Recharge Your Mind and Soul: Zen Hiking to Mt. Fuji

In Japan, roughly 70 percent of the country is mountainous. And in those areas, there are many major holy mountains. Climbing these sacred mountains of faith is called Zenjyo. People also refer to Zenyjo as the ultimate destination or the mountain summit. Since the Muromachi period (1336-1573), many people have begun to practice Zenjyo.

The top 3 Japanese holy mountains are Fuji, Tate and Haku. Many Japanese Me Time lovers travel to these 3 sacred mountains at least once in their lives. Mt. Fuji is the most well-known Japanese peak in the world. This article will take you on a journey through the history and worship of Mount Fuji and its current our favorite solo activity!

A symbol of Japan: Mt.Fuji  (Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures)

Mt. Fuji is the highest and the most important mountain in the country. It is the most popular destination for both Japanese and foreign tourists. The number of climbers from Japan and abroad has exploded since it was registered as a World Cultural Heritage site in 2013.

Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji: Kanagawa Okinamiura. French composer Debussy was inspired by this painting to compose his orchestral masterwork, The Sea

Mt. Fuji is the most worshipped mountain in our country not only because of its extraordinary splendor. The mysteries and worship of Mt. Fuji began when its raging eruptions made people fear and revere it as a mountain inhabited by an angry god. Therefore it was the object of worship from afar for ancient people,  which is called Youhai (遙拝).  In the early Heian period (around 794 – 1185/1192), people built an Asama shrine at the foot of the mountain, in hopes of calming the volcanos in these mountains. Since the late Heian period, when the eruption activity subsided, Mt. Fuji became a place for the practice of asceticism called Shugendō.

Shugendō practitioners are called Shugenja. These practices are a combination of ancient Japanese mountain worship, esoteric Buddhism, and Shintoism. Then Mt. Fuji was transformed from a Yohai object to one of exploratory mountain climbing while worshipping the gods, which is called Tohai (登拝). Shugendo pilgrims began to penetrate into the valley to obtain the divine and spiritual power of Mt.Fuji.

Mandala of Pilgrimage to Fuji, Important Cultural Property (16th century). Source: Fuji Hongū Sengen Shrine.

Mt.Fuji erupted in 1707 during the Edo period, and volcanic activity is still occurring today. Some people still do not climb the mountain and prefer to look up and worship it from afar. They believe that it will eventually erupt again in the near future. 

Shugenja-led climbs led to the development of Fujikō, a certain sect of worshippers of Mt. Fuji. There are three principles in the Fujikō. First, if you do good, you have good things coming to you… if you do bad, unpleasant things will occur. Second, if you earn money, you will be blessed, have no illness, and you will live a long life. Third, if you are lazy, you will be poor, sick, and your life will be shortened. Fujikō is still active throughout many parts of Japan, and the climbers dressed in white and carrying a walking stick are called Kongo-zue. You sometimes see them while climbing Mt.Fuji.

Mount Fuji, has been granted World Heritage status. And the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said,  Mt. Fuji has:

inspired artists and poets and been the object of pilgrimage for centuries…”

Here is Shizuoka Prefecture’s The guide to Mt.Fuji website, if you would like to know more information!

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