Located just 100 km from Tokyo, Mount Fuji is an iconic symbol of Japan. Soaring 3,766 metres high, it’s the country’s tallest mountain, as well as the second-highest volcano in Asia and the seventh-highest island peak in the world. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of Japan’s most-visited tourist attractions and over 200,000 people clamber up to its summit every year. Moulded into an unusual – and very distinctive – composite cone shape, it’s made up of layers of rock, ash and lava. Curious about this blockbuster landmark? Here are seven interesting facts about Mount Fuji we’ll wager you don’t know.
Interesting Facts About Mount Fuji
1. It’s actually three volcanoes
It might look like one mighty mountain, but Mount Fuji is actually a stratovolcano. It’s made of three separate volcanoes that sit on top of each other. The bottom layer is the Komitake Volcano, the second is the Kofuji Volcano and the third is Fuji – the youngest of all three.
2. It’s sacred
It’s hardly difficult to see something special about Mount Fuji, but for followers of the Shinto religion, it’s a sacred sight. Since the 7th century it has formed one of three holy Japanese mountains, along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku. Mount Fuji is sacred to the goddess Sengen-Sama – also known as Konohana-Sakuya-hima. She’s the daughter of Oyamatsumi, at Mount Oyama in the Kanagawa Prefecture. Sengen Sama is the guardian of fire prevention, safe birth, safe sea voyages, and lots more. Legend holds that she lives in a luminous cloud inside the crater of Fujiyama.
She’s a big character too. Story holds that when she was accused of infidelity, she set fire to her birthing hut and managed to give birth to three beautiful boys in the blaze, proving that they must be the great-grandchildren of Japan’s sun goddess – how else could they have survived? Shinto followers believe that when Sengen Sama climbed up the mountain, she calmed it down and extinguished its once-raging fires, making it possible to climb today. There are dozens of shrines to her dotted across the landscape.
3. A monk climbed it first
It’s believed that the first person to climb to the summit of Mount Fuji was a monk, in 664 AD.
As far as we know, Sir Rutherford Alcock was the first foreigner to climb Mount Fuji. He scaled it in September 1868, taking eight hours for the ascent and three for the descent. He wrote about his experience in The Capital of the Tycoon, and is one of the first descriptions of the mountain that ever reached the West.
4. It’s an active volcano
Mount Fuji sits on a triple junction of tectonic activity – it’s where the Amurian, Okjotsk and Filipino plat converge. Japan itself sits on the most geographically active segment of the planet – the Ring of Fire, which engulfs the South Pacific and the eastern rim of Asia. It’s well known for its volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. The volcano started erupting around 100,000 years ago, but the last eruption recorded was on December 16 1707. It lasted for over two week, spewing tons of tephra into the atmosphere and covering the surrounding areas in ash three metres deep. It even reached the city of Edo, which is now the heart of Tokyo, over 100 km away. Some still hold that the volcano erupted because someone made Sengen-Sama angry.
While men might have been scrambling to the top of the volcano since the seventh century, women were forbidden from climbing Mount Fuji since 1868. It wasn’t just Mount Fuji either – women were also forbidden from climbing up most mountains across Japan. Popular discourse held that women might disrupt the sacred ascetic practices which were required to climb the mountain. Some thought that if you sent a woman up there, Konohana-Sakuya–Hime would get angry and spark another eruption. For centuries women could only get to the second stage of the mountain. They were allowed to sit in the Omuro Sengen Shrine and the caves at the base of the mountain though, also known as tainai or “inside the womb”.
There were a few figures who flouted the rules before then though. A young woman called Tatsu Takayama scaled the mountain in the 1830s. She managed to get away with it by chopping her hair and dressing up in men’s clothing, then joining a group of five lads to the summit. Lady Fanny Parkes, wife of an English diplomat, was the first non-Japanese woman to climb Mount Fuji, in 1867.
6. There are four routes to the top
Most people can make the trek to the top of Mount Fuji in six hours. There are four different trails to choose from: Red (Subashiri Trail), Yellow (Yoshida Trail), Green (Gotemba Trail) and Blue (Fujinomiya Trail). The easiest and most popular route is the Yoshidaguchi Trail, which is easily accessible from the Fuji Five Lakes and Central Tokyo. There are lots of mountain hits and rest stops along the way. The Sunrise here is spectacular. The Gotemba Trail takes the longest.
If you’re thinking about making the trip, bear in mind that you can’t hike it all year. The official climbing season kicks off in early July and lasts until mid-September – that’s when all of the trails and mountain facilities are open. Generally speaking, the weather is mild and free from snow. If you’ve got more hiking experience, you might be happier to travel off-season.
7. How about a wedding at the summit?
If a serene, snow-capped mountain is your idea of wedding bliss, Mount Fuji is calling. To tie the knot, all you have to do is scale Japan’s tallest mountain in your wedding dress and choose guests who don’t get altitude sickness. Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha offers wedding services at the Okumiya shrine at the summit in July and August. You’ll have to choose your guests carefully though, there’s a cap on numbers at ten people.