The Mt. Fuji World Heritage Centre, Shizuoka, which opened to the public in December 2017, delivers an engaging experience of Japan’s most venerated volcano including a virtual climb to its peak. The Japan Journal paid the Centre a visit.
Located about 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo and towering 3,776 meters above sea level, Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan. Every year, millions of tourists travel to get close to the mountain and, this summer, more than 200,000 attempted the climb to its peak.
For Japanese people, Mount Fuji is not merely a beautiful spectacle, but also an object of worship and a source of artistic inspiration. In days of yore, when Mount Fuji was still an active volcano, people worshipped the mountain from its foothills, but when volcanic activity subsided after the many major eruptions between 800 and 1083, Mount Fuji became a place of shugendo mountain worship, and practitioners of the faith began to climb to the summit. Beginning in the seventeenth century, faith in Mount Fuji called “Fuji-ko” spread among ordinary people, and devotees began making pilgrimages to the mountain in groups.
In the artistic realm, poems on the theme of Mount Fuji can be found in Japan’s oldest extant anthology, the Man’yoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), which was compiled in the Nara period (710–794), and Mount Fuji has continued to be taken up as a subject of poetry, fiction and prose ever since. Mount Fuji is also the subject of many pictures surviving from the Heian period (794–1185), while in the Edo period (1603–1867), Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige were among those who made depictions of Mount Fuji in ukiyo-e woodblock prints that today are familiar with people around the world.
For reasons of this “inspirational” background, Mount Fuji was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2013.
The official title of the inscription is, “Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration.” The World Heritage inscription includes twenty-five component parts, among them the mountain’s Omiya-Murayama Ascending Route to the summit, the Fuji-Goko “five lakes” in the foothills of the mountain, the Shiraito no Taki waterfalls and Miho-no-Matsubara beach.
Climbing Mount Fuji
The aforementioned ascending route to the summit begins at Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha shrine in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, another of the twenty-five components of the World Heritage listing. The shrine originated from a dedication to Asama no Okami to pacify Mount Fuji at a time of major eruptions, and is said to have been built where it stands today early in the ninth century. In December 2017, the Mt. Fuji World Heritage Centre, Shizuoka (not to be confused with the Fujisan World Heritage Center in Yamanashi Prefecture) opened right alongside the shrine’s torii entrance gate.
“The Centre is a base facility for protecting and passing down Mount Fuji to future generations,” says Ohgo Hasumi of the Centre, which is administered under the auspices of the Shizuoka prefectural government. “The underlying themes are ‘preserving forever,’ ‘enjoying and learning,’ ‘broadly interacting’ and ‘thoroughly investigating.’”
The main exhibition building at the Centre was designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Ban Shigeru. The structure is an inverted lattice cone made of Fuji hinoki cypress from Shizuoka Prefecture, half of which is encased in glass. The structure draws on the principle of “sakasa Fuji,” the phenomenon whereby an inverted (sakasa) image of Mount Fuji is reflected on the surface of the lakes around the mountain. The sakasa effect is playfully produced in reverse in the water feature at the building’s base.
The permanent exhibition within the exhibition building comprises six zones. Most visitors begin at the “Ascending Mount Fuji” zone, a 193-meter spiral slope that connects the ground floor with the observatory on the fifth floor at the top. A time-lapse film is projected onto the wall of the slope featuring scenery shot at different elevations, ranging from Mount Fuji as seen from the sea at the bottom of the slope to the view from the fifth station at the beginning of the climber’s ascent and, at the top of the slope, the view from the summit. The change in scenery at each elevation over the course of the day is captured in about one and a half minutes. The “walk-through” movie thus simulates the visual experience of climbing Mount Fuji.
“Through this exhibit, people who are unable to climb Mount Fuji or were unlucky to miss the view on their travels owing to inclement weather can experience how wonderful the mountain is,” says Ohgo. “An elderly visitor once clasped his hands in prayer upon seeing the film of the sunrise from the summit of Mount Fuji. ‘I can’t climb Mount Fuji myself,’ he said. ‘I never expected to be able to see such an amazing scene as this.’”
At the top of the slope on the fifth floor is an observation hall, where on clear days the real Mount Fuji can be viewed through a huge “picture window” 10 meters wide.
