Fujiyama from Motosu Lake
Lucy Whitacre, Swarthmore College, Class of 2014
This lantern slide of Mt. Fuji is one of 256 in the E. Raymond Wilson Collection. Wilson brought them back to the United States after visiting Japan for a year in 1926-1927 on the Japanese Brotherhood Scholarship. This program encouraged relationships with Japan and the United States through the study and immersion in Japanese culture (Khoo, 2006). These lantern slides were mostly taken by professional photographers during Wilson's travels, for example this specific one of Mt. Fuji taken by Futaba. The collection's subject matter range from scenes of everyday life to gardens, landscapes, arts, and ceremony. The variety of subject matter in his collection and letters to home make it clear that Wilson was captivated by the country. In a letter marked September 29, 1926 to his brother Ralph, to whom he wrote frequently, Wilson describes the moment he witnessed Mt. Fuji for the first time as he traveled across the Pacific from Seattle on a steamer. The letter begins with his first impressions of Tokyo upon his arrival and then transitions to a memorable experience:
"It has been a rather extensive day. I raved all the way over the Pacific about Mount Fuji. 'Can you see it from the Tokyo Bay? Will we get in there in day time? I want Mount Fuji to be my Introduction to Japan.' Etc. And this morning at sunrise, Mr. Azuma called me and said: 'You can see Mount Fuji !' So I looked out my porthole window and there she stood in silent and impressive majesty nearly seventy five miles away, and she towered cleancut and conelike into the soft and hazy background of a sparkling bright morning in the harbor—and in less than fifteen minutes had drawn before her face a veil of hazy smoky cloud and not again today could we marvel at her grandeur. Seldom can it be seen on account of clouds or fog."(Wilson, 1926)
This hand-colored slide shows Mt. Fuji artistically framed by pine trees, a view looking across Motosu Lake. Just as Wilson observed the mountain through the porthole across the water, the viewer of this lantern slide experiences a look through the trees across the water. Mt. Fuji is a longstanding cultural symbol, significantly contributing to the sense of national identity. It is central in the role of religious belief and ritual: the climb towards the top is akin to entering paradise in Buddhist belief while Shintoism worships the mountain as a goddess (Clark, 2001). A notable example of art inspired by the mountain is Katsushika Hokusai's famous print series, "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji",an early-nineteenth-century set that captures Mt. Fuji in a variety of compositions.
Mt. Fuji is 12,385 feet high, 78 miles around its base, and located 60 miles southwest of Tokyo. It is one of 108 active volcanoes in Japan, among a total of approximately 1,500 around the world (Chino, 2004). In the past two decades, there have been environmental concerns regarding erosion and eruption of the mountain. While the volcano has not erupted since 1707, the increasing frequency of earthquakes in Japan has raised concern regarding movement in the magma beneath the mountain (Yomiuri, 2006). The magmatic activity within the base calls closer attention as seismic experts study the relationship between potential eruption and earthquakes. As available technology and understanding improves, disaster and prevention is even more important and prevalent. Such preparation includes evacuation plans of the surrounding area and administrating advisories of critical information of the different stages of volcanic action (Yomiuri, 2006). There are government programs to predict eruptions, but the technology is not at an accurate enough stage to sufficiently rely upon it. In general, it is easier to more accurately predict the time and place of volcanic action the more active and frequent the volcano erupts (Chino, 2004). Therefore the few centuries that Mt. Fuji has remained quiet pose a challenge. An eruption is predicted to cause devastating damage to the surrounding area at the foot of the mountain so serenely captured in this slide.
Erosion, a natural process, affects the southwestern side of Mt. Fuji, with predictions that it would only take 100 years for the fracture at the base to split up the length of the mountain (Haberman, 1984). In 1984, the Japanese government's Construction Ministry responded by constructing a concrete wall along the side of the Osawa River. In the lantern slide, the Osawa River would be on the opposite side of the mountain in relation to Motosu Lake. The aim was to prevent damaging landslides by creating a barrier before the mountain breaks down upon itself. The wall, 10 to 13 feet tall, protects from further erosion of the river as well. Because Mt. Fuji holds such importance to Japan, the action taken towards protecting and preventing damage is crucial (Haberman, 1984). Its interesting to compare the environmental disasters of eruption and erosion in terms of their timing and impact to the public. While a volcanic eruption is more alarming and instantaneous, creating immediate damage for surrounding population, the process of erosion is slower, quieter, but also causes permanent damage that could result in complete deterioration in the natural formation.
Besides natural destruction Mt. Fuji faces, humans also play a role in impacting its integrity. In September 2013, Mt. Fuji was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, feeding local anxiety about the impact from the increase of tourism. It is therefore important to appreciate the beauty of the Mt. Fuji in the present, continuing to promote clean-up and preservation initiatives at the site. Just as Wilson looked to enrich the relationships between Japan and the United States through his scholarship experience, maybe this attitude can be used towards Mt. Fuji and its current environmental state, fostering the relationships between man and nature. As a site that has been represented endless times in a range of media, this lantern slide was striking not only for its beauty, but also as a special record both in writing and as visual souvenir of Wilson's journey to Japan. It also provides an opportunity to look beyond the beauty of landscapes and examine some of the social and environmental aspects involved.