Mount Fuji is not only the highest mountain in Japan, but is also beautiful in its quietude. Indeed, its magnificent form is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Since ancient times, Japanese have revered this sacred mountain, which wordlessly teaches us many things, cultivating pure and noble hearts.
To the Japanese, Fuji's appearance is truly ideal. Encompassing the power of both heaven and earth, its beautiful purity of form symbolizes the spirit of peace-loving Japanese. This sacred mountain warmly welcomes all who visit. Regardless of nationality, no one is not moved by the sacredness of this mountain. Whoever gazes upon this holy peak senses something greater than humankind, and no one fails to be struck by its magnificence. Indeed, Fuji is not merely a mountain, but is a sublime being that exceeds human comprehension. Is it not truly a god? Long ago, the poets of the Manyoshu (a poetry anthology compiled in the eighth century) called Fuji a god, and during the many centuries between then and today, Japanese have worshipped this manifestation of the divine, a source of both strength and salvation. The main deity worshipped at Fujisanhongu Sengen shrine is the exquisitely named "Konohana-no-sakuyahime-no-mikoto." Kind and tender-hearted, she is revered as a model for Japanese women. Our hearts pure and kind, we should forever live in harmony with sacred Fuji, and with a spirit as steadfast as this mountain, advance along the path of righteousness. To fulfill this wish, we should purify ourselves body and soul and pray before the great god of Fuji.
1. The main deity
A Manyoshu poet wrote of Fuji, "It is said that at the time of the separation of heaven and earth, the god majestically arose in Suruga." Fuji's lofty peak is the sacred body of the deity worshipped at Fuji Hongu Sengen shrine, the august Asama Ohkami, who manifests as Konohana-no-sakuyahime. Acccording to legend, she is the daughter of Ohyamazumi-no-kami and the wife of the heaven-descended Ninigi-no-mikoto. Due to her fidelity, she is revered as a model for Japanese women. She is also widely believed to be a guardian deity, especially for the prevention of fires, safe births, ocean voyages, fishing, farming, weaving, and so forth.
2. The origin of Sengen shrine
At the time of the seventh emperor, Kohrei, the eruptions of Mount Fuji frightened and dispersed people. As a result, the whole land was laid waste for many years. The eleventh emperor, Suijin, enshrined Asama-no-ohkami at the foot of the mountain to pacify its rage. This is the origin of the shrine. During the reign of the twelfth emperor, Keikoh, Yamatotakeru-no-mikoto conquered the eastern regions of Japan, and at one point escaped a wildfire set by an enemy in Suruga by praying to Fuji Asama-no-ohkami. After he subdued his enemy, he enshrined Asama-no-ohkami at Yamamiya (about six kilometers north of the present Sengen shrine). Subsequently, in the first year of the Daidoh period (806), the fifty-first emperor, Heizei, ordered Sakanoue-no-tamuramaro to build a new grand shrine at the present site in Ohmiya in place of the one at Yamamiya. Since then, for over 1,100 years, this shrine has been the head shrine for more than 1,300 Sengen shrines throughout Japan. This famous shrine of the Tohkai region (Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures) is renowned nationwide.
Since ancient times, Fuji Hongu Sengen Taisha has been highly esteemed by the Imperial court, and it was ranked as one of the most eminent shrines in the sacerdotal code established during the Engi period (901-923). The court sent imperial messengers and presented offerings and land to the shrine, which was the most important in the Suruga region. In the age of the samurai, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo dedicated more land to the shrine, while Hohjo Yoshitoki, Ashikaga Takauji, and Ashikaga Yoshimochi, among others, renovated the shrine's main hall. Later, Takeda Shingen and Takeda Katsuyori presented the shrine with various sorts of treasures and Toyotomi Hideyoshi increased its land holdings. In the ninth year of the Keicho period (1604), to commemorate his subduing of Japan and his appointment as shogun by the emperor, Tokugawa Ieyasu built the inner shrine, the outer shrine, and the tower gate, as well as other structures, and dedicated them to the shrine. He also donated the territory on Mount Fuji above the eighth station in the eleventh year of the Keicho period (1606).
From that time on, the Tokugawa family showed profound reverence toward the shrine. Iemitsu presented more land, and Ietsuna, Tsunayoshi, Ieharu, Iesada, and Iemochi offered donations and paid for the shrine's upkeep.
