Photo/IllutrationOverseas tourists are attracted to the observation deck to enjoy a view of the five-story pagoda in the Arakura district of Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, with Mount Fuji in the background. (Eiichi Murano)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories featuring the aesthetic landscapes of Mount Fuji, Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture and Izu in Shizuoka Prefecture, which have been visited by an increasing number of tourists from overseas. Based on conversations with travelers, the series casts light on sceneries and cultural heritages that gave form to these areas.

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FUJIYOSHIDA, Yamanashi Prefecture--All manner of people can be seen ascending the nearly 400-step stairs at a park here, where the view of a five-story pagoda against the backdrop of a snow-capped Mount Fuji awaits them.

Arakurayama Sengen Koen park initially gained attention among tourists from Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries before it became known as a hot spot with a great view in recent years.

A family of four from Costa Rica could be seen taking pictures next to each other on the observation deck. A young Asian couple had a picture of them kissing taken from the side against the spectacular Mount Fuji background.

“It’s very beautiful,” said Sean Brown, 24, from Australia, on Jan. 16. “I really like (ukiyo-e woodblock artist Katsushika) Hokusai. (His works feature) the four different seasons of Mount Fuji. Winter is my favorite season. That's why I’m happy to see it like this.”

The Aussie said he studied Japanese for four months in Yokohama and made the trip just before he was due to return home.

The five-story pagoda is officially called the Fujiyoshida Cenotaph Monument (Chureito). It was founded in 1962 to commemorate the spirits of about 1,000 people from the city who died in wars in or after the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Recently, people from around the world who enjoy peace visit the pagoda set up in a place commanding a view of the holy mountain to console the war dead.

It was a coincidence, but Brown had a badge pinned on his backpack with a message for world peace that read: “War is not the answer.” He said he learned about the origins of the pagoda from a signboard, adding: “I actually know a lot of history of different wars between the Asian regions and Japan. It’s really nice to see everyone gather now from many different parts of Asia.”

Fujiyoshida originally developed during the Edo Period (1603-1867) along the Fuji-michi pilgrimage route for climbers heading to Mount Fuji. There is a row of “shukubo” shrine lodging facilities in the city’s Kamiyoshida district close to Fuji Sengenjinja shrine, while the Shimoyoshida district north of the Kanadorii gate has become a center of textile manufacturing. Foreign tourists walk up a slope to get to the five-story pagoda from Fujikyu Railway's Shimoyoshida Station, but they have also been seen walking around Shimoyoshida in recent years.

Don Luong, 35, from the United States, opened the Western-style “izakaya” pub Masadon Kitchen in an entertainment district in Shimoyoshida last autumn. The establishment attracts Japanese and foreign customers in nearly the same numbers, the owner said.

“People from overseas want to explore at night, because Japan is so safe,” Luong said. “Izakaya culture is something unique to Japan.”

He also intends to host lectures starting from March for local residents to learn English while having a drink.

On the morning of Jan. 16, a French couple came out of Hostel Saruya in Shimoyoshida and took pictures of Mount Fuji as seen from the front of the lodging facility standing along the Fuji-michi route. The view from the shopping street is also popular among visitors, with many such photos posted on Instagram. However, the top of Mount Fuji is difficult to see from streets in Kamiyoshida.

According to Takeru Shinohara, a curator at Fujisan Museum, it is conceivable that when the Fuji-michi pilgrimage route was implemented between the 16th and 17th centuries, the axis of the road in Kamiyoshida was displaced so that Mount Fuji couldn’t be directly seen because Shinto priests and shrine workers who operated shukubo inns there were too humbled to provide a full view of the divine mountain.

But in Shimoyoshida, the center of textile manufacturing, the road was made to run straight toward Mount Fuji because residents thought it would be better to have a view of the mountain from the district.

“It's important to retain the culture and atmosphere that have been cultivated over the years,” said Tsuyoshi Yagi, 39, who operates Saruya and works on the revitalization of the community as a member of a research committee for the Shimoyoshida shopping district. “We want to make use of the historical context and develop concrete measures to reflect the merits of the community.”

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Eiichi Murano is chief of The Asahi Shimbun’s Odawara and Atami bureaus.