Mt. Fuji - religion and tourism

Seminar Paper, 2008

10 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Religious worship

3. Pilgrimage to Mt. Fuji

4. The issue with females

5. Foreigners on sacred ground

6. New pilgrim groups

7. Today’s Fuji Industry

8. Distraction caused by Mt. Fuji tourism

9. Conclusion: Mt. Fuji- religion and commerce

Reference List:

1. Introduction

Japan’s national symbol and most holy sight, Mount Fuji, has always been attractive to pilgrims. Over the years the motivation for a pilgrimage on Mt. Fuji has changed dramatically. From exclusive religious intentions the mountain is open today to sport climbers and tourists as well. But until the end of the 19th century, women were restricted from entering the mountain; wherefore, the year 1872 marks a changing point in the political view of the mountain. Not only women but also foreigners were now allowed to climb the mountain even though religious groups revolted. Since the middle of the 19th century, the mountain slowly was acknowledged as a tourist attraction and a secure source of income for the Japanese state and people. Religious groups found a way to integrate rites and beliefs into the new challenges the regular opening of the sacred mountain brought along. This essay will discuss how religion and tourism go hand-in-hand starting off from the past on to today’s Mt. Fuji, and argue that commerce and religion in fact are not as separate as one would think.

2. Religious worship

Mount Fuji, located on Japan’s central island Honshu, is the nation’s highest volcano, which is still active today. With its imposing features of a height of 12,388 ft. and a circumference of 50 km at the base the mountain was recognized early in folklore and thought to host spirits.[1] The mountain was praised on the one hand, because of its rich water sources, and on the other hand, feared because of the danger of eruption.[2] The Shinto religion in its maintenance as a mainly nature based religion found to worship in Fuji a mountain spirit or yama no kami: the goddess Konohana Sakuya Hime (“Princess Blossoms of the Trees“)[3]. In the 7th century, the first monks climbed the mountain and Shinto shrines were installed. In the Heian period (794-1185) ascetics started living on the mountain. Since mountains not only were identified with deities, but also spirits of ancestors, priests served as mediators to provide prosperity for the people living beneath the mountains.[4] The priest Matsudai built a Shinto Sengen shrine at the summit in 1149 and encouraged the purifying practice of scattering water, salt, and rice wine into the crater, which is still done today.[5] The religious sect Shugendo, on the other hand, settled on Mt. Fuji and performed the nyubu ritual, which opened the mountain for entering, because they climbed to the summit once in each season of the year as a form for worship.[6] With the raise of Buddhism in Japan, the mountain was described as 'zenjo', purity of form and perfect for meditation to reach enlightenment. Therefore, since medieval times only access for religious purposes was admitted, which meant that only men could enter Mt. Fuji.[7]

3. Pilgrimage to Mt. Fuji

The priests serving the shrines of Mt. Fuji ritually opened the mountain each year to regulate pilgrimage. Already in the 15th century, worship through climbing Mt. Fuji was a common form among Japanese.[8] The pilgrimage season was limited to the beginning of July to the end of August. Over time the pilgrimage to Mt. Fuji became famous and the journey started to be organized. On the foot of the mountain, Inns were established, where the pilgrims could rent a bed for the duration for their pilgrimage to the top. Unnecessary luggage could be left at the Inns before the men started their journeys with the dawn of the next day. The famous volcano was structured in ten travel stations, which were marked with shrines and toriis (religious gates) . The holy sight could traditionally be accessed over three different routes. By the 17th century, many groups were formed to prepare for the pilgrimage and experience the trip together and combined Shinto and Buddhist worship forms. These groups, which still remain today, are called Fuji-kou.[9] They worship the mountain from afar over the year and send members of their groups during the open season to climb Fuji and pray there together for the community, that sponsors the trip.[10] The summit of the volcano had to be reached to receive salvation, since it was believed that Amida Buddha was on top of the mountain.[11] In the middle of the 19th century, this belief changed into the assumption that only the attempt to reach the summit was necessary for the worship, not the success itself any longer. Furthermore, the Buddhist relation of Mt. Fuji and Amida Buddha fainted. Instead mainly the sacred mountain’s pure water, the view of the sunrise on Mt. Fuji, and its female kami were worshiped. Pilgrims in the traditional sense could and still can be identified through their white clothes, the climbing stick kongozue, and the chanting of the Rokkon Shojo[12], a doctrine of the ascetic and founder of the first Fuji-kou Kakugyo (1541-1646). The entrances to the mountains and the shrines started receiving a good income because of the pilgrims. Entrance fees, costs for the performance of rituals, and charges for loading and guidiance, religous souvenirs etc. were set up. The temples recieved offeringes from the pilgrims for exhibiting the temple treasures and ritual items as well.[13] The different religious groups located on Mt. Fuji came to argue over the money the pilgrims left on the summit as offerings, the height of temple fees, and the right to collect entering fees. In the end of the Tokugawa Period (1600 to 1867), religous figures and peasants around Mt. Fuji heavily relied on the income from the sacred jouneys.[14] Specific shops for the pilgrims to buy supplies for their journey and more and more Inns were established.


