The mountain


It has played the leading role in countless poems and images ranging from the classic to the avant-garde and from the sophisticated to the garish. It has been the name of hundreds of companies and products, it is an object of worship for various religious groups and it has been identified with Japan itself. Every year, during the time it “opens” (i.e. when climbing it is allowed) thousands of Japanese arrive at its foot and start the long route leading to its top; most prefer to climb during the night so they can see the sunrise from there and the ones who have done it say it is a unique experience. Of course I am talking about Fuji-san, the highest among the (more than a thousand) mountains of Japan and certainly the grandest.

There was a time when Fuji-san was visible from Tokyo; its 12,389 ft were enough to impose upon the 150 miles that stand between it and the metropolis and a look at the abundance of available imagery (from the famous series of woodblock prints by Hokusai until the pre-ware photographs) is enough to make clear that until the early 20th century it dominated almost all Kanto. Even today, when the atmosphere is clear, that is during the autumn and winter months, it can be seen –as a whole or just its peak- by thousands of spots in all central Honshu. And there is no Japanese that won’t feel touched if they manage to see it; “manage” because either due to the proverbial humidity of Japan, the clouds that descend to its peak or because of the uncontrollable urban sprawl its visibility is disproportionate to its volume.

Depending on the point of view there are various explanations on why Fuji-san has earned this place in the Japanese collective conscience. Its height, its size, the fact that it is a volcano (and an active one at that), its location in relation to some of the country’s biggest cities, Shinto paganism all play their part. The one I prefer the most has to do with its shape: in a world where nothing is perfect, the absolutely symmetrical triangle of Fuji-san seems as if it has sprung from a painter’s brush. And what makes its perfection natural is the part missing from its top always reminding to everyone that even something that solid can change its state at any moment.

Photo © Grigoris A. Miliaresis