Physical Geology 2003


Mt. Fuji Pictures and Diagrams


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Surface relief map of mainland Japan and its surrounding islands.



Photo courtesy of Shuttle Images at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Space Shuttle photo of snow-capped Mt. Fuji.



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Mount Fuji can even be found in Japanese currency.



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Mount Fuji can be seen from Tokyo and Yokohama on clear days.



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Composite volcanoes like Mount Fuji are built up by eruptions of intermediate viscosity andesitic lava and explosive tephra.



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Tourists from many countries travel every year to the top of Mount Fuji .


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Mount Fuji was depicted by the famous Ukiyoe painter, Hokusai Katsushika, in his series of prints entitled, "36 Views from Mount Fuji".

Some others of Hokusai's prints include:

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"Mt. Fuji from the Foot"


"Mt. Fuji from the Offing in Kanagawa"


"Mt. Fuji from a Teahouse at Yoshida"



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Between 724 and 737, Yamebe no Akahito composed poems in Japanese. He is considered to be one of Japan's greatest poets. He composed the following poem, on his yearning for Mt. Fuji.

Heaven and earth:
Since the time they parted,
Of manifest divinity,
Reaching the heights of awe,
In Suruga stands
The high peak of Fuji;
The field of heaven:
On gazing at the distant sight
The coursing sun
Light is blocked and
The shining moon
Light goes unseen;
The white clouds, too,
Shrink from passing by as
Snow falls:
From mouth to mouth will pass the word,
Travelling and speaking
Of the peak of Fuji

(McAuley 2001)





Mt. Fuji

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There is an old Japanese proverb that says, "He who climbs Mount Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool". At 12, 387 feet, the highest peak in Japan, this dormant volcano serves as a beautiful reminder of nature's imposing power. Fuji-san, as the Japanese refer to it, is located on the border of the Yamanashi and Shizuoka Prefectures in Japan.


Fuji Facts

The definition of a stratovolcano is a large cone-shaped volcano, consisting of alternating layers of lava and tephra. Mt. Fuji fits this definition beautifully. Mt. Fuji is the classic image of what most people have of a volcano (Marshak 246). Mt. Fuji is a relatively young volcano. Mt. Fuji is made primarily of basalt, which is somewhat unusual for stratovolcanoes. The mountain is said to have reached its present shape about 5,000 years ago, but even since then, it has repeatedly erupted. The last gigantic eruption occurred in 1707. For almost 300 years since then, Mt. Fuji has been fairly quiet and remained the same shape. The symmetry and perfection of the cone indicates that Mount Fuji hasn't suffered a major eruption recently (Rowland).

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Internal structure of typical composite volcano.

Stratovolcanoes are also known as composite volcanoes. Because it is a composite volcano, Mount Fuji has a crater at the summit which has a central vent. Lava from Mount Fuji either flows through breaks in the wall or issue from fissures on the flank of the cone. Lava then solidifies within the fissures, and forms dikes that act as ribs which greatly strengthen the cone. The most important feature of a composite volcano is a conduit system through which magma from a reservoir deep in the Earth's crust rises up to the surface. The volcano is built up by the accumulation of material erupted through the conduit and increases in size as lava, cinders, and ash are added to its slopes. As a composite volcano becomes dormant, erosion begins to wear away at the cone. Some of the most famous composite volcanoes in the world include Mount Cotopaxi in Ecuador, Mount Shasta in California, Mount Hood in Oregon, and Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier in Washington (Tilling 2003).

Some facts on the volcano's summit:

  • Crater size: 2625 feet
  • Circumference: 2.2 miles
  • Depth: 656 feet
  • Average Temperature: 20.3 F
  • Atmospheric Pressure: About 2/3 that of level ground

(Japan Atlas)

The Birth of Fuji

Mt. Fuji's outline was not created all at once. Instead, Mt. Fuji's present shape was created over three generations of volcanic activities by the Ashitakayama/Ko-Mitake (Small Mitake), Ko-Fuji (Old Fuji) and Shin-Fuji (New Fuji) volcanoes. The Ko-Mitake volcano is believed to have become inactive over 100 thousand years ago. The Ko-Fuji volcano formed the base of the current Mt. Fuji and is believed to have been active between approximately 100 thousand and 10 thousand years ago. Activities by the Shin-Fuji volcano, which created the mountain's current shape, are said to have begun about 10 thousand years ago and erupted repeatedly for over 100 times during a period of about 10 thousand years between then and the Hoei Eruption in 1707. The period when Shin-Fuji became active coincides with the early Jomon Period, and it is believed that people inhabited the areas surrounding Mt. Fuji at that time. The Hoei Eruption of 1707 was the last eruption and is said to have been the largest of all eruptions in recorded history (Birth of Mt. Fuji 1996).


