Have you always been fascinated by the beauty of Mt Fuji? Ever wondered why the view of Mt Fuji has such spiritual significance for the Japanese? What’s behind this site referred to by UNESCO as “Fuji-san (Mt. Fuji), sacred place and source of artistic inspiration”? In the past, Mt Fuji (or Fuji-san in Japanese) was visited as a place of pilgrimage. People believed that they could purify themselves from their past sins and worries by making the trip to Fuji. Back then, before accessible and affordable transportation systems were in place, people had to save money or ask for donations from friends and family in order to take this spiritual trip. Along the route to Mt. Fuji there were many shrines and temples built, sacred places discovered and guesthouses visited. Nowadays, there are trains running to and from Fuji, with a Fuji and a Fuji-san train station. From the stations there are buses running up to the 5th station of Mt. Fuji, so it’s never been easier to visit. The downside of the convenience of being able to travel directly to Fuji-san though, is that many beautiful, historical places that have been sacred for centuries are visited less frequently and are in danger of being forgotten completely. In this article, I invite you to follow in the footsteps of the pilgrims with me to some of those spiritual spots to understand what the pilgrims would have experienced on this purifying trail.
For someone like me, whose knowledge of Mt Fuji is limited to the beautiful postcard images and photographs I’ve seen, a good place to start is the newly opened Fujisan World Heritage Center. In 2013, Mt. Fuji and twenty five areas surrounding it were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Here, the whole family can learn about Mt. Fuji. You can watch a movie about Fuji’s history, read literature in the library corner or go into the cave like exhibition and see a Mt. Fuji model. The easiest way to get to the center is to travel to Kawaguchiko station and from there it’s only a 5 minute bus journey. The entrance fee is 420 yen for adults (330 yen for groups), 210 yen for university and college students (170 yen for groups) and it’s free for younger visitors (it might be necessary to present student ID). Here is the website where you can find more information: http://www.fujisan-whc.jp/en/index.html
Whilst there you might hear the name Konohana Sakuya Hime, translated as “Princess Cherry Blossom”. She is the deity and goddess of Mt. Fuji and many legends are told about her and her family. One of the most notable legends told is that the Princess forbade women from climbing Mt. Fuji because of jealousy, which is why the first ever woman to climb it, didn’t do so until late 1860s!
Another place it’s likely you’ll hear “Princess Cherry Blossom” come up is Tainai Jinja, located on the premises of the Fuji Field Center. Its name is literally translated as “womb shrine”, as the cave where the shrine is located is so narrow, that it’s as though you’re going through your mother’s womb again and are thus, reborn. The shrine is at the entrance to the cave, which was formed during an eruption of Mt Fuji. The cave is so narrow that only one person can fit in at a time, and to enter you’ll need to duck due to the low ceiling height. The statue of the deity is located at the very end of the cave, which is approximately 20 meters long. This is so anyone entering has to make it to the very depths of the cave in order to have the reward of seeing the statue. Tainai Jinja was designated a Natural National Treasure in 1929. If you’d like to embark on this mysterious yet spiritual journey, the Jinja is located in the same Kawaguchiko area and you can find a map on their website: http://www.mfi.or.jp/sizen/index.html
Due to the previous eruptions of Mt. Fuji, which terrified the locals, many shrines and temples were built to please the Mountain gods and many traditions were created in an attempt to steer clear of future eruptions. One example is the Yoshida Fire Festival, which is held annually on 26 and 27 August along 2km of city streets. The last large-scale eruption happened in 864 and since then local people have set up bonfires of wood up to 3m in height in remembrance. Fuji climbers often use the Yoshida trail from the 5th station, but historically it started from Kitaguchi-Hongu-Fuji-Sengenjinja. For many centuries, it was considered to be an entrance door for Fuji climbers. You can see beautiful row of trees and it gives you the feeling that you are entering something truly magical and special. The nearest bus stop is Umagaeshi Bus stop, which is 30 minutes by bus from Fuji-san station. You can find more information here: http://mtfuji-jp.com/special-guides/heritage/list/page1/
Another beautiful pilgrimage spot to visit is the waterfall at Hahano Shirataki Shrine. Literally translated as “Mother’s waterfall”, it’s a place of great serenity. There is a little shrine located there at which pilgrims used to pray on their way to or back from climbing. The closest bus stop is Kawaguchi-kyoku-mae and you can catch a bus from Kawaguchiko station.
There are so many undiscovered jewels in the area that I’m sure you’ll find your favourite, peaceful spot. Personally, I was fascinated by 7 Cedars at Kawaguchi Asama Shrine, which are over 1000 years old. Two of them stand side by side and are referred to as “a couple”. Legend has it that long ago, newlyweds used to go around these trees in the hope that their marriage will last as long as the trees. It’s thought to be a romantic spot for wedding proposals – who doesn’t want to hear that their partner wants to be with them for the next 1000 years? 7 Cedars is also within walking distance from Kawaguchi-kyoku-mae bus stop with buses running from Kawaguchiko station. For more information, check out this website: http://www.yamanashi-kankou.jp/foreign/english/spot/p1_4445.html