Fujisan is a volcanic mount revered as sacred and inspirational in the Shinto belief.
The site consists of a serial nomination of 25 monuments. Pilgrims have climbed this often snow-capped stratovolcano since ancient times, and it has been an inspiration for artists.
Map of FujisanLoad map
I climbed Fujisan back in 2014, and it was the absolute highlight of my Tokyo stay.
I came vastly unprepared and didn't find the hike that difficult, although it should be noted that we had some perfect weather that day. We climbed from the 5th until the 8th station, where we had dinner and a quick sleep.
In the middle of the night, we woke up and climbed the rest until the summit. That's actually one of my fondest travel memories ever, seeing the Tokyo city lights in the distance and the stars above, almost becoming one, and the silent procession moving upwards. It was mystical, magical.
The much-awaited sunrise at the top was also nice, although it was freezing up there. The descent through long ash paths was easier, but I did take my time due to a bit of vertigo.
The classic way to visit the Fujisan WHS would be to hike up to the summit at 3770 m. But for normal hikers, this is only possible in July and August, when the mountain huts are open and reservations are accepted. Many hikers stay overnight in a hut and climb the summit in the early morning to see the sunrise. This is considered a very special spiritual experience. However, the trails can be very crowded. Despite the very short season, around 300.000 visitors climb Mount Fuji every year. If you visit Mount Fuji in summer, be aware that the summit is snow-free and this was still the case when I visited in September. It is a surprising and unusual view, you will rarely find photos of the snow-free Fujisan in the Web.
I visited Japan in late September / early October 2019, so hiking to the summit was not an option. But at least I wanted to enter the major core zone, the Fujisan Moutain Area, and visit one of the main temples at the foot of Mount Fuji. Thus, I chose the Fuji Five Lakes region and spent two days in Fujikawaguchiko on the shore of Lake Kawaguchi. Kawaguchiko is the starting point for climbing Mount Fuji on the Yoshida trail, but also a popular recreation area for Tokyo. Several bus lines connect the main sights of the region. But the weather was fine (the Fuji summit was cloudless most of the time) and so I decided to explore the area by rental bike.
First, I went to the Togawa Oshi House, a pilgrim’s inn built in the 18th century. “Oshi” were a kind of priest who take care of worshipers and offer them accommodation. The house can be visited with an audio guide, items are shown that illustrate the life in such an inn, like dinnerware and pilgrim clothes. A second Oshi House (Osano House) is just down the street, but is closed to the public.
The Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja (photo), also known as Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine, is the traditional starting point for the Yoshida ascending route to Mount Fuji. It is located within the main core zone of the WHS. The large gate at the entrance indicates the significance of the shrine, it is one of the largest Torii gates in Japan. However, the complex is quite small: the ornate main hall and a few auxiliary buildings, all painted in red. Not to be overlooked are the three "protectors" of the shrine: tall cedar trees, said to be more than 1000 years old. I liked very much the atmospheric location in the middle of an old cedar forest.
Just behind the main hall you can find a Torii gate that marks the trailhead of the Yoshida route. And while it was not possible to get to the summit, I took the opportunity to hike at least the first kilometers at the beginning of the trail.
Not far from Fuji Sengen shrine are two sites with lava tree molds: The Yoshida site is closed, but the Funatsu Lava Tree Molds are accessible. A lava tree mold is formed when a tree is enclosed by flowing lava. The tree burns as the lava solidifies, and leaves a hollow space. These caves are sacred places because they are said to resemble the inside of a human body. A shrine was built in front of the Funatsu tree molds and I was surprised to find the entrance to the cave in the back of the worship hall. Actually, it is a combination of several lava tree molds, five at least, with a total length of about 70 metres. The first section is accessible, but it is narrow and low, you have to bend over. A strange but fun experience.
