Watanabe (2014, page 29) suggests that the meaning of the word “Fuji” and the mountain’s status as an object of worship relate to two central concepts, both of which are based on a negative. One meaning indicates that there are no (不 read as “fu”) two (二read as “ji”) mountains like Mount Fuji (不二山). The other indicates that the mountain’s beauty and majesty can never be exhausted (尽 also read as “ji” here) or used up (不尽山). This extreme reverence for the uniquely infinite sacred mountain is based in fear. No, actually not fear — blind, inexpressible terror. Human beings feel powerless before this infinite, incomparably destructive force of nature. Earthquakes happen, the rivers rise, the sun itself is blocked out, crops fail, we die.
Before a series of truly unbelievable eruptions that took place between 864 and 866 (貞観大噴火・Great Jougan Eruption), there was an enormous lake (剗の海 ・Senoumi) on the north side of Mount Fuji. This was largely obliterated and buried by the utterly devastating lava flow that occurred during this period, leaving behind the three small lakes (Saiko, Motosuko, Shoujiko) that we see today.
We still see the words “Quell the explosions” (鎮爆) displayed at the great Kawaguchi Asama Shrine today. In association with this, the Great Goddess (木花之佐久夜毘売命・Konohananosakuyahimenomikoto), known as Princess Sakuya, or the Great Goddess Asama, has been revered for her ability to control the volcano. We should not forget that the volcano is still active and that we displease the Great Goddess at our peril.
Watanabe (page 30) reminds us that worship of Mount Fuji was originally conceived of, rather sensibly, as being carried out “from afar” (遥拝), no nearer than the base of the mountain. It was only much later, when the volcano had quietened down considerably, that it became common to pay one’s respects to the Great Goddess by actually climbing the mountain and carrying out ascetic practices.
Although men started climbing the mountain as an act of worship, women were banned from doing so. Even so, there are places on the way up the mountain which women were allowed to access in order to pay their respects. In the spirit of sustainable tourism, perhaps visitors should be encouraged to walk to these lower places of worship. Ironically, one could easily argue that, historically, this is the authentic form of Fuji worship. The scenery is much better, there are no crowds, and you might even enjoy the walk! In addition, you would be honouring the spirit of the many Japanese women who were devoted to the sacred mountain while being denied the opportunity to climb it. Also, there would be far less chance of being pestered to buy souvenirs!
Watanabe mentions the example of the Lake District of northern England as a relaxed tourist area where one can occasionally stop for a drink in a pub. Perhaps the focus of Mount Fuji should be placed lower down with more enjoyable relaxation opportunities for walkers.