The Beautiful, Constant Change of Mount Fuji

Specimen Notes from the Mini Museum: Mount Fuji Lava

misty rain
  a day with Mount Fuji unseen:
    so enchanting.

Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694)

Feb 9th, 2016

At 3,776 meters, Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan. Yet, the modern Mount Fuji is actually three volcanoes in one: Komitake, Ko-Fuji, and Shin-Fuji. Over the course of the last several hundred thousand years, each volcano formed out of the remains of the last with Shin-Fuji becoming active roughly 10,000 years ago.

Cross-section of Mount Fuji and related volcanic piles (Source: “Evolution of Mount Fuji, Japan: Inference from drilling into the subaerial oldest volcano, pre-Komitakeiar_722 470..488”

Shin-Fuji (New Fuji) went through several stages of development which included massive basaltic flows covering large areas to the north, west and southwestern foothills. The stratovolcano’s symmetrical cone has served as an inspiration for artists for centuries and more recently for scientists studying the geometrical evolution of volcanoes.

The shape of a volcano is primarily determined by hydraulic resistance to the flow of magma in a porous medium. Mount Fuji in particular is considered an ideal example of the model. You can read more about this model here.

In 864AD, lava from a massive eruption of Mount Fuji filled part of ancient Lake Senoumi, creating Lake Sai, Lake Shōji, and Lake Motosu. Pictured above, the fertile land left behind became the Aokigahara Jukai or “Sea of Trees”. This tranquil region also has the unfortunate distinction of being known as the Suicide Forest.

The specimen in the Mini Museum comes from a local stone cutter near the Aokigahara. For five generations, this family has produced sculptures for Buddhist and Shinto Shrines around Mount Fuji. It was provided by a friend of mine who owns a cafe and bed and breakfast just outside the Aokigahara with a spectacular views of the mountain (pictured above).

Preparing the Mount Fuji Lava Specimen began with extracting thin strips of lava from the main mass using a wet saw.

Mini Museum Intern Max creating Mount Fuji slices this summer (so warm!)

While quite dense, the rock crumbled easily so further reduction is a slow, step-by-step process.

Preparing Mount Fuji Lava Specimens from the slices

Like every specimen in the Mini Museum, Mount Fuji had it’s own challenges. I am very happy with the final results and I am still thinking of the deep history of this mountain.

Final Mount Fuji Lava Specimens

I want to take a moment here to share a few words from the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849).

"From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie."

Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849)

I find this dedication to craft and constant study very inspiring.

富嶽三十六景 or Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji is one of the artist’s most famous series of landscapes which feature Mount Fuji from many different angles and in different seasons. I’ve selected the image above to share in this update, but I encourage you to look closely at all of the prints in the series. I found myself almost forgetting the mountain entirely as it drifted into the background of scenes from every day life. To me, the people in these works feel absolutely alive.

Now, it’s back to work!

Hans Fex, Creator and Chief Curator for the Mini Museum

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