Fujisan no zu by Sawaguchi Seiō (1848) Click here to view this image in the UBC maps collection.

UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collection hosts a variety of Japanese Tokugawa Era maps; among this collection is one very unique map named Fujisan no zu (Map of Mt. Fuji), created by Sawaguchi Seiō in 1848.  It was created using the woodcut technique and its dimensions are 91.4 x 96.5 cm.  What is extra special about this map is that the map can be rearranged three dimensionally. When placed flat, the map shows the aerial view of Mt. Fuji; however, the map can be lifted and propped up into the shape of a cone, outlining the shape of the mountain.  These types of maps are rare, but upon researching for this map, I have come across two other three dimensional depictions of Mt. Fuji, also from the late Tokugawa period.  The picture above is Fujisan no zu from UBC’s collection, and below are photos of Fujisan no zu when lifted, and also other three dimensional maps of Mt. Fuji.

Geographic Features of Mt. Fuji

Located southwest of Tokyo and on the border of Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefecture is Mt. Fuji.[1]  Mt. Fuji is an active stratovolcano – a tall, cone-shaped volcano with steep sides and a small summit crater.[2]  The mountain has an active history; between 781 and 1083, Mt. Fuji erupted nine times.[3]  Its last eruption was in 1707.[4]

*Interesting Fact: Mt. Fuji’s eruption in 1707 was said to have been triggered by the devastating Hoei Earthquake which occurred just before.[5]  Soon after the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake, scientists were convinced Mt. Fuji would follow suit and also erupt.  However, Mt. Fuji has remained dormant, but if the mountain were to erupt, it would produce a similar consequence; the region would be covered with a thick layer of ash, and over 700, 000 people would have to flee their homes.[6]

Sacred Fuji and Shugendō

Since pre-modern times, Mt. Fuji has always been known as a mysterious mountain.  The mountain was viewed as being sacred, and that it possessed the spirit of a kami (god).[7]  In 805, Mt. Fuji was officially given the deity name, Asama (or Sengen) Daimyōjin, which meant “the mountain that spouts fire” and the “Great and Resplendent Deity Volcano”.[8]  In later years, Mt. Fuji was also given the Buddhist name, Sengen Daibosatsu (the Great Boddhisattva of Sengen) and the Shinto name, Konohana no Sayuka Hime.[9]  By the ninth century, thousands of Sengen shrines had established all over the region, some particularly at the foot of Mt. Fuji.[10]  These shrines were sites where people viewed and worshipped the mountain.  Furthermore, the religious movement, Shugendō and its community of mountain ascetics, known as yamabushi, also devoted to Mt. Fuji.

Sengen Shrine at Fujiyoshida – Photographer: Johnathan Mcgee.
Sengen Shrine at Murayama

Shugendō is the Japanese asceticism of mountains; it is a blend of shamanistic Shinto, esoteric Buddhist and philosophical Daoist principles.[11]  According to scholar, Allan Grapard, as cited in Andrea Gill’s Shugendō: Pilgrimage and Ritual in a Japanese Folk Religion, shugendō is the “relationship between man, gods, and nature in the context of sacred mountains.”[12]  It is said shugendō was founded by the legendary figure-patriarch, En no Gyōja, who was rumoured to be the first “human” to ever ascend Mt. Fuji in 700 A.D., and sought training through mountain ascetic practices.[13]  Mountain asceticism gained tremendous prominence in the Heian era (794-1185), for there were a rising number of “wandering practitioners who entered sacred mountains in order to perform Buddhist asceticism and rituals.”[14]  Thus, the shugendō cult developed, and was further carried out by Matsudai Shōnin, whose ascent atop Mt. Fuji was also debatable, as the forerunner of the Fuji faith.[15]  Matsudai subsequently established the Fuji shugendō headquarters and Fuji-gyō (the practice of Fuji) in numerous temples in Murayama.[16]  Despite shugendō’s widespread popularity, fuji-gyō were limited to the yamabushi (mountain ascetics); it was not until Matsudai’s successor, Raison, in the fourteenth century, made the mountain practice open and available to ordinary laymen and pilgrims.[17]  However, the Murayama shugendō establishments met great difficulties, for it was entangled in the wars of the sixteenth century; it was officially declared extinct in the 1930s.[18]

Legendary figure En no Gyoja

A New Fuji Cult: Kakugyō 角行 (書行藤佛)

