Tuesday, May 28, 2019

“An egg may be fairly cooked in about half an hour”

Around the top of Mt Fuji in 1884 with Ernest Satow and Albert Hawes

The summit of the mountain consists of a series of peaks surrounding the crater, the diameter of which is not far short of 2,000 ft. The descent into it, down the loose talus of rock and cinders close to the huts at the top of the Murayama ascent, is extremely easy, but it is advisable to take a guide from the hut. In 20 min. the bottom is reached.

Pilgrims on Mt Fuji: woodprint by Yoshida Hiroshi
The floor, which is formed of cinders, inclines slightly from W. to E., and is intersected by small stream-beds, which at the E. end terminate among the loosely piled lava masses which form the core of the mountain. All round, except where the descent is made, rise precipitous rocky walls, from which large pieces detach themselves from time to time with a loud crackling sound like that of musketry. On the W. side, immediately under Ken-ga-mine, there is usually a large snow slope. The depth has been variously calculated at 416, 548 and 584 ft. The return to the edge may take about 25 min.

Before dawn the pilgrims betake themselves to Ken-no-mine, the peak on the W. of the crater, and the true summit of the mountain, to await the sun's rising. As the luminary approaches the horizon and all the clouds about it glow with the most brilliant hues of red flame, the feeling of longing expectation seems almost to overcome them; but as soon as the burning disk appears, they greet it with devoutness, rubbing their chaplets between their hands and muttering prayers to the great deity.

Map of the Mt Fuji region, from the Satow and Hawes guidebook

This point commands the most extensive view over the surrounding country. To the S. stretches the deep gulf of Suruga, shut in on the E. by the lofty promontory of Idzu, and confined to the W. by Mio-zaki at the termination of the long range which divides the valley of the Abe kawa from that of the Fujikawa.

S.W. is the broad pebbly bed of the Fujikawa running out to sea, its course above the point where it crosses the Tō-kai-dō being hidden by the lower hills. Westwards are seen all the lofty peaks of the border range of Ko-shiu and Shin-shū, from the angular granite obelisk of Koma-ga-take, with its lesser neighbours Ji-zo and Ho-o-zan, the three summits of Shirane, known as Kaigane, Ai-no-take and Nodori, the Koma-ga-take of Shin-shū that rises between the Tenryū-gawa and Kisogawa, Ena-san in Mino and the top of Shichi-men-zan near Minobu.

Further to the right, extending northwards, come the Japanese Alps, the great range that divides far-off Hida from Shin-shū, among which may be distinguished Norikura, Yari-ga-take and further remote in Etchū the volcanic summits of Tateyama. Gradually moving E. again, along the northern horizon, we distinguish the mountains near Zen-ko-ji, Ken-no-mine and the extinct volcano Mio-ko-zan, on the edge of the depression through which passes the road to Echigo.

Nearer in the foreground rise the innumerable summits of Yatsu-ga-take, and then casting our glance further N. we perceive Asama-yama's smoking crater, the mountains of the Mikuni pass, then all the Nikkō mountains, Shirane, Nan-tai-zan and their attendants. E. of Yatsu-ga-take is seen Kim-bu-sen, easily known by its rounded shoulder and the pillar of rocks at the summit; then Yakushi and Mitsumine in Chichibu, till the eye loses itself in a confusion of lower ridges.

On the eastern side of the crater, from almost at any point that may be chosen, the eye rests on a prospect less sublime, but surpassing this in beauty. Far away across the plain is distinctly visible the double top of the sacred Tsukuba in Hitachi, while further south we see the outer edge of the rich Kwanto plain, with Tokio lying far up the bay of Yedo; then in succession Capes Sagami and Su-no-saki, the smoking summit of Mihara yama on Oshima, the coast of the gulf of Sagami, and nearer in the foreground the beautiful lake of Hakone peacefully embosomed in green hills.

