Mount Fuji


One of the world’s most recognizable mountains, Mount Fuji is nearly synonymous with Japan.

Rising 12,389 feet above sea level, Fuji is also the High Point of the nation. Situated on the island of Honshu, the peak is a mere 62 miles southwest of Tokyo. On clear days, the mountain starkly dominates the capital and largest city’s horizon.

Mount Fuji soars above the countryside - image by Corbis RF

Fuji is a stratovolcano, also known as a composite volcano, which means it is a cone composed of many layers that built up over time. Volcanologists consider Fuji to be active, though it has not erupted since 1708. Because of these 300 years of dormancy, Fuji is classified as low risk for eruption.

The mountain features a sizable crater at the zenith. The abyss is 2,560 feet in diameter and reaches a depth of 790 feet. Because Fuji reaches the highest altitude in Japan, which is an island nation, its prominence is essentially its height. 12,388 feet of prominence is massive and ranks Fuji as the 35th most-prominent peak in the world. Because of its conical nature, it is also steep, featuring angles between 31 and 35 degrees near the crater.

Part of the allure of Fuji is the sublimity of its conical form. From a distance, it seems nearly symmetrical, like a sloping pyramid rising above the flat landscape. Inspiration springs eternally from this happy little accident of nature, perhaps most famously in Hokusai’s Thirty-six View of Mount Fuji. We typically associate Hokusai with The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, a truly gorgeous piece of art. But if you peer intently into the print, you’ll see Mt. Fuji in the background. That’s a big wave! Great Wave is just one piece in a superlative series on Fuji.

Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa, with Mt. Fuji in the background
Fine Wind, Clear Morning, part of the series on Fuji by Hokusai
Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit by Hokusai

The origin of the name is lost to antiquity. The currently used kanji for the mountain – 富 士 – translate roughly to “abundant wealth” or “man of status,” but the name Fuji predates the usage of these characters. Several theories exist, ranging from ancient words that mean “immortal” to “fire mountain” to “without equal.” 

Fuji is a sacred mountain to the Japanese, comprising one part of the “Three Holy Mountains.” The other two are Mt. Haku and Mt. Tate. Some cultures mark their sacred mountains as places humans should not go; others revere them via pilgrimage. Japan falls into the latter camp, as Japanese people have flocked to Fuji for centuries.

Just like the name, the first person to summit Fuji is lost to the shadows of time. The first ascent by a foreign human transpired in 1860 when British climber Sir Rutherford Alcock (great name) stood atop the acme. Today, climbers throng to Fuji from within Japan and internationally, despite the significant elevation gain of the climb. More than 300,000 people make it to the top each year!

Fuji's crater with the Eight Sacred Peaks - photo by Sigma64

If you were to summit Fuji, you would find that the smooth, symmetrical appearance is, of course, not quite the reality. As you might expect from a volcano, the business end is anything but smooth. Eight peaks dot the crater rim and, just like the parent mountain, these peaks are hallowed in Japan. They are dubbed the “Eight Sacred Peaks.”

Fuji sports a tundra climate. The higher elevations are often snow-covered, even during warmer months. In fact, the highest temperature recorded at the peak is just 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Things get cold up there. The record low is -36 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tourists often enjoy more than just the mountain, which is a part of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Five picturesque lakes and glorious forests, one of which is supposedly haunted, surround the mountain.

Before it blew its stack in 1980, Mt. St. Helens was known as “the Fuji of America.” If you’re ever fortunate enough to be in Japan, make sure to visit the actual Fuji and snap some photos for us. In the meantime, please enjoy these glorious images and videos!

Mount Fuji from Lake Motosu - photo by Captain76
Mount Fuji from Lake Motosu - photo by Captain76
Lenticular cloud over Fuji - image by Alpsdake
Fuji from the International Space Station
Chureito Pagoda at Arakura Sengen Shrine overlooking Mount Fuji - photo by nicholashan/Fotolia
Cherry trees near Mount Fuji - image by toraya/Fotolia

Further Reading and Exploration

Mount Fuji Travel Guide – Japan-Guide

Mount Fuji – Encyclopedia Britannica

Mount Fuji – National Geographic

Fuji-san – Peakbagger

Fuji-san – Summitpost

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