Photographer falls under Mount Fuji’s magic spell

by Toshiki Makino

Kyodo

Fifty-year-old Shoichi Ono has scaled Mount Fuji every year for the past nine years, spending a total of more than 80 days on the mountain, photographing views from the top such as the rising sun and dynamic cloud formations.

On why he is so attracted to the mountain and climbs it every year with heavy equipment, Ono said, “I want to come as close as possible to the sun, which I believe is the source of all life.”

He held an exhibition of his works in June in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, and another in late August in Shinjuku Ward.

He said whenever he sees the sunrise or thousands of stars from the top of the 3,776-meter mountain: “I feel the mysteries of the universe and can be humble regarding nature. I want people to feel the sunlight and heat delivered from the universe (from my photos).”

He joined the photography club at his university in Tokyo, then after graduation went on to study at a professional photography school.

Ono, who has worked at the weekly magazine AERA for several years, first became known with his 1994 book “Hyakusai Oh” (“Great Centenarians”), a collection of portraits of people at least 100 years old.

“I believe people over 100 years old stand at the peak of life, while the top of Mount Fuji is also the peak of Japan,” he said. “For me, things that appear different from each other do, in fact, have similarities.”

As part of a magazine project, Ono once climbed to the top of Fuji together with a 4-year-old boy.

Ono said it made him happy when the boy told him, “I love mountains!” after they reached the summit and both enjoyed walking above the sea of clouds.

“It’s important to make thorough preparations and not to push yourself to the limit,” he said.

“If you have the courage to quit halfway and descend the mountain (when something happens), you can go for it regardless of your age.”

On June 22, Mount Fuji was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO.

Welcoming the designation, Ono said, “Mount Fuji has become a longed-for mountain for not just Japanese but also people around the world.”

But he voiced concern about a recent increase in “reckless” climbers.

Because the mountain’s fifth station is only a 2½-hour drive from Tokyo, an increasing number of people are climbing to the top without taking a break at a lodge.

“I hope people recognize that Japan’s highest mountain should be Japan’s most dangerous mountain,” he said.