The traveller will rarely be fortunate enough to obtain a perfectly clear view from the summit of Fuji, but the best chances undoubtedly are just before and at sunrise. Nor will the pilgrim be wholly fortunate unless he sees the superb cloud effects which the mountain affords. These are most likely to be enjoyed in ordinary summer weather, between noon and 6 o'clock in the evening, and they are truly magnificent.

The summit of the mountain remains clear, but its shoulders and waist are surrounded by billowy masses of dense white vapour of indescribable splendour. Here and there a momentary break may permit a glimpse of the earth beneath, but usually nothing can be seen landward but this vast ocean of cloud, amid which the peak stands as the only island in the world. Turning seaward, the ocean itself can be seen over the circumambient vapour, and affords a striking contrast to the turmoil and restless change of form of the clouds themselves.

A curious phenomenon may also sometimes be witnessed at sunrise from the western side of the summit. As the sun's rays appears above the horizon the shadow of Fuji (in Japanese, Kage-Fuji) is thrown in deep outline on the clouds and mist, which at that hour clothe the range of mountains to the west. Descending again from Ken-ga-mine, the path passes under it, and just above the steep talus called Oyashirazu, Koshirazu (‘recognising neither parent nor child’), from the notion that people in danger of falling from it over the edge of the crater would not heed their dearest relations who might be sharers of the peril, but strive to save themselves as best they might. The name is found in many parts of Japan.

Continuing N., it skirts the edge of the cone, passing a huge and precipitous gorge which appears to extend downwards to the very base of the mountain. This is the Ō-sawa, the lower limit of which is perhaps about 6,000 ft. above the sea, or only about half-way from the summit. Passing across the flank of the Rai-iwa, it goes outside the wall of the crater, ascends the 'Shaka no wari-ishi,' Sakya's Cleft Rock, and leaving Shaka-ga-take, the second loftiest peak behind, descends to the Kim-mei-sui (' golden famous-water'), a spring of ice-cold water, situated on the flat shelf between the N. edge of the crater and the outer wall. This is probably supplied by the rain-water which falls on the side of the encircling wall of the crater, and percolates through the porous rock and cinders.

Ascending again, it passes the row of huts at the top of the ascent from Yoshida and Subashiri, and reaches a torii which commands the best view of the crater. Here it turns again to the left, and goes outside the wall of the crater, underneath the Kwan-non-ga-take.

Here the interesting phenomenon may be observed of steam still issuing from the soil in several places, one of which is so close to the path that it is almost impossible to avoid stepping on it, while another lies near at hand on the left, about 50 ft down the exterior of the cone, and a third is seen immediately underneath a wall of rock about 50 yards ahead. A few inches below the surface the heat is great enough to be unbearable, and an egg may be fairly cooked in about half an hour.

Beyond this point the path crosses a depression known as Sei-shi ga kubo, ascends the E. Sai-no-kawara, dotted with piles of stone in place of images of Ji-zo, the protector of children, descends to the Gin-meisui ('Silver famous-water') at the top of the Suyama ascent, and passing under the low peak named Koma-ga- take, arrives at the huts by the top of the path from Murayama.

Between this last point and the Ken-ga-mine is a small crater, named Konoshiro-ga-ike accessible from the N. The total distance round the large crater is said by the Japanese to be 1 ri or 2 miles, but this is no doubt an exaggeration. An hour may profitably be devoted to making the circuit, which will allow for pauses at all the best points of view.


Excerpted from Ernest Mason Satow, CMG, and Lieutenant A G S Hawes, A Handbook for Travellers in Central & Northern Japan: Being a Guide to Tōkiō, Kiōto, Ōzaka and Other Cities; the Most Interesting Parts of the Main Island Between Kōbe and Awomori, with Ascents of the Principal Mountains, and Descriptions of Temples, Historical Notes and Legends, London, John Murray. The link leads to the 1881 edition, but the text above comes from the 1884 edition.

Note: If you take eggs up Mt Fuji today, best to hard-boil them before you leave home - the hotspots described by Satow and Hawes have all but faded away since their day. Or so it is said. But perhaps somebody should go and take a look, just to make sure...

No comments: