Mount Fuji at sunrise from Lake Kawaguchi
|Location||Chūbu region, Honshu, Japan|
|Last eruption||1707 to 1708|
|First ascent||663 by an anonymous monk|
|Easiest Climbing route||Hiking|
Mount Fuji (富士山; Fuji-san in Japanese) is the tallest volcano and the highest mountain in Japan. Mount Fuji is still considered an active volcano. The current volcano, which erupted about ten thousand years ago, covers two older volcanos, Komitake Fuji and Old Fuji.
Almost 200,000 visitors climb to its summit every year during the climbing season, from July 1 to August 27. It is also a religious center; the Shinto goddess Konohana Sakuya Hime is revered at shrines at the base and around the rim of the crater, and Buddhists called its summit “zenjo,” a Buddhist term describing a perfect meditative state. Buddhists also regard Fuji as the abode of the Buddha of All-Illuminating Wisdom. Mount Fuji is a well-known symbol of Japan and is frequently depicted in art and photographs. It was added to the World Heritage List as a Cultural Site on June 22, 2013.
|Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration*|
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Inscription||2013 (37th Session)|
|* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.|
** Region as classified by UNESCO.
Mount Fuji is the tallest volcano and the highest mountain in Japan. It straddles the boundary of Shizuoka and Yamanashi Prefectures just west of Tokyo, from where it can be seen on a clear day. It is located near the Pacific coast of central Honshu. Three small cities surround it, Gotemba (East), Fuji-Yoshida (North) and Fujinomiya (Southwest).
Mount Fuji has five lakes around it: Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Yamanaka, Lake Sai, Lake Motosu and Lake Shoji. They—along with nearby Lake Ashi—provide excellent views of the mountain. It is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.
Mount Fuji is the tallest volcano in Japan, and also the volcano with the greatest volume. It is believed to have grown greatly in volume in the last 100,000 years, so it can be classified as a "young volcano." Scientists have identified four distinct phases of volcanic activity in the formation of Mount Fuji. The first phase, called Sen-komitake, is composed of an andesite core recently discovered deep within the mountain. Sen-komitake was followed by the "Komitake Fuji," a basalt layer believed to have been formed several hundred thousand years ago. Approximately 100,000 years ago, "Old Fuji" was formed over the top of Komitake Fuji. The modern, "New Fuji" is believed to have formed over the top of Old Fuji by around ten thousand years ago.
The mountain as it appears now is the "New Fuji volcano," which began to erupt about 10,000 years ago. Under the "New Fuji volcano" lie the "Komitake volcano," and the "Old Fuji volcano."
There has been volcanic activity in the vicinity of Mount Fuji for several million years. About 700,000 years ago, in the location occupied by the current Mount Fuji, a volcano known as Mount Komitake (小御岳火山, "small mountain volcano"), became active. The peak of the ancient volcano, Komitake, can be seen from the north face of Mount Fuji at the fifth station, about 2,300 meters above sea-level. Around 100,000 years after becoming inactive, Komitake entered another period of activity. The volcano of this period is known as Old Fuji (古富士, kofuji) and was characterized by explosive eruptions which threw out large quantities of scoria, volcanic ash and lava to form a large mountain which reached a height of 3,000 meters.
Following the Old Fuji period, there were about four thousand years of inactivity, ending when Mount Fuji became active again around five thousand years ago; this period is known as New Fuji (新富士, shinfuji) and continues to the present day. Eruptions of New Fuji exhibit phenomena such as lava flows, magma, scoria, volcanic ash, collapses and side eruptions. Ash from New Fuji is often black, and eruptions are new in terms of geological layers. Valuable data on the activity of Mount Fuji, exhibiting a range of representative eruptions, is recorded in Japanese historical documents dating from the eighth century onwards.
About 2,300 years ago the east face of the volcano collapsed, and liquid mud flowed down to Gotenba area as far as the Ashigara plain in the east and the Suruga bay across Mishima city in the south. This incident is now called the Gotenba mud flow (御殿場泥流, Gotenba deiryū).
In 684 (the sixth year of the Jōgan era) there was an eruption on the northeast side of Mount Fuji, which produced a great amount of lava. Some of the lava filled up a large lake (Senoumi, せの海) which existed at the time, dividing it into two lakes, Saiko (西湖) and Shōjiko (精進湖). This is known as the Aokigahara lava (青木ヶ原溶岩) and at present is covered by forest.
The latest eruption, in 1707 (the fourth year of the Hōei era), was known as the great Hōei eruption. It began 49 days after the Hōei earthquake, which was on the largest scale found in Japan. This eruption spread a vast amount of volcanic ash and scoria over a region as far away as Edo (Tokyo). A new crater, along with a second peak, named Hōei-zan after the era name, formed halfway down the side of Mount Fuji.
