Monday, June 15, 2015

“Vedi Fujisan e poi muori!” (“See Fujisan and Die”)

The former Prime Minister Nakasone was said to have confided to his aide that he would not leave this world until he saw Mt. Fuji inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Center. Nakasone was presiding over the “National Congress” that was petitioning the campaign. It was in 2013 that Mt. Fuji finally got its cultural heritage designation, relieving Nakasone’s anxieties. The naturally majestic Fujisan does not really need it. Fujisan has been overly abused to date and I’m afraid the UNESCO designation might attract more climbers from overseas to aggravate the situation.

There is a legend, supported by the records of ancient Chinese “Shi-Chi” about a Chinese explorer named Xu Fu who journeyed twice to the eastern seas to look for the elixir of life between 219 BC and 210 BC on behalf of Qin Shi Huang. On each trip, Xu Fu was accompanied by thousands of crew, craftsmen of various fields, boys and girls. However, he did not return from his second journey and it is believed that he perished in Yamato (Japan), after traveling near Mt. Fuji. Xu Fu is enshrined at the foot of the mountain and around the nearby lakes.

I’ll give a quick overview of Fujisan’s cultural heritage:

When I’m walking along the Tago Coast
I can see the snow falling on the lofty peak of Mt. Fuji.

- from the most ancient Anthology of Japanese poems (8th Century)
So sung the poet Akahito Yamanobe. He is enshrined in the East Omi, near Biwa Lake, in Western Japan.

Lady Sarashina, born in Soshu Province, now a part of Chiba, in the early 1000s traveled to Kyoto with her father, Takasue Sugawara, governor of the province. The Mt. Fuji she saw from Soshu looked more dignified and awesome as she approached. She wrote in her diary that the smoke near the top which glowed after dark and the thick cover of unmelted snow gave the impression that it wore a white jacket over a dress of deep violet. The Tale of Genji, the first novel in the history of world literature, written by the Court Lady Purple, was her favorite book while in Kyoto.


Mt. Fuji became the ground of mountaineering asceticism during the Ashikaga period (1300-1500). In the middle of the Edo period (after 1600), people began making pilgrimage ascents of Mt. Fuji. Shintoists consider the peak sacred to the goddess Sakuya, while the Buddhists believe the mountain is the gateway to a different world. Their wishes included recovery from illness, good harvest, easy childbirth, stability of heart, etc. Reverence and admiration for the mountain was soon depicted in many ‘Ukiyo-e’ woodblock prints by Hiroshige and Hokusai, both completing their respective “36 views of Fujisan” since Mt. Fuji could be then seen from everywhere in Edo. Hokusai’s “Red Fuji” and the “Great Wave at Kanagawa” influenced many western artists.


In the Meiji era (after 1868), Taikan Yokoyama worked almost exclusively on Mt. Fuji. His “Mr. Fuji and soaring crane” is now printed on the back of the Japanese 1,000 yen note. Contemporary Nihonga artist Tamako Kataoka (1905-2008) left many Fujisan works. She wrote: When I stood in front of Fujisan and looked, it seemed to be saying ‘you’re not depicting me, you are not looking at me, you haven’t captured the height nor the mass. What are you looking at? Be sure that you portray me properly”. I found Tamako’s conversation with Mt. Fuji intriguing, as I associated it with “100 views of Mt. Fuji”, a novel written by Osamu Dazai (1909-1949). The writer cooped up for three months in 1938 at Misaka Pass directly facing Mt. Fuji every day and night. His lines on Mt. Fuji began with harsh slanders against the Hiroshige and Hokusai’s artistic distortions, but turned gradually to marvelous expressions of attachment. He left after regaining his strength to live, thoroughly charmed by the glamorous Diva Fuji.

The photographic medium brought totally new artistic dimensions, especially with the accelerated development of hi-tech cameras. Fuji Albums of Koyo Okada (1895-1972) dominated works by professionals as well as amateurs. On each and every New Year, hundreds of climbers / photographers compete to take better shots. My old photographer friend Todasan returns to Mt. Fuji whenever he finds time, so I consider him a Fuji specialist and I hereby wish to salute him for the photos of Mt. Fuji he gave to me as gifts, which I wish to share with you, with his permission. They are all superb shots and I’m really very proud of him.

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