HomeLifestyleTravelPlaces To Visit

Why do people climb Mount Fuji?

Why do people climb Mount Fuji?

The perfect snow-capped volcanic cone, Mount Fuji beckons pilgrims to test themselves on the arduous six-hour climb to the summit

Mount Fuji’s lone conical peak silhouetted against a crisp blue sky has been revered since ancient times. Standing at 12,388ft, “Fuji-san” is Japan’s tallest and most holy mountain. Believed by Buddhists and Shintoists to be the home of deities, the mountain acquired its shape from volcanic eruptions that occurred several hundred thousand years ago. The resulting symmetrical proportions have inspired poets and artists, among them Katsushika Hokusai, who created the series of prints, 36 Views of Mount Fuji.

Why do people climb Mount Fuji? - The Tama River, Musashi Province, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount FujiTama River in Musashi Province, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Credit: Wikimedia Commons 

The entire Japanese nation tracks the seasonal changes around Mount Fuji. A snow-covered mountain marks the start of winter; in spring, cherry blossoms decorate the foothills, followed by brightly coloured azaleas in summer. Fuji’s nickname, Konohana-Sakuahime, means "causing the blossom to bloom brightly", referring to the pink cherry blossoms that frame the mountain in springtime. The mountain opens to climbers on July 1, after the snow melts, although ice remains in places all year round.

"Fuji’s nickname, Konohana-Sakuahime, means 'causing the blossom to bloom brightly'"

In late August, the Yoshida Fire Festival marks the end of the climbing season. This is held in Fujiyoshida City to appease the goddess of Mount Fuji and petition her to prevent the volcano from erupting. Following a five-centuries-old tradition, people carry shrines believed to contain the goddess’s soul through the streets in a torchlight parade.

Where on earth?

Why do people climb Mount Fuji? - Tokyo city in Japan with Mount Fuji in the backgroundCredit: StockByM

Situated 62 miles southwest of Tokyo on Japan’s main island, Honshu, Mount Fuji is in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Regular train and bus services run from Tokyo’s Shinjuku station to the Kawaguchiko–Yoshidaguchi trail, which is one of four paths to the summit. 

A sacred pilgrimage

Some pilgrims climb all night, their way lit by torches, to see the sunrise over the sea of clouds that usually cloaks the lower slopes. This sunrise, known as goraiko, or holy light, is worshipped as a deity.

"Some pilgrims climb all night to see the sunrise over the sea of clouds that usually cloaks the lower slopes"

Accounts of climbing this sacred mountain go back centuries. In a celebrated haiku, the 18th-century poet, Issa, exhorts a lowly snail to keep climbing, with majestic Fuji-san its unlikely and seemingly impossible destination.

Today, crowds of the devout are joined by the merely curious as they wind snail-like up the four main trails, anticipating the revival of their spirits and souls as they emerge on the peak of the age-old beauty that surrounds them.

The best of sacred mountains

  • Mount Shasta, California, is the tallest peak in the Cascade Mountains. It is sacred to Native Americans and is now also a New Age spiritual destination.
  • Mount Sinai, Egypt, is the biblical site where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. There are two trails up to the summit, both starting at the Greek Orthodox St Catherine’s Monastery. The easiest way up is by Bedouin camel.
  • A million pilgrims a year trek up Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, Ireland, to pray, do penance or enjoy the views. It was a site of pagan pilgrimage before the arrival of Celtic Christianity. St Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit for 40 days, then threw down a silver bell, knocking the she-demon, Corra, from the sky.

Banner credit: Goryu

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter

 

*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you. Read our disclaimer

Loading up next...