Studying Mount Fuji
Also on the fifth floor is the “Fierce Mountain” zone of the permanent exhibition. Here film of volcanic belts and tectonic plates around the world is projected on a meter-wide globe called “Tangible Earth.” Visitors can touch the globe to change the image and get a sense for Mount Fuji’s place on planet Earth. Also on show in this zone is a 3D film explaining Mount Fuji’s underground plates and the dynamic movements of magma, and another detailing the evolution of Mount Fuji, the shape of which today owes to repeated eruptions starting hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Back down the slope on the fourth floor is the “Sacred Mountain” zone, which focuses on faith in Mount Fuji. Using touchscreen monitors visitors can learn about Japanese beliefs in nature, Mount Fuji worship, pilgrimages and veneration from afar. A map of the summit of Mount Fuji enables visitors to study “ohachimeguri,” literally “going around the bowl.” The eight ridges at the crater of the mountain each relate to gods and Buddha.
On the third floor is the “Beautiful Mountain” zone, which introduces Mount Fuji as expressed in art and literature. Monitors display and explain picture scrolls, paintings and ukiyo-e prints depicting the mountain. The zone also provides a general introduction to legends, poems, noh dramas and novels related to Mount Fuji.
Also on the third floor is the “Nurturing Mountain” zone. The zone features a huge mud mural depicting Mount Fuji’s strata and surrounding topography. The work is by Hasado Shuhei, a plaster craftsman based in Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture. The zone details how the snow and rain that falls on Mount Fuji soaks into the ground, runs underground and later springs up to the surface and to the bottom of the sea, nurturing life. A monitor explains the ecosystems that benefit, from those at the bottom of the sea to those in the alpine zone.
On the same floor, the “Inherited Mountain” zone introduces Mount Fuji as an active volcano. (Mount Fuji has been dormant since 1707 but is still classified as active.) Exhibits here include stratified volcanic deposits from the last eruption in 1707 and a monitor displaying a prediction of the damage that would be caused by a similar eruption of Mount Fuji today. On the terrace here is another work by Hasado: a Fujizuka made of stones. A Fujizuka is a small replica of Mount Fuji made by practitioners of faith in the mountain. Fujizuka were made in large numbers in the Edo period, when faith in Mount Fuji spread among ordinary people.
Conveying Mount Fuji
In addition to the aforementioned zones, the Mt. Fuji World Heritage Centre, Shizuoka houses a Movie Theater and a Special Exhibition Room. In the Movie Theater, visitors can enjoy a 4K-resolution film introducing beautiful scenes of Mount Fuji throughout the seasons. The Special Exhibition Room houses an exhibition of valuable paintings and important historical research.
As of the end of September, ten months after its opening, the Centre has attracted 400,000 visitors, about 10 percent of whom were visitors from overseas. Language guidance for non-Japanese speakers is provided on monitors in English, Chinese and Korean. In addition, visitors can receive voice guidance in these languages and of course in Japanese using their mobile phones.
The Centre engages in a wide range of activities as well as holding exhibitions. Researchers belonging to the Centre give courses on exhibitions and research to the general public once a month. Centre staff and researchers also visit schools and community centers in the prefecture to give lectures on Mount Fuji. In March this year, in cooperation with researchers of the Museum of Natural and Environmental History, Shizuoka, the Centre hosted an international symposium inviting researchers from Japan, China, the United States and the United Kingdom.
“Mount Fuji is a very attractive mountain to people from abroad as well as to Japanese,” says Ohgo. “We will continue to provide more people with an opportunity to make new discoveries and acquire profound knowledge about Mount Fuji.”
SAWAJI Osamu, The Japan Journal
TRAVEL TIP: Try The Original Yakisoba!
The city of Fujinomiya is well known around Japan as the birthplace and hometown of yakisoba noodles. Yakisoba is typically made by stir-frying noodles with thinly sliced pork and cabbage, and seasoning with “yakisoba sauce.” The sauce is a blend of any number of sauces but often includes soy sauce, oyster sauce, ketchup and a Japanese version of Worcestershire sauce.
In Fujinomiya, people began to eat yakisoba in their homes and restaurants as a tasty, cheap and hearty dish in the hard times after World War II. The dish however took on a certain kind of glamour in the late 1990s as local volunteers adopted the delicious “street food” or “B-Class Gourmet Cuisine” as a vehicle to promote and revitalize the community. As a result, Fujinomiya-Yakisoba became known nationwide.
Fujinomiya-Yakisoba noodles are made by combining spring water from Mount Fuji with wheat flour. The noodles are a little thicker and more firm and chewy than the yakisoba with which most people are familiar. Another distinctive characteristic of Fujinomiya-Yakisoba is that in addition to plenty of pickled ginger the noodles are served with a sprinkling of dried sardine powder.
There are said to be around 140 restaurants serving Fujinomiya-Yakisoba in the city, each pulling in crowds of tourists keen to sample the original version of this everyday dish.