Hachijō-fuji is a dormant conical volcano that towers over Hachijō island in the southern part of the Izu island chain. The peak offers a rare chance to circumnavigate a volcanic crater while admiring the crystal clear waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Special Note: Although the trailhead starts at 500 vertical meters above the sea, the recommended way to do this hike is a ‘sea to summit’ traverse, from the ferry terminal to the top. That is the route described below.
The hike: From the ferry, walk up the main road and on your right you’ll see the ferry terminal in a nondescript concrete building. There’s a small tourist information counter there if you want some information about the island. Otherwise, keep walking away from the boat and you’ll soon see a diving shop called SEADIVE. Directly next to this shop is a cheap hostel called Hotchy Joes. It’s owned and managed by the people in the diving shop, so if you’ve booked a bed then you can drop your luggage off at the hostel first to lighten your load. Otherwise, continue on the main road away from the ferry terminal that starts slowly climbing towards the interior of the island. Believe it or not, this road will actually take you all the way to the trailhead of the mountain if you just continue to walk straight. At the first main intersection there is a small shop that sells basic supplies, but ignore this as there’s a bigger and better supermarket further up the road, near the airport and across the street from the baseball field. The supermarket is a low, one-story building with a bright orange roof. You can see Hachijō-fuji’s cone sticking up behind the building. Despite being a popular place for shopping, there is no sign indicating what the building is. Buy your lunch and water here, as there are no other facilities beyond this. Just past the supermarket, you’ll see an orange pachinko hall (パチンコ) and the island’s equivalent of the Hilton (in name only- it’s really just a tiny minshuku that has stolen the name of the successful hotel chain). Take the road between these two buildings (just continue straight on). Soon you’ll pass by a small concrete factory and reach an intersection marked Fujisando iriguchi (富士山道入口). Continue straight on and this road will start climbing up towards the trailhead. If you’re bored of walking on the concrete or just want to save some extra energy for the hike, then it’s pretty simple to hitch a lift on this road, since all cars are going the same place. Your first landmark will be a shrine gate on the right side of the road marked as 一の鳥居. A bit further up, you’ll see a sign pointing to the second gate (二の鳥居) but you can just skip that and continue on the asphalt. A few minutes later you’ll see a road branching off to the left marked for the airport (空港). You can consider descending via this route on the way down as it’s an alternative way off the mountain. Anyway, about half an hour later you’ll reach the top of the road and find a junction. Turn right here, following the sign that says Hachijō-fuji Tozanguchi (八丈富士登山口). You’ll reach the trailhead in about five minutes. Look for the parked cars if you’ve come on the weekend. The trail starts on the left side of the paved road, marked by a stone with the words 富士山頂への路 engraved in white letters. Turn left here on a paved road that soon turns into volcanic gravel. You’ll immediately see a green gate fastened across the path. Don’t worry, the trail isn’t closed: the gate is there to keep the cows inside (you’ll be passing through a cow pasture). Unlatch the gate and don’t forget to lock it again once you pass through. You’ll see a series of stone steps built out of the volcanic rock, with an easier (but narrow) concrete path that runs parallel. There are a total of 1285 steps between here and the crater rim, so make sure you pace yourself. I recommend alternating between the concrete path and the steps in order to give your legs a rest and to work out some different muscles. There are handrails in place in some of the steeper sections, but it really is easy hiking for the most part. Eventually you’ll reach another green gate, so pass through it by unlatching the lock and locking it again once you’re through. From here there are only 530 steps to go, so hang in there and enjoy the ride. Fortunately (or unfortunately if you’re a purist), the concrete continues over 190 of those steps, so once the concrete ends you’ve only got 340 steps to the crater rim. The angle will start to ease a bit the closer to the top you get, and at the top of the last step you’ll be on the edge of the crater rim, where the real fun (and the real hike) begins. You can go either direction, but I recommend going clockwise (just like the buddhists). At this junction, you’ll see a path that continues straight and drops into the crater floor. Ignore this trail for now and wait until you’ve done the full circumnavigation. Turn left on the ridge, following whatever path seems most logical. It’s a heavily eroded area with two or three different paths to choose from. In clear weather it’s easy to see where you need to go, but be careful in foggy weather because it can be easy to fall off a cliff if you’re not careful. Near the top of the first peak, you’ll pass by a small cave opening on your left. This was used during World War II for Japanese troops to spy the enemy aircraft (Hachijō island was a battleground apparently). Continue on for another 10 minutes or so and you’ll reach the summit of the mountain, marked by a concrete post. From here, it’s a matter of following the crater rim as best you can. It’s overgrown in places and can be incredibly muddy if it’s been raining recently. As you head north, you’ll soon start to see a conical island floating just off shore. This is called Hachijō kojima (little Hachijō island). The uninhabited island is only accessible by chartered boat, unless you want to swim 7.5km across the sea. Anyway, continue traversing around the crater, which has some amazing views in clear weather. It should take about an hour or so to circle the crater, so when you return back where you started take a break because things are about to become interesting. Instead of turning left and following the stone steps you ascended, turn right here and drop down into the crater itself. At first the trail is a heavily-eroded channel of scree but soon you’ll come to a junction. Turn right for the time being and follow the well-maintained path to Sengen Shrine, which sits on the edge of a smaller crater. There are colorful stones here in which visitors have written their wishes. After admiring the views, retrace your steps back to the stone marker, and this time continue to the right (instead of left up the trail that will take you back to the crater rim). This path will take you to the center of the crater itself, but be warned – it’s incredibly narrow and not well maintained. The path passes through some breathtaking jungle greenery. The trail can be hard to pick up, so when in doubt follow the route that has the most wear (and backtrack if you’ve made a mistake). After climbing a bit through a really dense area of brush (where you’ll likely be bending over like an old lady to fight your way through), you’ll see a concrete signpost that reads 中央火口丘. Turn right here and force your way through the overgrown trail and you’ll eventually reach an idyllic lake that makes the perfect place to contemplate life. Very few hikers actually make it this far, so consider the a solitude a justified reward for all of the hard work. After this, it’s simply a matter of retracing your steps all the way back to the ferry terminal. Again, if you’re exhausted, you can simply stick out your thumb and try to catch a ride.
When to go: This hike can be done year round, but bring plenty of water if hiking in the warmer summer months. Late March is a great time to enjoy the cherry blossoms and more stable weather. Late autumn is also a splendid time, but make sure there are no typhoons passing through.
Access: From Takeshiba ferry terminal (竹芝客船ターミナ) in Tokyo, take a ferry bound for Hachijōjima (八丈島) and get off at the last stop. During the high season in summer, an advance reservation is highly recommended. The ferry leaves nightly at 10:30pm, arriving on Hachijō island at 8:50am the following day. Click here for some English information about the ferry company.
Map: Click here
Level of difficulty: 3 out of 5 (elevation change 854 meters) (4 out of 5 if you descend into the crater floor)
Total round-trip distance: 14km (6 to 8 hours)