NHK WORLD > NHK WORLD TV > Journeys in Japan

Tue, Aug. 21, 2018 Mt. Fuji: Climbing to the Sacred Realm
*You will leave the NHK website. *You will leave
the NHK website.

Mt. Fuji is the most famous peak in Japan. It is also a place of worship, and for centuries pilgrims have made their way to the summit as part of their spiritual practices. That is why Mt. Fuji has been registered by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site.

There are several trails leading to the top. Nowadays, most climbers start their ascent about halfway up, from the one of the 5th stations, which can be accessed by car or bus. But in the old days people used to spend many days on the climb, starting from sea level.

On this edition of Journeys in Japan, Peter Skov traces the route of the ascetic monks and other pilgrims, following an ancient trail from the seashore at the very foot of Mt. Fuji, up to its very highest point.

Mt. Fuji
Mt. Fuji
Mt. Fuji viewed from Lake Tanuki (Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Pref.)
Fuji Sankei Mandara
Fuji Sankei Mandara
16th century depiction of the route to the peak of Mt. Fuji
Marker Stone
Marker Stone
In the past, there was a pilgrimage route connecting the seashore at Tagonoura with the Murayama Sengen Shrine. There were stones placed at important points to signpost the route. Seven of those stones can still be seen. From the beach, it takes about five hours to reach Murakami Sengen Shrine.
Inquiries: Cultural Development Division, Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Pref.
Tel: +81-(0)544-55-2875
Mt. Fuji Opening Ceremony (Murayama Sengen Shrine)
Mt. Fuji Opening Ceremony (Murayama Sengen Shrine)
A ceremony is held at this shrine each year on July 10, to mark the opening of the climbing season on Mt. Fuji. This ritual, which dates back for centuries, is conducted according to the traditions of Shugendo, an ancient belief based on mountain worship, and this is why the shrine has been included by UNESCO as part of the Mt. Fuji World Cultural Heritage site.
Inquiries: Murayama Sengen Shrine
Tel: +81-(0)544-26-6713 (on holidays only)
Fujinomiya Fifth Station
Fujinomiya Fifth Station
The Fujisan Skyline highway runs from bottom of the mountain to the 5th Station of the Fujinomiya Route. The highway is closed to private vehicles during the climbing season (July 10 to September 10). There is an information office with English-speaking staff who are ready to answer any questions related to climbing Mt. Fuji. Before starting their climb, all visitors are encouraged to make a voluntary contribution of at least 1,000 yen to support maintenance and upkeep of the trails and other facilities.
Inquiries: Mt. Fuji General Information Office
Tel: +81-(0)544-22-2239 (all hours)
Hoei Sanso
Hoei Sanso
This mountain lodge, about 20 minutes by foot from the Fujinomiya 5th Station, was set up 85 years ago. It is open for walk-in customers, as long as space is available. However, it is usually fully booked in advance by climbers. The accommodation cost includes dinner and breakfast. Boxed lunches are also available if ordered in advance.
Inquiries: Hoei Sanso
Tel: +81-(0)544-26-4887
Climbing Mt. Fuji
Climbing Mt. Fuji
Rising to a height of 3,776 meters, Mt. Fuji is not an easy peak to climb. Even experienced climbers can suffer from altitude sickness if they start from the bottom of the mountain and try to reach the summit in one day. The differential between the air temperature at sea level and at the summit can be about 25 degrees Celsius. At high altitude, the perceived temperature can be a lot colder, when the wind is blowing there is a strongly.
From Tokyo, it takes about two and a half hours by train to Yoshiwara Station, on the JR Tokaido Line. From there, it's about 20 minutes on foot to Tagonoura, the starting point of this climb.
Travel Log

Traveler: Peter Scov > More Info


Occupation:English teacher, photographer, writer

Length of residence in Japan:18 years

Reason:To learn about the Japanese approach to landscape and nature photography

Traveler's Archives:

> Taisetsuzan: Summer Alpine Discoveries

> Deep Into Kurobe: Toyama Climbing

> Majestic Yakushima in Winter

Mt. Fuji is not only the highest and most recognized mountain in Japan, it is also one of the country's three most sacred mountains. In the past, the peaks around the summit crater rim were believed to be the abode of the gods, and Buddhist pilgrims would undergo weeks or even months of hardship, making their way to the world above humankind and purifying themselves spiritually in the process. The pilgrims, called yamabushi, would begin their pilgrimage with the practice of mizugori (cold water ablutions) and along the way, they might stay in caves or rock shelters above the tree line. For them it was the ultimate spiritual journey.

I first climbed Mt. Fuji as most people these days do: I took a bus to the fifth station and walked in relative comfort to the summit and then returned by the same route. I was never truly satisfied with my accomplishment and vowed to return someday for a more intimate ascent. That opportunity finally came!

Together with my guide, Emi Kamimura, I undertook my own modern pilgrimage, beginning with a simplified mizugori ritual at the seashore. We witnessed the ceremony to officially open the Murayama Route for the yamabushi, before ascending through green, misty forests of soft green moss and twisted black lava rock. At last, nearing the summit, Emi told me about how the yamabushi would count their steps, "1... 2... 1... 2..." as they climbed, to help them clear their minds and forget their needs or desires.

Admittedly, my journey was not nearly so arduous and I was constantly distracted by the nature and the vistas. But I did try to keep in mind that I was following in the footsteps of so many yamabushi before me and, thus, I felt that this time my ascent had brought me a little closer to the historic and sacred side of Mt. Fuji.

*You will leave the NHK website.