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FUJISAN's Cultural Values Wellspring of Art and Culture


FUJISAN is a breathtakingly beautiful mountain located near the center of Japan. Since ancient times, the people of Japan have held it close to their hearts, regarding it as a source of national spirit and a wellspring of culture. It has been the subject of innumerable works of art, including paintings, prose,poems, and drama. The history of the peak is closely intertwined with the history of Japanese culture itself. At the same time, it has exerted an influence on many foreign artists as well.

FUJISAN has long been an object of religious worship as the dwelling place of the gods. The Japanese people have traditionally seen the divine in all aspects of nature, and FUJISAN, in particular, has been venerated as a sacred peak, becoming deeply ingrained in people’s minds and their daily lives.

Culture, as created by humankind, is passed down through the generations as the collective memory of groups of people, which is then accumulated and shaped over time. Here, I hope to convey the immense impact FUJISAN has had on the culture and art of Japan by introducing many outstanding works of art that depict the peak. In so doing, it is my wish that many people around the world will agree with me that FUJISAN truly deserves to be designated a World Cultural Heritage site.

Shuji Takashina

Director, Ohara Museum of Art Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo

Born in Tokyo in 1932. Graduated from the University of Tokyo and later studied the history of modern Western art at the Institute of Art and Archaeology, the University of Paris. Awarded Minister of Education’s Geijutsu Sensho Prize in 1971, Medal with Purple Ribbon in 2000,Chevalier of the Legion of Honour from France in 2001, Grande Ufficiale Order of Merit from Italy in 2003, and many other awards and prizes in Japan and abroad. His numerous works include Seikimatsu geijutsu (End-of-Century Art), Nihon kindai bijutsushi-ron (Theory of Modern Japanese Art History), Kindai kaigashi: Goya kara Mondorian made (History of Modern Paintings: From Goya to Mondrian), Seiokaiga no kindai (Modern Age of West European Paintings), and Nihon-kaiga no kindai (Modern Age of Japanese Paintings).


More artists have chosen FUJISAN as the subject of their paintings than any other mountain, the most famous artists being ukiyo-e print masters Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige.Hokusai, best known for his series of woodblock prints called Fugaku-sanjurokkei (Thirty-six Views of FUJISAN), masterfully depicted the various ways in which people interacted with FUJISAN with rich imagination and masterful composition. Not content with 36 views, though, he produced an additional 10 prints of Ura-Fuji (The Far Side of FUJISAN) for a total 46 views. Hiroshige,meanwhile, featured the mountain in many of his prints in the Tokaido-gojusantsugi (Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido) and Meisho Edo hyakkei (One Hundred Famous Views of Edo) series.

The oldest extant painting of FUJISAN is said to be Shotoku Taishi eden (Pictorial Biography of Prince Shotoku) from the Heian period (794-1185) illustrating a legend in which the prince rides to FUJISAN’s summit on a horse presented to him by Kai Province (presentday Yamanashi Prefecture). In paintings from the Heian, Kamakura (1185-1333), and subsequent periods FUJISAN was often depicted as having three peaks and covered with snow throughout the year.

In more modern times, Yokoyama Taikan employed distinctive techniques and angles in creating such works as Gunjo Fuji (FUJISAN Dyed Ultramarine) and Hi izuru tokoro Nihon (Land of the Rising Sun). Countless other artists have depicted FUJISAN over the years, among the most notable being Shiba Kokan during the Edo period (1603-1868), Tsukioka Yoshitoshi―whose career spanned both feudal and modern Japan―along with Nihonga artist Matsuoka Eikyu and Western-style painter Umehara Ryuzaburo in the Taisho (1912-1926) and Showa (1926-1989) eras.

FUJISAN in Europe

Thirty-six Views of FUJISAN by Katsushika Hokusai is widely known in Europe.French writer Edmond de Goncourt, who later published a critical biography of Hokusai, is said to have remarked to friends―while looking at the series of Hokusai’s prints―that the roots of Monet’s color expression lay in these images.Monet was indeed enamored of Japan’s ukiyo-e prints.

Van Gogh, meanwhile, not only collected but also organized exhibitions of these prints. Before his encounter with ukiyo-e, Van Gogh used predominantly dark hues.Following his visit to Paris in 1886, where he met artists of the Impressionist school and saw ukiyo-e prints, his style began shifting toward his hallmark use of vivid colors.

A print of Kanagawa oki nami ura (Great Wave off Kanagawa) hung on the wall of Claude Debussy’s room as he composed his famous symphonic poem, La Mer. The print also adorned the cover of the first edition of its later published score.

That the Thirty-six Views was a series of works all featuring FUJISAN as the subject was an additional source of surprise for European painters. Woodblock artist Henri Riviere was so influenced by this piece that he produced his own series called Les Trente-six Vues de la Tour Eiffel (Thirty-six Views of the Eiffel Tower) as a tribute to Hokusai.

