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Published: September 12th 2018
Praying to Konohanasakuya-hime
Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, Fujinomiya
Hello my fellow travellers!
This morning I left before Ichiro woke up and made my way over to the train station to go to Fujinomiya, a city located at the foot of Mount Fuji on the Shizuoka side. I was greeted by a lovely morning with perfect weather and I felt good about the prospect of climbing Mount Fuji under such conditions. The train ride to Fujinomiya went well and as I exited the station I was met by a smiling Takae who had arrived about 20 minutes earlier than me. She had already checked up on the location of the buses heading to the Fujinomiya trail 5th station which is where we would begin our climb.
Before our ascent however there was one place in Fujinomiya that I wanted to visit, the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha. It's the main shrine for some 1,300 Asama and Sengen shrines across all of Japan. They are either dedicated to Mount Fuji specifically or to volcanoes in general.
This an old shrine established during the reign of Emperor Suinin, the 11th emperor of Japan, who lived between 69 BC and 70 AD. This shrine used to be the traditional entry point
Haiden (Hall of Worship)
Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, Fujinomiya
to Mount Fuji up until the Edo period when the Yoshida Trail approach from Edo (old name for Tokyo) became more popular. But even today the Fujinomiya Trail remains the second most popular trail out of the four trails that go up Mount Fuji.
Traditionally pilgrims climbing Mount Fuji would wash themselves in the Wakutama Pond which is located on the grounds of the shrine. To be honest this pond was one of the main reasons why I came here as I wanted to start my Japanese pilgrimage correctly by cleansing myself in this before my ascent of Mount Fuji.
The shrine is located just a short stroll from Fujinomiya Station and it was a pleasant walk to go there together with Takae. The Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha is truly amazing as it stands with the majestic Mount Fuji as a gorgeous backdrop.
We entered the grounds through two beautiful torii
as well as the beautiful gate rōmon
. Between them was a beautiful path guarded by two statues of komainu
, the mix of lion and dogs which are usually found guarding Shinto shrines. Before the approach to the gate we also passed over a small bridge that
Cleansing at Wakutama Pond
Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, Fujinomiya
crosses the Kagami Pond which is a beautiful addition to the shrine.
A little bit off from the path leading up to the gate stands an equestrian statue of Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shogun of the Kamakura shogunate. He was a frequent visitor at the shrine during his hunting expeditions at the foot of Mount Fuji. Me and Takae spent a while studying the statue and it's intricate details, including those of the horse's private parts which were quite prominent.
After we entered the grounds of the shrine though the we went before the haiden
, which is located before the honden
, to offer up our prayers to Konohanasakuya-hime. The haiden
is the hall of worship while the honden
is the main hall that is reserved for the kami
Konohanasakuya-hime is a princess of blossoms and the kami
of Mount Fuji and of volcanoes. She is the daughter of the kami
of the mountains, Ōyamatsumi, and the wife of the Ninigi. He is said to have been the great-grandfather of the first emperor of Japan, Emperor Jimmu who lived between 711 BC and 585 BC, making the Japanese imperial family one of the oldest monarchies in the
Takae at the Wakutama Pond
Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, Fujinomiya
With our prayers delivered we made our way over to the shamusho
, the office of the shrine where I could by a shuinchō
. This is the book in which you collect the shuin
, seals stamps from shrines and temples that you visit. A seal usually costs around ¥300 to obtain although at some places they can cost upwards of ¥1,000. The shuinchō
itself cost ¥1,500 here and it already came with the shuin
of Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha inscribed on the first page.
is constructed in a different way of a normal book and rather than having pages that you can flip through it opens up in a continuous line. This is so that they may be draped over your coffin after death to show that you've lead a pious life.
Near the counter where I bought the shuinchō
stood the usual stands with. I've talked about these in my previous travels to Japan but they are votive tablets upon which you deliver a prayer. Not far away from that is the o-mikuji
which are random fortunes chosen from a box after making a small donation. These are then tied around a special stand
to increase the good luck brought by fortune.
Having obtained my shuinchō
, which I've been wanting to obtain since I learned about them after my last visit to Japan, we made our way over to the Wakutama Pond. Before we cleansed ourselves there we walked around it for a bit as it's a truly scenic and tranquil place.
Standing on the edge of the pond is the small Inari Shrine which is dedicated to Inari, one of the most prominent kami
in Shintoism. Roughly a third of all the shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari and my own kamidana
(a Shinto home altar) at home is also dedicated to him/her. He/she is the kami
of rice, foxes, tea, sake and fertility as well as for agriculture and industry. Suffice to say I like all of those things and certainly identify with this kami
. He/she can also choose his/her gender or be androgynous at will, making him/her a very progressive kami
We crossed the pond on the Kamiji Bridge to reach the small Itsukushima Shrine which is located on a miniature island within the pond. In the pond there were also several beautiful, golden koi
It was, as always, very peaceful to stand on the bridge and watch them swim below.