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A diagram of formation of Mt. Fuji


Historical Eruptions

Mt. Fuji has had approximately 63 eruptions in the past 9000 years. This has been determined due to carbon-14 dating. However, the most recent 22 have been recorded by people. (Rowland 2003). Most of these eruptions were moderate to moderate-large in size. The most recent eruption was in 1709 from a vent on the southeast side of the cone. The eruption ejected 0.8 cubic km of ash, blocks, and bombs. Five historic eruptions have caused damage, including the 1707-1708 eruption, but no fatalities. Fuji had two large eruptions in 1050 and 930 BC (Honshu 2003).

Tectonics of Fuji

Mount Fuji is located in what is known as the "Ring of Fire". The Ring of Fire stretches from New Zealand, along the eastern edge of Asia, north across the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and south along the coast of North and South America. It is located at the border of the Pacific Plate and other tectonic plates. Around the Ring of Fire, the Pacific Plate is colliding with and sliding underneath other plates. This process is known as subduction. The volcanic area that results is known as the subduction zone. From Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula to Japan, the subduction of the Pacific plate under the Eurasian plate is responsible for Japanese islands and volcanoes (thus forming Mt. Fuji) (Ring of Fire 1997). Recently, Mount Fuji has experienced minor earthquakes and rumbling. However, scientists notice the sharp P-wave arrivals and suggest they are of tectonic origin, not volcanic (Glicken 98).

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Map of the Ring of Fire


Impacts Upon Japan

Since ancient times, mountains in Japan were seen as divine manifestions, or sacred objects of worship. Mount Fuji even once had its own sect of pilgrims, known as the Fujiko (Fujiyoshida 2003).

Mount Fuji has had a tremendous amount of tourism from people around the world. Between 200,000 and 400,000 people each year climb Mount Fuji. Thirty percent of these climbers are foreigners. The mountain was held so sacred, that not until the nineteenth century were women allowed to climb it (Views of Mount Fuji 2003).


The Allure of Mt. Fuji

Exactly what makes Mt. Fuji of such great interest to tourists, authors, poets, and people worldwide lies in its beautiful ability to change appearances. This well-proportioned cone-shaped mountain has been worshiped by the Japanese people since ancient times, and is a well-known symbol of Japan in other countries. When seen from different points of view, the volcano gives different impressions. The vibrant reds seen at sunset are strikingly different than that of the cool blues seen during the day.

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Literature Cited

Artelino Art Auctions and Gallery 2003. Views of Mount Fuji. Accessed 2003 April 7.

Fuji, Honshu, Japan. Date Unknown. Accessed 2003 April 7.

Fujiyoshida, Mt. Fuji's International City 2003. Museum of Local History. Accessed 2003 April 7.

Geography 2003. The Ring of Fire. Accessed 2003 April 7.

Glicken, Harry. "Mount Fuji Rumbles" Nature. Vol. 329. 1987. Pg. 98.

McAuley, Thomas 2001. Poems. Accessed 2003 April 7.

Japan Atlas Date Unknown. Mt. Fuji. Accessed 2003 April 7.

Marshak, Stephen. Earth Portrait of a Planet. W.W. Norton & Company. New York and London: 2001. Pg. 246.

Mt. Fuji's Story 1996. The Birth of Mt. Fuji. Accessed 2003 April 7.

Rowland, Scott, Date Unknown. When is the Last Time Mt. Fuji Erupted? Accessed 2003 April 7.

Tilling, Robert I. 2003. Fact Monster. "Types of Volcanoes" Accessed 2003 April 7.



Author: Emily L. Steele
Creation/revision date: Tuesday, April 08, 2003

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