Fuji. A fat and infuriated tourist has branded Fuji in print as "that disgusting mass of humbug and ashes." The Japanese poet Kada-no-Azuma-Maro was more diplomatic when he simply said (we render his elegant verse into flat English prose): "The mountain which I found higher to climb than I had heard, than I had thought, than I had seen, was Fuji's peak."
But such adverse, or at best cold, criticism is rare. Natives and foreigners, artists and holiday-makers, alike fall down in adoration before the wondrous mountain which stands utterly alone in its union of grace with majesty. During the Middle Ages, when Fuji's volcanic fires were more active than at present, a commonplace of the poets was to liken the ardour of their love to that which lit up the mountain-top with flame. Another poet earlier still—he lived before the time of King Alfred—sings as follows:
There on the border, where the land of Kai
Doth touch the frontier of Suruga's land,
A beauteous province stretched on either hand,
See Fujiyama rear his head on high!
The clouds of heaven in reverent wonder pause,
Nor may the birds those giddy heights assay
Where melt thy snows amid thy fires away,
Or thy fierce fires lie quenched beneath thy snows.
What name might fitly tell, what accents sing,
Thine awful, godlike grandeur? 'Tis thy breast
That holdeth Narusawa's flood at rest,
Thy side whence Fujikawa's waters spring.
Great Fujiyama, towering to the sky!
A treasure art thou giv'n to mortal man,
A God Protector watching o'er Japan:—
On thee forever let me feast mine eye.
But enough of poetry. The surveyors tell us that Fuji is 12,365 feet high—an altitude easy to remember, if we take for memoria technica the twelve months and the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. The geologists inform us that Fuji is a young volcano, to which fact may be ascribed the as yet almost unbroken regularity of its shape. The beginning of degradation is the hump on the south side, called Hōei-zan from the name of the period when it was formed by the most recent eruption of which history tells. This eruption lasted with intervals from the 16th December, 1707, to the 22nd January, 1708. The geologists further assure us that Fuji had several predecessors in the same vicinity,—Mounts Futago, Koma-ga-take, and others in the Hakone district being volcanoes long since extinct. Futago, indeed, still has a crater which deserves a visit, so perfect is its shape and so thickly carpeted is it with moss and shrubs.
Philology is the science that can tell us least; for no consensus of opinion has yet been reached as to the origin of the name of Fuji—anciently Fuzi or Fuzhi. Fuji-san, the current popular name, simply means "Mount Fuji," san being Chinese for "mountain." Fuji-no-yama, the form preferred in poetry, means "the mountain of Fuji" in pure Japanese; and the Europeanised form Fusiyama is a corruption of this latter. But what is the etymology of Fuji itself? The Chinese characters give us no clue. Sometimes the name is written 不二 "not two," that is, "unrivalled," "peerless"; sometimes 不死 "not dying," "deathless;"—and with this latter transcription is connected a pretty legend about the elixir of life having been taken to the summit of the mountain in days of yore. Others write it 富士 that is, "rich scholar," a more prosaic rendering, but no whit more trustworthy. Probably Fuji is not Japanese at all. It might be a corruption of Huchi, or Fuchi the Aino name of the Goddess of Fire; for down to times almost historical the country round Fuji formed part of Aino-land, and all Eastern Japan is strewn with names of Aino origin. We, however, prefer the suggestion of Mr. Nagata Hosei, the most learned of living Japanese authorities on Aino, who would derive Fuji from the Aino verb push, "to burst forth,"—an appellation which might have been appropriately given either to the mountain itself as a volcano, or more probably still to the chief river flowing down from it, the dangerous Fujikawa; for the general Aino practice is to leave even conspicuous mountains unnamed, but carefully to name all the rivers. The letter-changes from Aino push to classical Fuzi are according to Japanese rule, whereas the change from Huchi to Fuzi would be abnormal. The very circumstance, too, of the former etymology appealing less to the imagination is really in its favour.
A Japanese tradition (of which, however, there is no written notice earlier than A.D. 1652) affirms that Fuji arose from the earth in a single night some time about 300 B.C., while Lake Biwa near Kyōto sank simultaneously. May we not here have an echo of some early eruption, which resulted in the formation, not indeed of Lake Biwa distant a hundred and forty miles, but of one of the numerous small lakes at the foot of the mountain?
The following miscellaneous items will perhaps interest some readers:—The Japanese are fond of comparing Fuji to an inverted fan.—Fuji is inhabited by a lovely goddess named Ko-no-hana-saku-ya-hime, which, being interpreted, means "the Princess who Makes the Blossoms of the Trees to Flower." She is also called Sengen or Asama, and numerous shrines are dedicated to her in many provinces. The peasants of the neighbouring country-side often speak of Fuji simply as O Yama, "the Honourable Mountain," or "the Mountain," instead of mentioning its proper name. One of Hokusai's best picture-books is his Fuji Hyakkei, or "Hundred Views of Fuji," executed when he had reached the age of seventy-six. In it, the grand mountain stands depicted from every point of view and under every possible circumstance and a few impossible ones; for instance, the artist gives us Fuji in process of being ascended by a dragon. Copies of this book are common, but good ones are rather scarce. According to a popular superstition, the ashes brought down during the day by the tread of pilgrims feet re-ascend spontaneously at night. The mountain is divided into ten stations, and formerly no woman was allowed to climb higher than the eighth. Lady Parkes was the first woman to tread the summit. This was in October, 1867. Steam sufficiently hot to cook an egg still issues from several spots on the crater lip. The Japanese have enriched their language by coining words for special aspects of their favourite mountain. Thus kagami-Fuji, literally "mirror Fuji," means the reflection of Fuji in Lake Hakone. Kage-Fuji, or "shadow Fuji," denotes a beautiful phenomenon, the gigantic shadow cast by the cone at sunrise on the sea of clouds and mist below. Hidari Fuji, "lefthanded Fuji," is the name given to the mountain at the village of Nango, for the reason that that is the only place on the Tokaido where, owing to a sharp twist in the road, Fuji appears on the left hand of the traveller bound from Tōkyō to Kyōto, instead of on his right. From 12,000 to 18,000 persons ascend Fuji yearly, the majority being pilgrims.
The foregoing items are merely jotted down haphazard, as specimens of the lore connected with Japan's most famous volcano. To do justice to it geologically, botanically, histori cally, archgeologically, would require a monograph at least as long as this volume.
Books recommended. Murray's Handbook for Japan, 7th edit., p. 164 et seq.—For beautiful collotypes of Fuji, see The Volcanoes of Japan, Part I. Fujisan, by Ogawa, Milne, and Burton.
Kikishi yori mo
Omoishi yori mo
Omoishi yori mo
Yama wa Fuji no ne.
- Pronounced so as to rhyme with "high."
- Other measurements give about 100 feet more or less.
- May it be a misunderstood echo of this legend that has led some modern English writers to speak of Mount Fuji itself as "she," than which nothing can be less consonant with Japanese modes of thought?