[1] Uhlenbeck, Chris/ Molenaar, Merel: Mount Fuji. Sacred mountain of Japan, Leiden 2000, p.12.

[2] Fumiko, Miyazaki: Female pilgrims and Mt. Fuji. Changing perspectives on the exclusion of women, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol.60, No.3, (2005), p. 339-391, p. 344.

[3] Barnard, Charles N.: Ah, Fuji!, International Wildlife, Vol. 17, No. 3, (1987), p. 23-37, p.26.

[4] Uhlenbeck, Chris/ Molenaar, Merel: Mount Fuji, p.12.

[5] Barnard, Charles N.: Ah, Fuji!, p.26.

[6] Uhlenbeck, Chris/ Molenaar, Merel: Mount Fuji, p.12.

[7] Women are generally understood to be impure in all eastern religions because of the possibility of menstruation, since blood is considered to be polluting. This excludes them from serving as monks in many cases and entering certain sacred spaces. Therefore, access to the, as holy understood, Mt. Fuji was strictly prohibited to women. Fumiko, Miyazaki: Female pilgrims and Mt. Fuji, p. 342.

[8] Uhlenbeck, Chris/ Molenaar, Merel: Mount Fuji, p.12.

[9] Yasuyo, Kawai: Mt. Fuji as a Sacred Site: On Historical Change in Fuji-kou and Fuji-zuka in 23 Wards of Tokyo, Geographical Review of Japan, Vol. 74, No. 6 (2001), p. 349-366, p. 366.

[10] Between 1779 and 1867 a tradition raised, which was thought to install visibly the presence of the mountain goddess or Amida Buddha. Imitations of the religious sight were built, known as Fuji-zuka, and worshiped. During this time period the images often were made out of lava from Mt. Fuji and its last eruption in 1707–08 and could be over 10m high. This also allowed women to enter an image of Mt. Fuji. Today those images are much smaller and are worshipped in houses. Yasuyo, Kawai: Mt. Fuji as a Sacred Site, p. 366.

[11] Amida Buddha was in the Mahayana school of Buddhism understood to help escape from rebirth in the wheel of life (samsara) and help everybody to reach enlightenment. In the Pure Land sect Amida is the principal Buddha and described as “Fully Conscious Infinite Light”, who teaches the right way to enlightenment in the Pure Land, if people only believed in him.

[12] The Rokkon Shojo: “Oh may I be purified, Oh may the mountain rise in a clear sky.” It is transferred to the meaning of Joya, 91-92: “Mount Fuji was the beginning of heaven and earth, pillar of the nation and foundation of national welfare.” Uhlenbeck, Chris/ Molenaar, Merel: Mount Fuji, p.12.

[13] Fumiko, Miyazaki: Female pilgrims and Mt. Fuji, p. 3755.

[14] Fumiko, Miyazaki: Female pilgrims and Mt. Fuji.,p. 354.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Mt. Fuji - religion and tourism
Muhlenberg College
Religions of Japan
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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480 KB
Buddhism, tourism, pilgrimage, women, gender, religion
Quote paper
Kati Neubauer (Author), 2008, Mt. Fuji - religion and tourism, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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