Oshino Hakkai Springs was my last stop on the first day. Oshino village is the location of eight spring water ponds, which are filled with underground meltwater of Mount Fuji. The water is filtered through the lava layers and is very clear and pure - and very cold. As a proof you can put your hands in a basin at one of the ponds and try how long you can stand it. Oshino is a popular tourist destination, the ponds are surrounded by souvenir shops and restaurants. Not very authentic and therefore no surprise that the ponds were inscribed as separate locations and not as a continuous area. One of the ponds is within an open-air museum, and the scenery is said to have been preserved as in the past. However, in my opinion it is not worth the entrance fee, and all in all Oshino is rather disappointing.
On the second day I went on a bike tour around Lake Kawaguchi and Lake Saiko. Kawaguchiko is the most developed of the five lakes and popular with tourists and locals, especially in the cherry blossom season. There are also two inscribed shrines: Kawaguchi Asama-jinja, which was built after a severe eruption in the 9th century, and Omuro Sengen-jinja, located directly at the lakeside and considered the oldest shrine in the Mount Fuji area. Both are certainly of historic importance but not outstanding.
From the western lakeshore, you have to climb a height difference of almost 100 metres to get to Lake Saiko. That was the only exhausting part of my bike tour. The shore of Lake Saiko is less densely populated than its larger neighbour. The lake is surrounded by forested mountains, very calm and peaceful, I only met a few hikers and some fishermen.
I think I properly ticked off the Fujisan WHS: I visited 15 of the 25 locations (though counting eight ponds feels a bit like cheating), I entered the main core zone twice, and I visited one of the important shrines and two of the Five Lakes. Still, it would be tempting to climb the Fuji summit, although that would mean coming back in the summer and seeing the summit free of snow again.
I arrived at Kawaguchiko station by train from Tokyo's Shinshuku station (there are also bus lines). A direct connection has recently been launched, which takes less than 2 hours for the entire route. But be aware that the last part from Ōtsuki is not covered by the JR Pass, you have to buy an extra ticket.
One of the fondest memories of my trip to Japan was pulling a float and having sake in Fujinomiya. This was not planned, as I rarely, if ever, check event calendars. My itinerary is set by logistics. Local events are only relevant if they significantly impact hotel prices.
I had arrived in Fujinomiya from Nara in the evening and planned to stay two days. The evening was quiet, but I did already notice plenty of huts covering the greater parts of the inner town; especially the area around the inscribed Sengen Taisha Shrine. The next morning I went to Niriyama. When I came back around lunch time, the town was in partying mood. There were floats on the streets and plenty of people visiting the temples to pray. It was the Fujinomiya Fall Festival (3-5 Nov).
For the afternoon, I was out of town with a sightseeing bus to see more of Fuji. For a classic photo, go to Lake Tanuki. The Shiraito Waterfalls were impressive as a natural site. We visited a smaller shrine and it's important to point out that Fuji is a cultural inscription. It's the religious sites build around Fuji that make the OUV, not the volcano itself.
When I came back to town the festivities kept ongoing. Eventually, I went back to my hotel and was about to call it night. Little did I know... I could not sleep as there was huge drum noise coming from the street. I got back outside and saw a neighborhood drum battle. Two floats were facing each other, with dancers and most importantly drummers. The floats were symbolically fighting each other, quite a sight to behold.
When the drum battle was done, the floats had to be pulled back to their home base. I got noticed by a Japanese and she invited me to pull the float. Not sure if that was meant as a nice gesture. It was really strenuous work as the float needed to be pulled up a hill. The float was then moved into a "float garage" of the neighborhood, we did some dancing and some sake drinking. Fun.
There are multiple options to see Fuji. Coming from Hiroshima, I went to Fujinomiya. It was the easiest to reach. You have to change from the main rail line running to Tokyo in Fuji.
In Fujinomiya, I was lucky as a sightseeing bus was in operation and took me to the relevant tourist stops on the slopes of the Fuji. Check with the tourist office which is located right at the train station. Or ask your hotel. I think off season it only operates on weekends and holidays (i.e. the fall festival), though. Via sightseeing bus I managed to see the Shiraito Waterfall, one traditional Shinto temple and the famous view point on Lake Tanuki in an afternoon. The last stop was a Sake shop, but I think the tourist component of the visit was reasonable. You may also be able to visit via local buses, but I couldn't figure out the schedule.