Kakugyō Tōbutsu (1541-1646) founded the new Fuji cult in the Tokugawa period.  Revered as the pioneer of a new mountain practice called Fuji-kō 富士講 (Fuji confraternities),[19] Kakugyō sought to distinguish the new cult from the old.  Kakugyō was not a Buddhist, nor did he identify himself as part of the yamabushi.[20]  Kakugyō was simply concerned with world peace and bringing order to society; he “sought to incarnate Mt. Fuji,” and proclaimed Mt. Fuji as the cosmic pillar and savior of Japan.[21]  According to Japanese legends, Kakugyō was said to have spoken and met with En no Gyōja; Kakugyō was told to enter the Hitoana 入穴 (“man hole”), a cave created by Mt. Fuji’s eruptions, and carry out various ascetic practices.[22]  Society was in peril, and order would only be achieved through Kakugyō’s ascetic practices.[23]  Kakugyō gained tremendous popularity among Edo peasants, for in the early 1600s, Kakugyō managed to heal many victims of an epidemic called tsukitaoshi (“knock-down disease”).[24]  Kakugyō retreated back into the Hitoana and continued his ascetic practices until his death in 1646.[25]  Thus, practice in caves became an integral part of mountain (Fuji) asceticism.

Kakugyō is one of the two mountain ascetics featured on this map.  He is on the right hand side.

kakukyo and jikigyo
Right: Kakugyo  Left: Jikigyo
kakugyo new new.JPG

Kakugyō’s Successor, Jikigyō Miroku 食行身禄

To the left of Kakugyō on Fujisan no zu is Jikigyō Miroku (1671-1733).  Jikigyō had humble beginnings; he had travelled from his hometown in Ise to the modern city of Edo where he became a vegetable oil seller.[26]  At age seventeen, Jikigyō had become a Fuji devotee.  In 1730/31, Jikigyō had a revelation: Jikigyō was said to have been approached by the Sengen deity, and that Sengen had bestowed Jikigyō the name Miroku, Maitreya in Sanskrit, which means the Future Buddha.[27]  Due to radical reforms and injustice of the time, particularly the incident where his home had burned down in 1732, Jikigyō sought to bring change to Japan.[28]  Jikigyō was determined to ascend Mt. Fuji’s summit and perform a ritual of fasting.[29]  Indeed, Jikigyō entered a portable shrine, placed beside a large boulder called Eboshi iwa (near the Yoshida entrance), and embarked on a fast to death.[30]  Jikigyō’s death had brought a surge in Fuji devotees and the Fuji cult grew rapidly.

jikigyo new new

Hitoana 入穴 and Tainai  胎内

Below is a diagram of Hitoana’s location.  The Hitoana rests west of Mt. Fuji; the ceiling is roughly four meters high, and the cave is some dozen meters deep.  Approximately sixty-five meters in, one would find a tiny shrine dedicated to the Fuji deity, Sengen.[31]

In many Japanese myths and legends, caves among mountains are used as symbols of the womb; Mt. Fuji was often referred to as tainai, which direct translation is “the womb.”[32]  Caves at the foot of the mountain were often regarded as “entrances to the womb.”[33]  Hitoana and Tainai were two holy sites for visitors to the mountain.[34]  In Fujisan no zu, the flap on the map shows people, presumably pilgrims ascending Mt. Fuji and entering a cave.  A sign, written in kanji 胎内入口 appears at the entrance of this cave; these kanji characters read “entrance to the womb.”  There is no doubt these pilgrims were on a journey to pay homage to the two important Fuji-ko religious figures: Kakugyō and Jikigyō.

hitoana new new

Today, Hitoana is a popular tourist site.  Although pilgrims and tourists can no longer enter Hitoana, they can most certainly visit Hitoana Fuji-ko Iseki 人穴富士講遺跡, also known as the Hitoana Fuji-ko Remains.  Near the cave lie approximately 230 stone monuments built by Fuji-ko practitioners.  These monuments were excavated from Hitoana, and they are thought to have been created by mountain ascetics to commemorate the number of worship-ascents.

The Fuji Pilgrimage

There are several routes leading up to Mt. Fuji.  Historic Fuji-ko practitioners were known to have climbed the mountain via the Yoshida route, donned in white robes, straw sandals and broad-brimmed sedge hats.[35]  Fujisan no zu seems to be depicting pilgrims using the Yoshida trail to ascend Mt. Fuji; the torch (in yellow) on the map appears to be similar to the torch lit during a Yoshida Fire Festival.

