What’s the Tallest Mountain in Japan? What About in Greece? … And Is There Any Connection Between Mountains and the Olympic Games?

            With the approach of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Honshu Island, Japan … and because my last post concerned the tallest mountains in North America … and because I know that Mount Olympus is in Greece … and because I also know the first Olympic Games were held in Greece, I began wondering whether there was any connection between Mount Olympus and the Olympics. Further, I pondered whether the Olympic Games themselves had any connection to mountains in general.

Of course, you know what all this means. Yup. I felt compelled to look it up.

I’ll start by answering the first of the above questions. The first thing that popped into my head was Mount Fuji … and Mount Fuji is in fact the tallest mountain in Japan. Like Mexico’s tallest mountain—Pico de Orizaba—Fujisan (its Japanese name) is a volcano. Unlike Pico de Orizaba though, geologists classify Mount Fuji as an active (rather than a dormant) volcano. Mount Fuji stands 12,388 feet (3,776 meters) high and can be climbed in July and August. (…sigh… Someday, I’d love to hike Mount Fuji. … Someday.)

South Wind, Clear Sky (Gaifū kaisei), also known as Red Fuji, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei) MET DP141062.jpg held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From Wikimedia at 「富嶽三十六景_凱風快晴」-South_Wind,_Clear_Sky_(Gaifū_kaisei),_also_known_as_Red_Fuji,_from_the_series_Thirty-six_Views_of_Mount_Fuji_(Fugaku_sanjūrokkei)_MET_DP141062.jpg (3865×2665) (wikimedia.org)

In case you’re curious, the second, third, fourth, and fifth highest mountains in Japan (in order) are: Mount Kita (10,476 feet, 3,193 meters), Mount Okuhotaka (10,466 feet, 3,190 meters), Mount Aino (10,463 feet, 3,189 meters), and Mount Yari (10,433 feet, 3,180 meters).

Anyway! On to Greece. The Olympics are what made me start to think about the Greek mountain of Mount Olympus in the first place. But I had no idea whether or not Mount Olympus was Greece’s tallest mountain. Upon researching it, I found out that Mount Olympus is indeed the highest mountain in Greece at 9,570 feet (2,917 meters) and in addition to having the highest point in Greece (the peak is called Mytikas), it’s the second most lofty peak in the Balkans. Mount Olympus was first ascended in 1913, and usually thousands of tourists now make the trek each year.

You may have heard that Mount Olympus was home to the twelve Greek gods, but did you know Thessaly’s Mount Olympus (the one that I’ve been referencing, the one with Mytikas peak), wasn’t the only Mount Olympus in Macedonia? That’s because the word “Olympus” referred to the home of the gods and was associated with a lofty mountaintop, so when Greek tribes settled in other areas, such as Cyprus, Ionia, Lesbos, Mycia, and Attica, they all dubbed tall mountaintops in their area “Olumpos.”                     

The peaks of Olympus as seen from Skourta. Photographed by Cristo Vlahos. From Wikimedia at File:Skourta.jpg – Wikimedia Commons

So… back to the Olympic Games. Olympus … Olympic … is there a connection? I found a detailed paper by Gregory Nagy arguing that there is indeed a connection. To summarize his assertion, that connection comes through Zeus’ association with Olympus. Connecting the dots goes something like this: the Olympic Games were founded by Hercules (son of Zeus) in Olympia, which was under the control of Pisa, and Pisa belonged to the Olympian god Zeus, who ruled Mount Olympus.

Ancient Greek columns in Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games, photograph by Antonios Ntoumas. From Pixabay at Columns Ancient Olympia Ruins – Free photo on Pixabay

I suppose that doesn’t technically answer the question in the title—“is there any connection between mountains and the Olympic Games?” However, here’s my take… I’d say there’s not a connection between mountains (generic) and the Olympic Games. However, I’d also say there is a connection between the specific mountain Olympus and the Olympic Games.

That’s my opinion. What do you think? Anyway! Whatever your take, enjoy the modern Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer! May it encourage us all to stay active. 😊