While You Are There
There are several famous viewpoints of Fuji is on the Izu Peninsula. The peninsula also holds the easiest to reach Meiji Industrial site: the Niriyama furnace. It's a short walk from the Niriyama train station.
Having been born in Japan and visited Japan numerous times even after moving to the US, I just counted 6 as the number of times I have made trips centered around Fujisan. This is on top of the fact that Fujisan can be seen on clear days from my condo in Yokohama.
By making the trips I have visited only 5 out of 25 components of this serial property: Miho no Matsubara, which I visited when I was a pre-teen, Fujisan Mountain Area, where I made the ascent to the top in 1984, Kawaguchi-Ko in 2011, Yamanaka-Ko and an Oshi Lodging House, which I visited on the day of the Fujiyoshida Fire Festival at Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja, only a few months after the inscription in 2013.
Is Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja (Jinja means Shinto shrine) in Fujiyohsida a part of this property? If you look at this page
it is not listed, even though 7 other Sengen Shinto shrines are listed here. Nor is it indicated in our map above.
It is confusing, but as it turned out, Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja is included in the “Fujisan Mountain Area,” the core of the core zone, listed on top of the list on the page above. This means that if you visit this Shinto shrine, you visited the “Fujisan Mountain Area.”
Indeed, all in all 9 Sengen Shinto shrines are included in the property, not just 7, the last one being the Hitoana Sengen Jinja, which is included in the “Hitoana Fuji-ko Iseki” part of this property.
In addition, not only Yamanaka-Ko and Kawaguchi-Ko are included in the property, but also the three other Kos among the Fuji Go Ko (Fuji Five Lakes) are also included in the property; the other three are also part of the Fuji Mountain Area.
I think this confusion is reflected in the "Integrity" and "Authenticity," as described on the UNESCO site.
The second half of the Fujiyoshida Fire Festival takes place at the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja. The Festival is known in Japan as one of "Japan's Three Strangest Festivals." The photo shows the red Fujisan “Mikoshi,” or portable shrine, is carried and circled around along with fire on the shrine ground at the climax of the 2-day festival.
I visited Togawa Oshi Piligrim's Inn and Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja Shrine, both within 20-minute walking distance from Fujisan railway station.
Togawa Oshi House was built in 1768 to host numerous piligrims to the Mount Fuji. In the begining of the nineteenth century there were 86 similar inns in the area, now only 12-13 remaining. The House has extensive audio guide descibing each corner of the house and providing general information.
The Shrine dating back to the 8th century was the last spiritual stop for the piligrims ascending to the summit from the north side. It is located in lovely forest setting (with some sacred cedars which are over 1000 years old), with beautiful garden, painted main hall, big torii gate, and portable shrines used in fire festivals.
I visited this WHS in November 2009. It is visible from Tokyo on clear days as well as from the Shinkansen. I visited the nearby Shinto shrines and temples, the Fuji Five Lakes and the Hakone viewpoint. I'm really happy for Japan that Fujisan was inscribed in the list - truly world class!
Less than a month after Fujisan has officially been listed as World Heritage Site, my friend in Shizuoka invited me to visit Japan, after read its nomination document and found out a lot of interesting information on its cultural components, I decided to visit Fujisan again to see this beauty in the new perspective. I started my trip at Shizuoka, in the city of Shimizu, where the controversial Miho no Matsubara is located. The place is the large pine forest in the sand peninsular with the view of Fujisan. I really enjoyed the pine forest and the view of Fujisan was quite stunning; however, the view was not exactly similar with the work of Hiroshige and there are many better viewpoints to see Fujisan especially from Izu areas, also the beach was grayish and not lovely at all, so I was not impressed with the place.