Groups of Mountain Climbers (Shojin tozan), from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei) by Katsushika Hokusai ca. 1830–32
Fujisan tainai meguri no zu (A pilgrimage to the interior of Mount Fuji) by Gyokuran Sadahide

Today, pilgrims still climb Mt. Fuji; many use the Yoshida trail to experience the historical and cultural heritage along the way.

Different trails leading up to Mt. Fuji’s summit
pilgrims yoshida route
Pilgrims today hiking up Mt. Fuji via the Yoshida route



[1] Bryon Earhart, “Mount Fuji and Shugendo,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (1989): 206.

[2] “Stratovolanoes,” accessed on March 26, 2016,

[3] Earhart, “Mount Fuji and Shugendo,” 206.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Julian Ryall, “Could Mount Fuji be the Next Japanese Volcano to Erupt,” The Telegraph, accessed April 7, 201,

[6] Ibid.

[7] Earhart, “Mount Fuji and Shugendo,” 206.

[8] Tyler Royall, “A Glimpse of Mt. Fuji in Legend and Cult,” The Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese 16, no. 2 (1981): 142.

[9] Miyazaki Fumiko, “Female Pilgrims and Mt. Fuji: Changing Perspectives on the Exclusion of Women,” Monumenta Nipponica 60, no. 3 (2005): 340.

[10] Earhart, “Mount Fuji and Shugendo,” 207.

[11] Andrea Gill, “Shugendō: Pilgrimage and Ritual in a Japanese Folk Religion.” Pursuit-The Journal of Undergraduate Research at the University of Tennessee 3, no. 2 (2012): 49.

[12] Ibid., 50

[13] Earhart, “Mount Fuji and Shugendo,” 208 and Tyler, Glimpse of Mt. Fuji, 141.

[14] Earhart, “Mount Fuji and Shugendo,” 209.

[15] Tyler, “Glimpse of Mt. Fuji,” 146.

[16] Earhart, “Mount Fuji and Shugendo,” 210-211.

[17] Tyler, “Glimpse of Mt. Fuji,” 154.

[18] Ibid., 152.

[19] Ibid., 153.

[20] Royall Tyler, “”The Book of the Great Practice”: The Life of the Mt. Fuji Ascetic Kakugyō Tōbutsu Kū,” Asian Folklore Studies (1993):  253.

[21] Ibid., 252.

[22] Earhart, “Mount Fuji and Shugendo,” 219.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Tyler, “Glimpse of Mt. Fuji,” 153.

[25] Ibid., 155.

[26] Earhart, “Mount Fuji and Shugendo,” 222.

[27] Tyler, “Glimpse of Mt. Fuji,” 155.

[28] Ibid., 156.

[29] Ibid., 156.

[30] Fumiko, “Female Pilgrims,” 349.

[31] Tyler, “Book of Great Practices,” 270.

[32] “Mount Fuji,” Public Relations Office Government of Japan, accessed March 27, 2016,

[33] Ibid.

[34] Bryon Earhart, Mount Fuji: Icon of Japan. University of South Carolina Press, 2015: n.p.

[35] Alan Spongberg, Maitreya, the Future Buddha. Cambridge University Press Archive, 198: 225.


Image Sources


Works Cited

Earhart, H. Byron. Mount Fuji: Icon of Japan. University of South Carolina Press, 2015.

––––––. “Mount Fuji and Shugendo.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (1989): 205-226.

Fumiko, Miyazaki. “Female Pilgrims and Mt. Fuji: Changing Perspectives on the Exclusion of Women.” Monumenta Nipponica 60, no. 3 (2005): 339-391.

Gill, Andrea K. “Shugendō: Pilgrimage and Ritual in a Japanese Folk Religion.” Pursuit-The Journal of Undergraduate Research at the University of Tennessee 3, no. 2 (2012): 49-65.

Public Relations Office Government of Japan. “Mount Fuji.” Accessed on March 27, 2016.

Ryall, Julian. “Could Mount Fuji be the Next Volcano to Erupt?” The Telegraph. Accessed April 7, 2016.

Sponberg, Alan. Maitreya, the Future Buddha. Cambridge University Press Archive, 1988.

“Stratovolanoes.” Accessed on March 27, 2016.

Tyler, Royall. “A Glimpse of Mt. Fuji in Legend and Cult.” The Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese 16, no. 2 (1981): 140-165.

––––––. “”The Book of the Great Practice”: The Life of the Mt. Fuji Ascetic Kakugyō Tōbutsu Kū.” Asian Folklore Studies (1993): 251-331.

Contributor: Natalie Lai

(Edited by Elle Marsh)