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  • Writer's pictureHirokazu Kobayashi

Far worship to “Mt. Fuji”!

Updated: Jun 13

Hirokazu Kobayashi

CEO, Green Insight Japan, Inc.

Professor Emeritus and Visiting Professor, University of Shizuoka


NHK's "New Project X" started in April this year. The first episode of the old "Project X" (March 2000-December 2005) featured the installation of the Mt. Fuji Radar, which operated from 1964 to 1999. The Mt. Fuji Radar has now been relocated and preserved at the Fujiyoshida Mt. Fuji Radar Dome Park, and the Mt. Fuji Weather Station is used only in the summer by an NPO. "Mt. Fuji" is an object of admiration and mountain climbing, but historically it has also been revered with a sense of awe. The large-scale eruptions that remain on record in 864-866 (Jogan 6th- 7th year) and 1707 (Hoei 4th year) are a testament to its immense power. The eruptive activity was stalled for long periods in 1083-1427 and 1511-1704, but small-scale eruptions and fumaroles are persistently observed during periods other than these. The first record of Mt. Fuji appears in the Ancient Hitachi Province Reports, compiled in 713, as “福慈岳 (pronounced, Fukuji-no-take; meaning, fortune cherish mountain)”. In “Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves)”, which contains poems from the 600s to 759, Yamabe no Akahito famously made, “From Tago's coast, as I set out and look back, Pure white it stands, Snow has fallen on the lofty peak of Fuji,” where “Fuji” was written “不二”. Therefore, it was also called “不二山 (pronounced, Fujisan; meaning, only one mountain)" or “不尽山(pronounced, Fujisan; meaning, endless mountain)”. The title “富士山 (Mt. Fuji; meaning, mountain rich with warriors)" is thought to have originated from the saying by Miyako no Yoshika (834-879), “The name of the mountain, “富士 (Fuji)”, comes from the name of the district." It is thought that the lava spewed out from the northwestern foot of the mountain during a large-scale eruption in 864 created the Sea of Trees, Lake Motosu, Lake Shoji, and Lake Saiko. When news of the large-scale eruption reached Heian-kyo, Kyoto as the capital, the Imperial Court attributed the cause to negligence in the rituals of the great deity and ordered Suruga (present-day central Shizuoka Prefecture) to “pacificate to the mountain" and Kai (present-day Yamanashi Prefecture) to “make an offering and worship to the mountain.” As a result, Mt. Fuji became the subject of “far worship." In the “Shin Kokin Wakashu (New Collection of Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times)," completed in 1216, Saigyo  (1118-1190) wrote a poem about the smoke of Mt. Fuji: “The smoke of Mount Fuji, Swaying in the wind, Vanishes into the sky, My heart, too, knows not where it will go." This period marked a lull in volcanic activity, leading us to interpret "smoke" as a "smoke cloud." Takarai Kikaku (1661-1707), a disciple of Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), wrote, “Ephemeral cicada, On the day I do not see Mount Fuji, How interesting life is." This phrase expresses the strangeness and abnormality of Mt. Fuji being obscured by smoke and ash from an eruption.


Japan's oldest story, “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter," is said to have been written around 900, but the author is unknown. That epilogue is as follows.


"Which mountain is closest to the heavens?" the emperor asked. Someone answered, "There is a mountain in the province of Suruga, which is close to this capital and also close to the heavens." (skipped) He ordered the jars of the elixir of immortality to be lined up and burned. Upon receiving this command, many warriors ascended the mountain, and since then, the mountain has been named Fuji. It is said that its smoke still rises into the clouds.


It then became a volcano named “不死山 (pronounced, Fujisan; meaning, immortal mountain)". Before Princess Kaguya was taken to heaven, she wrote a poem saying, “Now is the time, As I don the celestial robe, I recall with deep affection, The times we shared, my dear." This robe is of feathers named “hagoromo'' is also related to the “hagoromo legend" of “Suruga Mihonomatsubara", the place depicted with Mt. Fuji in “Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji" by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). In both cases, they ascend to the heavens by wearing the robe. The Legend of Hagoromo is considered a folktale passed down not only in Japan but worldwide, and it is reasonable to think that it has a different origin from the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.


Mt. Fuji was considered a dormant volcano, but in 2003 the Coordination Committee for the Prediction of Volcanic Eruptions redefined active volcanoes to include "volcanoes that have erupted within the past 10,000 years and volcanoes that currently have active fumarolic activity." Mt. Fuji is an active volcano, and we are curious about the timing of its next eruption. Mt. Fuji has erupted 100 times in the past 3,200 years, so the rate is once every 30 years as an average. Nankai Trough earthquakes occur approximately every 100 to 150 years, such as the Hoei Earthquake (1707), the Ansei Earthquake (1854), and the Showa Nankai Earthquake (1946). Based on this regularity, it is thought that the next Nankai Trough earthquake is likely to occur by around 2040. Professor Kazuo Oike (former president of Kyoto University), who serves as chairman and president of the University of Shizuoka and closely relates to me, published “2038: Nankai Trough Giant Earthquake." The Hoei earthquake is linked to the eruption of Mt. Fuji, but there have been cases where earthquakes and eruptions were unrelated. In any case, don't forget to pay homage to Mt. Fuji.

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