From Mountain to Mountain: Mount Fuji as International Icon




Longbottom, Kerry

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Mount Fuji has long been one of the most recognizable mountains in the world, its image signifying Japan much in the same way that the Taj Mahal signifies India or the Great Wall signifies China. Fuji became an important component of Japanese art, literature, folklore, and religion hundreds (if not thousands) of years before the arrival of the first visitors from the West. It has been said of Fuji that “[n]o peak more beautifully embodies the spirit of a nation,” but what is that spirit, and by what process did this mountain come to embody it?1 Unlike the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall, both constructed by a specific person or group of people and for a specific purpose, Mount Fuji is a chance feature of the natural landscape. Little about Mount Fuji has actually changed, yet popular perceptions of it have shifted dramatically from its early role as a spiritual realm to its modern function as an emblem of national pride. This thesis seeks to examine this shift by first giving an overview of the formation of Mount Fuji and the beliefs that arose around it between the eighth and eighteenth centuries. It will demonstrate how factors that arose from Japan’s contact with the West, in particular the fear of colonization, caused Mount Fuji to be remade into a symbol of international prestige, while also becoming a marketing tool used to brand certain cultural products as Japanese. Following an analysis of these events, this paper will also explore contemporary attempts to reconcile these competing identities.



Mount Fuji, Ukiyo-e, Japanese art, Meiji Period, Edo Period, Japonisme