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Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan at 3776m (12388ft) and is one of the countries three Holy Mountains (the others being Mount Tate and Mount Haku).  It is thought that the first person to reach the top of the montain was an unknown monk in 663AD. The summit of Mount Fuji which is also an active volcano (last erupting between 16th December 1707 and 1st January 1708) was considered as sacred and women were forbid from climbing the mountain until the reign of Emperor Meiji (23 October 1868 – 30 July 1912) when Japan started to become modernized. However Lady Fanny Parkes, the wife of Sir Harry Parkes climbed Mount Fuji in 1867 and became the first non-Japanese woman to reach the summit.

The Legend of Kaguya-hime
There was an old childless couple who lived in a city near to Mount Fuji. The husband was called Taketori-no-Okina and he was a bamboo basket weaver. One day whilst he was out cutting bamboo he discovered a beautiful baby girl inside a shining mysterious bamboo stalk. She was the size of his thumb but was the answer to the couples prayers as they had been desperate for a child of their own. They took the baby girl as their own and named her Kaguya-hime (shining or radiant princess).

Taketori-no-Okina’s good fortune continued as he started to find small gold nuggets inside some of the bamboo he cut down. As Taketori-no-Okina’s wealth grew so did Kaguya-hime and eventually she had grown into an extremely beautiful young elegant woman. So beautiful in fact that word of her appearance spread far and wide.

A series of suitors then started to appear asking for Kaguya-hime’s hand in marriage. Amongst those seeking to marry Kaguya-hime were five princes. She gave each one of them a near impossible task, promising to marry the one who succeeded. Each of the five princes failed in their appointed task. They did not bring back to her Buddha’s begging bowl, a jewel from a dragon or a jewelled branch from Penglai, though a few did try to trick her and failed.

Even the Emperor became besotted by Kaguya-hime and asked for her hand in marriage, which again she declined but stayed close friends with him. In some versions of the story she married a local magistrate that she fell in love with. After some years of marriage, she told her husband that she wanted to climb up Mount Fuji and return to her people. Devasted he tried to disuade Kaguya-hime from leaving him, but she was compelled and started to climb the mountain secretly followed by her husband.

At the sumitt they came upon a magnificent palace surrounded by a lake. Kaguya-hime changed into her natural form which was some kind of celestrial being. Others of her kind, messengers of the moon were with her. She was from a people originating from the moon itself and she had been sent down to earth, some say in punishment, other versions suggest it was to avoid some kind of war.

They placed a cloak of feathers upn her shoulders and her memory of her human life and the bonds she had formed were forgotten. Distraught, her husband through himself into the lake and drowned, rather than face life without her love.

In another version she did not marry and instead informed her parents and the Emperor that she had to return to her home on the moon and that her people would be returning for her. The Emperor sent his troops to surround the home of Kaguya-hime but her own people came for her blinding the guards. Before they placed the feathered cloak around her shoulders, removing her memories, she was given time to write fairwell messages to her parents and the Emperor.

The Emperor was very sad and asked his soldiers to climb the mountain that was closest to heaven and burn her letter, so that she may see. His soldiers obeyed his command and the smoke rising from the active volcano is supposed to originate from the smouldering letter.

Ian Topham

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