Mount Fuji – or Fuji-san in Japanese – is the highest peak in the Fuji volcanic chain in central Japan and is the country’s highest and most beautiful mountain. Almost perfectly round, its symmetrical form has long been celebrated in poetry and painting, most notably in the 8th-century verses of Yamabe Akahito and the series of woodcuts, Views of Fuji, by Hokusai at the turn of the 19th century. The very symbol and emblem of Japan, the often snow-capped Mount Fuji can, on a clear day, be seen from as far away as Tokyo some 100 kilometers to the east.
Mount Fuji is a stratovolcano with a complex geological history spanning many millennia and a perfectly circular appearance. Its base has a diameter between 40 and 50 kilometers, while its summit stands 3,776 meters high and is capped by snow for several months of the year. Believed to have been named after the Ainu word for fire, Mount Fuji has had an active history as an erupting volcano, with the last recorded eruption occurring in 1707. During that eruption, known as the Hoei eruption, the town of Edo (present day Tokyo), some 100 kilometers away, was covered with a thick layer of ash. At the same time, the present lateral crater of Hoeizan was formed. Fortunately, the volcano has remained dormant since then, although there are those who speculate that another eruption is possible in the foreseeable future.
An alternative to climbing to the summit is to take the Ochudo-meguri trail – the path is known as the “boundary between heaven and earth” – which encircles the mountain between the 5th and 6th Stations at the 2,500-meter mark. The complete circuit covers a distance of almost 20 kilometers and takes between eight to ten hours. The most difficult stretches are Hoeizan, on the east side, and the Osawa Gorge – the largest gorge of Mount Fuji – on the west side.
Also known as the Sea of Trees, the Aokigahara Forest on the northern slope of Mount Fuji has a bit of a macabre association tied to it. Myths and other monikers aside, this dense forest of overgrown roots, moss, and light-reducing trees is a notable attraction in the area, much in thanks to the explorable caves and other hiking opportunities offered here.
One of the most popular tourist attractions within the forest and the surrounding Five Lakes region, Ice Cave is a circular cave with ever-changing ice formations. Wind Cave, on the opposite side of the forest, provides an easy 15-minute underground tour with interpretive information.