The volcano is currently classified as active with a low risk of eruption. The last recorded eruption occurred in 1707, during the Edo period. At this time, Mount Fuji is located at the point where the Eurasian Plate (or the Amurian Plate), the Okhotsk Plate, and the Philippine Plate meet. Those plates form the western part of Japan, the eastern part of Japan, and the Izu Peninsula respectively.
Fuji-san is sometimes referred to as Fuji Yama in some Western texts, because the third character of its name (山, meaning mountain) can also be pronounced "yama." However, this name is obsolete in Japan. Additionally, "Fuji" may be spelled "Huzi" when using Nippon-shiki Romanization. Nevertheless, the standard spelling is generally considered a more accurate reflection of the Japanese pronunciation.
Other Japanese names for Mount Fuji that have become obsolete or poetic include Fuji-no-Yama (ふじの山, the Mountain of Fuji), Fuji-no-Takane (ふじの高嶺, the High Peak of Fuji), Fuyō-hō (芙蓉峰, the Lotus Peak), and Fu-gaku (富岳 or 富嶽, the first character of 富士, Fuji, and 岳, mountain).
The current kanji for Mt. Fuji (富 and 士) mean wealth or abundant and a man with a certain status respectively, but it is likely these characters were selected because their pronunciations match the syllables of the name, rather than because of their meanings. The origin of the name Fuji is unclear. An early folk etymology claims that Fuji came from (不二, not + two), meaning without equal or nonpareil. Another claims that it came from (不尽, not + exhaust), meaning neverending.
A Japanese classical scholar in the Edo period, Hirata Atsutane, speculated that the name is from a word meaning "a mountain standing up shapely as an ear (ho) of a rice plant." A British missionary, John Batchelor (1854-1944), argued that the name is from the Ainu word for 'fire' (huchi) of fire-deity (huchi kamuy), but the Japanese linguist Kyosuke Kindaichi (1882-1971) denied this on grounds of phonetic development (sound change). It is also pointed out that huchi in Ainu means an 'old woman' and ape is the word for 'fire,' ape huchi kamuy being the fire deity. Research on the distribution of place names that include Fuji also suggest the origin of the word fuji is in Yamato language rather than Ainu. A Japanese toponymist Kanji Kagami argued that the name has the same root as 'wisteria' (fuji) and 'rainbow' (niji, but with an alternative word fuji), and came from its "long well-shaped slope."
A text of the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter says that the name came from "immortal" (不死, fushi, fuji) and also from the image of abundant (富, fu) soldiers (士, shi, ji) ascending the slopes of the mountain.
Shugendo myths relate that the first ascent of Mount Fuji was made in 663 C.E. by the wizard-sage Enno Gyoja, but it is more probable that people began ascending the mountain in the twelfth or thirteenth century. In the fourteenth century, practitioners of Shugendo (a movement worshiping the nature spirits of mountains) established the first climbing route to lead pilgrims to Fuji’s summit. Four centuries later, Fuji-ko, societies devoted to the worship of Fuji, became a major religious movement and inspired thousands of people to embark on annual pilgrimages. The summit was forbidden to women until the Meiji era; today almost half of those climbing Mount Fuji are women. The first ascent by a foreigner was made by Sir Rutherford Alcock in 1860. Today, it is a popular tourist destination and a common destination for mountain-climbing.
Mount Fuji is surrounded by myths and legends concerning its spiritual significance and resident spirits and deities. Around 800 C.E. a shrine was built at the base of the mountain to placate the fire god that caused the volcano to erupt. In the eighth-century Kojiki, the Shinto goddess Konohana Sakuya Hime, “the Goddess of the Flowering Trees,” married a god who grew jealous when she became pregnant soon after their wedding. To prove her loyalty to him, she entered a flaming bower and gave birth to a son, untouched by the flames. Sometime between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries the belief arose that Konohana Sakuya Hime could protect the villages around Mount Fuji as she had protected her son. During the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) the Fuji-ko (Fuji mountain-climbing movement) confirmed her as the principal goddess of the mountain. Today she is still worshipped in Shinto shrines at the base and summit of Mount Fuji, including the one originally built for the fire god, and honored at a fire ceremony in Fuji-Yoshida each year at the end of the climbing season. Fuji-ko members maintain her altars in their homes, and each group lights a torch in her honor at the fire ceremony.
