photo copyright CC BY-SA 4.0 – Sablier de Verrie

The Shizuoka Prefecture Fujisan World Heritage Centre is a museum in Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture. A facility for protecting, preserving and maintaining Mt. Fuji. The Centre also has an academic research function.

In 2013, Japan’s iconic Fuji mountain was registered as a Unesco World Heritage site. I had read about the architect Shigeru Ban’s Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre, built to celebrate this event, before its opening in 2017. I jotted it down on my long list of interesting places to visit. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of information around on how to actually get to this place. In the end, I stumbled upon it almost by accident. Coming back on the train from a trip to the Kuon-Ji temple in Minobu, Yamanashi prefecture, I caught a glimpse of a very large red torii gate. When I turned to get a better look, I recognised the cone-shaped building behind it. I got off the train at the next stop, Fujinomiya Station, and walked back to have a look.

‘Everyone (who entered the competition) designed a roof resembling the Fuji mountain, but I thought it’s impossible to compete with the Fuji mountain in front. So I did it the other way around!’

Shigeru Ban – architect

The red torii gate that drew my attention is part of the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha Shrine which lies a little further behind the centre, towards the mountain itself. 1000 years old, it is the most important shrine dedicated to Mount Fuji and seen as the front entrance to the mountain. Admission to this shrine is free.

Ripples messing up the cool reflection.

It was a quiet day at the center, there weren’t a lot of people around. Shigeru Ban’s clever upside down design is striking and makes use of the same kind of woven lattice woodwork (8,000 bars of locally sourced cypress wood)  that Kengo Kuma makes use of so often in his work. Shigeru Ban’s competition winning design was based on water circulation and reflection.  There’s a plane of water in front of the building, a natural spring-fed water basin. If you’re lucky, the water will be still enough to reflect the shape of the building. When I visited, however, there was a strong breeze rippling the water.

It is 300 yen to go in. The building has a shop, a theatre, a library, a restaurant and an event space. Inside, you walk up a spiral ramp, as if you are ascending the mountain from within. Your ascent is specifically designed to make it seem like you are climbing all the way from the ocean to the summit. On the wall on your right hand side, images are projected such as the outlines of imagined fellow pilgrims and time-lapse videos of the mountain from various angles and in all four seasons. There are five floors, each with their own exhibitions, telling the story of the mountain, its resources and the devotion it inspired.

On the top floor of the building you find an observation hall that leads to an open-air deck. From here you get unobstructed views of Mount Fuji, that is, if the skies aren’t too cloudy. This is the best part of the museum. Personally, I think the best way to experience Mount Fuji in this area is from the train that runs from Shizuoka to Minobu on the Minobu Line, a long and winding track. While you are on that train, the mountain appears and disappears as if by magic. Sometimes on your right hand side, sometimes on your left. It is surprising and awe inspiring, and you’ll understand the ‘sacred’ part of it, more so than viewing it from a purpose built platform. Still, I enjoyed the visit and can appreciate Shigeru Ban’s innovative design of the building.

How to get there

By train: from Shizuoka, take the Tokaido Line to Fuji Station. From there, get on the Minobu Line to Fujinomiya Station. From Fujinomiya it is an easy 10 minute walk to the center.

More information

For more details and opening hours, check the Mt Fuji World Heritage Centre’s official website.

Shigeru Ban’s website

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