John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Photographer Koichi Shimano portrays the godlike volcano in the grips of seriously profound and weird weather.
Artists throughout history have striven to capture the majesty of Japan's magma-filled national pride, from Hokusai's 18th-century woodblock odyssey, "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji," to Takashi Murakami's monster mound to whoever created the pointy logo for Atari.
Koichi Shimano's oeuvre slips right into the top tier of Fuji-inspired art. Since retiring last year from the Tokyo University of Agriculture, the camera-slinging sexagenarian has made devastatingly resplendent portraits of the volcano, which last blew its top in 1707 and probably isn't done yet. While other artists have focused on the mountain's hulking size or handsome symmetry, Koichi's work has a distinct meteorological flavor – he's intrigued by the immense cloud blobs that latch onto its summit, the Martian dust clouds misting its slopes and the thick fog that pools at its base, making the peak look like a giant shark fin cutting the sea.
For whatever reason, UNESCO has declined for years to include Mount Fuji in its canon of World Heritage Sites. Part of the problem allegedly was the mountain's status as an illegal dump – in a 12-month period starting in 2006, a local volunteer group cleaned it of 187,000 pounds of garbage. (There's also the issue of it being a popular staging area for suicides, but as far as I know UNESCO hasn't commented on that.) But Japan has since cleaned up much of the detritus, and it looks quite likely that Fuji will make the World Heritage list when the heritage poobahs meet this summer in Cambodia.
To celebrate this honor, the Japanese-culture website Spoon and Tamago has started featuring a number of artists who have been in enthralled by Fuji, including Koichi. Here are a few of the photos S&T put up, plus a few more that the artist is letting us use. As to why he's devoted his retirement to this mission of mountainous love, Koichi says, simply, that he enjoys looking at Fuji and seeing a new kind of "freshness" every time.
Photos used with the permission of Koichi Shimano