Mt. Fuji’s ancient sacred status gains World Heritage stamp of recognition

Cultural asset: Mount Fuji is seen from the Miho-no-Matsubara pine grove in the city of Shizuoka. | CULTURAL AFFAIRS AGENCY/KYODO

Cultural asset: Mount Fuji is seen from the Miho-no-Matsubara pine grove in the city of Shizuoka. | CULTURAL AFFAIRS AGENCY/KYODO

“Fuji has been revered as a sacred mountain since ancient times. In the early Heian Period (794-1185), a Sengen Shinto shrine that enshrines Konohana-sakuya-hime, the goddess associated with volcanoes, was built at the base of the mountain’s north side.

In spiritual terms, Fuji is divided into three zones. The bottom, or Kusa-yama, is said to represent the everyday world. The forest line, or Ki-yama, represents the transient area between the world of humans and the world of gods, and the “burned” area, or Yake-yama, at the top is said to represent the realm of the gods, Buddha and death.

Thus, to climb Mount Fuji is to descend from the living world to the realm of the dead and then back, by which pilgrims can wash away their sins…” Read the rest of the article at Heritage status will mean big changes

Yomiuri Shimbun reports on the historical significance of Mt. Fuji as a cultural heritage:

“The Japanese people have long worshiped the beautiful, towering Mt. Fuji as an awe-inspiring mountain. During the Edo period (1603-1867), commoners would climb the mountain en masse as members of a religious association centering around Mt. Fuji.

Since ancient times, the mountain has also been the subject of literature and poetry. This includes waka, traditional 31-syllable Japanese poems, as contained in the works of Manyoshu, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry.

It has also been an indispensable theme in ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings from the Edo period and other artworks that have greatly influenced foreign artists, such as “The 36 Views of Mt. Fuji” by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). ” Read more from the article “Mt. Fuji listing will help spread Japanese culture around the world”(via ANN).

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Update: UNESCO recognizes iconic peak’s cultural influence | Mount Fuji named World Heritage site (Kyodo news via Japan Times, Jun 23, 2013)

The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO decided Saturday to inscribe Mount Fuji on the U.N. agency’s prestigious World Heritage list.

The 3,776-meter volcano straddling Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures was approved by the 21-member panel of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization during its 37th session in Cambodia’s capital.

Japan’s highest and most celebrated peak was designated a “cultural” rather than “natural” site and registered under the title “Mt. Fuji: Object of Worship, Wellspring of Art. Read more

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The Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha (pictured below) and Shizuoka Shizuoka Sengen Shrines are just but two of some 1,300 Asama shrines, centered mainly in Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures(and nearly all with a view of Mt Fuji), with a strong mountain cult based on the veneration of the kami of volcanos in general, and Mount Fuji in particular.

Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, Japan, late 16th century, Muromachi era

Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, Japan, late 16th century, Muromachi era

On the cult of Mt. Fuji from Asama Shrines:

“The derivation of the word “Asama” is subject to considerable uncertainty and debate, but the original meaning of the word appears to be connected with volcanoes or volcanic eruptions, and the presence of water springs in the foothills of such mountains. Mountain-worship based cults centered on Mount Asama(浅間山 Asama-san) in Niigata and Mount Asama (朝熊山 Asama-yama) in Mie appear contemporary with the mountain-cult centered on Mount Fuji, via references in the Man’yōshū. However, worship of Mount Fuji, as the tallest and most famous volcano in Japan came to dominate. Mount Fuji has erupted eighteen times in recorded history. In order to pacify it, the Imperial Court awarded it court rank and venerated it as Sengen Ōkami in the early Heian period

According to shrine tradition from the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro moved an existing shrine from the slopes of Mount Fuji to the lowlands during the reign of Emperor Suinin. Traditions also exist associating Mount Fuji with immortality-seeking wizards, and attribute the legendary mystical powers of En no Gyōja to his training on the mountain.

From the Heian period, the worship of the volcano kami as providers of water combined with Shingon esoteric Buddhism and with Shugendō practices.Yamabushi Matsudai Shōnin is said to have climbed Mount Fuji several hundred times and built a temple, with the retired Emperor Toba as his patron.

By the Muromachi period, pilgrimages to climb Mount Fuji increased in popularity, and mandala were produced both as souvenirs, and to spread the cult. Such mandala typically depicted pilgrims landing at Miho no Matsubara, and the various stages of the ascent of Mount Fuji. The top of the mountain is depicted as having three peaks, about which float various Buddhas and Bosatsu. In the Edo period, the Fuji-kō, a religious confraternity system became extremely popular in the Kantō region, using magico-religious practices with talismans to protect followers from illness and catastrophe, despite efforts by the authorities to discourage it.

After the Meiji Restoration, the cult of Mount Fuji declined precipitously…”

According to another Wikipedia article Fujisan Hongu Sengen Shrine:

“The foundation of the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha predates the historical period. Per shrine tradition, it was established in reign of Emperor Suinin, with the shrine first built on its current location during the reign of Emperor Keikō. This was period of intense volcanic activity on Mount Fuji, and the shrine was built in order to appease the kami of the mountain. The shrine is mentioned in accounts of the legendary hero Yamato Takeru as well. The entire mountain was off-limits for religious reasons, except for Shugendō monks noted for the asceticism.

Historical records, however, only exist as far as the early ninth century. During the reign of Emperor HeizeiSakanoue no Tamuramaro was ordered to rebuild the Honden of the shrine in its current location. The Heian period Engishiki records list the shrine as the ichinomiya of Suruga Province. Pilgrimages to Mount Fuji became common in the ninth century, although women were forbidden from climbing.”

The article also notes that while the primary kami of Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha is the Konohanasakuya-hime (木花咲耶姫?), the daughter of Ōyamatsu-no-mikoto (大山祇命?), the “association of Konohanasakuya-hime with Mount Fuji appears to date only to the early Edo period. Previous to this, the kami of Mount Fuji was named Asama no Okami (浅間大神?), also known as Asama Daimyōjin (浅間大明神?), Asama Gongen (浅間権現?) or Sengen Daibōsatsu (浅間大菩薩?).”

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The tradition of another of the Asama shrines, Shizuoka Sengen Shrine(Wikipedia source), also suggests that inhabitants in the area or of the shrine go back to earlier times (Kofun Period).

“The area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and a Kofun period burial mound has been excavated at Mount Shizuhata. Per the Nihon Shoki, the area was colonized by the Hata clan during this period. According to unsubstantiated shrine legend, the foundation of the Kambe Jinja dates to the reign of Emperor Sujin, that of the Ohtoshimioya Shrine to the reign of Emperor Ojin, both from the Kofun period.

Per the Engishiki records, Kambe Jinja was given national recognition and status of the Sōja of Suruga Province in the Heian period. Also, the date of 901 is given for the foundation of the Sengen Jinja, as a subsidiary branch of the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, and initially was referred to as the “Shingu” (new shrine).

The primary kami of Kambe Jinja is the Ohnamuchi-no-Mikoto, who is regarded as the mythical founding deity of Suruga Province.

The primary kami of Sengen Jinja is the Konohanasakuya-hime, the deity of Mount Fuji.

The primary kami of Ohtoshimioya Shrine is the Ohtoshimioya-no-Mikoto, who appears in the Kojiki as a daughter of Susano-o, and a kami protecting markets and commerce”.

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