For centuries, Mount Fuji has held a special place in the imagination of the Japanese people, inspiring numerous poems and other works of art. However, as renowned scholar Shuji Takashina explains, for many years, it was largely known by reputation alone because very few people ever actually had the opportunity to travel to the remote eastern province where the mountain was located and see the mountain in person. (Takashina) However, during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), a major demographic shift took place in Japan, as the capital city Edo (modern-day Tokyo) became the major population centre in the country, and this growing number of people began to see Fuji as a familiar sight far off in the distance from the city. As a matter of fact, many of Edo’s streets were laid out in such a way as to point directly at Mount Fuji for just that purpose. (Takashina) Meanwhile, as the Tokugawa shogunate was becoming quite successful in establishing stability and peace, many people were becoming increasingly curious about seeing the famous sights in other parts of the country. Soon, more roads were being opened up and inns were being built along with them. As time went on, travellers began crowding the highways, the busiest being the main road connecting Edo to Kyoto known as the Tokaido, along which a wide range of views could be seen of Mount Fuji from various locations along the way. (Takashina) Enjoying these views was also facilitated by fifty-three post stations dedicated to the fifty-three Buddhist saints that the Buddhist Sudhana visited in his journey for enlightenment, particularly since the travelers could rest at the various villages that grew along with these post stations. (Rijvun) In addition, these posts became convenient stopping points for artists who often portrayed the changing views of Fuji in woodcut prints that could be purchased along the way by travelers individually or in series as souvenirs and as testimony to their arduous journey on the Tokaido, which was often tackled by foot. (Rijvun) During this time, it also became very popular to ascend Mount Fuji by one means or another, and soon thousands of people were making the trek up the mountain each year along specially designed routes.

While many of the mountain climbing pilgrimages to Fuji were religious in nature, travelling to Fuji also became a popular tourism activity, allowing the people of Edo to see new and unfamiliar landscapes, visit various towns along the way, and take advantage of the many pleasures and sites located on the route to the mountain. (Takashina) Often, travelers would combine both activities, and after arriving at the mountain, pilgrims might don white robes and ascend one route to pay homage to a shrine at the summit of Mount Fuji, and then descend along a different route back to a town at the foot of the mountain to enjoy food and drink as well as watch, listen, or even partake in a wide range of entertainments from the refined to the bawdy. (Takashina) As Takashina explains, tour groups were also quite common in which twenty to thirty pilgrims were escorted by a professional guide who led them along a set itinerary that included extras such as lodgings and side trips. (Takashina) Such guided journeys might be regarded as the Edo-period equivalent of today’s package tours.

Not surprisingly, Japan’s most famous landmark also became the subject of virtually all Edo artists and artisans at one time or another, being depicted in a growing range of media from landscape and genre paintings to screens, scrolls, maps, and textiles. (Takashina) One such depiction was created by Utagawa Sadahide (1807-1873), whose woodcut map Fuji ryōdō ichiran no zu (1859) can be accessed from the University of British Columbia Library’s Open Collection website. (Utagawa) This map is included in the Beans Collection of Japanese maps that was acquired in 1965 from the original collector George H. Beans of the Philadelphia Seed Company, and includes over 276 separate privately published and travel related maps that were produced in Japan during the Tokugawa period. (Beans)

Click here to view this image in the UBC maps collection.

      Fuji ryōdō ichiran no zu is a tryptic woodcut map of Mount Fuji consisting of three sheets measuring 35.5 x 24.2 cm each for a total overall size of 36.5 x 73 cm. (Utagawa) The map has a confirmation mark which states “Hitsuji – sheep year, 7th month confirmed,” which dates the map to August, 1859. (Utagawa) Attributed to Sadahide, this woodblock print map is produced in the ukiyo-e style, typical of the Utagawa School founded by Utagawa Toyoharu. (Utagawa)

