Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration

 Japan
N35 21 39 E138 43 39
Date of Inscription: 2013
Criteria: (iii)(vi)
Property : 20,702.1 ha
Buffer zone: 49,627.7 ha
Ref: 1418
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The beauty of the solitary, often snow-capped, stratovolcano, known around the world as Mount Fuji, rising above villages and tree-fringed sea and lakes has long been the object of pilgrimages and inspired artists and poets. The inscribed property consists of 25 sites which reflect the essence of Fujisan’s sacred and artistic landscape. In the 12th century, Fujisan became the centre of training for ascetic Buddhism, which included Shinto elements. On the upper 1,500-metre tier of the 3,776m mountain, pilgrim routes and crater shrines have been inscribed alongside sites around the base of the mountain including Sengen-jinja shrines, Oshi lodging houses, and natural volcanic features such as lava tree moulds, lakes, springs and waterfalls, which are revered as sacred. Its representation in Japanese art goes back to the 11th century, but 19th century woodblock prints of views, including those from sand beaches with pine tree groves have made Fujisan an internationally recognized icon of Japan and have had a deep impact on the development of Western art.

The solitary, often snow-capped Mount Fuji (Fujisan), rising above villages and tree-fringed sea and lakes, has inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries. Fujisan is a solitary strato-volcano, around 100 km south-west of Tokyo that rises to 3,776 meters in height. The base of its southern slopes extends to the sea shores of Suruga Bay.

The awe that Fujisan’s majestic form and intermittent volcanic activity has inspired was transformed into religious practices that linked Shintoism and Buddhism, people and nature, and symbolic death and re-birth, with worship ascents and descents to and from the summit, formalised in routes and around shrines and lodging houses at the foot of the mountain. And the almost perfect, snow-capped conical form of Fujisan inspired artists in the early 19th century to produce images that transcended cultures, allowed the mountain to be known around the world, and had a profound influence on the development of Western art.

From ancient times, pilgrims carrying a long staff, set off from the  compounds of the Sengenjinja shrines at the foot of the mountain to reach the crater at its summit where it was believed that the Shinto deity, Asama no Okami resided. At the summit, they carried out a practice called ohachimeguri (literally, “going around the bowl”), processing around the crater wall. There were two types of pilgrims, those who were led by mountain ascetics, and from the 17th century onwards, those in greater numbers who belonged to Fuji-ko societies that flourished in the prosperous and stable Edo period.

As pilgrimages became more popular from the 18th century onwards, organizations were established to support the pilgrims’ needs and routes up the mountain were delineated, huts provided, and shrines and Buddhist facilities built. Curious natural volcanic features at the foot of the mountain, created by lava flowing down after volcanic eruptions, came to be revered as sacred sites, while the lakes and springs  were used by pilgrims for cold ablutions, Mizugori, to purify their bodies prior to climbing the mountain. The practice of making a circuit of eight lakes, Hakkaimeguri – including the five lakes included in the Fujigoko (Fuji Five Lakes) – became a ritual among many Fuji-ko adherents. Pilgrims progressed up the mountain through what they recognised as three zones; the grass area around the base, above that the forest area and beyond that the burnt or bald mountain of its summit.

From the 14th century, artists created large numbers of images of Fujisan and between the 17th to the 19th century, its form became a key motif not only in paintings but also in literature, gardens, and other crafts. In particular the wood block prints of Katsushika Hokusai, such as the Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, had a profound impact on Western art in the 19th century and allowed the form of Fujisan to become widely known as the symbol of ‘Oriental’ Japan.

The serial property consists of the top zone of the mountain, and spread out around its lower slopes shrines, lodging houses and a group of revered natural phenomena consisting of springs, a waterfall lava tree moulds and a pine tree grove on the sand beach, which together form an exceptional testimony to the religious veneration of Fujisan, and encompass enough of its majestic form to reflect the way its beauty as depicted by artists had such a profound influence on the development of Western art.

Criterion (iii): The majestic form of Fujisan as a solitary strato-volcano, coupled with its intermittent volcanic activity, has inspired a tradition of mountain worship from ancient times to the present day. Through worship- ascents of its peaks and pilgrimages to sacred sites around its lower slopes, pilgrims aspired to be imbued with the spiritual powers possessed by the gods and buddhas believed to reside there. These religious associations were linked to a deep adoration of Fujisan that inspired countless works of art depicting what was seen as its perfect form, gratitude for its bounty, and a tradition that emphasised co-existence with the natural environment. The series of sites are an exceptional testimony to a living cultural tradition centred on the veneration of Fujisan and its almost perfect form.

Criterion (vi): Images of Fujisan as a solitary strato-volcano, rising above lakes and sea, have been a font of inspiration for poetry, prose and works of art since ancient times. In particular the images of Fujisan in early 19th-century Ukiyo-e prints by Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige had an outstanding impact on the development of Western art, and have allowed the majestic form of Fujisan, which can still be appreciated, to be known around the world.

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4 replies »

  1. Shiraito no Taki. It was quite easy to see why it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It’s a truly beautiful work of natures art, very picturesque, inspiring and soothing for the soul. It was very nice also to see people going down and sitting on the rocks in the river Shibakawa beneath the waterfall and I did the same. I was quite taken in by the waterfall.

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  2. I managed to see some of the countryside around Mount Fuji, about an hour’s train ride from Tokyo. I climbed part way up Mount Fuji (you don’t have to go far to see scenery worth the effort); I visited the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum, which owns 80 beautiful tie-dyed silk kimonos that were Kubota’s lifelong passion.

    Early one morning, I visited Shiraito Falls. A monsoon had blown in the day before my arrival so a dozen or more chutes gushed and roared into a small lake. I was the only one to witness this spectacle when I stumbled upon it. Eventually, a few people trickled in and had it not been for these interlopers I would have stayed longer. How often do you get to enjoy a World Heritage Site all by yourself?

    After a long day of hiking, I arrived at my hotel, where my room came with a large private onsen – a plunge bath fed by hot springs – on the room’s terrace, from which there was a view of Mount Fuji. I was neck deep 60 seconds after the man who showed me to my room had left. I rushed back from dinner so I could marinate in it again in the moonlight. And I steeped in it again before breakfast the following morning. I couldn’t have asked for a simpler pleasure.

    For a more pleasant landscape, I took a bike ride with an ecotour company through the farm country around Mount Fuji, along roads empty of people and vehicles, the only sounds provided by chirping birds and water rushing along irrigation canals and small streams. My friends and I encountered a very old woman wearing a quilted lavender kimono, shuffling along in the middle of the road. She greeted us by spontaneously singing some folk songs about the joys of the nature in these parts. Her impromptu concert finished, she smiled, bowed, and sent us off with a “domo domo” (which means different things depending on the context, such as “thanks” or “good day”, but each time I used the expression later in my trip people laughed; I’m still not sure why).

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  3. What would a trip to Japan be without a visit to Mount Fuji? A visit to Mount Fuji will be an instant highlight for any Japanese trip. For the complete experience, I recommend visitors check out the northern slopes of Mount Fuji and the Fuji Five Lakes (Fuji Goko). From east to west, you’ll see Lake Yamanaka, Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Sai, Lake Shōji, and Lake Motosu, which were all formed by the damming effects of lava flows.

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  4. “A wise man will climb Mt Fuji once; a fool will climb Mt Fuji twice.” If you are going to pay heed to this old Japanese saying, you had better time your ascent carefully. Climbing Mt Fuji overnight in order to watch the sunrise over the summit is one of the most popular ways to experience the mountain, but, as the saying would suggest, it’s not easy. If you would prefer not to rush, spreading the climb over a couple of days offers the opportunity to spend more time taking in the views and makes for a less challenging excursion. Booking a tour with a local guide ensures you’re in safe hands and that logistics, such as accommodation and meals, are taken care of. You can even reward yourself for your efforts by soaking tired legs in an onsen afterward.

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