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.
Inquiries: Cultural Development Division, Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Pref.
Inquiries: Murayama Sengen Shrine
Tel: +81-(0)544-26-6713 (on holidays only)
Inquiries: Mt. Fuji General Information Office
Tel: +81-(0)544-22-2239 (all hours)
Inquiries: Hoei Sanso
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
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.