The word ukiyo-e translates to “pictures of the floating world” and the prints produced by these artists depict a wide range of topics of interest including such subject matter as kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers, scenes from history and folk tales, travel scenes and landscapes, flora and fauna, and erotica, all of which would appeal to the hedonistic lifestyle enjoyed by middle-class and wealthy members of an emerging consumer society and. (Fleming, 60) At the same time, Edo artists were taking full advantage of the newly developed woodblock printing medium that allowed them to mass-produce their creations on silk or paper and then sell their products on a large scale to the general public. (Fleming, 61) Perhaps the most well-known early woodblock print example that features Mount Fuji is the Great Wave off Kangawa, created by Katsushika Hokusai around 1830 who was also Sadahide’s teacher. (Fleming, 61) Here, Mount Fuji lies serenely in the background overlooking the scene of a tsunami tossing boats back and forth on its way to landfall. In a way, the scene depicts the changes taking place in Japan as a transition was occurring that combined a focus on the serenity of orthodox Buddhism with the dynamics of the floating world where people could temporarily escape their troubled, earthly affairs by seeking entertainment in the pleasure districts. (Fleming, 61)


The ukiyo-e style is also renowned for its use of Western-style geometric perspective and an increased use of colour printing techniques, often incorporating sepia, orange, beige, blue, and green tones as indicated by the print below, produced by Utagawa Kuninao in the 1820s. (Kobayashi, 76-7)


An examination of Fuji ryōdō ichiran no zu shows these tendencies. While the rolling hills around Mount Fuji offer a particularly lush representation of the geography surrounding the mountain, the sight lines draw the eyes up to the top of this mythical mountain, creating a strong sense of perspective with Fuji at the apex of the composition. This sense of perspective is further enhanced by the bird’s eye point of view, as well as by the trees and buildings that seem to be pointing toward the summit. More than that, Sadahide’s approach to the mountain contrasts sharply with other renderings of the time. While most artists and cartographers typically rendered Fuji by focussing on one side of the mountain and depicting it as an isosceles triangle, Sakahide’s Fuji is transparent and seemingly mult-dimensional. (Fumiko) On the one hand, illustrating the mountain as a transparent cone is an attempt to depict a three-dimensional object on a flat surface. (Fumiko) On the other hand, this transparent effect adds to the mystery and beauty of this mythical location, one of the most iconic images in all of Japan. In particular, the presentation allows Sadahide to depict the in-between world that lies within the mountain, suggesting the ideal world pilgims might look forward to in their spiritual journey or the portal for rebirth into the next life. (Fumiko) In many ways, therefore, the manner in which Sadhide maps Fuji suggests a kind of border zone between one world and the next. Consequently, Sadahide’s panoramic portrayal of Mount Fuji on this map is arguably one of the most striking of all produced during the Edo period.


What is also quite noticeable about the map is that it is not drawn to scale. Rather, the mountain has a tendency to overshadow a world that appears highly compressed and small in comparison. More than that, the two alternate routes on the map are peppered with numerous cartouches identifying various sites, landscape features, and points of interest. Perhaps in conforming to the two-route format, the ascending route might well be dedicated more to points of religious significance and the descending to opportunities for other forms of adventure and pleasure. Meanwhile, the geographic compression in combination with all of these signs must surely have been of interest to Sadahide’s well-to-do audience who could only imagine all of the spiritual and hedonistic wonders that lay ahead if they were to travel to Mount Fuji. The map is, therefore, as much about the imagination as it is a true depiction of these routes. It really is an ideal world full of fantasy and possibilities.


Works Cited

“George Beans Collection of Japanese Maps of the Tokugawa period – Finding Aid.” University of British Columbia Special Collections (n.d.).

Fleming, Stuart. “Ukiyo-e painting: An art tradition under stress.” Archaeology 38, No. 6 (1985): 60-61, 75.

Kobayashi, Tadashi. Ukiyo-e: An Introduction to Japanese Woodblock Prints. New York: Kodansha International, 1997.

Fumiko, Miyazaki. “An Artist’s Rendering of the Divine Mount Fuji.” In Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps, edited by Karen Wigen, Sugimoto. Fumiko, & Cary Karacas, n.p. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Rijvun, Guus. Walk the Tokaido (n.d.).

Takashina, S. (2003). “Mount Fuji in Edo Arts and Minds.” Japan Echo 30, No. 1: n.p.

Utagawa, S. (1859). “Fuji Ryodo Ichiran No Zu.” University of British Columbia Library Open Collections.


Contributor: Jason Zhang

(Edited by Elle Marsh)