Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan reaching an impressive 3,776 meters above sea level. Its iconic cone shape makes it one of the most recognizable mountains and active volcanoes in the world. Mount Fuji has been a sacred place and a focus of asceticpursuits, and pilgrimages, as well as muse for poetic and other artistic endeavours, so many maps of the mountain have been created. This investigation will compare and contrast two maps of Mount Fuji. These maps are Fujisan no zu(富士山之圖) and Dai Nihon Fujisan Zetcho no zu (大日本富士山絶頂之圖), both of which highlight the religiosity of the mountain, while being quite different in form.

Fujisan no zu was created in 1848 during the Edo period by Sawaguchi Seio. The focus of the map is sacred sites and pilgrimage routes on Mount Fuji. The sacred sites that can be found on the map include the shrines, temples, statues, monuments and mediation caves, which are very important for the Shugendō tradition of mountain asceticism. The map also has pictures of two ascetics, the father of the Mount Fuji cult, and his successor The map also shows the official Murayama Shugendo pilgrimage route; however, it also shows alternative routes that emerged after Murayama Shugendo lost control to the loosely organized Fuji-ko cult. A unique feature of this map is that it can be turned into a three-dimensional representation of Mount Fuji.  The main reason the map was created was to facilitate the journey of pilgrims. It can almost be seen as a guide for pilgrim sightseers. Thus, the main audience for this map is pilgrims and the pilgrimage organizations, which are called fujiko.

Figure 1: Fujisan no zu
Figure 2: Fujisan no zu

 Dai Nihon Fujisan Zetcho no zu means a ‘Map of the summit of Mount Fuji.’ This map was created by Utagawa Sadahide in 1857, which was also during the Edo  period. The map is quite large and actually consists of three different maps that can be joined together to form one large map depicting the crater at the summit of Mount Fuji. Just as with Fujisan no zu, this map is marked with many important religious features, including pilgrimage routes, figures of Buddha and other places of religious significance. Its focus is the crater of Mount Fuji, so this map provides great detail about both the topography of Mount Fuji’s summit, and the various places of interest around the summit, including the eight peaks that have been likened to the eight petals of a lotus flower. However, despite the differences in form and focus of the two maps, the maps share a focus on the sacredness of Mount Fuji with a specific focus on pilgrimages. The intended audience of this map is the same as Fujisan no zu, as this map’s main focus is the summit of Mount Fuji and the popular pilgrimage practice of circumnavigating the cauldron of Mount Fuji. To highlight this particular pilgrimage practice, the map shows pilgrims walking around the rim of the cauldron.       

Figure 3: Dai Nihon Fujisan Zetcho no zu

Religion and Mount Fuji

For many centuries, Mount Fuji has been considered a sacred natural wonder. In fact, its connection to the gods can be traced back to the Ainu people, the indigenous inhabitants of ancient Japan. In fact, the name Fuji most likely comes from the Ainu god of fire, Fuchi.The sacredness of the mountain was revived due to volcanic activity in the 8th and 9th centuries and has carried forward today in the form of a localized form of hybrid Buddhism called Shugendō. Both Shinto and Buddhism see Mount Fuji as a place of sacred importance.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, a series of eruptions of Mount Fuji led people to believe that the mountain was the personification of the spirt of the god Kami. By 805 AD, locals had deified the entire mountain by giving Mount Fuji the name Asama (or Sengen) Daimyōjin, which means the mountain that spouts fire. Therefore, this early re-deification of Mount Fuji was connected to its raw natural power. The mountain also became the focus of Shintoism and Buddhism very early on with the mountain being given the Shinto name, Konohana no Sayuka Hime, and the Buddhist name, Sengen Daibosatsu, the Great Boddhisattva of Sengen. However, in terms of actually establishing a presence at the mountain Shintoism preceded Buddhism. Over the years, eight major Shinto shrines have built around the foot of the mountain with hundreds of smaller shrines having been constructed as well. The first and arguably the most important Shinto shrine is the Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha, which was built  in 806 CE. Since the original construction, the shrine has been rebuilt on the same spot a number of times. The fact that this shrine is quite far from the base of the mountain illustrate the immense important of Mount Fuji, as its power extends to the area that falls under its shadow. Another important Shinto shrine is the Kawaguchi Asama Shrine, which was built when the volcano was erupting in the 9th century; this was in response to the same volcanic activity that resulted in the locals deifying the mountain. Another important Shinto shrine is Dainichiji temple, which was constructed in 1149 near the top of Mount Fuji. The fact that both of these maps mark some of these shrines speaks to the sacred focus of both these maps, as well as their purpose of informing pilgrims and pilgrimages.

