In June 2013, Mt. Fuji, the symbolic mountain of Japan, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site under the name of “Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration.” And then, four and a half years later, in December 2017, “Mt. Fuji World Heritage Centre, Shizuoka” opened in Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture.
This is a museum created for the purpose of “conveying to the present and future generations all things related to Mt. Fuji,” and it also functions as a center devoted to preserving the sacred mountain. It was built just beside the Ichi-no-torii (the first torii gate) of Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha Shrine. In this museum you can learn a lot about various aspects of Mt. Fuji: its history, religion, art, and nature, for example.
I had been looking forward to visiting the museum long before its completion because some fascinating stories and rumors about it had already reached my ears: I had heard that the total construction cost would amount to be 4.1 billion yen (roughly 39 million dollars as of March 2018), the main building would be in the shape of an inverted Mt. Fuji, and we would be able to “simulate” Mt. Fuji climbing there. These things intrigued me much. So I remember I was really glad when I finally got to visit there.
At first I would like to talk about the facade of the building. There is a very big water basin (in architectural lingo, a “water feature”) in front of the inverted-Mt. Fuji-shaped main building. The water in the large basin is actually Mt. Fuji’s spring water. First they draw the water from the nearby stream, and after being used in the building for the air conditioners, it finally comes to the basin. It is said that it represents the concept of the museum, “the circulation and reflection of Mt. Fuji’s water.”
And when you poise your camera trying to capture the building and casually gaze down at the surface of the water, you will realize the true intention of the creator of this facility: you will find there is a reflection of the building on the water, which is not an inverted Mt. Fuji anymore but an right-side-up cone-shaped accurate description of the mountain!
This facility was designed by Shigeru Ban, a renowned architect who received the honorable Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2014. The exterior of the main building is covered by wooden latticework. The wood was locally produced in Fujinomiya City and Fuji City, and is known as the brand name “Fuji Hinoki Made.”
Entering the facility, you begin ascending the gentle slope that extends spirally 193 meters to the top 5th floor. As you do so, you realize you are now simulating the experience of ascending Mt. Fuji because you notice the scenery from the mountain is projected on the side wall beside you. And these scenes are not static ones but very lively time-lapse images, and they are changing as you go along: at first it seems you are walking through the green forest with birds singing above your head, but after a moment as you go up, the plants are gradually diminishing and you are in a desolate landscape, surrounded by volcanic rocks (this would put you at the 2,500 meter point on the actual mountain).
The shadows of “other climbers” suddenly appear just like living figures. And when you “look down,” you can see some clouds, local towns, and the sea. When you see the view of the sea, which is the Pacific Ocean, you are reminded of the fact that you are now climbing the mountain from the southern side (Shizuoka Prefecture side), not from the northern Yamanashi Prefecture side. The museum is in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Then at the end of the slope (at the top floor), there is the Observation Room where the actual Mt. Fuji can be seen majestically before you (if the weather is good). And on the wall of the Observation Room, there is a collection of photographs which are equally interesting. They are photos of many local “Fuji” existing all around Japan. For a long time, it seems Japanese people have had a tendency to put the word Fuji on the name of their local mountains with majestic presence. Looking at all those “Fuji” in Japan would parhaps arouse in one a strange feeling: it is as though Fuji suddenly assumes different meaning and turns into something completely unknown, which even transcends the actual Fuji . . . .
There are several rooms and corners along the spiral slope, each of which introduces Mt. Fuji from different angles. These exhibitions are all very attractive and informative, using latest IT technology. And many of the explanations can be accessed in four different languages: Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean.
Photographs: taken at the Mt. Fuji World Heritage Centre, Shizuoka, by Koji Ikuma,
with Fujifilm X-T1 & Summaron 35mm f3.5.