Japan is a land of mountains.
But is there another that so moves the hearts of the Japanese people?
Is there another that so exemplifies the mysteries of nature?
Is there another that presents itself to us in so many moods?
Is there another so perfectly beautiful?
This mountain is a source of security, beauty, and pride.
Mt. Fuji has much to teach us.
Japanís most beautiful mountain is the mountain of our Japanese hearts.
Mt.Fuji, the peak of Japan.
The only one in the world.
Mt. Fuji is a mountain that has grown with the accumulations of lava flow over and repeated eruptions in the vicinity of the same volcanic crater. This was long thought to have taken place over three stages, called ‘Komitake’, ‘Old Fuji’, and ‘New Fuji’, but explorations beneath Komitake in 2004 revealed the existence of a fourth, ‘Proto-Komitake’ stage, and investigations are continuing. It is thought that eruptions from this Proto-Komitake formed Komitake several hundred thousand years ago. An eruption from the flank of Komitake some 100,000 years ago is thought to have formed Old Fuji, a peak that grew through subsequent volcanic bursts to some 2,700 meters in height before enormous lava flows covered both Komitake and Old Fuji, giving rise to the mountain as it exists today. The present Mt. Fuji is thought to date back some 10,000 years, and is still considered to be active.
Traces of ancient settlements have been found in the Mt. Fuji area, and it is thought human beings were living there more than 10,000 years ago. The Oshikakubo Remains in present-day Shibakawacho are said to date from the so-called ‘Incipient Jomon Era’, roughly between 11,000 and 13,000 years ago, making this one of the earliest settlement remains in Japan. Among the things found here are the remains of pit dwellings in a horseshoe pattern, arrangements of rocks thought to have been set there for cooking, and other stones distributed in such a way as to suggest some ceremonial purpose. At this time the volcano was erupting frequently, and while this would have menaced those dwelling around it, it is thought that the abundance of food and water it provided were blessing enough to make it worth living there. The patterns and arrangements of rocks at the Sengo Remains in Fujinomiya, which dates from the Middle Jomon period, are well known as one of the best examples of their kind in the country. Some of these arrangements have been tentatively identified as religious or funerary, oriented toward Mt. Fuji.
Holding an iconic place in Japanese scenery, the beauty of Mt. Fuji has for many ages been painted by artists and celebrated in poetry and song. Ukiyo-e prints like Katsushika Hokusai's ‘The Thirty-Six Views of Fuji’ and Utagawa Hiroshige's ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’ picture the mountain from different angles. A show of such prints at the Paris Exposition of 1867 brought them to the attention of the world, and they exerted a tremendous influence on artists everywhere. Van Gogh's Le père Tanguy poses its subject against a backdrop of ukiyo-e prints, symbolizing the artist's admiration for Japan, and includes a Hiroshige view of Mt. Fuji. The composer Debussy's La Mer was inspired by Hokusai's ‘Great Wave off Kanagawa’ from his ‘Thirty-Six Views’. The majestic and beautiful form of Mt. Fuji has transcended time and crossed oceans and never ceases to inspire creativity everywhere.
Loved and respected by the people of Japan, Mt. Fuji has from ancient times exerted a fascination on people in other lands as well. In ancient China it was said there was a ‘Fairy Mountain’ across the Eastern Sea, and the Qin emperor sent his envoy Xu Fu to procure a potion said to bring eternal youth from the hermits of that mountain. Xu Fu set sail in command of a huge fleet, and some theories suggest his intended destination was Mt. Fuji. Whether he actually reached there or not is unknown, but legends and stories about Xu Fu remain in many parts of Japan. Feelings for Mt. Fuji have not been limited to the east; in 1860 the first British ambassador to Japan, Sir Rutherford Alcock, defied the wishes of the Shogun's government and climbed the peak, while Lady Parkes, wife of another British ambassador, in 1867 broke the taboo against women ascending the mountain. Today nearly one-third of those who climb Mt. Fuji come from outside of Japan.
In the days when it was emitting smoke and flame, Mt. Fuji posed a threat to those who lived around it. Prayers for it to subside evolved gradually into religious belief. The Emperor Suinin enshrined Asama-no-Okami at its foot, according to legend in 27 BCE, to appease the spirits of the mountain, and this is the origin of the present Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha shrine, head of the Asama shrines found all over Japan. The first warrior to bear the title ‘Shogun’, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, moved the shrine to its present site at the order of Emperor Heizei in 806. After the mountain subsided, the founder of ‘Mountain Buddhism’, the monk Matsudai Shonin, ascended Mt. Fuji in the 12th century chanting the ‘Six Roots of Perception’ mantra, and set out the basic route of pilgrimage to the summit. By about the 15th century it had become common for ascetics and even ordinary folk to go to the top of Mt. Fuji, and it had become a place one climbed, rather than simply faced, in order to worship. The Edo period, from the 17th to the 19th centuries, saw the formation of ‘Fuji congregations’ who would climb in groups that eventually grew into huge ‘808 Congregations’ ascending in search of the ‘Pure Land’ state of mind awaiting at the peak.
In the Heian period, from the 8th to the 12th centuries, Mt. Fuji was a very active volcano. An object of awe-struck fear on one hand, it also came to symbolize raging passion for people all over the country. Poets, too, affixed their passions to it, and five of the poems in the 10th-century Kokinshu anthology of poetry celebrate Mt. Fuji. In such poems as ‘When it comes to you/whether we meet or we do not/the peak of Fuji/is nothing special/beside how my love burns’ (‘Love’ Part IV, anonymous), the poet celebrates blazing romantic passion. Even after Mt. Fuji itself had gone largely quiet, it continued in poetry to send its plumes into the sky. The monk poet Saigyo also left verses in which he entrusted his passions to the fires of Mt. Fuji. A single thread of white smoke from its summit implied tremendous hidden power which was then put together with strong emotions and smoldering feelings of love. The people of the time, closely watching and living in proximity to natural phenomena, used the taste engendered by their surroundings to evoke a rich emotional life.
‘Fuji’ being almost synonymous with a word meaning ‘no death’, the mountain was considered auspicious by the samurai warrior caste. The 12th-century Shogun Yoritomo brought large numbers of his retainers to the foot of Mt. Fuji for his famous ‘surround’ hunting parties, which were both a form of military training, and a demonstration of his prestige as the Emperor's appointed Generalissimo. When the hunt took place, Yoritomo would dedicate a show of horseback archery to the Sengen Taisha shrine, a tradition that continues to this day, every May at the Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha shrine in Fujinomiya. Mt. Fuji was also commonly portrayed on helmets and armor. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the 16th-century warlord who unified Japan, had a yellow-and-black wool surcoat with a three-peaked Mt. Fuji design above which burned a holy flame, a request to the mountain for divine protection. Tokugawa Ieyasu, who eventually followed him as Japan's supreme warlord, had ‘Fuji view’ towers erected at his castles in Edo and Hamamatsu. Perhaps, gazing from them at a mountain without equal in Japan, he could dream of a land at peace.
Some 2 billion tons of precipitation, it is said, fall on Mt. Fuji every year. There are, however, practically no streams carrying the water off the face of the mountain. Drawn underground, the water surfaces as natural springs at the mountain foot. The reason for this has to do with the mountain's conic shape. Mt. Fuji has grown from repeated eruptions, and the basalt and volcanic gravel that make up the shell of New Fuji is highly permeable. The ‘Old Fuji’ core, however, is of volcanic mud flow, which does not admit water. Rain and snow falling on Mt. Fuji sink through the outer shell, hit the water-tight layer underneath, and form an underground layer of water flowing down the mountain. Filtered over long periods of time by the lava-flow rock beneath the surface, the water of Mt. Fuji is famous for being both beautifully clear, and rich in minerals. A million tons of water well up each day from the Kakita River Springs in Shizuoka Prefecture, earning them a Ministry of the Environment designation as being among the ‘One Hundred Exquisite Waters of Japan’.
A special group of men both guided visitors to the top of Mt. Fuji and carried their baggage. At one time there were many of these mountain carrier-guides, who would fasten as much as even a hundred kilograms of weight to a special frame and tote it up to the peak. It was these carriers who took supplies up the Gotemba Trail to the peak for staff who would conduct observations through the winter at the Mt. Fuji Weather Station. When a radar dome was built at the station, they carried heavy building materials, and their contribution to the weather station remains the stuff of legend. Mt. Fuji in winter is subject to powerful gusts of wind, making this work very dangerous. There are also the carriers on the Yoshida Trail, where most of the ‘congregation’ groups of believers ascend, and the ‘shrine carriers’ on the Fujinomiya Trail, who specialize in items and supplies for the shrines on the mountain top. Now that roads lead to the top, these bearers have disappeared, but the air of Mt. Fuji still whispers of these special people who loved the mountain, and dedicated their lives to it.
There are no barriers now to going onto Mt. Fuji, which hosts a variety of sports and leisure activities. Long ago, however, when the mountain was considered the home of spirits, only those bent on religious rites were allowed onto it. The ban on going onto the mountain was lifted only for one period during the summer, and this gave rise to the custom of ‘opening the mountain’. Traditionally this took place on June 1st of the old lunar calendar, equivalent to July 1st today. A special ‘mountain opening’ rite of prayers for safety takes place at the Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisa Shrine, followed by various rituals, such as the ‘purification ceremony’ and ‘lighting of the holy fire’ at Murayama Sengen Jinja shrine. Along with these ancient ceremonies people in modern times also celebrate this long-awaited event with a ‘Miss Fuji Contest’ and a fireworks display. Climbers set out during the night to watch the sunrise from the peak. Japan's highest summit, with a view stretching out over the land in all directions, Mt. Fuji accepts all who climb, and grants a state of mind with which to see into all things. The climbing season extends for about two months before the mountain is again closed for the winter.