Friday, May 8, 2015

Photo Friday #8: Mount Fuji! フォト金曜日#8:富士山!

フォト金曜日#8:富士山!Photo Friday #8: Mount Fuji!

In my past Photo Friday posts, I've only shared pictures from Tokyo and Kyoto. Admittedly, that's where I've spent most of my time in Japan, but there's much more to the country than those two cities! With that in mind, today's post takes a trip out of town, with a look at one of Japan's most famous sights:

富士山: Fujisan (Mount Fuji)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Fujisan (or Mount Fuji) is located about 80 miles southwest of Tokyo, and can be seen from there on a clear day. With its iconic snow-capped peak, travel to Mount Fuji and its prefectures of Yamanashi and Shizuoka spikes during its official climbing season in July and August. However, views of Fujisan aren't limited to summer hikers: the view in the photo above is similar to one that many tourists will get to see themselves, especially if a trip on the Tokaido Shinkansen is on their itinerary.

Even during Japan's Edo period (1603-1868), Tokyo (then called Edo) and Kyoto were major cities in Japan. The coastal road connecting the two important cities was known as the Tokaido (東海道 : literally "East Sea Road"), and back then, travel along the road was mostly by foot. With the appropriate government documentation, a traveler could walk--or be carried via kago, the jinrikisha's predecessor--from one end to the other, provided the 514 kilometer (or 319 mile) trek wasn't too daunting. Along with the JR Tokaido Main Line, the Tokaido Shinkansen route loosely follows the original Tokaido road...although thanks to shinkansen speeds of up to 300 km/h (186 mph), the journey from Tokyo to Kyoto now takes hours rather than weeks.

Hokusai's "The Great Wave off Kanagawa"
As with the Edo period, Fujisan is easily the most recognizable landmark on today's modern Tokaido route. Not only is it hard to miss as Japan's tallest point at 3,776 meters (12,388 feet--or 2.3 miles), its likeness has also been reproduced countless times in art and photographic prints. Perhaps the greatest contributor to the worldwide appreciation of Mount Fuji comes from artist Katsuhika Hokusai (1760-1849), whose ukiyo-e series "36 Views of Mount Fuji" (富嶽三十六景) helped make Mount Fuji a household name. The series' most popular print is actually its first piece, "The Great Wave off Kanagawa," pictured here. (I have a poster of it hanging in my old bedroom at my mom's house in central Indiana, so I think it's safe to say that Hokusai's art is far-reaching.)

Fujisan's sheer magnitude and beauty has called to people from all walks of life--not just artists and writers--for centuries. The area is believed to have great spiritual power, and the mountain is sacred to the Japanese Shinto and Buddhist religions. Aokigahara (青木ヶ原), a dense forest at Mount Fuji's northwest base, is also (in)famous for being a popular place to commit suicide, and the ghosts of the victims reportedly haunt the trees.

Other modern-day controversies plaguing the area are concerns about garbage littering Mount Fuji's paths, illegally discarded by hikers and others, as well as questions involving when the volcano will erupt again, with at least one estimate naming this year as a possibility. It's easy to forget that Fujisan is indeed an active volcano, as its last eruption was recorded centuries ago in December 1707.

A classically Japanese landmark, seeing Mount Fuji for the first time--even while speeding past on a shinkansen--is truly awe-inspiring. In future trips to Japan, I'm definitely hoping to get a closer look at Fujisan. I won't claim that I plan on climbing it--that's a bit ambitious for a non-hiker like me!--but I'd love to see it while relaxing at onsen in Hakone, or view it during a ride on the Mount Tenjo ropeway. Mount Fuji is such a culturally significant site that merely passing by at 186 miles per hour just doesn't seem to do it justice.

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