Mount Fuji is Japan’s most iconic landmark—and it’s easy to see why. The prominent peak is the highest mountain in the country, standing at 12,388 feet (3776 meters). Its pleasingly symmetrical conical shape, which is often capped with a brilliant flash of white snow, can be seen from miles around (and also on the backside of the ¥1000 note). Fuji’s striking beauty has made it one of the most recognizable mountains in the world. In 2013, it was granted UNESCO World Heritage status. Here are a few fascinating facts about Mount Fuji.
1. There is a lot of debate about what Fuji actually means.
In Japanese, the mountain is typically called Fujisan or Fujiyama—both san and yama mean “mountain.” The kanji for Mount Fuji is 富士山, which currently means “wealth” (富) and “man of status” (士).
But the name has been around for thousands of years, and the original meaning of Fuji remains obscure. One possibility comes from the late 9th or early 10th century story The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, where an elixir of life is burned at the mountain’s peak; it is then given the name fushi (不死, “not death” or “immortal”). Another proposed etymology is that it’s derived from the word for “fire” (fuchi) used by the indigenous Ainu people, which comes from the name of the fire goddess, Fuuchi-Kamuy [PDF].
2. Mount Fuji is an active volcano.
Although Fuji is at a low risk of erupting anytime soon, the fact that it has blown in the last 10,000 years means it’s still considered an active volcano. Fuji’s last eruption was over 300 years ago, in 1707. No lava flowed from the volcano, but 800 million cubic meters of ash rained down on the surrounding area, spreading as far as Edo (modern day Tokyo) around 60 miles away. Fears of another eruption bubble up each time an earthquake strikes. In recent years, Japan’s National Police Agency has been preparing for the possibility of a disastrous eruption—unlikely though it is, as there haven’t been any recent indications it will erupt.
Fuji is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire—a horseshoe-shaped chain of 452 volcanoes surrounding the Pacific Ocean. Seventy-five percent of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes call the Ring of Fire home and about 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes occur there. Fuji itself sits atop three battling tectonic plates—the Amur Plate, Okhotsk Plate, and Philippine Plate.
3. Fuji may look like a solitary mountain, but it’s actually three peaks layered on top of one another.
Legend has it that Fuji was created overnight by an earthquake in 286 BCE. Geologists say it’s actually a lot older than that. Fuji is formed from three peaks, the first of which started developing around 700,000 years ago. Komitake, which is now on Fuji’s northern slope, and Ashitaka, which is no longer a peak and lies under the southeast foot of Fuji, are the foundation of the mountain. Ko Fuji (Old Fuji) was superimposed onto Komitake around 100,000 years ago. On top of this is the volcano that we can see today, Shin Fuji (Young or New Fuji), which began forming roughly 11,000 to 8000 years ago. In terms of volcanoes, Shin Fuji is still relatively young.
The diameter of Fuji’s base is about 25 to 30 miles. The crater at the top spans 1600 feet and is lined by eight peaks: Oshaidake, Izudake, Jojudake, Komagatake, Mushimatake, Kengamine, Hukusandake, and Kusushidake.
4. Climbers measure Fuji in stations—not feet or meters.
When actually climbing the mountain—which can only be done during the official climbing season that runs from early July to mid-September—progress is measured in stations (or stages). There are 10 stations dividing up the climb, with the first at the bottom of the mountain and the tenth at the top. Most people begin their ascent from one of the four fifth stations (they’re on different sides of the mountain) because there are paved roads up to that point.
Usually between 200,000 and 300,000 people climb the mountain each year, but poor weather and COVID-19 have greatly reduced this number in recent years. In 2021, fewer than 80,000 climbers tackled the mountain.
5. The peak is private property.
The majority of Fuji is public land, but everything from the eighth station (10,663 feet) upwards is private property that belongs to Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, a Shinto shrine. Ieyasu Tokugawa, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan that ruled from 1603 to 1868, donated Fuji’s peak to the shrine in 1606.
When the Meiji government came into power in the 1860s, Fuji and other private shrines were nationalized. In 1949 the lands were returned—except for Fuji. The Sengen Shrine filed a lawsuit against the government, which they eventually won in 1974 . The summit became the shrine’s property again in 2004. There’s just one small hitch: The shrine is technically unable to register the land as private property because its prefecture is unknown. An exact boundary between the Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures doesn’t exist on Fuji.
6. As well as being an important cultural landmark, Fuji is also a significant spiritual site.
Along with Mount Tate and Mount Haku, Mount Fuji is one of Japan’s Three Holy Mountains. Since ancient times it has been a location of religious importance in Shintoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. In Shintoism, Fuji’s kami (“deity”) is Asama Ohkami, who manifests as the volcano goddess Konohana-no-sakuyahime (also known as the blossom princess).
Okumiya shrine, which is a part of Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, sits at the mountain’s summit and is the highest shrine in Japan. There are also many shrines located around the base and spread throughout Japan that are dedicated to Fuji. One of the most famous views of Fuji is from Chureito Pagoda, which is part of Arakura Sengen Shrine, located in the Fuji Five Lakes area.
Each year at the end of August, Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine hosts the Yoshida Fire Festival, which sees 70 flaming torches line Fujiyoshida’s main street leading up to the foot of the mountain. The practice dates back hundreds of years and is thought to calm Fuji’s rage and prevent it from erupting.
7. Women were not allowed to climb Mount Fuji until 1872.
Many sites of religious worship across Japan—including Fuji—prohibited women until the Japanese government passed an edict in 1872 [PDF]. Forty years before the bill was passed, Tatsu Takayama flouted the ban and became the first woman in recorded history to reach Fuji’s summit. The exclusion of women was the subject of much debate and the ban was even temporarily lifted in 1860. Despite the government officially stopping the gendered ban, there are still a few places that enforce it, such as Mount Omine, where some believe women will distract male Buddhist and Yamabushi monks from practicing self-denial.
8. There’s a tiny post office at the peak of Mount Fuji.
For those wanting a physical souvenir to commemorate summiting Fuji, a small post office at the peak stamps postcards and letters with a special Fuji postmark. Around 97,000 pieces of mail were sent from the post office in 2017, all of which was transported down the mountain via a hardy crawler tractor. Another popular keepsake is getting a wooden walking stick stamped at the huts located along the trail.
For people who prefer digital mementos, the peak also has Wi-Fi—meaning triumphant photos of reaching the top can be uploaded to social media right away.
9. Mini versions of Mount Fuji—known as Fujizuka—are scattered across Tokyo.
During the Edo period, a religion called Fujiko developed that required its followers to climb Fuji once a year as a spiritual pilgrimage. Mini Fuji’s, called Fujizuka, were built around Tokyo for people who could not physically scale the mountain because of age or infirmity (and in the past, gender).
Nearly 800 Fujizuka were created, but only around 60 are left (and not all of them are open to be climbed). They range in height from just a few feet to 50 feet and are built to be as similar as possible to the real mountain, usually including markers to represent the 10 stations. Rocks from Fuji itself are often used, with the Fujizuka at Mizuinari Shrine being built entirely from Fuji rocks. They also tend to feature a torii gate at the entrance to mark the boundary between the secular and spiritual worlds.
10. Retiree Jitsukawa Yoshinobu holds the record for the most summits of Fuji.
There’s a common saying that “a wise man climbs Mount Fuji once; a fool climbs it twice,” but Jitsukawa Yoshinobu chose to ignore that proverb and has made more ascents of Fuji than anyone else. As of spring 2020—when he was 76 years old—he had climbed the mountain a staggering 2060 times. He didn’t begin climbing Fuji until he was 42, but retirement allowed him to kick things up a notch. “It was after I quit working that I started climbing to the summit twice a day,” Jitsukawa explains. He managed to keep up that pace for 75 consecutive days. For comparison, the ascent takes most people five to 10 hours and the descent takes another three to four hours.
11. Aokigahara—known as the “suicide forest”—lies at the northwest foot of Fuji.
In the shadow of the majestic mountain lies the dense Aokigahara forest, which has one of the highest suicides rates in the world, coming second only to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Despite its grisly reputation, the forest is also a place of natural beauty and in its depths, right at the base of Fuji, lies the impressive Narusawa Ice Cave.
12. The headquarters of a doomsday cult was located in Fuji’s foothills—followed by a failed theme park.
The religious doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo established their headquarters at the foot of Mount Fuji in Kamikuishiki. The facility was raided by police in 1995 after the group carried out a Sarin attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people and injured nearly 6000 others.
Two years later, Fuji Gulliver’s Kingdom theme park was opened on the site in an attempt to rejuvenate the area’s image, but it shut down after only four years. That wasn’t the only theme park at Fuji’s base though: Fuji-Q Highland remains popular.
13. In specific conditions, the mountain is known as Red Fuji, Diamond Fuji, and Pearl Fuji.
At certain times of year and with particular weather conditions, the view of Mount Fuji gets a few extra flourishes. The rising and setting of the sun in early autumn can bathe the mountain in a red glow, resulting in the name Red Fuji. This infrequent sight is the subject of a woodblock print, titled South Wind, Clear Sky, created by Hokusai in the 19th century. The print is part of a collection called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, the most famous of which is The Great Wave off Kanagawa.
The rising and setting sun also perfectly aligns with the peak of the mountain at certain times and shines out like a diamond, hence the name Diamond Fuji. When this same effect occurs but with the moon, it is known as Pearl Fuji.