Popular worship of Fuji dates to the Muromachi period (1392-1573) and has flourished from the Edo period (1600-1868) to today. Ohmiya, where the shrine is currently located, is referred to as the "front entrance" to Mount Fuji. Needless to say, for worshippers from the Kansai region, it was the preferred starting point to climb the mountain. Worshippers from the Kanto and Tohoku regions also chose this route, and there were also quite a few worshippers from Kai (Yamanashi) and Shinano (Nagano). After getting accommodations at inns built for pilgrims, they would pay a visit to the shrine, where they would purify themselves in Wakutama pond in preparation for their climb up the mountain.
On the fourteenth day of the fifth month in the fourth year of the Meiji period (1871), the shrine was ranked by the government as a "mid-level national shrine," and on July eighth in the twenty-ninth year of Meiji (1896), was elevated to the position of an "imperial grand shrine."
There are more than 159 festivals held each year. The chief ones are as follows:
Setsubun (End of winter) festival
February third or fourth
This is also known as the festival to ward off evil spirits and pray for good fortune. On this day, two ceremonies are performed. One is called Meigenshiki (Plucking bow strings ceremony), while the other is called Mamemaki (Scattering beans ceremony). In the latter ceremony, men born under the sign of the Chinese zodiac for the current year throw beans toward the throngs of visitors who tightly pack the shrine precincts.
Yabusame (Horseback archery) festival
May fourth, fifth, and sixth
According to shrine documents, this festival derives from Minamoto-no-Yoritomo's hunt at the base of Mount Fuji in the fourth year of the Kenkyu period (1193).The Fuji Ohmiya Ritual Register for the fifth year of the Tensho period (1577) mentions this ancient ceremony, as does the record of annual festivals at Fuji Hongu for the third year of the Keian period (1650). An opening ceremony is held on May fourth, while the archery takes place on the fifth and a concluding ceremony occurs on the sixth. Following ancient protocol, splendid horseback archery is performed before the god on the main day of the festival (the fifth). Afterward, participants riding over sixty horses, including priests, children, and people dressed as samurai, parade along the city's main streets. A ceremony is then held at the shrine's riding grounds (Sakura-no-baba).
Rice planting festival
The centerpiece of this festival is the planting of rice at the shrine's sacred rice paddy. After a ceremony at the main shrine, Shinto priests, a senior farmer, and both male and young female tillers (saotome) form a procession and make their way to the sacred paddy while playing court music. After the female tillers perform a dance, the rice is planted. This day falls during the off season for local farmers, so the festival draws boisterous crowds.
Ceremony to open the Fuji climbing season Ceremony to close the Fuji climbing season
July seventh September seventh
The Fuji climbing season lasts from July eleventh to August thirty-first. Four days before the start of the season, priests make a solemn declaration before the god and offer prayers for the safety of climbers headed for the peak. On September seventh, after the close of the climbing season, priests thank the god for offering its protection.
November third, fourth, and fifth
According to the Fuji Ohmiya Ritual Register for the fifth year of Tensho (1577) and the record of annual festivals at Fuji Hongu for the third year of the Keian period (1650), this event was called the "big festival" (tai-sairei), which used to be held in April, September, and November. Today it is held over three days in November, with an opening ceremony on November third, the main rites on the fourth, and a concluding ceremony on the fifth. This is the biggest festival of the year for city residents, so young and old, male and female, all dress in gorgeous finery and boisterously ride floats through town while beating drums (taiko). This is the biggest festival in the eastern region of Suruga (Shizuoka).
4. Shrine buildings
Tokugawa Ieyasu built the existing shrine buildings in the ninth year of Keicho (1604) as an offering of thanks. The inner shrine, outer shrine, dance stage, tower gate, and other structures were truly magnificent, but some were destroyed by the great earthquakes of 1633 and 1854. The only original buildings that remain are the inner shrine, the outer shrine, and the tower gate.
This is a two-story building about 14 meters high. Built in the "Sengen style," its construction is unique. The first floor is 81 square meters large and is built in the "hohden" (treasure hall) style with wide eaves. The second floor amounts to nearly 20 square meters with a curved roof built in the "nagare" style. Both levels are thatched with the bark of white cedar (hinoki) trees. On May twenty-seventh in the fortieth year of the Meiji period (1907), the building was designated a structure for special preservation in accordance with the law to to preserve old shrines and temples. Since then it has been preserved as both a national treasure and an important cultural property.
Built in the "irimoya" style, this building is 81 square meters large and is thatched with white cedar bark.