Buddhists found in Fuji an inspiring symbol of meditation and called its summit “zenjo,” a Buddhist term describing a perfect meditative state. Buddhists also came to regard Fuji as the abode of the Buddha of All-Illuminating Wisdom. Mount Fuji is also an important religious center; nearly two thousand religious organizations are based around the mountain, including one of Japan’s largest Buddhist sects.
The soaring volcanic cone of Mount Fuji has been a frequent subject of Japanese art. The most renowned work is Ukiyo-e painter Hokusai's masterpiece, 36 Views of Mount Fuji. It has also been mentioned in Japanese literature throughout the ages and has been the subject of countless poems.
Ancient samurai used the base of Mount Fuji as a remote training area, near the present day town of Gotemba. The shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo held yabusame in the area in the early Kamakura period. As of 2006, the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the United States Marine Corps operate military bases near Mount Fuji.
Though it is often enveloped in clouds, on a clear day, Mount Fuji can be seen from downtown Tokyo. It provides a stunning backdrop for numerous scenic drives, hot spring resort towns, tourist hotels, and amusement parks.
Climbing Mount Fuji
An estimated 200,000 people climb Mount Fuji every year, 30 percent of which are foreigners. The ascent can take from three to seven hours, and the descent, two to five hours. The hike is divided into ten stations and there are paved roads up to the fifth station, about 2,300 meters above sea level. Huts at this station are not usually manned at night for nighttime climbers. There are eight peaks, which climbers are able to visit by going around the crater. The highest point in Japan used to be the site of a radar station.
The most popular period for people to hike up Mount Fuji is from July 1 through August 27, while huts and other facilities are operating. The buses which transport climbers to the fifth station start running on July 1.
The four trails from the foot of the mountain offer historical sites. Murayama trail is the oldest Mount Fuji trail, and Yoshida trail still has many old shrines, teahouses, and huts along its path. These routes have recently been gaining in popularity and are being restored.
Aokigahara, a forest lying at the base of Mount Fuji, is the subject of many legends about monsters, ghosts, and goblins haunting the forest. The caverns found in the Aokigahara forest contain ice even during summer. According to one legend, the rock of the mountain contains large iron deposits that cause compasses and even Global Positioning Systems to stop functioning, making it easy to get lost. This is a myth; the magnetic field generated by the iron is too weak to have any significant effect. Both the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. Marines run regular training exercises throughout the forest, during which compasses, GPS equipment and other navigational electronics have been verified as functioning properly.
Pollution Problem and World Heritage Status
In the 1960s, Japan built a highway halfway up the mountain, opening its trails to crowds of tourists and pilgrims who now number almost 200,000 annually. This resulted in a serious pollution problem, with trash littering the trails and sewage being dumped down the mountain. In the early 1990s, local citizens and environmental groups sought protection for Mount Fuji by petitioning to have the volcano declared a World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). After a visit in 1995, UNESCO representatives concluded that although Mount Fuji was worthy of World Heritage listing, Japan first would have to solve the pollution problems and implement an effective management plan.
Japanese citizens and organizations responded by launching an increasingly successful clean-up campaign. In 2007, Mount Fuji was again submitted to UNESCO for World Heritage listing, as a cultural (rather than natural) site. This categorization is justified by noting that, in addition to being Japan's highest mountain and a beautiful example of a stratovolcano, this mountain is an iconic symbol of Japan having played a significant role in Japanese culture in art, literature, and religion throughout Japanese history. The submission was approved in June 2013.
Future volcanic activity
Experts cannot predict when the next eruption of Mount Fuji will occur. Signs of renewed volcanic activity, such as steam rising from holes in the mountain’s side, appeared several times at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Concerns increased following the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, and readings indicated that pressure in Mount Fuji's magma chamber had increased to a level that suggested an eruption was imminent. A government report issued in 2002 had said that a new eruption could spew lava, debris, and ash over hundreds of square miles, and the Japanese government prepared an emergency management plan.
- Global Volcanism Program, Fujisan Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
- “Third ancient volcano discovered deep inside Fuji.” The Japan Times Online, April 4, 2004. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
- Liat Clark, Pressure in Mount Fuji is now higher than last eruption, warn experts Wired.co.uk, September 6, 2012. Retrieved February 23, 2019.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Bouquillard, Jocelyn. Hokusai's Mount Fuji: The Complete Views in Color. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2007. ISBN 0810993406
- Davidson, Cathy N. 36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006. ISBN 0822339137
- Lopes, Rosaly. The Volcano Adventure Guide. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0521554534
- Reiber, Beth and Janie Spencer. Frommer's Japan 8th edition. Frommers, 2006. ISBN 0471763918
All links retrieved November 10, 2022.
- Live Webcams of Mount Fuji
- Information about climbing Mt. Fuji
- Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration UNESCO
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