From there we circled back to the rōmon
where I also noticed the ablution pavilion known in Japan as a temizuya
. I did a, somewhat late, temizu
or ablution ritual there before we reentered the shrine and returned to the Wakutama Pond.
We both performed our cleansing in preparation for our upcoming climb of Mount Hōei and Mount Fuji. I talked to Takae about climbing Mount Hōei and she loved the idea, she had actually climbed it once before during her elementary school days and she was looking forward to climbing it again.
With that we felt that we were finished at the Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha and decided to make our way back to the station to catch the bus to Mount Fuji. On the way there we also passed by the Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre. It's a huge centre and Takae wants us to visit it at another time as she's heard that it's quite incredible, I agreed that it sounds like a good idea for the next time.
When we came back to the station we
first went into a convenience store to pick up some food and water for the bus ride and the climb. Takae had brought some homemade onigiri
, rice balls, which we also ate on the bus together with the food from the convenience store. The ride up to the 5th station is a really beautiful one, going through lush forests at the lower parts of the mountain and then when the forest gave way to bare mountain it presented a gorgeous view down over Fujinomiya.
As the bus rolled up at the parking lot below the 5th station we got off and was immediately taken in by the beautiful view that stretched out before us. We stayed there for a while and enjoyed the view before we ascended up the stairs that led from the parking lot to the 5th station.
There I bought a kongō-zue
, a walking stick used by pilgrims, which I will then get branded at each station as I ascend up the mountain. The kongō-zue
cost ¥1,000 and already came with the mark of the 5th station. The additional marks at the other stations will cost ¥200 each and there are two at the 6th
station, one at the new 7th station, one at the old 7th station, one at the 8th station, one at the 9th station, one at the 9.5th station and finally one at the okumiya
, the inner shrine of Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, which is located at the summit of Mount Fuji.
At the entrance to the hiking trail was a small booth where we were asked to make a contribution of ¥1,000 for preserving Mount Fuji. I had read about this before and I paid for both me and Takae to even out a little bit as she had paid the considerably more expensive tickets for the bus. After paying the conservation fee we set out for the 6th station which is located only some 20 minutes further up the path along a quite gentle slope. I was beginning to think that perhaps climbing Mount Fuji wouldn't be as tough as I had anticipated.
When we came to the 6th station I located the first of the brands for my kongō-zue
and then we located the diverting path leading to Mount Hōei. The route leading to the vantage point was very easy to follow, a gentle path running
alongside the mountain rather than up it and we had lovely weather and a gorgeous view for the hike which took maybe 20 or 30 minutes.
From the vantage point we first descended downwards a little bit, doing a short sand-run down the slope which was a lot of fun even though it filled my shoes with sand and rocks. From down there we got a great view of the two peaks of Mount Fuji and Mount Hōei next to each other.
While we were down there we took the opportunity to eat a light snack that Takae had brought with her before we began our ascent of Mount Hōei. I can tell you that the ascent was considerably tougher than it had been to walk the path between the 5th and 6th station. This route was very sandy and it felt like for every two steps I took forward I went one step backwards again.
It was a fair number of people struggling up and down Mount Hōei and everyone going downwards cheered us on with a nice ganbatte
(good luck/do your best) and a friendly smile. As we were closing in on the summit of
Mount Hōei Takae unfortunately had to turn back because she didn't have enough time left.
She wanted me to continue onward on my own as to not spoil my climb, not that Mount Hōei was my target but I must admit that it would have felt like a bit of a letdown to have to turn back around so close to the top. So we said our goodbyes for this time and then I watched her make a considerably swifter descent than we had made an ascent during the afternoon.
As she came outside of my view I turned my attention back to the summit and renewed my effort to reach the top. Even this close to the top it still took me another 30 minutes or so to make it last bit due to the sandy terrain. It certainly didn't help that I was carrying a fairly heavy backpack.
Once I reached to summit though it felt very nice, darkness was beginning to creep in so the view was not the best but I could still see quite far from up there. One thing that surprised me was to see massive pillars of smoke from what
I believe was some sort of mining going on below. I could hear explosions rocking in the distant and to be honest the roar of the explosives and the looming pillars of smoke felt a bit ominous.
After I had rested for a bit I descended back down to the 6th station through a very fun sand-run. I stopping briefly at a resting point along the way to eat and drink a bit and once I came back to the 6th station I had my kongō-zue
branded with the second brand of the station. I also picked up a couple bottles of water.