This gate is about 13 meters in height, 7 meters in width, and 4.5 meters in length, and its roof is covered with white cedar bark. On either side of the tower gate is a guardian statue, and inscriptions on their backs show that they were carved in the nineteenth year of Keicho (1614). The framed letter hanging inside the gate was written in the second year of the Bun'ei period (1819) by his Imperial Highness, Prince Shohgoin, who had taken the clerical name Einin.
The area of the main precinct is roughly 56,000 square meters. With the magnificent shrine buildings and tower gate at its center, this sacred space seamlessly blends the beauty of nature and the charms of art in a manner that bespeaks the magnificent, divine virtue of the great deity.
The shrine gardens
These are located on either side of the 150-meter long approach from the first torii (sacred gate) to the Kagami-ike (Mirror pond). To the east, among the trees that line the pure waters of the Kanda stream, is a playground. Approximately 1,500 cherry trees are planted about the grounds in honor of the great deity.
Kagami-ike (Mirror pond)
In front of the tower gate is Kagami-ike, also known as "Spectacles pond." The arched bridge that crosses the pond was reconstructed out of stone in the fourth year of the Taisho period (1915) to commemorate the enthronement of the Taisho emperor.
Sakura-no-baba (Horse-riding grounds with cherry trees)
As its name indicates, this site boasts cherry blossoms in full bloom in April, while in May it is the location for the ancient rites of the Yabusame (Horseback archery) festival.
Hokotate-ishi (Halberd-stand rock)
The rock located on the stone steps in front of the tower gate is called Hokotate-ishi. In ancient times two grand festivals were held here in April and November, commemorating the time when the god of Yamamiya shrine visited Sengen shrine and rested his sacred halberd here.
Wakutama-ike (Gushing jewels pond)
When one passes through the small eastern gate after visiting the main shrine, one sees Wakutama pond, which appears in a verse written during the Heian period (794-1185) by the poet Taira-no-Kanemori: "More than enough water to wash my hands gushes, like jewels, from the depths of Mitarashi stream at Sengen shrine." Formed by the melted snow of Mount Fuji, this pond has been designated a special natural treasure. The elegant, vermillion-colored Mizuya shrine sits on a rock at the source of the spring that flows from the foot of Kantate Knoll. In former times, those climbing Mount Fuji from Ohmiya purified themselves in this sacred spring.
This small hill, located northeast of the inner shrine and facing Wakutama pond, is adorned with azaleas, which dot its rocky surface. In the twenty-seventh year of the Meiji period (1894), the future Taisho emperor rested here during a visit to the shrine. Starting from the edge of the pond and passing through Mizuya shrine, one reaches Tenjin shrine, the starting point for climbing the knoll.
Mitarashi-gawa (Hand-washing stream)
Pure spring water from Wakutama pond gradually forms the gentle stream of Mitarashi. The stream eventually becomes the Kanda river, dividing the shrine precincts from the surrounding town. Itsukushima shrine stands on a tiny islet in the stream, while Inari shrine is located on the western bank.
6. Okumiya (Shrine on top of Mount Fuji)
The precinct of Okumiya, which amounts to nearly 4,000 square kilometers, includes all the land above the eighth station of Mount Fuji. Since ancient times, this sacred territory has been worshipped as the divine embodiment of Sengen shrine's principal deity. It possesses a number of ritual sites, the main ones being:
This is the original crater of Mount Fuji, which is also known as Yukyu (Shrine of the depths). Its bottom is located at the same altitude as the eight station.
This shrine stands at the end of the trail starting from Fujinomiya. Because Fuji itself is the god's body, there is no inner shrine, only outer and middle shrines.
This shrine stands at the end of the trails starting from Yoshida, Subashiri, and Kawaguchiko. It is a branch shrine of Okumiya.
Kinmei-sui and Ginmei-sui (Gold water and Silver water)
Ginmei-sui is located at the start of the descent to Gotenba and Kinmei-sui to the northwest of Kusushi shrine. Holy water gushes forth at these sites on the peak. Pilgrims receive it as a blessing from Asama-no-ohkami, the great god of Fuji.
Hasshinpo (Eight sacred peaks)
Surrounding Fuji's crater are eight sacred peaks known as Ken-ga-mine, Hakusan-dake, Kusushi-ga-take, Johju-dake, Asahi-dake, Koma-ga-take, and Mishima-ga-take. Making a pilgrimage around the crater is called ohachi-meguri (circling the basin). At 3,776 meters above sea level, Ken-ga-mine is the highest of the eight peaks.