The first British Minister Plenipotentiary to Japan, Sir Rutherford Alcock,climbed FUJISAN during his tenure in Japan and later introduced the peak with woodcut illustrations in his 1863 book, The Capital of the Tycoon: A Narrative of a Three Years' Residence in Japan.

FUJISAN in Literature

FUJISAN appears in Japan’s oldest existing anthology of poetry,the Man’yoshu: “Tago no ura yu / Uchiidete mireba / Mashironi so / Fuji no takane ni /Yuki wa furikeru” (Passing through Tago Bay and coming to a clearing, I see snow falling, pure white, on Fuji’s lofty peak). This poem was composed by Yamabe no Akahito as a hanka, concluding a long choka poem eulogizing FUJISAN as a divine peak that has stood “since the parting of heaven and earth.”

In the last scene of Taketori monogatari (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter), considered Japan’s oldest narrative, Kaguya-hime (Princess Kaguya) leaves behind an elixir of immortality for the emperor as she returns to her home on the moon. The heartbroken emperor, though, orders the elixir to be burned at the summit of the mountain closest to heaven. It was for this reason, legend has it, that the peak became known as Fuji (derived from fushi, or immortality).

The peak is depicted in many other literary classics, including Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji) and Ise monogatari (Tales of Ise) from the Heian period, Edo-period haiku by Basho and Buson, and the works of early modern writers like Natsume Soseki and Dazai Osamu.

As an Object of Worship

There has been a tradition of making religious pilgrimages to FUJISAN since ancient times. The Fuji Mandala Zu from the Muromachi period (1336-1573) shows FUJISAN towering between the sun and the moon. Below the trail leading to the top of the peak is the shrine itself, and further below runs a stream where ablutions were performed. One of the Fuji Mandala dating from the Edo period, meanwhile, features the Amida triad (Amida flanked by the bodhisattvas Kannon and Seishi) on Fuji’s three peaks. At the summit of FUJISAN is a shrine to Konohana Sakuya-hime (Tree Blossom Princess), a Shinto deity who appears in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters). The mountain has thus been the object of syncretic worship in both the Shinto and Buddhist traditions and is an excellent example of the broadminded, nonexclusive nature of the Japanese people’s religious beliefs.

In the European Alps, there are a number of passes known as devil’s bridges, suggesting that mountains were viewed as being fearsome. In Japan, interestingly, many passes are named for Buddhist deities, such as Bosatsu Toge (Bodhisattva Pass) or Bishamon Dake (Vaisravana Peak). For the Japanese people, then, mountains are places where Shinto and Buddhist deities dwell, aptly illustrating the fact that respect for nature is a salient characteristic of Japanese people’s faith.

As Part of People's Lives

Edo (present-day Tokyo) had very deep ties to FUJISAN. Muromachi period warrior Ota Dokan, who first built Edo Castle and founded the city, is famous for a poem he wrote while gazing upon FUJISAN from “under the eaves” of his abode. Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who later took over and expanded Edo Castle, built a tower to view the mountain on the western grounds of the castle. Even today, there are many place names in Tokyo referring to the mountain, such as Fujimi-zaka (Fuji-viewing hill) or Fujimi-cho (Fuji-viewing village). Suruga-cho?depicted in Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo?was built so that it led straight to FUJISAN, and this is how the street got its name. (Suruga, or present-day Shizuoka Prefecture, is the province where FUJISAN is located.)

Depictions of FUJISAN also decorated many household items, and residents of central Edo customarily made their “first viewing of FUJISAN” from Nihonbashi bridge on the first few days of the New Year. In the realm of folk belief, FUJISAN is an enduring symbol of good fortune. To this day many Japanese believe that the most auspicious hatsuyume (first dream of the year) is of FUJISAN, followed by a hawk and eggplant. This clearly indicates the deep love the Japanese people feel for FUJISAN.

FUJISAN and Fashion

During the Edo period many pieces of clothing, such as the uchikake (long overgarment), were decorated with images of FUJISAN. Interestingly, FUJISAN was a common motif not only for colorful articles worn in daily life but also for samurai battle gear, including suits of armor, outer coats, scabbards, and sword guards.Even coats of European-inspired arms were decorated with FUJISAN on their backs.This was no doubt because military commanders associated Fuji with fushi, literally meaning "free from death."

One notable daimyo (feudal lord) sporting the Fuji motif was Toyotomi Hideyoshi,whose yellow and black woolen surcoat showed flames rising from a torch lit at FUJISAN’s peak. This suggests a strong desire for Fuji’s blessing and protection. Toward the foot of the mountain are irregularly placed circles indicating dewdrops. The coat’s very modern design incorporates the three elements of mountain, fire, and water, and is another example of the Japanese people’s keen sensitivity toward faith and nature.

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