Mount Fuji in History, Culture and Art   歴史、文化、芸術に富士山の影響

Date of publication :
Lake Ashi in Hakone

Series of Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji from Hokusai, circa 1830. from Hokusai.

Mount Fuji in winter

Mount Fuji in winter

A famous view of Mount Fuji; by the master of the Japanese printing Hiroshige.

 The ascent of Mount Fuji takes place in the summer season

The ascent of Mount Fuji takes place in the summer season

More than a mountain

Mount Fuji occupies a special place in the Japanese imagination, for the singular beauty of its symmetrical slopes and its snow-capped top and for the religious activity which developed there. The image and importance has been illustrated in the numerous works of art throughout history. 

AN OBJECT OF RELIGIOUS WORSHIP

Mount Fuji has occupied a prominent place in Japanese religions since ancient times. The first ascent of Mount Fuji was thus, according to legend, made by En no Gyoja in 663, a monk who founded of the Shugendo sect. A temple dedicated to the fiery goddess was built there in 806, which feeds the theory that the name Fuji comes from the word ainu "fuchi", which means fire. During the Heian period (794-1185), the Court gave an honorary rank to the mountain in order to appease it, which was moreover venerated like Shingen Okami.

Read also: The Ainu of Japan 

Statute of En no Gyoja

Statute of En no Gyoja

It was during this same period that the mountain became a center for Shugendo teaching and that the practice of ascension by ascetics developed, and even opened to laymen from the Muromachi period (1333-1573). This openness to ordinary Japanese was accentuated during the Edo period (1603-1868) with the creation of the Fuji-ko sect by Hasewaga Kakyugo, draining populations from the Kanto to the sacred mountain. A popularity which still cannot be denied today. 

The wave off Kanagawa with Mount Fuji in the background of Hokusai

The wave off Kanagawa with Mount Fuji in the background of Hokusai (Under the wave off Kanagawa)

THE UBIQUITY OF MOUNT FUJI

The influence of Mount Fuji in Japanese arts and letters also goes back a long way. You can find a describtion written about the moutnain in the man'yoshu (-760) - the oldest compilation of Japanese poems composed between the 4th and 8th centuries. Mount Fuji is also mentioned in other classical writings as the Ise Monogatari, compound 9th century, or the Taketori Monagatari ( "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter") dated 10th century. In modern times, both Natsume Soseki and Osamu Dazai used Mount Fuji as inspiration for their work.

It is in the graphic arts, and in particular through the print, that Mount Fuji best expresses the importance it has in the Japanese artistic imagination and where it acquired an international reputation. The most famous works are obviously those produced by Katsushika Hokusai (the thirty-six views of Mount Fuji, where we find, for example, the Great Wave of Kanagawa) or the five-three stations of Tokaido by Utagawa Hiroshige. A large number of more minor prints also took Mount Fuji as a subject, further increasing its status as an art figure.

Read also: Ukiyo-e, the art of Japanese printmaking


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