Mount Fuji

Hear about Mount Fuji on Episode 14B of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji (富士山) is the tallest mountain in Japan, reaching a height of 3,776 meters. The mountain itself has 3 subsidiary volcanoes by the names of Komitake, Ko-Fuji and Shin-Fuji. Shin-Fuji being the most active has actually covered the other two in cinders and lava.1

We have records of its various eruptions with the first recorded erupting dating back to 864AD.2  The mountain has widely been seen as sacred in both Shinto and other faiths, such as the Fujiko; a religion which combinres Shinto and Buddhist elements. It was the Fujiko which established the custom of dividing routes to the summit originally into 10 stations of stages.1

Fuji, as it was considered sacred for many centuries, did not allow women to climb the mountain until 1872.2

One legends states that the sand which is disturbed during the day by pilgrims ascending the mountain would re-ascend to its former position at night. According to Buddhist tradition, Fuji rose from the earth in 286 BC after an earthquake that also created Lake Biwa.3

The man known as En no Ozunu (founder of the Shugendo Religion) is said to have climbed the mountain over 1000 times during his lifetime so that he may meditate upon its summit. It is also said that on on of these climbs he learnt the mantra known as the ‘Peacock King’.7

Origins of the Name

These days the mountain is made up of two Kanji, these being the Kanji for abundance and soldiers/samuria.1

Some cite ‘Fuji’ as an ancient name stemming from the Ainu language namely the Goddess of Fire by the name of Huchi/Fuchi but some have contested this.3

The Spirit of Fuji

There are some that cite the Goddess of Fuji as being Kono-hana-saku-ya-hime and it is said that upon the summit of Mountain resided her palace and that the Goddess could be seen floating over the crater in a luminous cloud at every moment attended to by invisible servants who would throw down any pilgrim who attempted to climb the mountain if they were not pure of heart.3

Folktale – Princess Glory

The tale of Princess Glory comes from the Shintōshū recounts a tale of Fuji, this document coming form the 14th Century giving tales of various gods. The story is set during the reign of Emperor Yuryaku, the 21st Emperor from the Kofun Period and surrounds the story of an old, childless couple who are graced with a child which they find in a bamboo grove. Later as the child grows, she marries, but once the old couple die she reveals herself as the Lady of Mount Fuji and returns to its summit. Her husband desperately climbing the mountain to find her again.4

Folktale – The Elixir of Life

There is also a tale surrounding Fuji and The Elixir of Life. The Emperor of China, hearing that the Elixir of Life can be found on Mount Fuji, immediately sets out to take it for himself. However, things don’t end well for the Chinese Emperor.3

Yōkai

The Yōkai known collectivwly as the Tengu are said to have comprised of many different Clan, the Daranibo Clan are said to live on Mount Fuji.5

Poetry

(This section will expand over time to include poems of Fuji) Many poems over the centuries have been written about Mount Fuji.

A poem by Yamabe no Akahito, which was included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu goes as follows:6

田子の浦に
打ち出でてみれば
白妙の
富士の高嶺に
雪はふりつつ
Tago no ura ni
uchiidete mireba
shirotae no
fuji no takane ni
yuki wa furitsutsu
Coming out on the Bay of Tago.
there before me,
Mount Fuji-
snow still falling on her peak,
a splendid cloak of white.

Footnotes

1. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
2. Louis Frederic, translated by Kathe Roth (2002) “Japan Encyclopedia”. London: Harvard University Press.
3. Davis, F. H. (1992) “Myths and Legends of Japan.” New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
4. Tyler, R. (1987) “Japanese Tales.” New York: Pantheon Books.
5. Yoda, H & Alt, M. (2008) “Yokai Attack: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide” Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd.
6. MacMillan, P. (2018) ”One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each: A Treasury of Classical Japanese Verse”. St. Ives: Penguin Classics.
7. Yoda, H & Alt, M. (2012) “Ninja Attack: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai and Outlaws” Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.

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Yasumi Roan