From a Distance

A lot of people make the trip to Yamanashi in order to view Mount Fuji. They can’t usually see it from Tokyo because the buildings are in the way. Here’s an elevated view across Shinjuku.  Photo.
Mount Fuji is better from a distance?

One of the weird things about driving around in Tokyo is that, on a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji from your car. It doesn’t happen very often — you just catch a glimpse of it between buildings, usually somewhere in west Tokyo such as Chofu. You just happen to find a rare, clear view path to the big volcano (the highest in Japan, of course) which is, after all, only about 100 kilometers away.

The great master Hokusai (1760-1849) knew that you don’t have to go up close to Mount Fuji in order to appreciate it — and fleeting glimpses of the volcano framed against other objects can be the most evocative. Photo.

So you don’t really have to go up close to the volcano. The whole point of Hokusai’s famous Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji is that the volcano can have a uniquely haunting beauty from any distance and framed in any context. One of the themes in this web site is that a lot of damage is caused by too many people climbing above the Fifth Station of Mount Fuji — basically the halfway mark. It’s a better, much more beautiful experience from lower down.

Hokusai was obsessed with Mount Fuji. Here’s an amazing view from relatively up close — in present-day Yamanashi, actually. Photo.

The other thing about the volcano is that — it’s a volcano! Actually, it’s an active volcano. Maybe you really shouldn’t go up too close to it. It’s true that Mount Fuji hasn’t erupted for quite a while. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to.

A tiny, distant Fuji given a cute frame by the rustic barrel-maker’s barrel. Nothing could be less threatening. Photo.

The picture above was painted in around 1830. It’s a distant view of Mount Fuji from a rice field in Owari Province, which is present-day western Aichi Prefecture. That’s a distance of close to 300 kilometers so the worker in the foreground probably wasn’t too bothered about the volcano erupting.

Huge amounts of volcanic ash was spewed into the air when Mount Fuji last erupted in 1707. Photo.

Actually, the last time Mount Fuji erupted was in 1707. There was no lava flow, but a huge amount of volcanic ash was released into the air. Although, Aichi Prefecture (to the west was probably relatively unaffected), the areas to the east of Mount Fuji were subject to a lot of ash fallout and parts of Tokyo suffered quite heavily with ash several centimeters thick.

Hokusai also did a painting of Mount Fuji showing the knob formed during the eruption in 1707. This secondary crater is known as Mount Hoei. Photo.

To put this into perspective, 57 people were killed on Mount Ontake when it suddently erupted in September 2014. Previous to that there was no significant earthquake activity to warn people that there might be danger. The weather was nice and people were just enjoying themselves on the mountain.

Mount Ontake is the second highest volcano in Japan. It erupted in September 2014, killing 57 people.

So if you do decide to get close to Mount Fuji — maybe even climb it — you should probably bear that sort of thing in mind. In theory, Mount Fuji could blow at any moment! Actually, a retired professor from Ryukyu University predicted that it will erupt before the year 2015 ends! Obviously, that did not happen. Then again, a newspaper article from Britain’s Daily Mail quotes Japanese researchers as claiming that there is a one percent chance of nearly all life in Japan being wiped out by volcanic activity before too long!

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