Fujizuka at Shitaya-Sakamoto|下谷坂本富士

A miniature Mount Fuji at Ono Terusaki shrine

Friday, April 16, 2021

Picture yourself climbing up Mount Fuji. You are almost at the top of the 3,776 meters tall volcano that could erupt at any moment. Sharp cold wind is blowing at your face, you feel sick, the oxygen is so thin you can hardly breathe. You are 10 meters away from the summit. With your last bit of strength, you are crawling on all fours. 8 meters… 5 meters… 4… 3… Bam! You make one wrong step and trip over a sharp rock that’s been waiting at this spot for millenniums just to injure you. With your face down on the ground, crying, you’ve had enough. You give up, exhausted and annoyed, 3 meters from the goal, and you roll back down the mountain into the safety of the familiar world below.

Luckily for you, there is an alternative. But to find it, we first need to go back about 400 years into the Edo period.

Woodblock prints depicting Fujizuka mounds in the Edo period.

It was during that time that many maps and illustrations of the city of Edo began to feature Fuji as a major landmark, spreading the awareness of the mountain as a symbol of Japan. A cult, known as Fuji-ko, arose around the mountain that regarded it as an object of faith. This popularized worship and pilgrimages (called tohai) to Fuji. However, only certain people could actually climb it because of things like safety and health issues, expenditures and various other reasons. Women were also not permitted to visit the sacred mountain at that time.

And so, in order to allow men and women of all ages to experience climbing the final and most sacred stage of Fuji, they constructed miniature replicas of the mountain at various locations in Edo and beyond. These mounds, ranging from 1 to 30 meters high, are called Fujizuka. People affectionately called them “Ofuji-san”.

Over a thousand of these mounds were made in the Kanto region, and over 50 Fujizuka still remain in the metropolitan area of Tokyo.

Let’s visit one of them.

We are on the grounds of Ono Terusaki shrine in Tokyo’s Taito ward.

A bit of a background. This shrine was founded in the ancient year of 852 in Ueno but moved several centuries later, and eventually found its way to its present location in 1866. It’s famous as a shrine for actors and academics who are seeking advancement and success. People who are trying to quit smoking also come to this shrine to pray for release. And of course, it’s also famous for it’s miniature Mt. Fuji, know as Fujizuka at Shitaya-Sakamoto, that rises behind the gate, protected by two stone monkeys, just to the left of the main shrine building.

Unfortunately, the gate is closed and we can’t enter. It only opens once a year — on June 30th and July 1st — and that’s when people can actually hike up the mound at this shrine.

The Fujizuka that were built in Edo weren’t made from just any type of rocks — they were made from the actual lava rocks that were collected and transported from Mount Fuji.

Nowadays many Fujizuka retain their iconic status and are the center of various festivals during the year, such as yamabiraki, the event that marks the start of the climbing season on the mountain.

But today was an easy day — you just visited Japan’s tallest volcano from the comfort of your chair.

 

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