MOUNT FUJI - THE SACRED SYMBOL OF JAPAN
Majestic and enchanting, a sacred symbol and the trademark of Japan. Mount Fuji, as this is what we are referring to, is an active stratovolcano and a destination for Shintoists and tourists who want to admire the panorama of the country from its top. How to get there and is the ascent worth it?
The sacred Mount Fuji is probably the most iconic and recognisable site in Japan. Its image is featured on postcards, pictures and fridge magnets. It has been inspiring painters, sculptors and poets for ages. So no wonder that it has become a kind of deity for the Japanese. It is even believed that its name may come from “Fuchi,” which means the goddess of fire in Ainu. The etymology and the meaning of the name are not entirely clear but this just adds to the mysteriousness of the mountain, which often hides from people’s eyes behind the clouds and the smog in the country’s capital city.
Mount Fuji, Japan – basic information
Fuji is about 60 miles to the south-west of Tokyo but even if you are in the city you are bound to notice the highest peak and the pride of the country. With an elevation of 3776 m a.s.l., the mountain stands where three tectonic plates meet: Okhotsk Plate, Amurian Plate and Philippine Plate. Fuji is a stratovolcano that last erupted on 16 December 1707. Even two months after the eruption, preceded by a powerful earthquake, hot magma still kept coming from the mountain. Scientists agree that another eruption of Fuji is inevitable and it may lead to a huge cataclysm.
Mount Fuji – a visit to the National Park
The beauty of the mountain is matched by that of its surroundings – the famous Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. It consists of five lakes: Kawaguchi, Sai, Shōji, Yamanaka and Motosu, of the Shiraito waterfall and of the Aokigahara forest. In the Park, there is a town of Hakone, with numerous hot springs, and the Izu peninsula. The latter is known for the Atami thermal springs, the botanical and zoological garden and the volcanic mountain rage with the highest peak of Bansaburō-dake. The Park also co-creates the archipelago of the Izu volcanic islands. The whole land area of Fuji-Hakone-Izu is 121,695 ha.
Mount Fuji – ascent
As far as reaching the very top Fuji is concerned, the mountain can only be visited twice a year – in July and August. There are four trails that lead there. Each of them has been divided into 10 stations – the first one starts at the foot of the mountain and the last one ends at the volcano crater. The trails begin in various cities, and the beginning of the fifth station – at 2400 m a.s.l. – can be reached by a tarmac road. In high season, you can get to this level by bus.
Mount Fuji – information about the trails
In the Yamanashi prefecture, there is the Yoshida trail, which can be reached by the Fuji Subaru Line. It is at 2300 m a.s.l., and you can start you hike to the top from there.
The Shizuoka prefecture has three trails: Fujinomiya (2400 m), Gotemba (1400 m) and Subashiri (2000 m); the brackets show the elevation at which you can start the ascent. Each trail permits getting to station 5 by a bus line named after the respective trail.
On your way to the top, you will come across 10 fee-based tourist shelters where you can get food, water or use the rest room. Prices are very high there so it is probably best to take all the requisite items and accessories with you.
Mount Fuji – trivia
Mount Fuji in Japan is also a religious place for Shintōists, who treat it as the female deity Konohana-no-sakuyahime-no-mikoto. It has two temples (shrines) and three torii gates. So characteristic of the landscape of Japan, the gates – according to Shintō – are the transition from the finite world, i.e. the earthly existence, to the infinite world, that is the land of gods (kami). They are set up wherever kami may live.
Curiously enough, women were not allowed to climb to the top until 1868.
The shape of Mount Fuji inspired the designers from Taisei Construction Corporation. They designed X-Seed 400 – a skyscraper that was to be 4 kilometres tall, have 800 storeys and protect its tenants from unfavourable climate factors, pressure included. Unfortunately, the visionary design never materialised and it most probably never will. This is mostly because of the formidable costs of the construction, estimated as 300 to even 900 billion dollars. However, if the design were ever implemented, this would be definitely the tallest skyscraper in the world, which could house almost... a million people.
Aokigahara – a forest hiding dark secrets
Aokigahara, the mysterious forest on the north-western part of the mountain, is another unique site that deserves contemplation. It is an infamous place of suicides. Even though there are no exact statistics in this respect, bodies are found there regularly. It became associated with suicides in the 1960s, when the books Kuroi jukai and Tower of Waves by Seichō Matsumoto came out, with a motif of suicidal death in Aokigahara. Still, the forest was a dark place associated with spirits and mysterious rituals even before the publication of those novels.