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Mount Fuji - A Sacred Mountain

Mount Fuji (Fuji-san) is the highest mountain in Japan, rising to 12,388 feet. Visible from Tokyo on a clear day, the beautiful cone-shaped mountain is located west of the city, surrounded by lakes in a national park. Mt. Fuji is named for the Buddhist fire goddess Fuchi and is sacred to the Shinto goddess Sengen-Sama, whose shrine is found at the summit. It is the holiest of Japan's "Three Holy Mountains." Every summer, thousands of pilgrims and tourists climb to the summit, many of them hiking throughout the night to witness the sunrise from the summit. Fuji-san has been regarded as sacred mountain for virtually as long as humans have lived nearby. It was originally a sacred mountain of the Ainu, the aboriginal inhabitants of Japan. For Shintoists (modern followers of the native religion), Mt. Fuji is sacred to the goddess Sengen-Sama and an embodiment of the very spirit of nature. The Fujiko sect goes even father, believing the mountain itself is a sacred being with a soul. Although especially important to Shintoists, Fuji is also sacred to Japanese Buddhists, who revere the mountain is a gateway to another world. A beautifully proportioned volcanic cone in a spectacular natural setting, Fuji-san is beloved for its symmetrical beauty as well as its holiness. It is a very popular subject in Japanese art and landscape photography. Fuji's nickname Konohana-Sakuahime means "causing the blossom to bloom brightly," referring to the pink cherry blossoms that frame the snowy mountain in the spring. Unlike some sacred mountains, it is not considered sacrilegious to climb Mt. Fuji - in fact, to ascend to the summit is an important pilgrimage. The mountain is home to many Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and torii gates. The official climbing season is only two months long (July and August), during which time most of the snow has melted and thousands of pilgrims and hikers make the climb to the top. The climb is no walk in the park - it is very steep and takes about 8 hours - but for many it is an experience of a lifetime. It is estimated that up to a third of the climbers are foreign tourists, making for an atmosphere that is at once quintissentially Japanese and international. An especially memorable approach is to complete the hike in the early morning, arriving at the summit in time to witness the sunrise. There are ten stations along the way up, the first at the foot of the mountain and the 10th at the summit. These include huts for resting as well as other basic amenities. Paths are paved up to the 5th station (at 1400-2400 m), which is the most common place to begin the ascent to the summit. There are four 5th stations, located on different sides of the mountain, among which the most popular is Kawaguchiko on the Tokyo side.



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