Fuji gives F1 fraternity a traditional Japanese welcome 28 Sep 2007
Mount Fuji is a sacred place in Japan, a dormant volcano that most of the countrys populace will endeavour to visit at least once in their lifetime. But now it is not just the mountain they will come to worship. The Fuji International Speedway has - after a major makeover - reopened its doors to Formula One racing and will host the Japanese Grand Prix this year and next, before rotating the event with Suzuka from 2009.
And on Thursday evening Fuji welcomed the return of the Formula One fraternity with a special reception. It began in traditional fashion, with a kagami biraki, or sake ceremony, in which a wooden sake barrel, known as a taru, is broken open with wooden mallets. The sake is then poured with wooden ladles into special wooden sake cups, or masu, before the MC proposes a toast by calling kampai!
The ceremony is always performed by the most distinguished persons present at the gathering and in this instance it was Bernie Ecclestone, Tsutomu Tomita, the new Chairman of the Speedway, Renaults Flavio Briatore, BMWs Mario Theissen, Hondas Nick Fry, Toyotas Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli, and the Governor of the Fuji region who found themselves on the podium with mallets in their hands, hammering at the barrel.
When it cracked open at the first attempt - a sign that the gods are in favour of the undertaking - the fun part of the evening began with a lavish buffet, accompanied by the beat of traditional Japanese drums.
A seemingly satisfied Ecclestone commented: It is good to be here again. This circuit has undergone a massive change - it is state of the art now. And the reception of Formula One in Japan has fantastically improved since we came here the first time in 1976.
Hermann Tilke, the man who gave the Speedway its new modern face, added: This is a historic circuit, so our goal was to preserve as much as possible, not to destroy the history that comes with it. Seemingly everybody is very pleased with the result - a traditional core with a new surface.
And Tomita, till June of this year Toyotas team principal, said: Katsuaki Watanabe, our CEO, asked me to take over this responsibility as he wanted to bank on my experience in Formula One. And I have to say it is a fantastic job. It is much less stress then being a team principal, though sometimes I miss the competition that came with being at the helm of a team. But I am sure this track will find its place in the annual F1 calendar and that people will love to return to Mount Fuji.
Now it is up to the teams and drivers to write another chapter in the history of the Fuji International Speedway.