One thing for sure about Japan is that it isn't short of enchanting places. While most of the notable attractions are fairly well documented on the Internet and in tourist's guides, every now and then, you can unexpectedly discover one of such beautiful places. This happened to me on a Sunday evening while I was driving back from a trek near Mount Fuji. I was eager to get back to Tokyo early enough in order to avoid traffic jams but on the way, I spotted a peculiar place which inspired me to stop and take a look at. As I exited the car, I realized that I had indeed stopped in front what looked like a Shinto shrine, so I took my camera and decided to take a few pictures from the roadside. I soon figured out that this place was well worth a proper viewing.
I had indeed stopped in front of the Fujiyoshida's Sengen Shrine (北口本宮浅間神社), formally known as Kitaguchi Hongu Sengen Jinja (North Entrance Sengen Main Shrine) which was built in 788 in order to protect the nearby villages from the volcanic eruptions and it was of course dedicated to Konohanasakuya-hime, the Shinto deity associated with Mount Fuji. Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja is the main of three Sengen Shrines located on the north side of Mount Fuji.
the path to the Shrine
The shrine is the historical starting point used by pilgrims on their way to climb Mount Fuji from the north. The trail-head is actually still visible right at the back of the honden (main building) and some rare hikers still perform a prayer at the shrine before starting there their ascent of the mountain. In effect, this starting point doubles the length of what is now the common ascension route, adding about five hours to the whole journey.
18 meters tall tori
- Tradition and Family
- Love of Nature
- Matsuri (community festival)
The approach is made through the long main path which cuts through a dense, centenary cedar forest which spreads over 99,000 m². The path is bordered by massive stone lanterns and at the end of it; a stone bridge crosses over a small stream. Behind it proudly stands a massive 18 meters tall tori (gate), one of the largest in the country, marking the entrance of the shrine itself. Rumor has it that it is rebuilt on each "Fuji year" (i.e. every 60 years), a bit larger each time. The writing at its top says "Sangoko Daiichizan" meaning "the highest mountain among the three countries", namely China, India, and Japan.
Fuji Sengen Jinja
The main buildings include the red, Momoyama-style honden which was built in 1615, as well as a smaller shrine dedicated to Takeda Shingen 武田 信玄 (1521-1573), a daimyo from the Kai province who achieved very high military prestige at the end of the Sengoku period. The shrine was indeed valued by a number of Japan's military leaders of the Warring States Period. It is during the relative peace ensured by the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868) that Fuji Sengen Jinja started to draw the patronage of the Shojiko, the peaceful pilgrims of Mount Fuji. The shrine counts two remaining Goshinboku, the 1000 years old sacred sugi (Japanese cedar) which measure over 23 meters in diameter and serve as protectors of the shrine.
The temple staff includes four Miko-san (巫女, shrine maidens), five Kannushi (神主, priests), and one Shoshi (書士, scribe). A little shop beside the honden proposes a large range of omamori (charms) including the "tozan-anzan" supposed to ensure the safety of climbers. The Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine is closely connected to the city's daily life and serves for reflection and praying as well as a place of celebration of birth, marriage and other gatherings.
A special ceremony, the "Yama-Biraki", is held on July 1st in order to mark the opening of the Mount Fuji's climbing season. Later, on August 26th, the Fujiyoshida Himatsuri (Fire Festival) takes place, followed on the next day by "Susuki Matsuri" which closes the climbing season.
An afternoon at Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja (music written and performed by Guillaume Erard)
- Admission: Free of charge
- Opening times: 8.30am-5.00pm
- Address: 5558 Kamiyoshida, Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi
- Phone: 0555-22-0221
- Information on the shrine on the Fujiyoshida website
Access from Fuji Kyuko Railway Fuji-Yoshida Station is a 20 min walk or a five min ride by the Fujikyu bus bound for Lake Yamanakako (stop at Kitaguchi Hongu Fujisengen Jinja-mae).