National Geographic : 2002 Aug
vibrated with the mountain's offbeat energy, defining it in unique ways. A graying ex-flower child spoke of Fuji as the "chakra of Japan," its point of maximum spiritual potency. A savvy Shinto priest had converted the faith of big money patrons in the mountain's legendary healing powers into a clutch of gleaming gold and-marble pavilions near Fuji's wide foot. A rapt UFO-watcher told me in hushed tones of the starry night a spaceship hovered over Fuji, drawing energy from a secret geomagnetic dynamo buried inside. Fuji-san, thrusting toward the heavens, said 51-year-old educator Yasuo Miyazawa from his hilltop school overlooking the mountain, "gives my students the courage to pursue things." Only fear of Fuji's fury may run deeper than devotion in Japan's collective consciousness. Records show that since A.D. 781 the mountain has erupted at least ten times, with flaming skies and molten rivers. Its last blowout, in 1707, followed a colossal earth quake estimated today at magnitude 8.4. (The 1995 Kobe quake, which killed 6,400 and caused massive structural damage, registered 7.2.) It cratered Fuji's southeast face, raining ash so thick, one diarist noted, "We lighted candles even in the daytime." Old phobias rekindled two years ago when Motoo Ukawa and his colleagues at the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention near Tokyo detected a surge in seismic activity under Fuji's cone. "Low-frequency earthquakes," said Ukawa as he clicked on a computer screen to reveal LAND OF THE RISING SUN At 9,908 feet (top) the view during the day goes on and on-but at night many climbers can't, so they stop at one of several huts for a bite to eat and a short nap. (Later, workers air out the futons.) Atop Mount Fuji the rising sun greets pilgrims as well as apprentice Shinto priests (left) who, during the summer, live and worship at a shrine on the summit. Japan's native religion, Shintoism considers natural wonders such as Fuji to be dwelling places of the divine and worthy of reverence. Many climbers also deem their trek noteworthy, so along the way they stop to send a postcard to the folks back home (far left).