Outline of Sengen Taisha
Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha Shrine (often called simply “Sengen Taisha”) is located at the southwestern foot of Mt. Fuji, in Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture. Since long ago, the shrine has been revered as ichinomiya, which roughly means “the first shrine people should visit,” or “the most influential shrine in the district.”
This shrine is a beautiful place surrounded by a lot of sakura trees (Japanese cherry trees), and is also known as one of the best Mount Fuji viewing spots. If you are thinking about exploring the southern side of Mount Fuji, I hope you will include this spot in your Japan tour itinerary.
Many famous generals and feudal lords throughout history prayed at this shrine and offered gifts. And in 1896, the Meiji government at that time gave the shrine the rank of kanpei-taisha, a government supported shrine of the first rank.
Also, Sengen Taisha in Fujinomiya City is the head shrine of 1,300 sengen shrines throughout Japan. Generally speaking, “sengen shrines” are the ones where Mt. Fuji is the main object of worship (although there are a few exceptions). The kanji characters for sengen (浅間) can also be read as asama, which is the name of the ancient kami (Shinto deity) of volcanoes. And in the Middle Ages, Mt. Fuji was the most violent and feared volcano in the nation. So the people built sengen shrines all around Japan and tried to appease the raging deity of Mt. Fuji by worshipping the mountain.
So, Sengen Taisha has been very closely connected with Mt. Fuji since long ago. The shrine used to be called the “gateway to Mt. Fuji” because it was the place where people prayed and performed ablutions before ascending the mountain.
In the old days, climbing Mt. Fuji was a kind of a religious act, rather than one of leisure. These activities of the medieval climbers are well documented in a religious painting from the early 16th century called Fujisan Mandara, which is kept at this very shrine as an important cultural asset of the nation.
The shrine also has a branch shrine at the summit of Fuji, which is called Sengen Taisha Okumiya Shrine. And surprisingly enough, the area above the eighth station (approximately the 3000 meter point) of the mountain is actually the part of the shrine’s precinct. And since olden times, the summit crater has been considered to be the place where kami actually reside.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Since the connection between Mt. Fuji and Sengen Taisha has been so strong, when Mt. Fuji was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2013, Sengen Taisha was also registered as one of the “component parts” of the sacred mountain.
Konohana Sakuya Hime
The principal deity of Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha is a goddess called Konohana-no-sakuya-hime-no-mikoto. Her name can be loosely translated as “cherry blossom princess.” So the cherry has been a holy tree of the shrine and it is said that now there are as many as 500 cherry trees in the precinct.
In former days, people considered Mt. Fuji itself to be a temporary manifestation of the goddess Konohana because the mountain had such an elegant figure, with long symmetrical sides (Asama, the aforementioned kami, was regarded as identical to Konohana. So, it can be said that in a spiritual sense, Asama, Konohana, and Mt. Fuji are basically the same thing).
But the goddess also had her fierce side. The following story is told in the ancient Japanese mythology: when Konohana’s pregnancy was revealed, Ninigi-no-mikoto, who was her husband, doubted her faithfulness. So, she locked herself in a doorless hut and set fire to it, saying that the child would be born safely even in the fire if it was truly her husband’s (if it was really divine). And eventually, she delivered triplets.
Konohana was regarded as having powers to control not only fire but also water. And it was these magical powers of her that were considered to keep Mt. Fuji from erupting.
Today, when we worship at Sengen Taisha, the benefits which are believed to be bestowed upon us include: fire prevention, safety of ocean voyage, family harmony, and easy childbirth, among others. Obviously these benefits come from her special powers which are told in the mythical story.
Photographs: taken at Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha,
by Koji Ikuma, with Fujifilm X-T1 & Summar 5cm f2.