.
Because of the city traffic, our drive back to Shinjuku was already long enough, and we could have done without the extra two-hour stop.
So Would We Recommend Willer Express?
If we were to recommend hiking up Mt. Fuji, we’d say go with a different tour company, or just do it on your own – it’s not impossible!
We don’t feel like we got a lot for what we paid for, and think we would have enjoyed it more if we had gone at our own pace.
Check out our vlogs from our hike up Mt. Fuji!