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Mount Fuji

Timeless Symbol of Japan

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Fuji's symmetrical beauty was revered in ancient spiritual beliefs and is the subject of many works of art. Fuji presents itself in many different ways: A view from the flowering lakeshore, "Upside-Down Fuji" reflected in a lake surface, "Red Fuji" lit by the morning sun and "Diamond Fuji" with a halo when backlit by the sun.

Mount Fuji is a world-famous mountain symbolic of Japan. At 3,776 meters high, its perfectly symmetrical shape can be seen from all around. Mount Fuji presents different faces in different seasons. In Japan, they describe the mountain as "Diamond Fuji" when backlit by the sun at dawn or dusk and as "Red Fuji" when lit by the early morning sun. Mount Fuji is an important part of Japanese culture. The mountain has been the subject of numerous works of art since the first ukiyoe woodblock prints that influenced overseas artists like Vincent van Gogh. It has also been part of Japan's ancient faiths.

Mount Fuji is in Yamanashi Prefecture, only 100 km from the center of Tokyo, and can be reached by express train in around 2 hours.

Sacred Beauty of Volcano

Mount Fuji is what is called a composite volcano, meaning that it is formed from many layers of hardened lava that has spread to produce an extensive conical base. The last major eruption occurred around 10,000 years ago.

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"South Wind, Clear Sky," also known as "Red Fuji," is a part of the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series of ukiyoe (woodblock prints) produced by famous Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849). He has influenced overseas artists like Vincent van Gogh. (Photo courtesy of Yamanashi Prefectural Museum)

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The lava on Mount Fuji acts as a natural filter for snow and rain falling on the mountainside, producing Fuji mineral water. The village of Oshino in Yamanashi Prefecture, around 20 minutes by car from the city of Fujiyoshida, has eight springwater ponds called Oshino Hakkai. You can see grains of sand dancing in the ponds as springwater pours out after filtering through the Fuji rocks for over 20 years. The views over the ponds are breathtaking, with endlessly blue water, fresh green pondweeds, and golden trout swimming lazily.

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An Oshino Hakkai springwater pond filled with Mount Fuji springwater, one of Japan's best-known mineral waters. (Photo courtesy of Oshino village, Yamanashi Prefecture)

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Fujigoko is a region of Fuji springwater lakes, including Lake Motosu, Lake Kawaguchi and Lake Yamanaka. The shores of the lakes are colored with seasonal flowers like moss pink, lavender and tulip. The image of Mount Fuji reflected in a lake surface is called "Upside-Down Fuji" in Japan and can be found on the 1,000 yen note. Geological formations made by flowing lava are a feature of this region. Nature tours are popular to visit lava tubes nearly 400 meters long and see lava tree molds.


Mountain Worship and Climbing

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Climbers await a view of the sunrise from the peak of Mount Fuji.

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The grounds of Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine: the start point of the Fujiyoshidaguchi route, the most popular of the four climbing routes to the top of Mount Fuji.

For those wanting to climb to the top, the most common route is to take a bus up to a halfway point, called a fifth station, and start walking from there. The climb is not particularly hard if spread over 2 days, with a rest of a few hours in mountain huts near the eighth station before starting off again before daybreak. Climbers can watch the starry sky on the ascent, including the Big Dipper, and can even see the famous Tokyo Skytree in the city center if the weather is clear. Nearly 300,000 people throng to Mount Fuji each year to make the climb. The climb is popular because it is an easy ascent that can be managed by inexperienced climbers. Winter clothing is essential even in the summer climbing season because temperatures at the mountaintop can fall to around 5°C in the afternoon.

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The Yoshida Fire Festival held at the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine: 3m-tall taimatsu torches are set on fire and paraded to create a "sea of fire" around the streets of Fujiyoshida. (Photo courtesy of Fujiyoshida city, Yamanashi Prefecture)

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The Japanese used to believe that gods lived on Mount Fuji. In the 17th-19th centuries, Mount Fuji was thought to have mystical energy, and mountain worship, called Fuji-ko, was popular. The Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine was the start point for mountaintop pilgrimages. This shrine was built in 788 to calm the people's fears of a volcanic eruption. The Yoshida Fire Festival is held at this shrine on August 26 every year to mark the end of the summer climbing season. The festival is one of Japan's three most unique festivals and features over 70 large taimatsu torches 3 meters in height that are set on fire and carried blazing along a 2-km route.


Yamanashi Food and Wine

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Above left: Yoshida udon noodles, a regional specialty in Fujiyoshida. The noodles are simple and come with a topping of boiled cabbage. The flavor can be adjusted using miso condiments. (Shirasu Udon noodle shop in Fujiyoshida)
Below left: Koshu wine is gaining a good reputation in Europe. The wine pairs well with Japanese food. (Photo courtesy of Chuo Budoshu Co.)
Right: The typical Yamanashi dish hoto, which is said to have been eaten on the battlefield by warlords and soldiers during the Warring States period between the late 15th and 16th centuries. (Photo courtesy of Sengen Chaya restaurant)

The city of Fujiyoshida is at an altitude of 700—900 meters. The land here is not suited to rice cultivation, so the region has become famous for the surprisingly chewy Yoshida udon noodles that are made from ground wheat. There are around 60 noodle shops in Fujiyoshida. The city is also famous for hoto, a hearty stew made from the same wheat noodles roughly chopped up and mixed with pumpkin and other vegetables. The story goes that hoto was eaten on the battlefield by the 16th-century warlord Takeda Shingen who controlled this region.

Yamanashi Prefecture is one of Japan's fruit-producing regions, and fields of peaches and grapes ripen between summer and fall. The Koshu grape variety has been grown for over 1,300 years around Koshu city on the northern side of Mount Fuji. This grape variety is of the same lineage as the grapes used to make wine in Europe. The production of dry white wine from the Koshu grape has come a long way over the past 10 years. The wine is gaining a good reputation, even in Europe, for its delicate flavor.


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An outdoor hot spring where one can take in the view of Mount Fuji at dusk. (Photo courtesy of Hotel Kaneyamaen)

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Hot-Spring Stays and Souvenirs

There is a collection of hot springs (onsen in Japanese) nestled around Mount Fuji, including Fujigoko Kaneyama Onsen and Fujikawaguchiko Onsen village. Visitors can soak in outdoor hot springs while admiring the view of Mount Fuji and dine on seasonal Japanese food, such as fresh ayu sweetfish.

Recommended as souvenirs of one's trip is Koshu inden, a traditional handicraft made by technique used to make patterned objects from lacquered deerskin. The craftsmanship has a 400-year history. Koshu inden coin purses and other handy items are light and supple and come in a range of gorgeous colors. Shingen mochi rice cakes, named after Takeda Shingen, are another souvenir typical of Yamanashi. They are eaten covered in soybean flour and drizzled with kuro-mitsu dark brown sugar syrup — delicious!

Thus, you cannot help but feel the aura of Mount Fuji when traveling in this region. Japan's highest mountain is closely woven into the country's legends and arts, and is endlessly fascinating to those who see it.

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Ayu sweetfish broiled with salt and presented as a living riverbed scene. (Photo courtesy of Hotel Kaneyamaen)
Japanese-style clasped coin purses made
using Koshu inden craftsmanship that dates back 400 years. (Photo courtesy of Inden-ya Uehara Yushichi Co.)
Shingen mochi rice cakes are typical Yamanashi souvenirs. Mixed with fragrant soybean flour and drizzled with kuro-mitsu dark brown sugar syrup, they are sweet and soft. (Photo courtesy of Kikyouya)

(August 2012)

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