The view of Fujisan from Yamanaka Lake, one of the Fuji Five Lakes was again lovely from the lakeshore, and then I continued to the village of Oshino Hakkai, I never heard the name of this place before until I read the nomination paper. The village was very touristy with many souvenir shops and restaurants selling soba noodles. The reasons to visit this village are the springs, there are eight turquoise color springs in the village and all are crystal clear and very photogenic. The village also has many traditional houses around the springs so a very beautiful place indeed. I revisited the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine; the great Torii gate is under restoration, I saw the shrine welcomed more visitors with larger car park. The starting point of pilgrimage route behind the shrine is also looked clean and become a new tourist photo spot. My next place was the heavily developed Kawaguchi Lake, the hotel and restaurant are everywhere along the shore. During my visit there even had lavender festival, so I got a nice photo of Fujisan with lavender field! I loved the small but very clean Lake Sai, the area is very refreshing after all tourism development in Kawaguchi.
The area from Lake Sai to Lake Motosu is a very dense forest area called Aokigahara Jukai Forest, here I could not see Fujisan anymore, I visited the Naruzawa Ice Cave, the ice was ridiculous small, but it was very fun and a great place to get some cool in the middle of summer. My group decided to skip Lake Shoji as it was quite out of way, and drove south to the city of Fujinomiya. On the way we visited the sacred Shiraito Falls and Otodome Falls, the entrance to Shiraito falls is closing until the end of this year. The Japanese promised UNESCO to redevelop the area so all shops and hotels are destroyed to create large Japanese gardens with big red bridge. At first I was very disappointed that I could not see Shiraito falls which is a World Heritage Site, a local suggested us to go another side of the river bank for a better view. The falls was indeed very beautiful. My last spot is the Fujisan Hongu Sangen Shrine in Fujinomiya, the brightly red shrine looked very new compared to the much more authentic of Kitaguchi Hongu Shrine. I end of my Fuji circle tour with a highway drive to the city of Mishima, along the way I could see Fujisan before sunset.
As I already mentioned in my previous review that I really admired the beauty of Fujisan, but its cultural value was hard to grasp. After I read its nomination document and visited all related site, at first I had to say I still not truly understood its cultural value! But when my Japanese friend reminded me that I had to consider them as Kami or Shinto Spirit under Fuji Cult then cultural value will be comprehensible. His words really enlightened me, Fujisan is maybe the most unique Shinto site in Japanese World Heritage Sites, as other sites are manmade structures, and the sacred natural sites mostly are attached to the Shrine liked in Nara and Nachi Falls. But Fujisan and its surrounding forests, lakes, springs and falls are the center point of whole Fujisan Cult as Kami, not the shrines or any structures. At the end I felt that I started to understand the cultural value of Fujisan but when I saw a photo of jet skier on Lake Motosu, my idea on sacred Kami with Jet Ski were really hard to go together.
In anticipation of the 2013 nomination of Mount Fuji, I had been looking for an “easy way” to see this site without having to climb the mountain itself. From the limited information available on the UNESCO website, I gathered that the shrines Fujisan Hongû Sengen Taisha (in Fujinomiya) and Kitaguchi Hongû Fuji Sengen Jinja (in Fujiyoshida) are the most tangible parts.
I was arriving in the area from the south, and then Fujinomiya is the most obvious choice. Fortunately, I had copied down from Wikitravel the information about how to get to the shrine – although it is within a 10-minute walk from the train station, there’s no signage. While getting there, I was looking and looking to see if I could see Mt. Fuji. But it stayed hidden behind the clouds. I thought I had seen a glimpse of a snowcovered peak from the train, but that could have been clouded as well. It is difficult trying to see something that should be there somewhere but is not visible at all. I even became unsure about in which direction I had to look.
So I had to console myself by visiting the shrine, which was erected here already in the 9th century. It is dedicated to the spirit (kami) Konohanasakuya-hime, who is believed to keep Fuji from erupting. It was a place where pilgrims came to purify themselves in water before starting the climb. Compared to the many other Shinto shrines that I have visited the last week, this is a rather small and quiet place. There’s not a lot “to see”, except for the main shrine and the Wakutama pond (where you can buy a bottle of water from the sacred mountain for 200 Yen).
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2013 Name change
At inscription, "..., sacred place and source of artistic inspiration" added
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