Concealed amid an ancient forest at the foot of Mount Fuji stands an imposing 18-meter-tall dark red torii gate. Unmissable against the green backdrop, it marks the entrance to the sacred Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine.
Formally known as Kitaguchi Hongu Fujiyoshida Shrine, the shrine is one of many shrines dedicated to Konohana-sakuya Hime (Princess Blossom of the Trees), the Shinto goddess associated with Mount Fuji. However, this particular shrine is also the original starting point of Fuji’s Yoshida trail, which runs all the way up to the mountain’s summit. Just behind and to the right of the shrine’s main hall you can find a simple wooden torii gate that indicates the trailhead. Although few climbers begin their hike from here now, many still visit the shrine before their ascent to pray for a safe climb.
Even if you’re not planning on doing any hiking yourself, the Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine is well worth a visit. The complex is set back from the road down a long gravel pathway lined with ancient-looking stone lanterns and towering trees. After passing under the red torii gate mentioned above, you’ll find yourself facing the ornate main hall – also painted a vivid red – which dates back to 1615. Its interior is decorated with lanterns, paintings, and two huge wooden masks that gaze down at worshippers.
Outside, you can’t fail to notice the three colossal cedar trees adorned with decorative rope growing within the grounds of the shrine. Said to be over 1,000 years old, these trees are believed to protect the shrine. This setting makes Fujiyoshida Sengen a fantastic place to feel Shinto’s connection to nature.
Yoshida Fire Festival
Every year the Fujiyoshida Sengen shrine hosts the Yoshida Fire Festival, one of Japan’s most distinctive celebrations. In late August, over 70 huge three-meter-high torches are set ablaze throughout the city, turning the main street into a river of fire. This dramatic festival is held both to mark the end of Mount Fuji’s climbing season and to pacify the mountain gods. If you’re in the area at this time of year, it’s an experience not to be missed!