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Among Japan’s many physical features, none comes even close to matching the manner in which its loftiest peak has carved out the fondest niche in the national psyche. The Mount Fuji name and image are evident practically everywhere in Japan today — as they have been one way or another over the centuries.

Reflecting the great affection in which it is held, Japan’s most beautiful mountain is also its most climbed. However, the beauty in the beholder’s eye definitely improves with distance. Up close, the 3,776-meter mountain presents a different aspect. Anyone who has ever clambered up it during the official two-month climbing season from July 1 — along with reportedly more than 200,000 trekkers a year — knows that ascending the thing is like a never-ending slog up an uninspiring, though wildly popular, slag heap.

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