“A wise man will climb Mt. Fuji once; only a fool will climb it twice.”

~Japanese Proverb

Mt. Fuji can be an elusive creature. Japan’s tallest mountain and active volcano is notorious for revealing picture-perfect views of its snow-capped peak one minute and then disappearing into a fog-shrouded outline of itself the next. It’s as if the mountain engages visitors in a one-sided game of hide-and-seek. I couldn’t begin to imagine what Fuji-san, as it is affectionately called, would have up its volcanic sleeve on this early morning visit.

Herb and I were headed out from the port city of Shimizu, population around 32,000. We had signed on for a tour to the shrine where climbers pray before ascending Mt. Fuji as well as a visit to the beach and seaside pine grove where views of the magnificent mountain have served as inspiration for Japanese painters. On the half-hour drive, our guide Yoko (yes, she told us, her mother named her after Yoko Ono) talked about Mt. Fuji’s role as a pilgrimage destination. Since ancient times, the summit has been thought of as a sacred place, she said, and making the climb is part of Japanese tradition.

“You go up the mountain and get reborn and come back with energy.”

Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha Shrine

As we walked into the shrine, Yoko gave us a little background on Shinto etiquette, first stopping at the purification station to demonstrate the proper way to scoop the water into our hands and then splash it on our mouths. She talked about how to make a wish at the wishing box, which we had practiced in Tokyo…toss coin, bow twice, clap twice, make a wish while putting the palms of your hands together in a praying position and bow again. And she told us about ceremonies for children, where parents bring babies and three-year-olds to the shrine for a special blessing, later returning for another blessing ceremony when their sons are five and daughters are seven.

Entering Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha Shrine.
Chrysanthemums decorate the shrine steps.
Herb takes his turn at the purification station.
I don’t know the significance of these decorations, but I thought they were charming!
A shrine maiden finishes a blessing ceremony.
I stopped by the goshuin window and added another stamp to my goshuincho.

Like Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha Shrine sits in a peaceful wooded setting with now-familiar torii gates and vermilion red buildings. But what’s different here is the view of Mt. Fuji, a moody cone-shaped spectacle looming over an ordinary-looking street. Even with its famous snow-capped top hidden in the clouds, it’s an imposing sight.

Mt. Fuji, first view.
Zooming in.
I love the way these wintry-looking trees cast their reflections in the water while Mt. Fuji hides in plain sight in the distance.

Japanese Pancakes Part 2

Near the shrine entrance, we passed a Japanese Pancake stand, just as we’d found at Nakamisi-dori in Tokyo. These pancakes were different, however. Rather than baked in miniature pagoda- and lantern-shaped muffin pans, they were being cooked on a griddle and placed together like a sandwich, with a filling between the two cakes. The aroma was so tempting that we decided to try one, opting for a lemon filling. And like its counterpart creations in Tokyo, it was delicious!

The friendly pancake maker at his stand at Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha Shrine.
Ta-da!

Miho no Matsubara

More than 30,000 pine trees fill Miho no Matsubara, a sacred forest that spills onto a four-and-a-half-mile black sand beach on the Miho Peninsula. The paved path leading into the forest is dusted with pine needles. Interesting-looking monuments lie almost hidden beneath the trees. Some of the pines are 200 to 300 years old, Yoko tells us. They symbolize long life, she says – evergreen and everlasting.

The beach lies at the end of the trail. It’s a rocky, rugged-looking place with stones and brush imbedded in the black sand. Sailboats and a few splashing waves complete the foreground landscape, but the main attraction is the large and looming backdrop of Mt. Fuji. It’s easy to see why this spot has been featured in so many Japanese paintings. There’s a real sense of mystery here, as if it’s the only place on the planet where the great mountain can be seen.

Walking into Miho no Matsubara.
Monuments along the pathway.
Yoko stops to tell the story of the Hagoromo Monument, dedicated to a French dancer who had longed to see Miho no Matsubara.
This Hagoromo Pine is in its third iteration and is thought to be about 300 years old.
Heading to the beach.
Mt. Fuji, with its head in the clouds.
Our Mt. Fuji Moment.

A Footnote

On the drive back to Shimizu, Yoko talked a little more about our day at Mt. Fuji. And then she did something that I had never experienced with a tour guide. She stood at the front of the bus, picked up the microphone, closed her eyes and began singing. I recognized the melody instantly – a song called “Sukiyaki” – and was captivated by Yoko’s unbridled desire to serenade us so seemingly effortlessly.

When we returned home, I looked up the song and learned that it had spent three weeks at the top of the American Billboard charts in June 1963. I’m fairly certain I hadn’t heard it since those long-ago days, but yet the familiar tune came rushing back. And now whenever I think of Mt. Fuji, I will also remember that song and the lovely woman who made it come to life as our tour bus rambled along, on the road to Shimizu.

View from my window.

6 Comments

  • Lovely post! When we lived in Japan I was a moody teenager and I would hike up our hill where the ADMIRAL’s house was perched. A stone wall lined the winding drive and I would sit there on a clear day with Fuji-San in the distance thinking deep thoughts.

    My most memorable view, though, was spending the night with a friend who lived “on the economy” in a beautiful Japanese house bordering a bay. I woke at sunrise and looked out towards the water and there was Fuji-San shimmering in the morning light while the bay was shrouded in a low fog. Almost sixty years later, this is still an indelible memory.

    • Jennifer, thank you! And thanks for sharing your “moody teenager” story…what a great place to sit and ponder. I would have loved doing that as well.😊 That view of Mt. Fuji shimmering in the morning light must have been mesmerizing. I was thrilled we were treated to even a partial view on our visit. It’s easy to understand why the Japanese consider it such a sacred and special mountain.

  • Mary, another super day! That area is new to me as we’ve only seen Fuji-san from afar, the most memorable being from above as we flew home and caught sight of it peeking though the clouds. Yes, it’s elusive and possibly more magical as a result, isn’t it?

    As for singing guides, our guide in Hakodate on Hokkaido sang to us as we drove home too! I found the story on my blog “Our guide today was the fun and ebullient Roy, full of energy and a knowing grin. “I shall sing on the way home” he said, “or else you’ll have to listen to the bloody guide” and sure enough he sang a traditional Japanese college song, known to us as a football chant and to the Americans as a Civil War song! Maybe it’s “a thing”?!

    By the way, those pancakes look good!

    • It was definitely a super day, Gill, and I’m thrilled to have offered a tour to a place in Japan that is new to you! Seeing Mt. Fuji from any perspective seems to be a rite of passage when traveling to Japan. Such an intriguing experience.

      I can’t believe your Japanese guide sang to you as well! It must be more common than I realized. The funny thing with our guide was that she didn’t announce her song or tell us she was going to sing. She just started to sing.

      And yes…the pancakes were divine! 😊

  • Thank you again Mary. Your written words and recollections are even more vivid than my own memories of the same. You add a depth and insight that I experienced but did not recall. Looking forward to your future missives.

    • That’s so kind, Josh…many thanks. I’m happy to have rekindled some thoughts and memories from that day. After seeing so many photos of Mt. Fuji over the years and doing a bit of research before the trip, I was really looking forward to experiencing the mystical mountain and was so grateful Fuji-san cooperated on our visit!

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