Before I had the time to set out for the new 7th station I was presented with a magnificent image as the shadow of Mount Fuji reflected in the clouds around us as the sun was setting. It was an image that I couldn't really capture on a photo but one that I will always remember. I wish that Takae would have had the time to remain here and see it together with me.
With the shadow disappearing and night starting to set in I began my ascent up towards the summit with my
next target being the new 7th station, located about an hour of climbing ahead of me. However, that time is calculated for someone of a decent physical condition and not lugging around a heavy backpack as I did. I didn't keep track of the time but I think it took me between 60–90 minutes to reach the new 7th station.
All along the way I was meeting people going downwards, but there were very few still climbing upwards. Everyone I met greeted me with a big smile and a ganbatte
. It really makes you feel as part of a special community as climbing Mount Fuji really means something to people here.
When I reached the new 7th station I went to get the brand of it but it turned out that they had closed down the station as it was getting late. I decided to just rest there for about 20 minutes before I continued upwards. The next section up to the old 7th station was estimated to take around 50 minutes, but I expected that it would take me longer due to the backpack and the lack of oxygen which I was starting to feel the effects
After a 20 minute break I resumed my climb, although at a slower pace where I stopped every 50–75 metres to take a few deep breaths and regain some oxygen. I began to understand why they sell canisters of oxygen at the stations below.
By the time I reached the old 7th station I was getting quite short of breath but I was happily surprised that both my knees as well as my back was holding up far better than what I had expected. I have some old injuries from my days in the army and I was afraid that the strain of the mountain would make them act up again. When I came to the old 7th station my last water reserve was depleted and unfortunately the station was closed so I was unable to buy any new.
I sat down on a bench outside the station to rest for a moment and catch my breath again. Sitting beside me was three young Japanese guys and we all got to talking and our conversations drifted into my water problems. The generously filled up my water bottle from their own bottles so that I was set
to continue my ascent. They even gave me a couple of good breaths from their can of oxygen. One of them showed me his shoes that were falling apart and I was impressed that he kept up the climb with those.
Since they had rested for a longer time they set of a short while before me although I caught up to them a bit later when they sat down to rest for a moment. I was given another couple of good breaths from the oxygen canister before they continued their climb while I remained and rested for a bit longer. As I continued my climb I came upon the discarded shoes of the guy who had been climbing with broken shoes and I was wondering how he was doing now that his shoes at given in completely.
I caught up with them again at the 8th station and learned that thankfully one of them had been carrying an extra pair of shoes so none of them were climbing barefooted. Because they were climbing faster than me they set out again pretty shortly after I arrived. I made the mistake to continue on shortly after them but I
felt quite soon that the I needed to remain stationary for longer to adapt to the difference in oxygen levels. So I found myself a somewhat decent spot to rest for a moment before I continued towards the 9th station.
By now I was getting pretty tired and was constantly out of breath. This is probably quite natural as I had already climbed Mt Hōei before, not to mention that I hadn't really slept that much over the past 72 hours or so. The wear and tear was getting to me and rather than stopping every 50–75 metres I now stopped for a breather every 25–50 metres. But I was pleasantly surprised that my knees and back was still holding up.
Occasionally I would pass or be passed by other climbers along the route but for the vast majority of the climb I was completely alone with a few scattered lights in the distance as the only proof of other life on the mountain. It was a hard, but serene and meditative experience, especially at my leisure pace.
When I came to the 9th station there were two wooden pillars with coins stuck in them but to
be honest I didn't pay them much attention, I just wanted to get into some kind of shelter as it was getting really cold and windy and there was a wet mist creeping in. At the 9th station there were people slumped together in every nook and cranny, shielding themselves from the elements as best as they could. I decided to do the same and found myself a small corner to hunker down for a while. I really needed to gather as much energy as possible for the final stretch to the top.
That part will come in the next instalment of this climb though as the clock passed midnight while I was resting at the 9th station. Tomorrow will be the moment of truth when I try to reach the summit in time for the sunrise to experience a goraikō
. This literally means "coming of light" and it's the word used for the experience of watching the sunrise from Mount Fuji.
It's considered a very spiritual affair and it's the main reason why there are still a fair number of people that brave the climb during nighttime. Many people (especially tourists) climb during the day, but a
very common way is to start the climb earlier than I did and then sleep for a few hours in one of the mountain huts located at the higher stations and then complete the climb just before sunrise.
I was thinking about doing this type of hike and I regret not doing it. The version of the climb that I'm doing is called a bullet climb which is to climb Mount Fuji without resting for the night. It's discouraged by the authorities because it's considered unsafe and unhealthy. Many people get altitude sickness when they attempt it and I can certainly understand that because here at the 9th station I was getting really light-headed due to the lack of oxygen but I'm determined to finish this climb before sunrise tomorrow!
Until tomorrow I wish you all peace and happy travels!
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