With a height of 3,776 meters (12,385 ft), Mount Fuji is the highest mountain across the Japanese archipelago. Its size is the result of volcanic forces that have melded three volcanoes into one: Komitake, Ko-Fuji, and the current Shin-Fuji. Over the course of the last several hundred thousand years, each volcano has formed out of the remains of the last with Shin-Fuji becoming active roughly 10,000 years ago. But this mountain, for all its geologic enormity, is far more than a work of nature—the mountain is revered across Japan as a site of religious pilgrimage and a calling card of the nation’s culture.
📸 Woodblock print, 1834
Shin-Fuji, or “New Fuji” went through several stages of development that included basaltic flows covering large areas to the north, west, and southwestern foothills. The stratovolcano's symmetrical cone has served as an inspiration for artists for centuries and more recently for scientists studying the geometrical evolution of volcanoes.
The shape of a volcano is primarily determined by hydraulic resistance to the flow of magma in a porous medium, with Mount Fuji in particular considered an ideal example of the model. The mountain’s eruptions and formation can in turn be reconstructed through radiocarbon dating of sediment from nearby Lake Motosu.
📸 Hōei Crater, leftover from the eruption. (source: Fujisan curator)
Mount Fuji has been inactive for three centuries, but its current peace belies a fiery past. Its most recent eruption was the Hōei eruption, a year-long event triggered by an 8.7 earthquake that lasted from December 16, 1707 to February 24, 1708. The ashfall from this eruption was immense, with over 800 million cubic meters (28,200,000,000 cubic ft) released.
This followed other destructive eruptions. After the violent 864 Jōgan eruption, Emperor Seiwa’s government ordered Buddhist priests to be stationed around Mount Fuji, reading sutra holy texts to keep the volcano at bay.
📸 Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, the shrine at Mount Fuji
Japan’s connection to Fuji extends into prehistory, with signs of habitation at the base of the mountain dating to the Paleolithic. Through its long history, the mountain has been associated with many deities, both from Japan’s native Shinto faith and Buddhism that arrived on the islands from Korea in the sixth century.
During this time, the mountain represented dual sides of nature, with the capacity for both destruction and beauty. To the south of the mountain the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, the largest Shinto shrine in Japan, was built where the lava flow from the 864 eruption was halted by a water spring.
📸 "Princess Konohanasakuya" by Inshō Dōmoto,1929
Fuji has many religious associations in Japan’s syncretic blend of Shintoism and Buddhism, but it is most closely associated with the goddess Konohanasakuya-hime. According to An Account of Ancient Matters, the oldest surviving Japanese literary work, Konohanasakuya married Ninigi-no-Mikoto, grandson of sun goddess Amaterasu, but when she quickly became pregnant, he accused her of adultery. To prove her loyalty, Konohanasakuya gave birth in a burning hut, emerging with her children uninjured.
This triumph over fire sealed Konohanasakuya’s association with Fuji, the goddess surviving the flames just as Fuji survives its firey eruptions.
📸 "Fine Wind, Clear Morning" From thirty-six views of Mount Fuji
Testaments of Mount Fuji’s beauty appear in Japan’s earliest written works, like an eighth-century poem by Yamabe no Akahito:
“Since the ancient time / when heaven and earth were sundered, / like a god soaring / in high towering majesty / over Suruga / has stood Fuji’s lofty peak.”
Poems about Fuji are largely devotional, but there is also a clear secular aesthetic appreciation of the mountain. These poems largely exclude the firey kami spirits as they were written by courtly poets in the Japanese capital, far off from first-hand contact with Fuji’s destructive power. In art, one sees Fuji meant different things to different people across Japan.
📸 Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji #9
In pictorial works, Fuji is best represented by Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, a collection of landscape paintings by the artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Among the collection is the famous “The Great Wave at Kanagawa” wherein Fuji is dwarfed in size by an enormous cresting wave, as well as “Fine Wind, Clear Morning” where Fuji is turned red by a fiery sunset.
In most of the other paintings, Fuji is a background character, the volcano sitting in the backdrop of quotidian scenes of farmers and laborers going about their day. The juxtaposition reminds the viewer of Fuji’s permanence and towering stature over everyday life.
📸 "Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit" from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
📸 The beautiful Mount Fuji Bracelet
Fuji: "The Peerless Mountain"
Now you know the story of Mount Fuji, bring a piece of that history everywhere you go.
Created and assembled here at Mini Museum, the Mount Fuji bracelet features a center bead crafted from the material removed from the crater of 1707 Hōei eruption by local stonecutters.
The volcanic bead is complemented by golden sheen obsidian and offset by acrylic lacquer beads streaked with gold paint. The lacquer beads are available in red, black, or white and all three are quite stunning.
Earhart, H. Byron. Mount Fuji: Icon of Japan / H. Byron Earhart. University of South Carolina Press, 2011.
Fujita, Eisuke, et al. “Stress Field Change Around the Mount Fuji Volcano Magma System Caused by the Tohoku Megathrust Earthquake, Japan.” Bulletin of Volcanology 75.1 (2013): 1-14.
Lacey, A., J. R. Ockendon, and D. L. Turcotte. “On the Geometrical Form of Volcanoes.” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 54.1 (1981): 139-143.
Obrochta, S. P., et al. “Mt. Fuji Holocene Eruption History Reconstructed from Proximal Lake Sediments and High-Density Radiocarbon Dating.” Quaternary Science Reviews, vol. 200, 2018, pp. 395–405, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2018.09.001.
Yamamoto, T., et al. “Basaltic Pyroclastic flows of Fuji Volcano, Japan: Characteristics of the Deposits and their Origin.” Bulletin of Volcanology 67.7 (2005): 622-633.