Figure 4: Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha


Figure 5: Kawaguchi Asama

Buddhist began taken an active interest in Mount Fuji in the 12th century with the main interest of the mountain being the focus of ascetic practices. The practice of Mount Fuji asceticism evolved into a unique hybrid practice that combined elements of Buddhism, Shintoism and Daoism. This religion was Shugendō, which is the practice of mountain asceticism. Mountain asceticism was essentially the exploration of and the exultation of the relationship between man, gods, and nature in the presence of the sacred mountains—in this case, Mount Fuji. Although it is unclear exactly who founded Shugendō, it was most likely founded by En no Gyōja. Therefore, it can be said that En no Gyōja was the first yamabushi—one who prostates himself on the mountain. As the story goes, En no Gyōja is said to be the first person to reach the summit of Mount Fuji, which is said to have taken place in 700 AD.

The practice of Shugendō gained significant momentum in the Heian era, which lasted from 794 to 1185. During this period of Japanese history, there were large numbers of Buddhist ascetics wandering the country. Many of them found their way to Mount Fuji and became yamabushi. As a result, Shugendō grew during this period helped by the fact that by the12th century, Mount Fuji’s volcanic activity had stopped, which made being on the mountain no longer a dangerous proposition. The Shugendō movement grew, but was limited to ascetics only.

It is believed that the fujiko movement was made possible by the thoughts and practices of Matsudai; however, it was his successor, Raison, in the fourteenth century, who opened up Shugendō to some lay people. This helped popularize Shugendō, and increased the number of pilgrims who visited the mountain, which  established the foundations of the fujiko, which were  pilgrim associations. The real popularization of the pilgrimage came when the two ascetics depicted on the map opened up Mount Fuji to all lay people.

Figure 6: Kakugyō Tōbutsu and Jikigyō Miroku


Kakugyō Tōbutsu (1541-1646)  was a wandering ascetic who was not associated with any of the Shugendo groups connected to Mount Fuji. In fact, his popularity grew because, he was not associated with any Shugendo. He is responsible for freeing the control of Mount Fuji from the Shugendo groups and opening the mountain to everyone. Jikigyō Miroku was his successor.

By the the middle of Edo period, Shugendō was flourishing and Mount Fuji hosted numerous ascetics and pilgrims. It was during this time that Fujiko really began to emerge. One of the main reasons that the mountain developed into a pilgrimage site was because of the eight peaks surrounding the mountain’s crater, which came to symbolize the eight pedals of a lotus flower, which are marked and prominent on Dai Nihon Fujisan Zetcho no zu. The highest of these peaks is Mount Kengamine Peak.This created an allure to the pilgrimage process, as part of the pilgrimage process became circumnavigating the eight peaks, which became known as ‘Ohachimeguri’. Fujiko are responsible for many of the structures and sites on Mount Fuji. These groups built temples, and artifices know as fujizaka, which are miniature Mount Fujis made from rocks and plants taken from the mountain itself. Soil from Mount Fuji is actually taken and placed on the top of the fujizakas, in order to capture some of the spiritual power of the volcano. This resulted in a pilgrimage practice where pilgrims no longer went to the mountain, but instead visited a fujizaka that was in their city with the mountain soil on it. At the height of the Edo Period (1603-1867), there were more than 200 fujizaka with fifty-six surviving today.


Both of these maps focus on the religious aspect of Mount Fuji. Both maps show the locations of temples, statues and other important religious structures and icons. Fujisan no zualso shows different routes up the mountain, while Dai Nihon Fujisan Zetcho no zu shows ‘Ohachimeguri. These maps would have helped pilgrims locate the religious spots that they wished to visit, including helping them find caves that held images and statues of Buddha that they could use for prayer and meditation. Each map has a feature that distinguishes it from the other, however. On the Fujisan no zu, this feature is the pictures of Kakugyō Tōbutsu and Jikigyō Miroku. This reveals that the religious importance of this map is the beginnings of Fuji-kō cults, which Kakugyō Tōbutsu founded, and the practice of Shugendō. The Dai Nihon Fujisan Zetcho no zu focuses on the summit of Mount Fuji with a particular concentration on the circumnavigation of the cauldron. Therefore, these maps focus on the pilgrimage process and are very likely associated with the fujiko, pilgrimage organizations that promoted pilgrimages to Mount Fuji.


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Contributor: Tina Zhang
Published April 21, 2018